Summer Vacation: Archaeologist-style

by Eric Cline

Each summer in June, the annual migration of archaeologists begins. Summertime is when most university excavations take place, because the academics that run them are on summer vacation, as are the post-grads and graduate students who make up the staff. The undergraduate students and the volunteers from all walks of life, most of them checking off an item on their bucket list, are similarly free, or are at least able to take their vacation days to participate for a few days or even a week or two.

In a few days, I’ll be heading for our dig at Tel Kabri, located in northern Israel, where we are excavating a Canaanite palace dating back almost four thousand years, with the oldest and largest wine cellar yet found in the ancient Near East. We’ll have about a dozen staff members and almost seventy volunteers (or team members, as we call them) working over the course of six weeks, and we’re on the small side—some digs have closer to two hundred team members who participate over the course of a single season.

Each team member covers the costs of their room and board, as well as their round trip airfare, for the opportunity to participate in what will be, for most of them, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Some will enjoy it so much that they return the next season; others will be glad to return home after realizing that it involves much more dirt, sweat, and labor that is both much more intensive (think picks, shovels, and wheelbarrows) and painstaking (think dental tools and small brushes) than they ever expected.

The day will begin at 4:45 am, when the team members board the bus that will take them from the field school where we live to the site, which is located about ten minutes away. Retrieving our tools from the storage unit—which is essentially an old railway car minus the wheels—we are digging by 5:00 am, while it is still chilly enough to wish for a sweatshirt or fleece jacket, but those are soon shed as the temperature climbs and perspiration creates damp patches on t-shirts and tank tops.

The first potsherds appear almost as soon as the first pickaxes dig into the soil and are tossed into a plastic bucket; much later, in the afternoon, they will be washed and laid out to dry, so that the experts in the staff can examine and date them, based on a variety of characteristics including color, tempering, decoration, and so on. Our sherds indicate that we are digging in levels from the Middle Bronze Age, dating to the 18th through 16th centuries BC.

Soon a patch of plaster appears in one trench and trowels and patishes—small hand picks—replace the larger pickaxes, as more delicate work is now necessary. The potsherds continue to appear—for each ancient vessel shatters into dozens of pieces when it breaks, all of which remain to be found, for they are non-biodegradable once fired in a kiln. The pottery buckets fill up at an astonishing pace, to the eventual chagrin of the team members, who know they will have to wash each piece separately and by hand that afternoon.

Eventually, after what seems an eternity, a half-hour break is called at 8:00 am, so that staff and team members alike can fill their growling stomachs with eggs, cheese, tuna, tomatoes, and/or chocolate spread on large rolls. The largest line is for coffee, with team members working in different areas of the site good-naturedly exchanging details of their morning’s activities and discoveries with each other.

Soon enough the breakfast break is over and the team members will return to their areas, working until 1:00 pm before climbing back on board the bus and returning to the field school for a hot lunch and a few hours of free time. Most will nap in their air conditioned rooms, though some will venture to the swimming pool and sunbathe, as if they hadn’t already gotten enough sun during the morning.

Late afternoon sees the pottery washing, as well as data entry on the laptop computers, and various other assorted tasks. Dinner is at 7:00 pm, followed by a lecture, for many of the students are doing this for college credit, and the older team members are simply interested in learning about the history and archaeology of the area, or the nuances of how the various specialists do their work and analyses. Lights are out by 10:30 pm, for a much-needed six hours of sleep before the whole routine begins again for another day.

To some this will seem abject misery; for me it is heaven. I’ve been doing this almost every summer for more than thirty years and it never gets old, even though I have. There is nothing else like the thrill of excavation and discovery—not knowing what you will find in the next minute, hour, day, or week. At Kabri we’ve found fragments of wall paintings, large jars that once held wine, bits and pieces of ivory, gold, and other materials, and are slowly beginning to reconstruct the life of people who once lived in this palace nearly four thousand years ago.

What will this summer bring? I have no idea, and that’s the best part about it. I’ll let you know in August what we found. What I do know is that what we are doing is fun, exciting, AND important. We, and the other teams of archaeologists who will be in the field this summer, are excavating and rescuing the remains of past civilizations—the details of our story, the human story.

 

ClineEric H. Cline is professor of classics and anthropology and director of the Capitol Archaeological Institute at George Washington University. An active archaeologist, he has excavated and surveyed in Greece, Crete, Cyprus, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, and the United States. His many books include 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed and Three Stones Make a Wall: The Story of Archaeology.

 

Eric Cline departed on his travels on June 14. Check this space for updates from the field.

A peek inside The Atlas of Ancient Rome

The highly anticipated English-language edition of The Atlas of Ancient Rome is now available. Eager for a sneak peek inside? Check out the trailer below, and be sure to visit the new website for an interview with the editor, Andrea Carandini, as well as additional information on this definitive illustrated reference book of Rome from its origins to the sixth century AD.

 

The Atlas of Ancient Rome: Biography and Portraits of the City, Edited by Andrea Carandini from Princeton University Press on Vimeo.

An interview with Andrea Carandini, editor of The Atlas of Ancient Rome

We’re thrilled to announce that The Atlas of Ancient Rome is will be available for purchase next week. Take a moment to watch this interview with the volume editor, Andrea Carandini, in which he discusses why Rome merits its own Atlas, the appeal of the book as an object, and what makes this project unique. And be sure to check out the microsite for more information on this gorgeous tour through centuries of Roman history.

 

Browse Our Ancient World 2017 Catalog

Be among the first to browse our Ancient World 2017 Catalog.

PUP will be at the joint annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America and the Society for Classical Studies in Toronto, Canada from January 5 to January 8. Visit us at booth #107 & #108! Also, follow #aiascs and @PrincetonUnivPress on Twitter for updates and information on our new and forthcoming titles throughout the meeting.

The Atlas of Ancient Rome provides a comprehensive archaeological survey of the city of Rome from prehistory to the early medieval period. This is the only atlas of the ancient city to incorporate the most current archaeological findings and use the latest mapping technologies.

Carandini

Written by Eric Cline, an archaeologist with more than thirty seasons of excavation experience, Three Stones Make a Wall traces the history of archaeology from an amateur pursuit to the cutting-edge science it is today by taking the reader on a tour of major archaeological sites and discoveries, from Pompeii to Petra, Troy to the Terracotta Warriors, and Mycenae to Megiddo and Masada.

Cline Jacket

Tracing the global history of inequality from the Stone Age to today, Walter Scheidel shows that inequality never dies peacefully. Inequality declines when carnage and disaster strike and increases when peace and stability return. The Great Leveler is the first book to chart the crucial role of violent shocks in reducing inequality over the full sweep of human history around the world.

Scheidel Great Leveler jacket

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New Ancient World Catalog

We invite you to explore our Ancient World 2016 catalog:

 

Ober In The Rise and Fall of Classical Greece Josiah Ober tells the story of one of the greatest civilizations of the past, explaining that its rise was not an accident—it was in fact due to important innovations that enabled it to flourish.
Goetzmann Leading financial economist William Goetzmann sheds light on the role of finance from antiquity to the present, and how it has enabled cultures and cities to flourish in Money Changes Everything.
Cicero Don’t miss our edition of How to Grow Old, a translation of Cicero’s work by Philip Freeman. Its lessons continue to resonate centuries later.

Finally, we have three forthcoming paperback editions that we’re excited about: 1177 B.C. by Eric H. Cline, The Amazons by Adrienne Mayor, and Delphi by Michael Scott. If you overlooked these PUP favorites the first time around, now’s your chance to see what you’ve been missing!

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PUP will be at the joint annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America and the Society for Classical Studies in San Francisco from January 7 to January 10. Visit us at booth #106!

Quick Questions for Adrienne Mayor, author of The Amazons: Lives and Legends of Warrior Women Across the Ancient World

Adrienne Mayor is a research scholar in classics and the history of science at Stanford University. Her work searches for precursors to modern science in mythologies and folk traditions of peoples around the world. Mayor’s previous books include The First Fossil Hunters: Paleontology in Greek and Roman Times (2000) and Fossil Legends of the First Americans (2007), which examine pre-Darwinian cultural awareness of prehistoric life in antiquity and Native America, linking legends of monsters to the discovery of fossils. Her biography The Poison King: The Life and Legend of Mithradates, Rome’s Deadliest Enemy was a finalist for 2009 National Book Award in Nonfiction and won the 2010 Gold Medal in Biography at the Independent Publisher Book Awards.amayor

Mayor’s upcoming book, The Amazons: Lives and Legends of Warrior Women across the Ancient World, explores the familiar Greek myth of warrior women from a global perspective. Citing stories from China, India, Egypt, Persia, and Central Asia, as well as new archaeological discoveries, Mayor unearths the roots of Amazon legends and reveals some surprising insights on gender in the ancient world.

Now, on to the questions!

What would you have been if not an historian?

If I had not become so obsessed with uncovering germs of historical and scientific realities in ancient mythology and legends, I would still be a full-time freelance copyeditor for about a dozen trade publishers and university presses (including Princeton University Press). That was my career until I published my first book (The First Fossil Hunters for PUP, 2000). Before I began concentrating on writing, in my free time I was an artist, making and selling etchings illustrating stories based on my readings in classical literature.


“I find writing a book a slow, intricate process, a kind of obstacle course punctuated with great rewards.”


What was the most influential book you’ve read?

Two influential books: The Histories of Herodotus, the world’s first “anthropologist,” an insatiably curious Greek historian who reported on barbarian cultures based on his research, travels, and interviews in the fifth century BC. I was also influenced by Mott T. Greene’s Natural Knowledge in Preclassical Antiquity (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992).

Describe your writing process. How long did it take you to finish your book? Where do you write? 

I had been gathering material about ancient women warriors for decades. But I began the serious research for The Amazons in 2009 and started the actual writing in 2012. I find writing a book a slow, intricate process, a kind of obstacle course punctuated with great rewards. But research is always thrilling and I tend to incorporate newfound material up to the very last minute. I write in two very different places: my desk in Palo Alto, California is piled high with myriad jumbled books and papers whose stratigraphy is a challenge. Summers in Bozeman, Montana, I write in a spare space, surrounded by interesting rocks and fossils instead of books, on an old oak table with nothing but my laptop.

What was the most interesting thing you learned from writing this book? 

Thanks to modern DNA testing, we now know that a significant number of battle-scarred skeletons buried with weapons in ancient steppe nomad graves belonged to women, the real-life models for Greek myths about Amazons. So Amazons were not just a figment of the Greek imagination, brought to life in exciting myths only to be killed off by Greek heroes. But even more surprising, it turns out that the Greeks were not the only people of antiquity to spin tales about heroic warrior women. And the non-Greek stories of warlike women differ radically from the dark mythic script demanding death for all Amazons. Instead, legendary heroes of Persia, Egypt, and Asia were so impressed with the valor of their female foes that they desired the women as companions in love and war. We are used to thinking of Amazon myths in terms of violence against uppity women, but the ancient evidence also reveals a vision of gender equality.

How did you come up with the title and jacket?

7-18 AmazonsMy working title was “Amazons in Love and War” because there are as many romances as battle stories about warrior women. The final title embraces both mythology and history and conveys the geographic scope of the book far beyond the ancient Mediterranean world. I wanted to find a unique picture for the cover, something arresting and unexpected, a departure from the standard classical Greek vase or Roman statue. I was struck by the strong image and narrative quality of a postage stamp issued by the Kyrgyz Republic. It shows the horsewoman-archer Saikal, heroine of the most famous Central Asian epic poem Manas. The black and white illustration is by Teodor Gercen, a German artist who worked in Kyrgyzstan.

What are you reading right now?

I am enjoying a well-researched adventure novel translated from Danish, The Lost Sisterhood (Random House, 2014) by Anne Fortier (Ph.D. Aarhus University, History of Ideas). The story follows an Oxford professor on a quest in North Africa and Troy to discover a legendary “Amazon treasure,” following clues left by her eccentric grandmother who claimed an Amazon queen as her ancestor.


Adrienne Mayor is the author of:

7-18 Amazons The Amazons: Lives and Legends of Warrior Women across the Ancient World by Adrienne Mayor
Hardcover | September 2014 | $29.95 / £19.95 | ISBN: 9780691147208
536 pp. | 6 x 9 | 10 maps | Reviews

New Ancient World Catalog!

Be among the first to check out our new ancient world catalog! http://press.princeton.edu/catalogs/ancient13.pdf

Of particular interest are some of our new and forthcoming titles including Peter Brown’s masterpiece, Through the Eye of a Needle: Wealth, the Fall of Rome, and the Making of Christianity in the West, 350-550 AD, and Marcus Tullius Cicero’s entertaining common sense guide, How to Run a Country: An Ancient Guide for Modern Leaders selected, translated, and with an introduction by Philip Freeman. Sara Forsdyke offers a fascinating new perspective in Slaves Tell Tales: And Other Episodes in the Politics of Popular Culture and Ancient Greece, Peter S. Wells challenges existing views in How Ancient Europeans Saw the World: Vision, Patterns, and the Shaping of the Mind in Prehistoric Times, and Ian Morris resolves some of the biggest debates in global history in The Measure of Civilization: How Social Development Decides the Fate of Nations.

Also, be sure to revisit the winner of the 2012 Charles J. Goodwin Award of Merit from the American Philological Association, Aesopic Conversations: Popular Tradition, Cultural Dialogue, and the Invention of Greek Prose, by Leslie Kurke.

If you’re interested in hearing more about our ancient world titles, sign up with ease here: http://press.princeton.edu/subscribe/ Your email address will remain confidential!

We’ll see everyone at the meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America and the American Philological Association January 3-6 in Seattle, WA. Come visit us at booth 108!