Archaeology

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By: Ben Camp, Nick Harper, Alex Pope, Debs Young (MA students, Department of Archaeology, University of Reading)

 

Day 1

After a night at the British Institute at Ankara the first place we visited was the Anatolian Civilisations Museum in Ankara. It is housed in a fantastic Ottoman building dating to the 15th century AD. Called a Han, it housed shops and accommodation for travellers, located in the old citadel. The artefacts throughout the museum were astounding and we would throughly recommend it to anyone travelling to Ankara.

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Next we travelled with our bus and driver Selim Bey to Gordion, a site that has hosted such historic figures as Midas and Alexander the Great. We were greeted with the traditional British archaeological weather – rain and strong winds. First we went to Tumulus MM, stupefying for the size of the mound itself (53m high) and the size of the juniper logs covering the burial chamber, dated to 740 BC. Then we went to the mound of Gordion. We saw the Early Phrygian citadel and the Middle Phrygian gate. It was amazing to see how much was still standing.

 

Day 2

A long drive to Çatalhöyük, but it was worth every mile. Walking up the slope of the höyük (archaeological mound) in the sunshine towards the shelter only increased the sense of excitement and anticipation. Actually entering the shelter and standing in front of the 7000 BC village laid out before us was unbelievable. It is difficult to express in words quite what the site is like and know that this was a place that people chose to live in for generation after generation.

IMG_2577Following the track across the mound with the pottery broken and discarded beneath our feet, we then entered the South Shelter and were left stunned at the panoramic vista of the many levels which dropped in front of us. We highly recommend a visit to Çatalhöyük, and to one of our group especially it was a much dreamt of visit.

We then drove the short distance to Boncuklu, a site even earlier than Çatalhöyük and which could prove in the future to be just as important. After an informative tour of the site, the guard invited us all for chay (tea), but which actually turned out to be a three course lunch eaten cross-legged on the floor of his family home. Wonderful food in the company of very welcoming and friendly people just added to an already fabulous day.

Acemhöyük was the last stop of the day, and after another long drive in torrential rain, we arrived just before the sun set and climbed precariously up the slippery mud slope clad in waterproofs, much to the amusement of the local villagers, to whom we no doubt looked like the archetypical English archaeologists! The heavily burnt site was too muddy to explore in detail but we were able to determine the extent and rich colours of the walls, brought to life by the wet conditions, especially when the setting sun shone its rays on the burnt Middle Bronze Age palaces, dated to 1650 BC.

A late night arrival at the hotel was greeted with enthusiasm by all after a long but wonderful day.

 

Day 3

The drive to Kültepe-Kaneš was not particularly long, and whilst the mound is visible from a distance, the karum, possibly the most important element of the site, is not. The site principally dates to the late third and early second millennia BC, including the Old Assyrian trading period, with the two most important levels of the lower town dating to this period. Recent excavations and survey have revealed that the well-preserved ruins extend even further into the beautiful countryside than previously expected. The lower town produced some 23,500 cuneiform texts of clay baked in the great conflagration that consumed the entire lower town in the middle of this period. The mound is also important, with recent discoveries of a massive administrative building dating to 2400 BC.

After Kültepe-Kaneš we then proceeded to Alişarhöyük, climbing the mound and inspecting the early twentieth century excavation trenches. Our final site for the third day was Alacahöyük, where both the museum and reconstructed tombs were amazing. The reliefs and sphinx gate were beautiful examples of Hittite art and after exploring the Hittite palace we had tea at a local café before proceeding to our lovely hotel at Hattusa, famous capital of the Hittites.

 

Day 4

We started the day by exploring the religious sanctuary of Yazılıkaya. The site is famous for its rock reliefs and it is easy to see why. The rock carvings were extremely impressive and the entire site had an atmosphere which indicated why the Hittite chose this place as a religious sanctuary.

We then travelled the short distance to the Hittite capital Hattusa. We spent the next six hours walking and exploring this massive site in the hot sun, looking at the many temples, royal buildings and gates which are scattered across the ancient city. Walking really gave us a great idea of what this ancient capital might have been like at the height of its power and it was a brilliant experience which we would thoroughly recommend. As we walked from one end of the city to the other we climbed 300m in height! After a lovely meal at Mehmet’s glorious Kale Otel we made the long drive back to Ankara in the dusk.

 

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Day 5

In Ankara airport again, and it is with great sadness that we call time on the adventure. It has been the trip of a lifetime and the memories will last forever. Thanks to our driver Selim Bey and the British Institute in Ankara for facilitating the trip (particularly Selim Bey, who drove a crazy number of miles!). But special thanks must go to Professor Roger Matthews, who was the best host and guide we could have had. He really made the trip come alive. Until next time…

 

 

Special thanks to SAGES PGT fund and Reading International Office for their financial contributions to enable this field trip to happen, and to all our friends at BIAA.

 

For more photos from the trip, check out the album here.

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Recently, Pascal Flohr from the Reading Archaeology Department visited the Rif Mountains in Morocco to attend a workshop on ‘traditional’ farming societies. Researchers based on Morocco and in the UK discussed ways to study farming in the past (in archaeology) and present. Early farming societies are an important focus of the research and teaching in Reading, like the first farmers in the Middle East.

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Image 1: While the workshop also consisted of lectures, an important part was learning in the field. Here, workshop attendants are collecting weeds from the edge of a crop field. Weed seeds are often found in archaeological excavations and can tell us about the way people were farming. For example, certain weeds are associated with manured crops, which means that the farmer was making an effort to improve his fields.

Image 2: Who needs powerpoint? Professor Hodgson (Sheffield) explains different weed categories and what they can tell us.

Image 3: The reason the workshop took place in the Rif Mountains in Morocco is that relatively traditional, small-scale ways of farming are still in use here.

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The University of Reading Archaeology Field School has a new location from summer 2015 – the Vale of Pewsey! Dr Jim Leary will be directing the project over the next few years and below, he explains a little of his background and experience in this fantastic landscape…

Dr Jim Leary

Dr Jim Leary

“As a prehistorian I have always been drawn to Wiltshire. I excavated there as an undergraduate, looking at the Mesolithic site of Golden Ball Hill, and have been digging there on and off ever since. I once even found and excavated a very ancient site there indeed. It was fantastically well-preserved considering it was 250,000 years old, and packed full of the flint tools and hunting residue of one of one of our early hominin ancestors. But it is the ancient Neolithic monuments that are the main source of fascination for me – and a challenge too: there is so much more to discover.

In 2007 I took charge of the Silbury Hill project, working inside the enormous Neolithic mound with a team of miners and archaeologists. It was an amazing experience, to be able to spend so much time actually inside Silbury. There was real concern that a big portion of the mound might collapse as a result of various shafts and tunnels created by past archaeologists and antiquarians. We had to stabilise the structure and make it safe for the future, but this was also an opportunity to gather archaeological information.

In the summer of 2010 I directed an excavation at the huge Neolithic henge at Marden in the Vale of Pewsey. It is the one no-one has heard of, and yet it is the biggest henge of all – bigger than Avebury and about 10 times the size of Stonehenge. One objective was to find the position of the ‘Hatfield Barrow’ – another conical mound, half the size of Silbury. The mound was dug into in 1807 but it collapsed and the remains of it were later removed by the farmer. We assumed it had completely gone but below the soil we found that some of the mound still remained – it was just 15 centimetres high! That is quite a reduction from the original 15 metres, but it did contain dateable material, which showed it to be the same date as Silbury.

Marden Henge

Marden Henge

Also inside Marden henge, we found the best-preserved Neolithic building in England. It wasn’t a house that was lived in, but probably had some other function – perhaps a sweat lodge. The people that used this building will have seen Stonehenge in use – perhaps even worshipped there. There may be more buildings at Marden, and this is one of the questions we need to answer when we go back. The Marden excavations produced other unique finds, including some of the most finely worked flint arrowheads I’ve ever seen. The pottery too, was highly unusual: one clay pot had been coated in bone ash – my guess is that it is human bone, but we’ll never know for sure.

Continuing with the mounds theme I’ve also made the news through my work at Marlborough Castle Mound – or ‘Merlin’s Mound’ as it is known locally. Now in the grounds of Marlborough College, this 19m high mound was once the motte on which Marlborough Castle was built shortly after the Norman Conquest. In the 17th century it became part of an elaborate garden; a spiral path was cut into it and shrubs planted. With the help of colleagues I drilled boreholes deep into the mound from the top. We were able to date some charcoal from the cores which told us that its origins go back to the same time as Silbury Hill; it was a Neolithic mound that had been re-used later on. It was one of those ‘Eureka!’ moments that are so rare in archaeology.

I am now gearing up to go back to Wiltshire. We will be undertaking further excavations in the amazing Marden henge. But more than this – we’ll be looking at a whole plethora or weird and wonderful sites all around it. I can’t wait!”

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