Thursday, May 30, 2013

May 22: You Got to Flag ‘em to Bag ‘em, by Daniel Scott

After an evening filled with rain we arrived at our new field site with childlike enthusiasm. The owner of the field had just recently plowed and planted this season’s corn making our systematic survey easier – as the recently plowed ground clearly exposed ceramic sherds, lithics, bone, shells, and fire cracked rock. With conditions right we spaced ourselves – three corn rows dividing each individual – and began the process of slowly walking North East through field marking the beginning and ending of “hot spots” (which provide invaluable information as to the manner in which the town was organized while also guiding us to the best location where we might place our units and begin excavation). The previously mentioned surveying conditions along with the relatively flat field allowed us to locate, identify, and finally flag artifacts with ease, with the only hiccup in the day coming when all the flags were expended.

Upon the completion of the flagging process – the following day – the epicenter of the site revealed itself to be the most level ground on very east of the field, nearest to the Nolichucky River – a common location as discovered through previous field projects in the region – while smaller scatters of artifacts were found outside this main concentration.

Once the flagging process was completed we began to collect the artifacts by way of dog leashes. This method is executed by placing one’s self in a group of flags and collecting everything within a five meter radius of their center – we began at the south western tip working our way across the field, avoiding isolated finds as often as possible. The center of each dog leash circle was given a designated number, flagged, and plotted on a map sketch of the area in order to keep the integrity of the town’s organization. The vast area along with the large amount of findings prohibit a swift completion of the gathering of all artifacts. Scenarios such as these are often conducive to looters, however, our daily presence at the site along with the benefit of its location on private property has allowed us to avoid becoming another chapter in the long book of looted archaeological sites.

Prior to the onset of the Iraq war in 2003 archeologists in the area and throughout the Middle East were brought home without the ability to clean up or finish that season’s work. Martin Gottlieb’s article in the New York Times on June 12, 2003 quoted the University of Chicago Dr. Gibson as he described the aftermath of the looting of several active archaeological sites as a “devastated landscape” which resembled “Swiss cheese” due to the deep holes dug by looters. This example is just one of the many challenges that archaeologists face during a successful and prolonged dig. [1]

Figure 1. Aerial view of the devastated site of Umma, southern Iraq, in September 2003. Looter pits eclipse scientifically excavated areas identifiable by walls and mounds of spoil in their immediate proximity. Courtesy of Comando Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale.[2]

[1] Martin Gottlieb, Looters Swarm Over Remote Sites, Study Finds, New York Times, June 12, 2003:
[2] Kathryn Tubb, Irreconcilable Differences? Problems with Unprovenanced Antiquities, Papers from the Institute of Archaeology, Vol. 18 (2007):

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