Excavating at Kharaneh IV

I wrote a brief guest post for the Kharaneh IV blog, an Epipalaeolithic site in Jordan where I’ve been working the last few weeks:

I spent last week digging a hole with a spoon. Really.

This is my first season at Kharaneh IV. Over the last three weeks I’ve been helping out both on site and in the lab. Last week, I was excavating, and the biggest difference between digging here and other sites I’ve worked at — from later periods — is its meticulous pace.

Excavation at Kharaneh IV is like a forensic investigation. But instead of a crime scene, we are trying to work out what happened at a camp site twenty thousand years ago, using the ephemeral traces that have survived in desert sand. In those circumstances, it is important to pay attention to the smallest detail. We peel back — with spoons and brushes — deposits that may only be centimetres thick, each capturing perhaps just a few weeks or months of human life, and compressed under the weight of thousands of years of subsequent activity on top of them. This has been a lot of fun as an excavator: we each dig a 1×1 m unit which is subdivided into 25×25 cm quadrants. Each one is an excavation in miniature, where we’re tasked with unpicking stratigraphic puzzles that at times, given the fragile and complex nature of the deposits, can be quite challenging.

This attention to detail ‘at the trowel’s edge’ (or spoon’s edge) is matched by a painstaking recording system. About half of our time on site is spent documenting the deposits we excavate in minute detail: their location, extent, and depth; how they relate to other parts of the site; the nature of the soil; and the precise coordinates of any artefacts on its surface. And as Adam wrote last week, this is matched by yet more time spent processing and analysing material back at the lab. All this information is recorded so that when the time comes, the big picture of activity at the site, and its important place in world prehistory, can be pieced together from the detail.

Read the full post on the Kharaneh IV blog: One Week to Go!.