A Curious Case of Ceramics, Glass, Metals, and Other Cool Things

When excavating an archeological square, one is doing more than moving dirt and rocks. The real goal is to collect as much information regarding the historical context of the peoples and location you are studying. In our case, we are uncovering primarily evidence indicative of a long-term settlement dating from even pre-Hellenistic to Islamic Imperial periods with long spans of Roman and Byzantine control of the settlement and area. Our determination of these occupations and periods comes from the nature, depth, and location of various artifacts that we encounter. Archeology is most unlike how it is depicted in film and television. Indiana Jones would be a terrible real-life archeologist. Digging is slow, careful, and meticulous. Elevations are taken at least once per day to ascertain the depths of any artifacts found throughout that particular day. Artifacts are very carefully labeled by depth and location and analyzed. The most common artifacts are various pottery, tesserae (mosaic pieces), bricks or roof tiles, bone, glass, and plaster. Less common is metals, fresco, coins, and religious objects. The location, condition, and make-up of these items can help us determine their origin, the people who used them, and what purpose they served.

Pottery.

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Pottery is easily the most common artifact that we uncover on a daily basis, we are often able to fill over two buckets worth of the fragments. Pottery is also a very useful tool for dating the use of the site. By the color, consistency, and depth we can determine whether the pottery is Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, or Islamic. We can also determine by the quality of the ceramic what purpose it served. Storage jars are of lower quality and were likely made locally, finewear may be imported from Africa, Italy, or the Western Mediterranean.

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Glass is slightly more difficult to determine the origin of. The pictured fragment has had the oxidized material stripped off. Ordinarily, glass has a thin, fragile coat of iridescent blue/purple/greenish oxidation. Glass can be found in clear, blue, purple, white, or black colorations.

Bones are found incredibly often as well. These can vary in size from small fragments of bone to large full leg bones. Our square has found a particularly large number of bone pieces, including many jawbones. Bones tend to come from goats, sheep, cows, chickens, and other domesticated animals.

Coins and other metal items are much more rare than other artifacts. They can be studied to determine city of origin, time period of mint, and value. Most that are found are very small, bronze coins often comparable in value to quarters and dimes. Larger coins are almost never found. This makes sense when considered, Romans were not to different from us; you wouldn’t make a huge fuss about losing a small coin, but losing a one hundred dollar bill would kinda freak you out.

As more artifacts are found, we can gain a much greater understanding of not only Omrit but other areas within the region of Northern Israel, Lebanon, and south-western Syria. As we were learning today, the work done with our resident ceramicist is likely going to dramatically alter the way that scholars look at the region of our work. This all stems from the work done at Omrit and the meticulous documentation we have done this season.

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