a self-absorbed travelogue


Chapter 22: Letter from the Front

I know it has been a long time since my last blog post, but I assure you it was not for lack of trying. Whenever I felt the urge to write something, I didn’t have the time to do so. When I did have the time, I was asleep. Much has happened since the March thaw set in and the project is humming along. We are currently on a week break, which is why I finally have the time to sit down and write a little bit about what we have been up to.

News since my last post:

1) On April 16th, we moved into a new apartment in a house near the Vani Museum. We are able to hold more people here and it offers better access to the resources of the museum. We had DSL internet hooked up soon after and are now fully connected to the world outside Vani. The internet has also allowed me to back up our computer data on both Dropbox and Google Drive. All our GIS data is stored on Dropbox and our photos are auto uploaded from Picasa 3 into Google Drive. It’s pretty sweet and I go to bed with peace of mind that not everything will be lost if the unthinkable happens.

2) We have surveyed two 4km2 grid squares with both intensive and extensive survey. We have started in our third and should be done with it by the middle of June. Hopefully we can complete two more grids giving us a total of 7 grids. My heart was set on 8, but the enormity of this task is beginning to set in.

3) We have adopted three puppies which we found abandoned while on survey. Though we enjoy their company, we are beginning the process of finding them homes. Taking care of three puppies, a house full of students and keeping my own sanity has proven to be a bit more challenging than I had hoped.

4) I have not cut my hair since I left the US. Though I have lived with curly hair my entire life, I have never really experienced the full force of its curliness. That is, until now. How do people live like this? I now totally understand all the curly hair jokes they made on 30 Rock. Curly hair is a curse.

5) I am quickly running out of clothes. I brought three pairs of jeans with me and two of them are almost completely destroyed. My socks are blowing out at the rate of two pair a week. I am actually going to buy some more today. The biggest problem is that my boots are almost completely destroyed. They are only two years old, but Georgia and really done a number on them. At this rate I will be returning to the US in athletic shorts and a I “heart” Tbilisi t-shirt.

That’s the news for now. I apologize for the lack of photos, but it takes way too long to upload them (read 1 hour per photo) and I don’t currently have the time necessary. Sorry, mom!

I hope everyone out there is doing peachy. In two days, we dive back into the second half of the season. I hope it is even more successful than the first half.


Chapter 21: The Thaw is On

Thankfully, ours is a planet that wobbles and spring appears to have finally come to Georgia. The snow has melted, the sun is visible on occasion and flowers are beginning to bloom. This change in the weather has definitely affected my mood. I am ready to find me some archaeology. Granted I was ready to find said archaeology as early as March 10th, but there is no fighting the weather. Before I go on with the happenings over the past week, I want to apologize for the lack of pictures. My last blog post took an inordinate amount of time to complete, and it was all due to the photos I uploaded. This week I only have a few minutes to write. So, the pictures will have to wait. Again, my apologies.

This week has been equal parts productive and unproductive. On the productive side, I have completed most of the research and outlining for a paper my advisor wants me to write concerning Colchian pottery. I think its going to be pretty good and am interested to see how it turns out. I also completed two full days of solo survey. This is the hardest kind of survey to do, especially from a motivation standpoint. To start this year I decided to returned to Mshvidobis Gora, the hill that lies to the northeast of Vani. At the far western end of this hill (really a ridge) are the remains of a medieval tower  which I had documented last year. I wanted to get some better pictures and to check a measurement that didn’t seem right. Luckily I forgot my tape measure and neglected to replace the camera SD card before I left the house. Sooo, I wandered around the hill and did some cleaning of the structure in preparation for the photos. Two days later, I returned to the tower and got the photos and measurements. Afterward, I decided to head east along the ridge to take pictures of the valley before the trees leaf out. I took my time, making sure to get all the photos I could possibly ever want. Eventually, I came to the highest point on the ridge where I decided to take a rest and record what I had done up to that point. While sitting there, I became aware of the large number of cobbles and small boulders which littered the ridge here. I then noticed that, due to erosion, there were areas were large numbers of these stones had slid creating linear features on the surface.

I made note of them in my notebook and decided to walk over these features to get a sense of the size of the stones and the total area of the spread. After about ten feet, my eye caught something orange slightly covered by stones. It was a piece of burnt daub. This material is created when daub from a wattle and daub structure (for lack of a better source, see wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wattle_and_daub) experiences a burning event.   Burnt daub found archaeological often is created when the structure itself is burned (either intentionally or by accident). Finding these generally indicates occupation of the period I am most interested in (second half of the first millennium BCE). Needless to say, I got excited. A few feet farther, and there were three pieces and then more and then more. After about 30 minutes of unsystematic looking, I found at least 30 pieces of daub which were strewn over an area of about 100m by 30 or 40 m. Jackpot…maybe. Given the slope of the area and the heavy rainfall it experiences, there is little doubt that the area over which this material was spread is not the actual extent of occupation (if this does in fact indicate occupation). Unfortunately, I found only one fragment of pottery which likely dates to the 3rd or 4th centuries BCE. It was heavily worn, but retained some tell-tale decoration. I also found two pieces of flint.

This is exciting for two reasons: 1) it is on a hill that faces Vani and, if the material holds up, was contemporary with it and 2) for the second year in a row I found a site on the first day of survey. Those who do archaeological survey will know how important is for one’s own moral to find a site early. It lets you know that there is stuff to be found if you just get off your butt and go look. Once I have more help, I will return to the site and do a quick gridded collection of the surface ceramics and stone artifacts (including daub). Hopefully this will allow us to get a feel for the the type of activity that took place here. If it is still promising, I hope that in the near future we can carry out some geophysical prospection to really see what’s up. Productivity wow!

As for the unproductive part, I can thank the weather and my own inability to stay motivated in the face of setbacks. Though it has thawed, we still have driving rain and cold temps most days. If I was more hardcore, I would still go out and do some work. I am not that hardcore. The other hurdle that has gotten in the way of work is the every present supra. This week was the birthday of Nato’s mother. We went to their house and proceeded to have a proper supra for 5 hours. A “proper” supra means that wine is not really optional. Supras are a continuing danger here in Georgia. There is an etiquette to the supra and it often interferes with the goals of a survey archaeologist. I continue to get better at navigating them, but sometimes there is no escape.

So, that is this past week in a nutshell. I wanted to force myself to write this week as to encourage a weekly update of the blog. We will see how that goes. I have had very little time to work on the official working blog of the project, but will put my shoulder into it tomorrow and hopefully get it live within the week. See you on the other side of the week!

Chapter 20: In which I experience an actual winter

With the exception for a brief foray to Spain and the United Kingdom, I spent the entirety of last winter in lovely Tbilisi. Though there were a few fleeting days of snow and frigid temperatures, for the most part it was a mild and comfortable winter. This, I have been assured, is what might be termed a “normal” winter in the capital city. This year,  I spent the majority of the winter in Ann Arbor where it was unseasonably warm (and from what the weather channel tells me, continues to be so). So, it has been some time since I have experienced the type of bone chilling cold to which my time in Michigan has made me accustomed. Thankfully, Georgia has remedied this situation as only Georgia can, suddenly and with lots of wine.

I left Tbilisi for Vani on March 10th early in the morning. The trip west takes approximatley 4:30 hours, with the duration of the trip varying based on road conditions, time of departure and most importantly with the insanity of one’s mashrutka driver. Luckily for me, my driver this time was particularly insane (a compliment I assure you). About the time we reached Egoeti (approx. 1 hour outside Tbilisi) it began to snow. I had been told that snow had fallen in Imereti and points west, but I had not been aware of the snow which had basically blanked everything west of Gori. Thankfully, this marshrutka ride would inform me fully of the conditions on the ground. As we came to Gori, the snow picked up and I am not exaggerating when I say it was basically whiteout from that point to Zestaponi which is on the other side of the Likhi Range. The Likhi Range being the mountains the cross Georgia along its north-south axis and connect the Lesser Caucasus mountains with the Greater Caucasus.

At first, our driver slowed to allow for the inclimate weather, but as he became more sure of the road and his impatience grew our velocity increased accordingly. Hurray. Weaving and winding, passing and sudden stopping, I felt as though I was on a bobsled constantly hurdling to that one really dangerous turn. Then something happened I had not experienced before. Several of the passengers began to yell at the driver and he….slowed…down. What the what? Sure people have yelled at marshrutka drivers. Sure occasionally they listen (for instance to stop or to go faster). I have, however, never exeperienced a marshrutka driver actually slow down. I must not have been the only one mentally taking into account all my sins just in case St. Peter wanted some explanations. Again, thanks to the kindness of strangers I arrived in Vani in one piece.

I was greeted at the home of Soso and Nato Giorgadze, where I stayed last year after demolition of the excavation house had begun. They have two children, Nana and Saba, and live with Soso’s mother, Nanuli. This has become my Georgian family. Here are some photos of the family and their home.

The Giorgadze home. Vani, The Republic of Georgia.

Nanuli. Deadly backgammon player and excellent cook.

Nato hard at work on the family's newest member, a shiny new computer.

Soso and I. I include here myself to show 1) that I am alive and well and 2) that in planning for my trip this year I thankfully remembered to pack an extra chin to keep me warm.

Soso, Nana and Nanuli around our trusty heat source.


It continued to snow for the next few days, which gave me the opportunity to experience Vani as a winter wonderland. Of course, I spent the day trudging around the site of Vani. These pictures will someday prove that in fact I did trudge up to site in a foot of snow. The main attraction this time was the new dig house.

The brand new dig house. With the snow, I think it looks like a ski lodge. No water or furniture in this bad boy yet, but it is otherwise ready for action.

Lovely isn’t it? I was pleasantly surprised to find it was three stories and had a fireplace on the ground floor. Evidently it will have a bathroom with a working toilet and  I think a kitchen. I wasn’t able to go inside, but peeked in through the many windows. It is much much nicer than I expected. Though I did expect it to be nice. Here now for some images of the various parts of the site in the snow.

View from the middle terrace overlooking the "circular" temple and the valley of the Sulori below. That is Mshvidobis Gora in the distance.

My favorite tree in Georgia. It occupies a lovely spot on Akhvledianis Gora and stands watch over a portion of the city wall and an industrial complex.

So much snow. This structure, as you may remember from earlier blogs, has been identified as a temple.

Trudging my way up to the upper terrace, I snapped a picture of these stairs which once lead to a large monumental platform. This structure faces directly toward Mshvidobis Gora (roughly east).

Working our way back down the hill, this is the so-called Temple of Dionysus.

This is the gatehouse which once marked the entrance to the ancient site.

Moving down to the lower terrace, here is the monumental "temple complex" which has been associated with the rites of Hecate (due the presence of a huge pit next to the structure).

Another image of the "temple complex" from a different angle.

It was really quite striking to see the sight under so much snow. My experience of the place has generally been under blistering heat or torrential rain. One of the great things about coming here so early this year is that I’m getting a sense for the place which survey alone could never provide. Its important to remember the movement of time with thinking about why people chose to live where they did in the past. Explanations can include a number of factors of which seasonality is one. I’m writing that only to stay positive as my fingers are starting to freeze. I must unfortuanately leave you here. One last image before I go, however. Here is my survey area under a blanket of snow with the ancient site in the foreground. The modern village is centered where the church with the blue roof is. Beneath this white landscape is a dissertation. Imedia (hopefully)!

Chapter 19: I’m Back, Megobrebo!

Well, I’m back. Not just back on the blogosphere, but I’m also back in Georgia preparing for my second season of field work. This time around I’m here for only 6 months, but its going to be jammed packed with Colchian archaeological goodness. The blog I kept last year was really helpful in organizing my thoughts and forcing me to think about my experiences here. This year I hope to continue my self-absorbed ranting while at the same time adding a second blog into the mix.  I know, be still your heart.

The new blog will be entirely about my project at Vani and will allow me to keep those interested informed about the work we’re doing. This will of course allow this space to be used for all the inane musings for which I have become famous. I will send out a link to the new blog once it is up and running. I was encouraged to keep a project blog by my friend, Alice Wright, who keeps a pretty good one herself.  Check it out: http://gardencreekarchaeology.wordpress.com/2012/03/04/first-week-back-gcap-2012/

With that out of the way, I can now get down to the business of talking about myself and Georgia. I arrived back in Sakartvelo on leap day, and I have been staying at a guesthouse near the city center. Since my arrival, I have been organizing my move to Vani and working on a paper on Colchian pottery. Progress has been made on both fronts. My original plan was to leave for Vani on March 8th (this Thursday), but I have been informed that there are 14 cm of snow on the ground there. It’s hard to survey with that much snow on the ground, and the current temperature would make working at the museum slow and uncomfortable. So, I think I will postpone my trip for a few days and continue to work with the materials here in Tbilisi.

I apologize for not having any pictures to post. I have not been the shutterbug I usually am. This will change! Hope everyone out there is well. I promise that future posts will have more substance and more pretty things to look at (mostly me, unfortunately). Until next time, be excellent to each other!

Chapter 18: In Which All Systems are Down

On April 24th, 2011, my beloved MacBook’s hard drive suffered a critical failure. In this age of computers, one of the worst things that can happen is the death of a hard drive. No matter how diligently we back up our data and despite the ever growing sophistication of data recovery methods, dead hard drives often take a significant portion of our data with them. Turns out dead men aren’t the only ones who tell no tales.

The 24th happened to be Easter morning and the family I was living with kindly brought me a traditional Georgian Easter meal.

And yes that is a bottle of wine behind the tray.  It was incredibly generous of the family to share their food with me, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  As I was finishing up dessert, the music playing on my computer stopped and that most dreaded of images came on the screen.

Oh what’s that computer?  You don’t know where your hard drive is?  Let me help you find it.

What’s that?  Still not sure where it is.  Let me be more specific.

Nothing? Well, sorry I couldn’t be of more help. At least all of my data is adequately backed up on this external hard drive…wait, that’s right.  I was just about to re-backup the data after having to wipe the external hard drive due to some data corruption.  Awesome.

The death of the hard drive meant the loss of a lot of data I thought was adequately backed up.  It wasn’t.  Long story short, I may have lost a year’s worth of data in the blink of an eye.  I spent the rest of the day enquiring if there was a place to get my computer fixed in Kutaisi (the nearest big city).  The answers were less than encouraging.

“Sure, as long as you have a PC there should be no problem…it’s a mac?  You’re screwed.”

“Of course. Where is it?  No clue.”

“I know a guy who has a friend who knows someone that might be able to tell you where to go.”

I finally gave up hope and decided to head back to Tbilisi to get it fixed.  As luck would have it, there was a store there that was able to replace the hard drive, give me all new software and have it back to me in a day.  All that for a reasonable amount of money too.  Unfortunately, they were not able to recover the data from the old hard drive.  My hope is that upon my return to the US I will be able to find someone who can recover the data.  Inshallah.

Due to the computer outage, I lost a week of work getting the computer repaired and another couple days reloading all the programs I needed to start the field season.  At the time, I was sure it was the end of the world.  Looking back on it now, however, it was just the kick in the pants I needed to help me deal with the further frustrations the season was to heap upon me.

I know I have been terrible lately about keeping up with this blog. I hope to post a couple more times before leaving Georgia (which I do in exactly 4 days. YIKES!).  I promise the next posts will have more scenery and actually have something to do with archaeology.  Hope this post finds you all well. See you on the other side of the pond very soon!

Chapter 17: In which I get over conferenced and under showered.

Mea culpa, mea culpa.  My sincere apologies to those who read this blog for my long absence.  I can honestly report that my lack of blogging owes to a series of events both fortunate and unfortunate that begin at the beginning of April this year.  For the sake of both catching you up and keeping this as brief as possible, I will begin where all good stories should begin: at the beginning.

At the beginning of April a conference was held in Sofia, Bulgaria for Fulbright researchers working in various countries in eastern Europe.  The conference was a great chance to meet fellow researchers, check out Bulgaria and escape from Georgia for a few days.  I unfortunately lost most of the pictures from my Rebel due to a massive computer failure…more on that later.  Anyway, here is one of the only good pictures from the weekend I still have.  This is me with the United Buddy Bear from Georgia.  Check out the others here (http://www.buddy-baer.com/united-buddy-bears/united-buddy-bears-show/united-buddy-bears-show.html).

I returned from Bulgaria to Georgia early in the morning on April 11th and couldn’t sleep.  So I got online to check Facebook and putz around Google News for a awhile.  I noted on Facebook that there was going to be a talk later that day by Prof. Michael Vickers, formerly of the Ashmolean Museum.  I had the pleasure of meeting Prof. Vickers last fall at the conference in honor of Otar and I decided to go to the talk.  It was scheduled for 3pm that day at the National Museum.  I went to bed around 4am hoping I would get enough sleep.

Alas, I did not.  On the positive side, I was up in plenty of time to arrive at the talk.  It lasted until 4:30ish and afterward I approached Prof. Vickers to say hello.  We talked briefly and I asked him why he was in Georgia.  He said he was there to moderate a conference of Georgian and Oxford students to be held in Vardzia which was to begin the next day.  Surprised that I did not know about it, he suggested I email Prof. Vakhtang Licheli.  I raced home and sent an email.

Now, I have made it clear before that timely responses to email in Georgia should not be expected.  I was not hopeful I would hear from Prof. Licheli in time, but checked my email one more time at 11pm before I went to bed.  To my surprise he had responded.  To my further surprise we would be leaving the next morning at 8am for 3 days in Vardzia.  I quickly packed a bag and went to bed.

The next morning we met at TSU and I immediately noticed that I had packed for the wrong trip.  Everyone was in camping mode and my bag was packed for “impress the crowd” mode.  Moreover, everyone was talking about all the snow in Vardzia and how cold the cave would be…..cave, you ask?  Yes, the first day of the conference was held in one of the caves of Vardzia.  Behold:

To the conference cave!

Inside the cave

The caves of Vardzia from afar.

It was decided that the cave was a bit too cold to hold the entirety of the proceedings, so we moved one of the houses situated below Vardzia.  The conference was a blast and it gave me the opportunity to meet the next generation of Georgian archaeologists. Though it was cold and we did not have adequate supplies of hot water (or in my case any at all), the conference was a great success.  I was even lucky enough to be asked to present my work which is always nice.  All in all I must say that based on the level of professionalism shown by the Georgian students, the future of Georgian archaeology looks very bright indeed.

After the conference, I returned to Tbilisi where I had four days to pack before I moved to Vani to begin my field work.  During a part of these four days, I had the pleasure of hosting two Oxford students as they explored the city.  It was nice to have company and it really is true that you see things with new eyes when acting as a tour guide.  That being said, with guests I had an even more truncated schedule and found myself becoming a bit frantic as I prepared to move west. But as always, it all worked out and on April 20th I boarded a bus and headed to Vani.

For the sake of brevity, I will leave the story here and return to it in my next post.  Ryan will return in “All Systems Down.”

Chapter 16: In which I attend my first international conference.

To talk about my dissertation site, Vani, is to talk about the remarkable career of Otar Lordkipanidze.  Although the site has been the focus of sustained archaeological investigation since 1948, it was not until Prof. Lordkipanidze took over as director that the site achieved international fame.  A prolific scholar, Prof. Lordkipanidze wrote in Russian, German, French, English and of course Georgian.  It is nearly impossible to study any period of archaeological interest in Georgia without coming across his work.  The academic community is full of his former students, including Guram Kvirkvelia, Darejan Kacharava and Dimitri Akhvlediani who are my mentors here in Georgia.  Though his scholarly pursuits were not confined to the problems posed by Vani, it was Vani that always held a special place in his heart.  He directed excavations there from 1966 until his sudden death in 2002.  And it is to him that most of the accepted interpretations about the site can be traced.

This past fall a international symposium was held to celebrate Prof. Lordkipanidze’s 80th birthday.  The symposium lasted three days and included an honorary symposium at which friends and colleagues talked about their experiences with Prof. Lordkipanidze, an international conference at the National Museum, a presentation and tour at the Vani museum and archaeological park, a dedication of a lecture hall and a city square to Prof. Lordkipanidze and a tour of the Kutiasi Museum.  As with everything in Georgia, breaks between events were filled with feasting and toasting.

As some may know, my dissertation project is part of a larger survey effort being carried out under the direction of my advisor Prof. Christopher Ratté. The National Museum invited Prof. Ratté and his team to present on the work being undertaken around the site of Vani.  As Prof. Ratté was unable to attend the conference, I had the honor of presenting our work to the gathered audience.

This was my first international conference and also my first experience with simultaneous translation. Every talk was translated into Georgian, Russian and/or English depending on the language of the person presenting.  Talks were given also given in French and German (unfortunately not translated in English).  The entire weekend the conference participants were treated like VIP’s, and I must admit that I could get used to being treated like a somebody.

Here are a couple of shots from the conference:

One of the lamps recovered from the horde discovered in 2007.

Prof. Braund discussing an ophiale that was a point of debate between himself and Prof. Lordkipanidze.

When it was my turn to present, I gave my camera to Guram so that he might take a action shot of me dropping truth bombs on the assembled audience.  Due to forgetfulness, no picture was taken.  Sorry, mom.  The next morning we rose early and boarded a bus and headed west to Vani.  On the ride out, I had the pleasure of talking with Prof. Michael Vickers.  We had a lovely chat about Georgia, Archaeology and a new rug he had purchased for his home office.  This last topic came up because it reminded him of our mutual friend and colleague, Henry Colburn.

We arrived at Vani in the late morning and proceeded to the museum where a few presentations were to be given.  It was here that I heard for the first time about a development plan for the museum and site that had been more than a year in the making.  Either I do not pay attention to what people tell me or I am out of the loop.

The presentations started with a brief hello and welcome by David Otarlordkipanidze, Director of the National Museum and Otar’s son.  He was followed by Darejan who gave a discussion of recent work at the site of Vani, and she was followed by Dieter Pfannenstiel from Ellis Williams Architects (Berlin, Germany) on the proposed expansion of the museum and the development of the site.

Museum director David Lordkipanidze delivering his opening remarks at the Vani museum.

Dieter, the lead architect from Ellis Williams Architects, discusses the plans for both the site and the museum.

Dieter, next to one of the poster displays on the museum expansion.

Poster #1 of the coming museum expansion.

Poster #2 of the planned museum expansion.

Once the presentations were concluded, we had some free time to visit the site.  Since I will be spending more time at Vani this summer, I will refrain from adding too many pictures here.  They are limited to the new signs and placards which were erected around the site.  I aided in editing the English and actually suggested the final Englishized name of the Museum

New sign for the museum.

New signs directing visitors to the museum and the archeaological "parc".

One of the new placard-benches which now dot the site.

Close-up of the placard. Information is in English and Georgian, and the placards include maps to orient visitors as well as pictures of finds from that area of the site.

Picture of a portion of the defensive walls from the middle terrace. Taken standing next to the placard show above.

Dieter, on the middle terrace near one of the placard-benches.

New sign on the old gate leading to the dig-house. The reflection is that of Prof. Vickers.

Picture taken of the "altar" on the upper terrace.

It was drizzling, so I didn’t take as many pictures as I would have like.  Never fear, there will be more in the future.

Our noble steed from the weekend.

A view from the museum looking over a portion of my survey universe. Der's pots in dem der hills!

From the site we were whisked away to the big supra of the weekend at the home of a local parliamentary minister.  This was the fanciest supra I have ever been to.  All the food was cooked in a secondary building where they were also drinking very fine cognac.  Here are the pictures of the building, the cooking and the, shall we say, leftovers.

This is where the magic happens.

Preparing the bread before baking it in the oven (tonis)

Bread baking in the oven (tonis). Reminds me of a tanduri oven.

Pig roasting on the spit.

Heads of the roasted pigs. Often these will be given as a gift to those who serve as tamada (toastmaster). I ate a bit of the cheek. Delicious.

We then took our seats at the banquet table and began to eat, drink and repeat.

View down the table.

Food, glorious food.

This is the table for the conference participants. I was unable to find a seat and thus decided to sit with everyone else outside.

This is Otar's widow responding to a toast in her honor.

Our tamada and owner of the house in which the supra was held.

My mother has requested more pictures of me in the blog, so I will oblige.  I really dislike having my picture taken and like it even less when I know other people will see it.  That being said, here I am with some of my Georgian friends.

Omar, the director of the Vani museum, and I toasting.

Nato! She is a school teacher in Vani and during the summer cooks for the expedition. She is absolutely the sweetest woman in the world.

Hi mom!

Zaza and I. Zaza holds the record for the shortest trip by car from Tbilisi to Vani.

Misha Tsereteli and I. Misha is my primary contact at the museum and the motivating force behind most of the museum's activities.

That night we slept in nice hotel rooms in Kutaisi.  The next day we visited the Kutaisi museum and Tsereteli University for a presentation and the dedication of the lecture room to Otar.  After this we drove quickly by the square that was to be named after him (it was pouring down rain) and then on to yet another supra.  That afternoon we drove back to Tbilisi.

Sorry it has taken me so long to post these photos.  As you can see there are a lot of them and my blog attention lasts only about 15 minutes at a time.  I hope to post a few things about food in the next week.  Stay tuned.

Chapter 15: In which I participate in wine making.

Wine is an important component of Georgian culture, and they are very proud of their traditions of wine making.  Though not everyone makes their own wine, it is extremely common.  Before I moved from my old apartment, I had the opportunity to help my landlord make wine.

Step 1:  Harvesting the Grapes

Grapes on the vine.

My landlord harvesting.

A small portion of the full harvest.

Step 2: Crushing the Grapes

Nic adding the grapes to the crushing device.

Nic crushing away

Here’s a new treat.  I have now uploaded and successfully embeded my first YouTube video.  Welcome to the 21st century, Mr. Hughes.

I have no idea what the face is all about.

On the left are the grapes we just crushed. On the right is a batch harvested earlier in the year.

Step 3: Stirring the Mixture

First, water is added to the grapes.

Next, the new mixture is stirred.

The mixture begins fermentation immediately.  Over the next several weeks and months, the mixture must be stirred regularly to encourage and support the fermentation process.

Stirring the crushed remnants of yesteryear.

It is important to reincorporate the skins which have worked their way to the surface.

You can actually hear the fermentation process happening.

Once it has reached the appropriate age (what that age is depends on the vinter), the mixture undergoes a series of straining and “treatment” phases aimed at producing the type of wine the producer desires.  The final dregs of the mixture are then used to produce Georgia’s infamous cha-cha.

Step 4: Cook mstsvadi

Now, wine making in Georgia does not end with the actual making of wine.  It ends where almost everything does in Georgia, at the supra table.  Our landlord decided to treat us to mtsvadi (Russian: shaslik; Americanese: shish kabobs) which are produced by placing meat on skewers and cooking them over hot embers.

Preparations begin. We decided to place the fire right next to a very large gas pipe. By we, I mean our landlord. Note how far away I am when taking this picture.

I love fire pictures.

Once the fire has died down a bit, grape vines from the days harvest are put on top. This adds a distinctive flavor and unifies the eating with the days work.

Once the embers look like this, its time to place the meat and start cooking.

Step 5: Drink excess wine

Supra-ing after a hard days work.

There you have it.  My first Georgian wine making experience. I enjoyed the process, and anything that ends with food, wine and good company is alright in my book.  Now if only I could get someone to teach me to make cha-cha…

Chapter 14: In which I finally start talking about work

Due to a combination of laziness and intermittent internet signal, I have not updated you all on the state of my research in some time.  A significant part of my research relies on ceramic analysis, that is the collection, classification and analysis of pot sherds.  Currently I am working at the Otar Lordkipanidze Centre of Archaeology, which is located approximately five blocks from me on the same street on which I live.  In the fall, we were given a room on the first floor adjacent to the garage area.  The room was a good size and had a large table making it easy to spread out ceramics.  On the negative side, it had an ancient refrigerator that rewarded those who opened its door with a smell that triggered a pre-vomit reflex (watery mouth, abdominal convulsion and a sweet acidic taste at the back of the throat).   We have since moved into the interior of the center.

I thought it would be good to give a quick overview of the process we are using through the magic of digital imagery.  The pottery we have been working with in Tbilisi is from our excavations at Shuamta, a site located to the west of Vani.  Ceramics were separated by stratigraphic unit, placed in bags and labeled.  Some initial analysis of the ceramics was done in the field, but no typological study had been carried out.  At the end of the season these ceramics were transported to Tbilisi for storage.  It was in this state that I found them when I arrived in September.  So without further adieu: Behold, the reality that is archaeology!

Step 1:  Pick a bag, read the tag

The tags record the date the pottery was excavated, the trench from which it was excavated and the stratigraphic unit (in this case #1).  On the tag it also tells how many total bags of pottery belong to this unit (here it says there are a total of four).  This particular bag held all of the clearly diagnostic sherds from the unit.  Diagnostic sherds are those which allow use to assign a type to the fragment, and ideally a date as well.  Generally speaking, rims, handles and bases are the most common diagnostic fragments.  To this may be added decorated pieces or those with a particularly unique technique for production.  Ultimately, whether a fragment is diagnostic or not depends on the pottery assemblage that is being studied.

Step 2: Spread the fragments out on a table

Once the fragments are spread out, we begin the process of grouping like fragments together.  Depending on what is included in the assemblage, these groups can be based on form, decoration, fabric, etc.  It is a visual exercise and can be compared to separating puzzle pieces before putting the puzzle together.

Step 3: Reconstruction

Here is a picture of my colleague Sulkhan Kharabadze looking for joins in the pottery.  Finding joins is not always a necessary step, but my Georgian colleagues insist on reconstructing all the fragments possible before moving to the actual coding of the ceramics.  Having separated the fragments earlier into groups is extremely helpful in finding joins.  Many of the breaks we find were from excavation (i.e. they are new breaks).  I hope to address this issue when/if we are able to carry out excavations this/next summer.  Once joins are identified, we glue them together.

Sulkhan is incredibly adept at finding joins.  Here is a base he reconstructed.

Step 4: Re-Grouping

Once it appears the majority of joins have been made, the pottery is again categorized, this time as the first step in analysis.  As far as I know, there is no typology of the pottery of the period we have been studying (8th-early 6th BCE). There are general trends which allow us to establish these dates, but no firm typology.  I am currently producing one, but being that it is my first typology, it is slow going.  Here the pottery is divided from top to bottom into rims, shoulders, handles, bases and body sherds.

Step 5: Coding

Callipers: the real bullwhip of archaeology.  Once the organizational issues are out of the way, it is time to code ceramics.  Important measurements of each fragment are taken and recorded in a spread sheet.  I have also developed a number code for surface treatments and fabric description.  As of now it appears that ceramics from this period vary in fabric and surface due to irregular firing techniques.  Inclusions are universally similar and there are no clear patterns of variation in surface color and biscuit color.  I am currently seeking out whole vessels stored by the various museums in Georgia to supplement the material we have excavated.  These vessels will help me understand the dominant forms of the period as well as understand if there is regional variation in similarly dated assemblages.  Once all the coding is done, we can put it through a statistical program and begin to understand patterns in the data.

There is so much I am doing that makes me feel out of my depth.  It’s one thing to read and think about the right way to do things, it’s another to actually try and implement good practice.  I will simply continue to do my best.

Chapter 13: In which I celebrate my first Hogmanay

Hogmanay is what the Scots call the last day of the year but is more commonly used to describe the celebration of the New Year.  This celebration is not confined to a mere day.  The Scots, a people hearty in both body and spirit, extend their celebration to as many as four days.  I was lucky enough to be invited to join a group of stalwart travelers who had decided a Scottish New Year was just what 2011 needed.  Agreeing with their arguments, I decided to join them in London and make the journey north together.

My plane from Madrid landed in London at 9 am and the rest of the group was not to arrive until after 7pm.  This gave me a full day in a city I had still not gotten to visit properly.  I spent the rest of the day visiting Buckingham Palace, Parliament, Squares both Piccadilly and Trafalgar, Hyde Park and then spent 6 hours in the British Museum.  If it weren’t for my advanced age and aching back, I would have spent another three hours in this museum.  It was incredible.  Here are some photographic highlights of the day:

Buckingham Palace

Fragment of the beard of the Great Sphinx in the British Museum

The Rosetta Stone

The Elgin Marbles

The clock tower in which Big Ben resides

I by no means saw all of London, but I feel that I can now say that I visited the city. I was even able to have a pint or three along the way. At about 8pm I headed to Victoria Coach Station to meet up with my fellow travelers.  We boarded our overnight bus at 11pm and headed north to Edinburgh.  Though the ride was less than comfortable and the onboard bathroom was devastated by some sort of tactical nuclear event, the price of the ride was so cheap as to make the discomfort worth it.  We arrived into Edinburgh early in the morning on the 29th and immediately boarded another bus to Stirling where we would spend one night.  The ride took about an hour and we dropped our things off at our hostel and set-off to visit Stirling Castle.

It was a particularly wet day with dense fog that created an eerie quiet about the town.  The castle sits on a prominent hill giving it its legendary defensive advantages.  On the way up, we passed by a graveyard that, with the fog, was like something out of a horror film:

I regret not taking more pictures from Stirling Castle, but the fog made all the images look quite unremarkable.  The queens chambers of the castle were closed for remodeling.  It was there that the infant Mary Queen of Scots was crowned in 1543 (insert Geeky laugh/snort and requisite pushing up of the glasses).  That evening we went out for some food and spent the evening at the hostel taking rubbing elbows with fellow travelers.  The next morning we headed back to Edinburg where we had arranged an apartment in which to stay.

Our first night in Edinburgh featured the torchlight procession from Parliment Square to Calton Hill

Lit torches in Parliament Square

Me and me torch

Torches in the twilight

The procession ended at Calton Hill where a model ship was set on fire and fireworks were let off.  After the fireworks we headed back to the apartment to rest up and prepare ourselves for the next evenings New Years festivities.

The next morning we returned to Calton Hill to see it in the light of day and catch the view.

The gang taking in the view

From there we headed to Edinburgh Castle.

The gang in front of the castle.

"No one provokes me without impunity"

We had a cheap lunch at a pub and had a bit of a wonder around Edinburgh.  It is a lovely city and we all agreed we would have to return someday.  That night we made a New Years dinner and prepared to join the street party.  For reasons of decorum I will include only the following two images:

New Year's Eve dinner

The entrance to the street party. I took the picture because of the No Passouts. Unfortunately, it means no reentry. I thought it was an indication of how hardcore the Scots were about their New Years

The evening included tons of bands, fireworks and high spirits.  It was great to spend New Year’s in an English speaking country, but I found myself strangely missing Georgia.  This, I thought, was a good thing.  We spent the first day of the New Year recovering and headed out of town on the second.  On our return trip, we stopped in New Castle Upon Tyne.  It was cold and there wasn’t much to see.  I will spare you the 100’s of pictures of bridges I took.  On the fourth we arrived in London and headed back to Tbilisi.

I am well into the new year now and feel extremely behind.  My next post will catch you all up on my work and thus will hopefully motivate me to do some.