It will soon be time to resume work at Tell Khaiber. Preparations are in full swing. One major headache - how to fit a full-size team into the dig-house at Ur - has been hugely eased by a generous gift of ‘containerised housing units’ from the British Embassy, and the equally generous transporting of them by the wonderful SKA.
After the standard shenanigans - delay getting the trucks into the Green Zone, delay at the Nasiriyah check point - they eventually arrived in the dark, which made photography more difficult. Our kind friends and colleagues at the Italian Mission to Abu Tbeirah, currently in residence at the dig-house, took these snaps for us anyway.
Luckily Health and Safety were not involved, as the cabins swung over the wall, with close-up direction from one intrepid lad……
…… and plenty of advice from Ghani and everyone else…..
… and finally both landed safely.
And they we are! Four big tin bedrooms, each with a little bathroom - if we can get them connected up to water and drainage. And electricity, as they don’t have any windows. But if we can borrow a cutting instrument, we can soon take care of that. Each will be home to at least two archaeologists from January. If anyone near Nasiriyah has second-hand furniture to spare, please let us know!
No time to lose - with Jaafar Al-Jotheri at the University of Durham last weekend. His work on ancient river-courses and ours on the settlement of Khaiber will inform each other.
On the way home - the beauty of Istanbul
Ms Wussal Na’im Jasim, Inspector of Antiquities for Thi Qar, checks the handover register against the finds with Ali.
Dan winding up the recording. The Toughbook computers stayed the course, and the rolling tobacco just lasted out too.
Adrian does some group shots of the figurines
Fay makes some final checks on a wall. It sits a little lower than the plaster floor inside the room it bounds, as only the lowest courses are preserved at this point.
The first field season is over. More rushed, more exhausting, and definitely much hotter than would be ideal, but a triumph never the less. To the team, Iraqi and British, a massive ‘Thank You’ for all your patience, dedication, skill, hard work, and sheer grit. I confess to being slightly surprised, and rather touched, that you all want to come back next year, but - yes, please. To our supporters, financial and logistical, an equally massive ‘Thank You’ - and please come back next year too! Your names are recorded at www.urarchaeology.org/supporters/ and none of this would have happened without you.
The finds are all safely handed over, the site is secured and the guard briefed, and the bridge has been removed to discourage unscheduled visits. A sad sign of the times, and we have confidence in the local residents to look after the place, but we need to take every precaution.
Thanks to our stubborn insistence on electronic recording - it was so tempting at times to reach for a nice, simple piece of paper - we do not have masses of records to carry home. Most of our equipment can be stored at Ur, and, speaking for myself, the clothes I brought are not worth taking home. I’ll be lucky if they make it to Istanbul. But there’s still the University’s total station, and its tripod, and enough other stuff to be awkward. The fabulous folk from SKA come to pick us up, and whisk us away in air-conditioned cars to their airport camp at Basra to spend the night. So it’s hot showers, a good supper, and only a few yards to check-in next morning, rather than a 4.30am start and a game of sardines trying to pack into Raheem’s taxi.
Istanbul seems almost unreal after so many weeks of monotone scenery, and we muse about how Ur and Khaiber might have looked in spring in their hey-day. Our little hotel is built into the side of an ancient hamaam, covered with wisteria. I hope Iraq can come up with tourist delights like this one day soon. Because all the other rooms were taken, we booked a two-room suite, which is just as well, because Turkish Airlines declined to book the luggage through to Birmingham, so we are sharing with the total station and associated paraphernalia, which completely fill one room. Archaeology and holidays don’t go together very well.
Highlights? Number one is the great co-operation with our Iraqi counterparts. Beyond anything I expected or even hoped for. There is so much to build on now. Second, the site exceeded expectations too. The building is discoverable, the archaeology is near the surface, the salt isn’t too bad, there are tablets ….. And who would have thought we would get into the Washington Post and the Daily Mail? Just hope we can convert all this good will into funding for the future. Downside? Missing the January start date was a major drawback, but we got the basics done. Also, the security arrangements were restrictive, but we understand the reasons. Just wish we could get the escort up a bit earlier - 6.00am is when excavations start in the morning! By 8.00 the best photographing light is gone, and the wind is getting up.
Lots and lots to do. All the records are to be incorporated into a GIS (Geographical Information System), so that everything is integrated, and the details of what has been found where are easily accessible. Too many archaeological results languish as card catalogues and rolls of plans, and are never made available to the public. This is everyone’s heritage. We need to develop the training component of the project - perhaps as a formal field school for Iraqi students. Experts of different kinds need to be engaged, and lots more links and contacts made, so we can make the most of this terrific opportunity. I could do with advice from my old colleagues in Germany and the US as well as in the UK. Many Skype calls lie ahead.
Fay puts up with no nonsense - not from Luay, not from anyone. Sitting down in the trench is not good practice.
Luay Reisan Homood, graduate of Mosul.