Archaeology in the news! Antony and Cleopatra?

Since I’ve been asked about this at least 5 times since last week, we’re going to address the current buzz in archaeological news: the possible finding of the tomb of Cleopatra VII and a one Marcus Antonius (Marc Antony to all you English-speakers, thankyouverymuch).

There have been many news sources reporting on the exciting new finds at Taposiris Magna (which brings to mind the image of a tapir wearing Osiris’ signature crown for some reason…) which may be indicative of…Cleopatra and Marc Antony’s burial site! *squee* Or, more realistically, the place where they would have been a few thousand years ago but there’s still a whole lot of stuff left so it’s still all good. There have been finds over the years indicating the presence of or at least a very strong connection to Cleopatra at the temple. The most notable of these finds are statue fragments (An alabaster head that looks a bit like Cleopatra, a headless statue of Marc Antony) and a collection of 22 coins with our girl Cleopatra on them. The coins have brought about many comments of, “Wow, Cleopatra was UGLY!” but let’s try to keep in mind that, while she may not have been stunning, those coins were based on the template originating with the first of the Ptolemies so that all successive Ptolemies would be able to be identified by their features on the coinage. So while Cleopatra may have had some of the distinctive features of the Ptolemy dynasty (special shout out to inbreeding here), judging her physical appearance by the image on the coins is not exactly the best thing to do. Personally, I will wait until they find remains and rock the facial reconstruction. THEN we will be able to see what she actually looked like.

What was I talking about again? Oh, right. The news! Bottom line is, I am very, very excited about what these finds will lead to. I will not say anything for certain, because things get moved out of their original context all the time and this is the sort of thing that really just requires further excavations and tests. I’m not horribly familiar with the history of the temple of Taporisis Magna, which is our dig site for this here story, but it does have ties to the Ptolemaic dynasty and will probably yield more finds from Cleopatra and her family. Believe me, I will be the first person throwing a party if it does in fact turn out that there are remains inside this temple. Digging at 3 sites at the temple starts this week I believe, so all we can do now is wait.

Until the official excavation reports, I’ll be crossing my fingers and watching the internet for updates!

A few links and sources:
National Geographic


Helpful photos are helpful

Here are some very helpful photos to illustrate the awesome moments I mentioned in the last post!

Since there are no digital pictures of my first dig in Colorado (2001 was a time without digital cameras. We also had to fend off mammoths and saber-toothed cats during the dig.) I’ll begin with pictures from my 2005 dig in England!

Here I am balancing on a wooden plank in a very muddy trench that was the result of a Victorian drain going through one of the two main Roman roads at Arbeia. As with all drains, many cool things were found there including but not limited to coins!

Tiermes! Such a great place. I continue to hold a bitter grudge against the local government for being stupid and effectively stopping all dig activity at the site. My season was the last 😦 Termestinos por vida!

A partial view of the area that I did most of my work in. This is the edge of the forum and the roads around it. In the distance is our dirt pile, and to the right of that is the cliff where the vulture family lived.

Another lovely view of our site and the general neighborhood. I think this may have been where the nicer homes would have been, as they had insane panoramic views of the valley below. There also would have been apartment blocks (or insulae) attached to the side of the hill. They were about 3-4 stories tall depending on the area of the hill they were on.

Remember how I mentioned a sweet aqueduct at Tiermes? Here it is! Or, what’s left of it. This ran under the roads (and would have been covered with well-fitted pavestones in those notches) and brought in water from miles away.

Some delicious Roman graffiti from the quarry across the valley! Seriously, how cool is this?

Here’s a little something I found. This bit of blue glass would have been inlaid in a piece of jewelry.

Another cool thing I found! This here is the dangly part of some of bronze earrings. You will notice how at the top is a little loop that would have had a thin wire through it to connect the dangle to the rest of the earring.

This is what happens when people get all gung-ho about clearing a road that wasn’t actually supposed to have anything in it other than dirt and debris! We were pretty ecstatic when this happened, after the few seconds of mild panic at the *crunch* of bone.

Keepin’ it real as only the Visigoths know how. Margaret actually named our lady, but I have since forgotten the name as it was rather long. Thanks to Margaret and her love of bones (huesos!!) we were able to determine that she was between 30 and 40 years old when she died and some copper dust near her indicated she had been buried with jewelry that had since decayed.

When we weren’t digging up severely cool things, we took trips all over the place and experienced even more awesome. On the left, our near-death trip to my favorite castle, Caracena. Walls were scaled, sheep poo was avoided and medieval pottery bits were found. On the right, The nearest big city, Segovia. It’s claim to fame is this intense aqueduct and a lovely castle on top of its hill/mountain/miniature Mt. Everest. The aqueduct is Roman, in case you were wondering, and while it no longer carries water, it’s still there. All of it.

Once again in England, we now move on to 2008 and my week-long dig on MoD land in the middle of the frighteningly scenic Salisbury Plain.

Here we have the first trench belonging to Team Futile Effort. We were named so because there was a whole lot of NOTHING in our trench. It was quite literally dirt, more dirt, bone-shattering veins and chunks of flint and, wait for it…dirt.

The lone find of my trenching! Flint hand tool straight outta the Neolithic y’all.

The other trench, this time the product of the continued hard work of Team Politically Incorrect. Behold! There is a trench within our trench! My horribly sunburned self welcomes you to this proud moment.

A lovely view of Salisbury Plain being patrolled by some friendly military choppers.

Now we proceed into the exciting world of media archaeology! This is a land where logic and reason rarely apply and shenanigans occur on a frequent if not daily basis.

One of our lecturers, TV’s very own Mark Horton, was the consultant for a BBC series called Bonekickers (yeah, I know) which followed the staff of an archaeology lab/department at the fictional Wessex University (exteriors: Bath, interiors: based on Bristol). I will spare you the horrid details of what actually occured on this show, but we had the pleasure of visiting their location sets a few times. This moment was from the filming of the second episode in which our heroes are excavating shipwreck bits from the ubermuddy banks of the Severn. This of course led to the lobbing of mud at the crew by the cast.

Bringing a bit more credibility to the game, it’s Time Team! Yes, the Time Team. One of the perks of my program was a placement on one of the Time Team shoots during their 2008 season (which came out to be season 15 I believe…). Each of us got to pick a shoot that interested us/fit with our schedule and then we tagged along as an intern/PA/3rd unit camera assistant. My site was potentially a Roman villa out in the middle of a field owned by the Unilever factory nearby…which was where ice cream R&D was located. After three days of furious digging and 6 trenches, it was concluded that the structure we found was a sort of proto-villa or villa-esque home and farm complex. I believe they titled the episode ‘The Mysterious Ice Cream Villa”. The entire cast and crew of Time Team were unbelievably amazing. Everyone was so nice and so excited about what they were doing and finding, since the majority of my dig was spent scratching our collective heads and trying to make sense of what was being found. In this particular picture, the 3rd unit is filming Stewart, the geology and map guru, and Neal ( I think that’s Neal back there…) discussing the satellite pictures of the site and what could potentially be found over the next few days.

To conclude this rather epic post, here’s a find from my Time Team dig! It’s a bit of tile with some Latin scribbled on it and it may also be upside down 😛


Dig it!

Greetings gentle readers! Today we’re going to discuss digs, specifically ones I have been on and thus can talk about at length.

We begin at the beginning. For a week during the summer of 2001 I went on my very first dig ever *sniff*. It was a week-long field school for high school kiddies at the Crow Canyon Archaeological Center> in Cortez, CO. Needless to say, that week pretty much solidified my love of archaeology. Not only was it the first time I actually got a chance to pick up a trowel and use it correctly (outside of a home garden no less), I also was witness to the magic that is digging in the American Southwest. Our site was a smallish site, a collection of kivas on some guy’s farm (with some proper Gladiator-opening-scene wheat) that was strewn with pottery shards thanks to the very active gopher population. The little buggers had PILES of pottery, charcoal and bone outside of their little gopher holes and since it was all out of context, we snagged a few small pieces. It was hard work, but I loved every sunburned minute. There was also a particularly fun moment when we all went on a field trip to Mesa Verde and ended up running into my family!

Seasons passed (Ok, just a few years) and my next dig was in the summer of 2005. This time I was off to England! Specifically South Shields for the purpose of excavating part of the main road and barracks at Arbeia, a lovely fort at the very Eastern end of the Hadrian’s Wall system. This dig was run by Earthwatch and was a whole two weeks of Roman-themed fun up in the Grim North. Again, a total blast. We had all kinds of exciting things happen (watching a GIANT shipping…ship come in the Tyne from Sweden, discovery of a ‘Coyote Ugly’ type bar in ‘downtown’ South Shields, hiking Hadrian’s wall…) and while there were no truly epic discoveries on my team’s weeks, it was pretty awesome. I learned a lot about the fringes of the Roman Empire and what sort of shenanigans people were getting up to in the remote forts. Fun fact: The name ‘Arbeia’ comes from the fact that the legions stationed there were comprised of mostly Middle Eastern conscripts to the mighty Roman army. One such immigrant ended up marrying a local woman, Regina, (local=Catuvellauni, yo) and her gravestone was later found in the ASDA parking lot.

2006 brought the longest dig I’ve done so far, in Spain! This one was run through the fabulous ArchaeoSpain and involved the continued excavation of the ridiculously awesome city of Tiermes/Termes. Tiermes (Lo siento. Esta en español :P) was a rather important city and Roman outpost back in the day as it was on a major trade route AND it had a sweet aqueduct since there wasn’t any water in the actual vicinity. Tiermes doesn’t really exist anymore, but if you look at a map of Spain it’s somewhere in the empty space between Ayllón and San Esteban de Gormaz. It was pretty much continuously inhabited until after the Visigoths so there was no shortage of sweet finds (and a very nice church that was the perfect nap spot). My excavations were primarily around the forum which ended up being two roads full of house debris, broken glass and some odd bits of jewelry. We took lots of day trips all over the place and among other things, I free climbed part of a castle. The castles there are simply astounding. No paths, no parking lots (well, not really) and no one around. Many of them are in or near towns that are, no lie, straight outta the middle ages. The only thing that lets you know you’re still in the 21st century is the odd antennae on a home. Needless to say, a very successful trip. Oh, and we totally found a body! Middle-aged (30-40) Visigoth woman…just chillin’ in the road. You know how they do. Termestinos por vida!

More recently, being 2008 recently, I tagged along with my departmental buddies in Bristol and we camped out on Salisbury Plain next to the Ministry of Defense land for a practice dig of ANZAC practice trenches. Ever had to dig while explosives were being tested only mere miles away? It’s a pretty special experience. By special, I mean surreal. It was very disconcerting at first, but we gradually got used to the deep percussive background sound. Not much was found, with the exception of old bullet casings which I can now identify properly, as we were digging trenches…in trenches. WWI trenches at that, so some time has passed and the dirt has been mushed by years of feet and vehicles. One trench was actually found and it was excavated to the bottom where you could still make out the faint outline of where the wooden board at the bottom used to be! Memorable experiences include (but are not limited to): a Pringles buffet, giant black slugs of DOOM, Team Futile Effort and Team Politically Incorrect led by the great Rod Scott, rain and lots of it, bone-shattering flint veins and the privilege of using the most scenic tree/loo ever.

In conclusion, digs are amazing. If you’re interested in going on one, hit up Earthwatch and, regardless of experience or lack thereof, you can join any of their expeditions. Mine was ‘Roman Fort on Tyne’ and I cannot recommend it highly enough. Students should check out the AIA website for their annual posting of summer dig opportunities through various universities.

I’ll be happy to answer any questions so go on and email them or leave them in the comments and I’ll answer them in the next post!


Viva la blog!

Imagine my surprise when I went to go set up a blogspot…and I already had one! A very special thanks to my past self in 2007. With that out of the way, here we go!

Greetings blogverse, Greater Interwebs and Academia! Welcome to the very first post in what is about to become ‘Archaeologist for Hire’! I’m setting this up as a way to get myself out there as I embark upon what *should* be my moderately-successful career in Archaeology (with a sprinkle of media on top). The purpose of this whole endeavor will be to let you, the ‘verse, follow my archaeological adventures and maybe even answer a historical or archaeological question or two should you have them.

In case you were wondering, here’s a little bit about myself! I am a native Los Angeleno (or more appropriately, Los Angelena) and am damn proud of it. I got my BA Classical Civilizations/Archaeology from Loyola Marymount University and promptly moved across the Atlantic to get my MA in Archaeology for Screen Media from the University of Bristol in lovely Bristol, UK. Unfortunately, grad school has left me quite broke so I am back home in LA working hard for the money at Access Hollywood so I can fund my archaeological misadventures.

In the archaeological pipeline, I will be heading to Tunisia for 2 weeks in July to investigate the many wonders of the Punic empire! I have 3 months to learn passable Arabic, get my French up to speed AND get very, very familiar with the finer details of all things Punic, Phoenician and Roman. This is where I give a very special shout out to the LMU Archaeology Center for their continued excellence, awesomeness and access to books on pretty much everything to do with the ancient world.

There’s more to come!