Old as the Stones

 

 

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Our visit to the market’s of Akko was a truly surreal experience. It took some time for the reality to hit home, but when it did, it landed with full force.

It is remarkable to see how completely similar the bazaar is today to what it was almost 1000 years ago. We are walking between buildings built through all periods between the Crusaders and modern-day, and the atmosphere, the smells, the sounds have likely hardly changed in all those centuries.

The coffee merchant still sits, perhaps in the same place, hawking beans from Saudi Arabia, India, Eastern and North Africa, the rich aromatic mixture rising from the large burlap sacks.

The assorted fish salesmen who wave yesterday’s catch out to you, offering deals and cheap prices on Mediterranean cod and eel. The stink of viscera and old fish fills the air as you walk past their stall.

On to a cloth woman and jeweler who promise that they have the best deals, only the finest of metals and cashmere. They insist that their scarves are handmade from the nearby Druizic village.

Next you see a baker and small restaurant sunk into the recesses of an old Islamic era wall, serving fresh squeezed juices, roast meats, homemade humus, and fresh-baked pita.

All these unchanged, familiar sights are joined by the new style of merchant, selling cheap, disposable plastic toys and knickknacks. Bad watches and knock-off electronics. The bright, neon of their storefronts clash harshly with the traditional, rougher stores.

This garish clash of old and new is very representative of the great shift ongoing within local culture. The garish clash of new and old creates a beautiful mosaic of the senses, creating an experience quite unlike any other I had yet to experience in my life and will likely not experience again for quite some time.

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.