Thursday, August 23, 2012

Wrapping up the 2012 Season

Today (Wednesday, August 15th) we swept out Areas AA and BB for final photos.  Afterwards it was back to Ort Braude College to finish up processing pottery and lithics.  Tomorrow, everything has to be packed up for the return to Jerusalem.  It's hard to believe that 5 weeks have come and gone.  We learned a lot, we laughed a lot, we ate a lot of schnitzel and drank a lot of Jump Juice, and who knows maybe we'll all be back next year!

Drishat Shalom - Ma'a Salama

The Marj Rabba Team

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Teeth brushing on camera

Here I am sorting flint
The other day I was washing bones when a guy with a video camera approached us and started interviewing people. I didn’t expect him to be interested in what I was doing so I went about my brushing as if he wasn’t there.

It wasn’t until I had just started to scrub a huge chunk of bovine jaw that the man approached me and started to ask me questions. I agreed to his interview, and while holding onto half of a cow mandible I gave him my name, Francis Flanagan, and explained to him what I was doing.

Now I had never been interviewed before, and thus was pretty nervous about the whole thing. So I tried to be articulate as possible and did my best to speak as if I knew what I was doing and that I wasn’t a complete rookie. But really there wasn’t much to say about the situation anyway, I was washing off some bones and sorting them out, not exactly enough for a news article. Still I said what I could and let him get some close-ups of the jaw piece, a gnarled hunk of bone with every crevice crammed with mud.

He then left to talk to someone else and I went back to brushing cow teeth, hoping that I hadn’t made a complete idiot out of myself on camera.

and here I'm helping out with flotation

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Trench BB Square H1 and H2

Over the course of the season I’ve been working in trench BB, mostly in the H1 and H2 squares. Initially, H was a five by five meter square. At the beginning of the season, we extended the section by opening the five by two and a half meter square, H2, to see if we would be able to find the continuation of a wall and the other half of two stone circle features found in H1 during the previous season.

We started out by picking at the ground with large pickaxes that are better used in rocky terrains to loosen the topsoil, rocks, and tureas to rake the loose dirt into the buckets. Once we got down to the cultural layer of soil we switched to using small pickaxes, trowels and dust pans. As we removed soil in H2, we noticed it was very rocky so we removed rocks and soil in a level pace until it was clear. There were certain features such as the continuation of the two stone circles which were both about one and a half meters in diameter and the continuation of the west wall which was seven and a half meters in length in H1 and H2. We also found another wall near the west circle feature that connects to the wall that divides H1, H2, and the section that Allen Reinart has been excavating. 

Once H2 was the same level as H1 we switched to working in H1. In H1, we worked on removing the north stone circle feature which was about 2 meters in diameter to see what was below it and lowering the entire H1 square as well. Underneath the stone circle we had an arc of stones on the west side of what had been the stone circle, which we aren’t sure if it has cultural significance or if it is just rock collapse. During the leveling of H1 we found what we thought was a continuation of the wall coming from the bulk and a line of stones that connect to the wall bulk and go through the arc of stones. We are still unsure whether either of these features is a part of the rock collapse or have cultural significance.

Recently, we found pottery with mud brick on top of it and some mud brick nearby. This is significant because this was found the adjacent room where Allen has been working and it may be an indication of a floor or of collapse. 

As we finish our final dig and begin our final sweeps to close the trench for the season, we have noticed that the once extremely rocky H2 section has become even and with minimal rocks whereas H1 that we thought would be less rocky has an abundance of rocks that we were unable to remove before the final sweep and pictures. H1 leaves much to be questioned about the rocks. Will we find more mud brick underneath these rocks? Is the extension of the wall bulk a continuation of the wall? These and other questions we hope to answer in the next season.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Search for a Floor: One Students Archaeological Quest

Hello, I am an aspiring archaeologist studying at DePaul University who volunteered to attend this dig to see if archaeology was something that I really wanted to pursue.  After my first few weeks my confidence grew and I moved to a room that was partially excavated last season.  I spent weeks toiling through the rocks that had collapsed into the room hoping to see just a glimpse of the floor that I was working so hard to find.

The extent of the room on the final day of excavation
A few days ago it happened!  I was excavating near the northern corner and a small semi-circle of flat stones appeared.  A few days later I removed a rock and underneath it, in the mudbrick, was the broken base of a Chalcolithic pot lying flat.  I had found it, the floor, my work had a resolution and I was thrilled.  This was by far the most exciting moment of my time here and it couldn’t have been at a better time.  I had found other great pieces of unique material goods but this trumped them all.

Pavement in the northeast corner of the room

This was all great but there was one major problem, I did not have much time left.  I began to search in the soil and more and more pieces started to appear.  My spirits rose even higher, the entire floor may even be intact.  Then I reached the middle of the room and the rocks that had been my enemy for weeks reappeared, this time on the same level as my floor.  I was crushed, but I continued onwards and downwards.  I moved to the southern end and found even more floor.

Broken pottery on the floor
 As time ran out and our days dwindled I was unable to reach a resolution with the rocks in the center of the room.  Now I must return next season and see the conclusion of this interesting and elusive floor.  Through this experience I have realized that archaeology is not only a passion of mine but something that I hope to make a career out of.  I am amazed and grateful that this revelation was made.  I want to thank all of our wonderful donors, and the Oriental Institute who made this excavation possible and helped me to further my career.  I would also like to thank my amazing supervisors for their guidance and wisdom.


Marj Rabba Area CC - Now in 3D

As it gets to the end of the season, we are beginning to do final plans and final photographs, beginning with area CC. As previously mentioned, this year we are beginning to utilize 3d photogrammetry in the documentation process.

Here is a 3D model of Area CC built from 45 pictures of the area taken with the GoPro hero 2 camera mounted to our quadcopter (as always, click the button in the upper right to get a fullscreen, and click and drag to move the model around):

And here is a 3d model of the whole excavation area. This is constructed from several dozen photos taken with the model plane. This model is not perfect, or too extensive, but hopefully these problems can be rectified:

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

What does a registrar do??

Just about everything . . .
AD - queen registrar!

 We are very lucky to have AD with us full time this season as our excavation registrar.
Drying pottery awaiting the magic AD touch
What is a registrar? what do they do? A recent job description for a registrar states:
This needs some AD help!
- Develop procedures to review and verify object numbers, provenience and culture information.
- Research, verify, and correct object number problems that have been identified (improperly assigned suffixes, multiple objects with the same number, etc.).
- Research, verify, and correct object cataloging problems that have been identified (incorrect description, culture, geographic origin, etc.).

that doesn't even begin to cover it!

AD in action
But they (or at least AD our registrar extraordinaire) does so much more. This season (and in the pre-season) AD designed and implemented a filemaker pro database, brought us into the 21st century by lending us her ipad for fieldwork, she keeps the troops happy with pizza nights, she puts the water out (with ice) for the field every morning, she keeps the lab running along smoothly and makes sure that everything that comes in from the field is cataloged, recorded, washed, bagged and tagged, and labeled. And that's all before breakfast.

Sometimes they come to the field and help out with the excavations, or in this case helping out with the remote-controlled plane runway. Who knew what you could do with a law degree ???

Happy pottery markers!

 The key to a well run project is an organized and efficient registrar - we are so lucky that AD is on extended "sabbatical". THANKS AD!  We couldn't do it without you. 

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Closing Trench CC

Trench CC came to a close yesterday for the season, and in true Trench CC fashion, it has left us with more questions then answers. 

There have been a number of interesting finds and some new architecture in the newly opened square. We've had two pyric structures in the current cultural  layer that we are ending with. 

The first was maybe a hearth or oven like structure, and the second which I worked on, was maybe a paved floor of some sort. The structure was first spotted by one of our sharp-eyed high schoolers,  M. 

When looking at the aerial shot of CC, you can see the hearth-structure at the beginning of this paved structure. 

As the excavation of this structure continued , a small amount of orange and red sediment appeared under the mudbrick holding the paving stones together. This area was labeled, and we continued excavate around the area. Right next to the pavement area, and may have been apart of the pavement structure at one point, there appear a huge amount of this red-orange-yellow sediment under the mudbrick.

It's really quite artistic, looks almost like a Van Gogh painting. 

Not much is known about this colorful sediment but it has been seen sparingly in other trenches under features. This large sample will be floated and hopefully upon further excavation next year, we will be able to figure out what purpose this brightly colored sediment served!

The Cool Crew

Monday, August 6, 2012

Chalcolithic Curiosity

It was pretty amazing to watch Curiosity land on Mars as I was processing finds from over 5,000 years ago.

Curiosity's first image from Mars from

Monday, July 30, 2012

Team Road Trip

Seems we just can't get enough of that Chalcolithic culture.  On our Saturday off (July 28th), most of us hit the road for the site of Rogem Hiri (Hebrew) or Rujm el Hiri (Arabic).  The site is located northeast of the Sea of Galilee.  C, our field supervisor, has dug at the site before.  This was great since, although the site is on the map, it is shown in the middle of nowhere.  Luckily we got there without a misstep.  After our adventures which included fording a stream and looking for cattle bones to study, we had a falafal and mezze lunch at a road side diner near the Sea of Galilee.

More information about the site is available at and

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Mid season update

As we approach the middle of the season, we have been taking low level aerial photographs using a 7m photo mast. These photos are used to create 3 dimensional models of the site. Below is a screen capture showing a top down view of a 3d model of areas AA and BB as they were on the morning of 7/24/12:

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Rowe-Clark Math & Science Academy at Marj Rabba!

This year at Marj Rabba we have the biggest team ever - 24 people!!  We have students from UChicago, DePaul, Cornell College, a college in New Jersey, and 6 special guests from the Rowe-Clark Math & Science Academy in Chicago ( These five students and their intrepid administrator, Ms. D. made the long journey (everyone had to get their first passport) to "experience" archaeology in Israel. Drs. Yo and Mo and Prof. Stein of the OI met with them throughout February and March for a mini "what is archaeology" course, so they had some idea of what to expect - but the real thing is nothing like this candy survey in the Lasalle-Banks Room at the OI.
Candy survey at the OI

R-C students and Ms. D at the OI     

Drink water and wear a hat - the most important field lessons according to K!
The students and the amazing Ms. D. arrived on July 12 and started work in the field bright and early the next day at 5:30am. The following are some shots of the Rowe-Clark students and Ms. D. doing various things on site. Almost over night they have become "archaeologists" and have (or are) receiving training in all things archaeology.

Ms. D. at the sieve

E uses a small pick to explore in area CC

M trowels around in Area CC

H takes points and reads the total station for elevation data

S holds the prism for H - archaeology is team work!
As part of the Marj Rabba outreach program we try to engage with all kinds of people interested in learning about the Chalcolithic of the Galilee. We have been somewhat successful in having local visitors from Karmi'el and surrounding small towns and villages visit the site. We also get a lot of visitors from fellow archaeologists, but having the Rowe-Clark students with us is another example of outreach that we archaeologists often overlook: people in our own backyards (Chicago) who might be interested in archaeology in Israel. Thanks - Ms. D., E, M, H, S, and K, for all of your hard work this season, you all are real troopers!!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Week Two

We’ve finished our second week of excavations.  We put our excavation skills to work clearing a runway for the model airplane which will be used for aerial photography of the site.  After excavating, we attended a few lectures – Dr. Dina Shalem told us about Chalcolithic pottery; Dr. Yorke Rowan told us about the Chalcolithic Period and how to mark lithics; and Dr. Samuel Gazit of Ort Braude College told us about the College’s study abroad program for engineers (check out

We had some fun too – we took a tour of Tell Akko (known locally as Napoleon’s Hill).  After the tour, some of us went to explore Tell Akko, some of us went to Tel Aviv, and some of us hung out at Ort Braude College to catch up on our sleep.

Fun with Flotation with Dr. PG!!

Dr. PG demonstrates flotation

This year at Marj Rabba we are very lucky to have an archaeobotanist (someone who studies seeds and other plant remains from archaeological sites in order to understand the relationships between plants and people in past cultures) working with us (Dr. PG is also acting as an area supervisor, no down time for him). A recent graduate of the Old World Prehistory program at UCONN (, Dr. PG is taking the project to new heights with insights into the plant remains at MR. After some trips to Sahknin, some photos, some pantomime, and some luck, we now have a state of the art flotation system.
Flotation in action
We hope to take soil samples from each of our discrete loci and then float the samples, collecting the heavy and light fractions (the stuff we skim off of the top and the stuff that sinks to the bottom) for analysis. Dr. PG brought his handy-dandy traveling microscope and he'll be looking through the flot (seeds etc... that rise to the top and get caught in the cheesecloth) for evidence of what was growing in the region, what was domesticated, what was wild, perhaps helping us interpret the various areas and structures at the site.
Dr. PG sets up the flotation machine

Last week Dr. PG gave us a hands on tutorial where everyone played with dirt and water.

Dr. PG with the flot in cheesecloth

 Thanks very much to Dr. PG for bringing more science into our lives!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Up in the Sky

Here is a photo of our celestial companions who have been following us on our drive to the excavation site these past few days.  On Sunday, Jupiter appeard to be sitting in the crescent moon.  We have binoculars powerful enough to see the moons of Jupiter strung out like pearls around the planet.

Thanks to Adler Planetarium in Chicago for the photo.

3d Photogrammetry and Archaeology

One of our projects for the 2012 season is to begin utilizing 3d photogrammetry to record our excavation units and individual features preserved at the site. This is done using exciting new software packages which can build highly accurate 3d models from sets of two dimensional photographs taken with regular digital cameras. Here is one of the first examples of a 3d model of a single feature at the site. This is a stone lined pit that was excavated in 2010 and 2011. To best view the model, click the full screen icon in the top right corner and then click and drag anywhere to move the model around:

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Week One

After our first week of excavating, we are enjoying a day of rest with a gelato run later today.

Everyone arrived without too much difficulty.  We began the week by clearing the effects of the prior winter's rain and cattle intrusion.  We used our new set of tools which we were able to purchase thanks to our wonderful donors.

During the week, we learned what the site was about, why we are digging where we are digging, how to lay out a square (yes excavators you will use algebra), how to start a trench, how to use iPads in the field, and how to wash pottery and lithics.  Here are some photos from our first week.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Getting started...

The site as it appeared when we arrived yesterday morning. Lots of the winter growth has now been cut back, and the protective plastic and sandbags were removed preparatory to the real work which will begin tomorrow morning.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

ACH "photo fishing" in Jordan

Pre-Excavation Days in Jerusalem!

What have we been doing to prepare for the excavations:
1. Buy fishing pole. CHECK We left the pole that ACH rigged up for the Jordan project at ACOR, so we had to find a new pole.
2. Buy paper bags. FAIL (that's why AD had to buy some last minute stuff in the US). Paper bags, which we use for animal bones, C14 samples etc..., are a scarce commodity here. Hopefully we now have enough.
3. Buy graph paper. FAIL. No one is carrying A2 paper anywhere in Jordan or Israel, so we will have to modify our daily top plan field records. The key to archaeology is flexibility!
4. Check on Hertz van rental. CHECK/FAIL. One van won't be ready until noon on Sunday, so advance staff teams will pick up the equipment at the IAA, load the vans, and then head north to Ort Braude. Co-director Yo will follow on later in the day.
5. Buy yummy hummus for lunch. CHECK! We visited Abu Hassan on Salah edh Din Street for the best hummus in the city. Today perhaps we will visit Al-Shouleh for schwarma. . .
6. Visit antiquities shops and look for Early Bronze Age pots. SADLY A CHECK. But this is research not directly related to Marj Rabba, I digress.
7. Finish field school syllabus. CHECK. Yo is going over the syllabus for the field school and then we will be good to go.

We are now off to buy various last minute paper supplies for field recording. More adventures later.

Yo "photo fishing" a Neolithic structure at Maitland's Mesa, Jordan

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

E-Day: One Week and counting

Our excavations start one week from today.  Our co-directors have returned from the Jordanian desert and are getting some well deserved rest (after showering and eating something not out of a tin).  Team members are packing and making their way to Israel and some of us are picking up those last minute items that our directors forgot pack. 

We hope you'll follow us as we begin our 4th excavation season at Marj Rabba.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Count down to the Field!!

Everyone has passports, the readings have been uploaded, t-shirts are ready and waiting, and trowels are being purchased - we are ready for Marj Rabba!! Before we all meet up in Karmi'el YMR, ACH, and MMK will be hanging out in this landscape out in the badlands of Jordan (eastern desert near the Saudi Border). No running water, no electricity, meat from cans, and amazing night skies this is extreme archaeology. 

Thursday, May 31, 2012


Team member Jill Waller took her last undergraduate final today.  She'll be graduating from UChicago on June 9, 2012.

JW and MW during the 2012 Season

Good Luck at Johns Hopkins from The Marj Rabba Team

Friday, May 25, 2012

Now that our team for the Galilee Prehistory Project is set, we wanted to share some information, plans and schedules for the 2012 field season at Marj Rabba. 

CH on the ladder assisted by EH and LM
 We will be 24 people, a perfect size for our project goals this summer (our largest team ever!). Our group includes high school students, undergraduates from a variety of universities, people from as far away as New Zealand, graduate students, recent PhDs, specialists, and old people (the directors).

What are our goals this summer? First, we plan to open up a broader excavation area so that the exposure of walls, buildings and other features are maximized. This will allow us to gain some insight into the spatial patterns of the site. At the same time, we hope to remove some architecture, exposed and carefully recorded in previous seasons. Finally, we plan to explore some new areas, and new technologies!

A few important details to keep in mind.  Yorke leaves very soon (Saturday, May 26) for Jordan. During June he will have no phone or email access. But that is no reason for panic! The truly organized person, Morag, will be in Chicago until June 12.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Looking for a new trowel - check these out!

Marshalltown vs. WHS trowels have long been the subject of heated debate.  We leave it to you to decide but Marshalltown has recently adopted a rather "WHS looking" type of trowel - cheaper and you can order online. No need to get the holster!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Chalcolithic 101

Do you want to burnish up on your Chalcolithic (or do you just want to find out why that's a bad pun)?  Then check out these publications by our Director, Yorke Rowan.

Monday, May 7, 2012


This is the blog for the 2012 excavations of the prehistoric site of Marj Rabba in the Galilee, Israel, a Chalcolithic period (c. 4500-3600 BCE) site in the lower hill country of the Galilee. Our fourth season of excavations begins in early July and continues for 5 weeks. The Chalcolithic period, a key transitional time between the Neolithic and Bronze Ages, is much less intensively studied than the biblical periods, yet was fundamental to the formation of the early towns and cities. In the southern Levant (Israel, Palestine Authority and Jordan), the Chalcolithic period witnessed the first metallurgy, the earliest pottery formed on a wheel and dramatic new burial practices for the dead. This research initiative, launched by the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago, is designed to examine the reasons for these dramatic changes in the way people lived, worshipped, raised plants and animals, and interacted with their neighbors. During the 2012 season, our team will expand the excavation area, explore the well-preserved earlier strata, and hopefully test some new areas. We will regularly update this blog during the excavations. You can also visit our Facebook group, MarjRabba – The Galilee Prehistory Project for additional photographs and contributions from the participants. We hope that you will visit often, and we will be on the lookout for your comments.