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!
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.
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!
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:
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.
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
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.
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.
We then took our seats at the banquet table and began to eat, drink and repeat.
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.
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.
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.
My primary reason for coming to Georgia is to carry out my dissertation work. As with everything in Georgia, things take a while to get off the ground. During my first week in country, I was able to procure an ID card for the National Museum, secure a letter of introduction for the museums I intended to visit in the the rest of Georgia and Guram arranged a workspace for my colleague Sulkhan and myself to begin work on pottery collected during the last two seasons of survey work. My initial optimism that this meant good things for the pace at which work would be done quickly faded in the face of “nela nela-ism”. Nela nela-ism is a term I have coined to describe the Georgian work ethic. Nela (ნელა) means slow or slowly in Georgian, and saying it twice (nela nela) is a common way to say “not too fast”, “slowly slowly”, “take your time”, etc. Every time I attempt to move things along by using the American tactic of persuasion through confrontation and rational argumentation, I am met with “nela nela”. This idea of taking one’s time goes beyond being careful (as in measure twice, cut once), and gets in the way of setting schedules and planning ahead.
Oh, yes…planning in Georgia. Planning in Georgia, quite frankly, infuriates me. As I mentioned in my post on camping, plans may be laid weeks in advance but they are usually only confirmed minutes before the activity/event is to take place. More commonly, however, I will receive a phone call at 9:50 am asking that I be somewhere at 10am (usually on the other side of town). The effects of this last minute attitude toward scheduling can be seen in both the public and private sector. Just after my arrival in Tbilisi I noticed a group of students milling about outside one of Tbilisi State University’s (TSU) buildings:
I later found out that all of these students were waiting for their schedules. School had been in session for almost three weeks. This is not the same situation as happens at US universities where students change their schedules during the first week of class. These students had never received a schedule of classes at all, nor did they really know what classes were even being offered. I have decided to write more on the way education works here in a later blog. More research is necessary on my part before coming to any personal conclusions.
Scheduling appointments is even more irritating. A recent conversation I had with a Mr. X.
Me: I would like to meet on December 20th to talk.
Mr X: Ok, call me then and we will meet.
Me: No, I would like to schedule a specific time and place. That way we will both be free.
Mr. X: I don’t know what I’ll be doing on Dec. 20th, so call me then to see if I’m free.
Me: On Dec 20th you will be meeting with me. Now you know. (smile and a laugh to head off tense exchange).
Mr. X: Haha, call me on the 20th.
The very reason you schedule an appointment is so that you can plan around it. But this is my point of view. Within the framework of how plans get made in Georgia, Mr. X would be ill-advised to schedule a meeting. What if something far more important comes up that he must attend to. As plans are not formulated until mere moments before the act is to be carried out, it is only logical that everybody plays it loose when it comes to their schedules. Not all planning works like this and those who interact with the French, Germans, Brits and Americans are more willing to add rigidity to their day-to-day activities.
I in no way mean to discuss any of these practices as defects in the Georgian character. Rather, I mean to draw attention to a fundamental difference between my perception of “hard work” and theirs. Recently I participated in a talk at TSU at the Center for American Studies. A fellow Fulbrighter, Nic Wondra, had been invited to discuss US federalism and his home state of Colorado, and he decided to drag me along to observe. Instead of watching, I ended up participating in the talk which will be part of a future post on my views of education. At the end of the talk, the topic of working in the US came up (likely flowing from our discussion of state vs national budgets and taxes). When Nic and I told the group of Georgians that we had begun working at (relatively) young ages and had been saving money since our first jobs, there was surprise on the part of the teacher and the students. Now, I know for a fact that all the students in the class had jobs as this is how school gets paid for. What was surprising to them was that we had been working from a young age as if we were financially responsible for our own welfare. This revealed the first contributing factor to “nela nela-ism”. In the US, we are prepared from a young age to become self-sufficient. This means working hard, saving money and taking responsibility for your own welfare even before you are sent out on your own. In Georgia, there is an understanding that the family unit will likely stay together. Sons will continue to live with parents and may in the end inherit the house once the parents have passed on. Their first experience with working to support themselves and their family is expected to happen later in their life than it is in the US.
The second, and probably more important, contributing factor to “nela nela-ism” is the absence of clear incentives for hard work. In Georgia, the rewards for hard work are generally not outweighed by the effort. Though it is not an absolute rule, in the US the harder you work the more likely you are to be rewarded with a better standard of living. This does not hold true in Georgia. Some do make it through hard work, but they are exceptions. There is simply not enough opportunity for growth (meaning they are short on capital) to encourage the sort of work ethic common among Americans, Brits and Germans. Those who do work hard more often than not must leave Georgia to reap the benefits of their efforts.
Obviously, everything written above is my outsiders take on the general way things get done here in Georgia. I am sure my opinions over the coming months will change as my understanding grows. My experience with my academic colleagues is far different from my day-to-day experience with other Georgians. My colleagues Dimitri, Sulkhan and Guram understand hard work (in my American sense) and are always eager to push forward and do more.
As my frustrations grow with the Georgian pace of living so does my love of this country. It has made me think long and hard about my own expectations and assumptions. If I was not under the time restraint of the Fulbright, I might settle into the Georgian flow more easily. As things are, I have 7 months left to get my dissertation off the ground and running. I don’t have time for nela nela.
I was sick in bed with what my friend and fellow Fulbrighter Chase calls “Saakashvili’s Revenge”. You will of course excuse me if I withhold the details of my affliction. Since I had free time on my hands, I decided to write out my goals for this coming year.
My reason for setting up this blog was not only to detail my many Georgian adventures, it was also to document my professional work in the country. The research design I proposed when applying for the Fulbright grant consisted of three broadly laid out phases. The first is a research phase which is to run from September to February with Tbilisi being my primary base of operations. I will be working at the Georgian National Museum and the Otar Lordkipanidze Archaeology Center. During this phase I will begin to wade through the considerable Russian and Georgian bibliography, study the collections at the National Museum, and to work on the pottery from survey work carried out in 2009 and 2010 under the direction of my advisor, Prof. Christopher Ratté. During this initial phase, I will also be making trips to regional museums to get an idea of the sorts of cultural material being recovered from other parts of the country.
Phase two will consist of initial extensive survey in an area to the east of Vani. Here is a map to help orient you.
Here is a closer satellite image of Vani with the area I will be surveying demarcated by the red box.
By extensive survey, I mean a systematic technique of investigation in which local informants, previous research and educated guesses are used to identify locations of past human activity. This phase will utilize and supplement the work carried out in 2009 and 2010 by these teams:
The information gathered during this phase will help refine the research agenda of the second phase of survey (third phase of research): intensive survey.
Intensive survey differs from extensive survey in the amount of energy expended per unit of ground covered. Generally speaking, extensive survey consists of walking several kilometers a day seeking specific areas of archaeological interest, Intensive survey tends to follow a much more specific (and usually randomized) sampling strategy. Whereas extensive survey can produce a great deal of information about a relatively large survey area, intensive survey is necessary to refine site identification and categorization. Extensive survey allows us to utilize what knowledge we already have to find new sites and intensive survey provides the tools to question and refine that knowledge. As Kent Flannery noted in his dialogue on sampling in survey, both forms of survey are essential to producing a large enough sample of archaeological information to allow for appropriate analyses.
Obviously my base of operations for this survey work will be Vani and I hope to achieve a full 5 months of fieldwork. This is contingent on a number of factors including weather (survey works best immediately after the fields are plowed) and my language abilities at the time survey starts.
So that is the basic plan for how my research will proceed here in Georgia. This will not, however, be the last season of my dissertation fieldwork. I am in the process of applying for money for a second season to run next spring into the summer (March-August?). This should provide me with enough material to produce a useful analysis of the character of settlement to the east of the city. I will write more on my research questions in a later post.
So much for my research agenda. What else do I have planned for my time here in Georgia? I have never been much of a goal-setter. Sure I have long term goals, but since I have been in school most of my short term goals have been set for me. This must change.
Goal #1: Learn Georgian. Realistically this will not be possible in one year, but significant strides can be made. Much of the scholarship I need to access is in Georgian, and, more importantly, the people I will be interacting with on a daily basis are Georgian. Russian is also necessary, but what better time to learn Georgian than when I am living in Georgia?
Goal #2: Visit all the Georgian archaeological museums. Like learning Georgian, this will be a daunting task. It’s tough but possible.
Goal #3: Produce at least one article for publication. If this doesn’t happen, I’m in trouble. So, it will happen.
Goal #4: Learn to sing in Georgian. I have joined a choir of Expats and Georgians that gathers to sing Georgian folk songs. This does not mean, however, that I will necessarily learn one full song. Here’s hoping.
Goal #5: Do something new once a week. Though I will have to at times be rather liberal with using the phrase “new”, I think this is a very doable goal.
Goal #6: Learn and share as much about Georgian culture as is humanly possible. Vague goals are always my favorite. They are always in a state of already being achieved.
RULES OF ENGAGEMENT
How do I intend to achieve these goals, you ask? In order to make the most of my year in Georgia, I have formulated a list of rules of engagement. Though I call them rules, what follows should really be thought of as a set of general guidelines to help me reach my personal and professional goals during my Fulbright year in Georgia.
Rule #1: Be safe. This rule is unbreakable. I am to never put myself in unnecessary danger.
Rule #2: Be courteous. I am a guest in this country. The Georgian way may not be my own, but it is not for me to judge. My chief goal here is to learn and not to educate. I hope not only to learn about the people and archaeology of this country, but also to better understand myself and my place in the world.
Rule #3: Take risks. I have described this rule to others as my “never say no” rule. It is one thing to look before you leap. It is quite another to stare and never jump. I have spent far too much of my younger years worried about the consequences of my actions rather than actually acting. Under the rubric of my rules, a risk will be taken if 1) it does not require the violation of any of the above rules, and 2) it does not require me to do anything illegal. If these conditions are met and a new experience is offered, I must say yes.
Rule #4: Be American. There are things I do as an American that are viewed by some Georgians as weird (such as going on a morning run). As long my actions do not violate the previous three rules, it is perfectly acceptable to continue to act the way I did in the US. No need to apologize for being who I am.
Rule #5: Be flexible. After hearing my list of rules, a fellow Fulbrighter called me out on making things too black and white. He was right. Life isn’t simple. I may be presented with choices that call some or all of my rules into question. If I hope to get as much out of this as possible, I need to be prepared to change. I will be patient and persistent, and if that doesn’t work I will be flexible.
Well, there it is. A rambling, barely cogent discussion of what it is I hope to accomplish while I am in Georgia. Hopefully by writing this out and making it public I will be pressured to follow through with my goals. Now to hit the ground running…tomorrow.