Voices from the Field (2019-06-19)

A New Path to the Site

Hakan Orel

At the beginning of the 2019 season and with several friends from nearby Hacıveliler and Büyükbelen, I committed to clearing and marking the trekking route between the research center and excavation area at Kaymakçı. Rather than chopping extensively, we shared a common perspective and respect for the forest, working together like gardeners rather than foresters.

Team members clearing the way.

We spent the day together sawing and trimming different kinds of Meşe (pırnal meşesi = holly oak), Ahlat (wild pear), and Payam (Almond), removing dead and entangled branches. This will increase their health and growth in the near future. We also removed unnecessary branches blocking the trekker’s path as well as loose stones and the many thorny plants that we all know and love.

We might have disturbed some pathways/refuges of wild animals, but it was necessary to draw boundaries that separate our paths, minimizing the chances of encounters.

Those who now walk the path will see cairns (stone stacks) along the way that mark the route. If you see one that has been toppled, please repair it, or—if you like—make a new one marking the location between two others: put at least 3 stones on top of each other and be sure that the new cairn is seen from both ways, hiking up and down.

A stone cairn to mark the path.

There are also a few spots for shade if you would like to rest a little: one around the halfway point, and one just below where the path meets the ridge that connects the excavation area to the research center.

A shady spot if you need a break!

If you are hiking in the early evening, mind your step for snakes: they come out of their homes during the cooler hours to take in the weather. To minimize the chances of encounters and to avoid surprising animals, distance yourself from shady under-tree spots along the path, where they live.

While cleaning the path, I had an informative day, learning different tree and animal species local to the region. It’s always good to share and gather new experiences and knowledge!

Enjoy the views and cherish the cardio workout along the newly cleared path!

Team members heading to site for trench tours!

Look forward to more posts from Gygaia Projects over the course of the year!

Voices from the Field (2019-06-16)

Storm Gods at Kaymakçı!!

Over the last few days, the Storm Gods have been visiting Kaymakçı and making their presence known!

Strong winds, high grumbling thunder, alternating sharp spikes and dulled clouds of lighting, and torrential fits of rain!

Poor weather for excavation, but convincing reminders of possible perspectives on the power of nature in pre-industrial and pre-monotheistic cultures!

Look forward to more posts from Gygaia Projects over the course of the year!

Voices from the Field (2019-06-13)

Understanding mudbrick and earthen features at Kaymakçı

Jana Mokrisova

The great cities of Babylon and Mohenjodaro were built not of stone, but of mudbrick. The same was true for the first towns and cities of Anatolia. It is among the world’s most important materials—excellent for moderating temperatures in winter and summer. During the Late Bronze Age in Anatolia, and notably at places such as Hattuşa and Kaymakçı, people built big cities with this fantastic material, including streets, houses, and walls that towered many meters. This required massive labor, time, and resources. Over time, the elements literally blew away this impressive city. Today, we have fragments that give us clues.

A common state of mudbrick preservation at the site, including fragmentary and heavily weathered mudbricks.

As mudbrick and earthen materials are often sun-dried, they are very fragile and require a lot of time to maintain. Once people left Kaymakçı, the mudbrick infrastructure succumbed to the elements such as rain and wind. Thus, our research questions include a focus on the 3,500 year old fragments of this once impressive place, as highlighted in a recent article.

This particular fragment was preserved because it hardened as a result of contact with elevated temperatures.

We are investigating not only individual bricks but also complete earthen features, from platforms to hearths and ovens, considering the full magnitude of the mubrick architecture that would have defined private and public spaces at Kaymakçı, as well as the superstructure of the fortification system. Understanding the chaîne opératoire—the production sequence—is a critical part of this work.

Mudbrick and earthen materials are made from a mixture of sand, silt, and clay; they also contain “temper,” such as straw, chaff, and mica schist. Variation in the composition of mudbrick at sites like Kaymakcı is influenced both by local resources and the choices made by those who produced the material. We’ve been working on understanding the fine details so that we can investigate choices made in the past.

In order to understand variations in both material sources and mudbrick production methods, we conduct particle-size analysis (or granulometric analysis) to measure grain-size proportions, from coarse, to medium, to sandy or silty/clayey.

Oven 99.526.79.

Applying this analysis to an oven excavated in area 99.526 in 2016, we can show that the oven was made using bricks of different “recipes,” most of which do not adhere to an idealized ratio of 25–45% clay and less than 50% sand.

A table showing percentage representation of sand, silt, and clay for features distinguished within oven 99.526.79.

Perhaps the bricks came from different mudbrick makers using different recipes and resources, or perhaps they were produced at different times, only used together in the oven. We probably won’t be able to answer such questions definitively, but without this type of analysis, we wouldn’t have known to ask them in the first place! Stay tuned for future posts and the publication of the in-process article for more hypotheses about how the people of Kaymakçı used earthen materials to shape their architecture and daily lives!

Look forward to more posts from Gygaia Projects over the course of the year!

Voices from the Field (2019-06-10)

Our future is bright, our future is in three-dimensions! 

Gary Nobles, Aleyna Çalışkan, Orkun Şimşek, and Volkan Artan

The team processing the data fresh from the excavation.

The Kaymakçı 3D spatial team are always hard at work processing the photographs from the excavation team to create truly three-dimensional volumes of each excavated archaeological context. This process starts after we have generated the 3D models for each context’s upper and lower surfaces; along with other files like an orthophoto and a DEM (digital elevation model), we create a file containing data for the (potentially millions) of points in each model. We then use a mix of established software as well as our own bespoke solutions specifically designed for cleaning the 3D outputs.

Visual results from our filtering algorithm. This one needs cropping!

Using software still in development (being developed by Gary), we isolate the 3D points of any particular object or soil volume we have recorded. Since we know their exact position in each excavation area, we can accurately reconstruct the digital picture of the space.

Our first results are emerging from the mass of information we have collected over the past years as we incorporate the new data from this year’s excavation.

Contexts 515 and 499 from trench 99.526 showing the complexities we face.

We are excited to see how the excavated soils will take on a second life in digital form as the season continues.

Look forward to more posts from Gygaia Projects over the course of the year!

Voices from the Field (2019-06-07)

We’ve Moved: Reorganizing the new depot

Ayce Büyükmete and Kader Gürgen Erdem

This year, we were the “early birds,” arriving at the new Kaymakçı dig house to begin work in advance of the rest of the team. Our work will focus on identifying, analyzing, and sorting 2nd millennium BCE pottery that comes from the site each day.

Ayce, Kader, and Hakan working with artifacts.

We started the season by sorting and checking the inventory from previous years; this gave us the opportunity to touch and observe artifacts before the excavation started. We are indeed lucky! 

We begin by pulling all of the samples from each context (right now, we are focusing on area 97.541). We check the pictures in the database to make sure they are correct. We also re-weigh and re-count the samples to make sure that our data are accurate; these measurements will be used to study the ceramics from the site in the future. This process involves becoming familiar with new systems and technologies, including the project’s networked database and a series of apps that automatically save and label photographs of samples. We have also had the opportunity to learn about tools like the Pantone CapSure; this device digitally measures the color of artifacts and identifies their Munsell color.

The Munsell color chart was developed to describe the color of soils, ceramics, and other materials in archaeology. These “Munsell readers,” as we call them, make taking these measurements very quick, and also help to keep measurements standardized between analysts.
Yiğit and Mustafa looking for “joins” (where two sherds fit together).

After checking all the data in each sample, everything is put back into the depot. The new depot will be organized by excavation area and context number, so all samples will be easy to find for researchers in the future. 

Yaşar working in the new depot.

Now that excavation is beginning, we are excited to welcome new information and materials, and to share new experiences with friends and fellow researchers. 

Let this be a successful excavation season! 

Look forward to more posts from Gygaia Projects over the course of the year!

Voices from the Field (2019-06-04)

Using Digital Tools to Understand New Excavation Areas

Catherine Scott

Excavation area 97.541 is a good example of the potential history of an excavation area at Kaymakçı. It was first excavated in 2015 by Emily Wilson, then continued in 2016 by Haley Chasteene. Emily returned for the study season in 2017 to reassess the area in advance of our recent summary publication. Now I will be excavating this area again in 2019. 

A drone photograph of area 97.541 from the beginning of this season.

The extensive digital documentation that results from our workflow at Kaymakçı facilitates the transfer of an excavation area from one area supervisor to another, as well as research during the off-season or during study seasons. 


An excavator or researcher will generally start with the available reports; at Kaymakçı, we write regular interim and final reports that include both a narrative of what occurred during the season and the excavator’s interpretations. The report also includes a Harris matrix, a form of representation very common to archaeologists that helps visualize stratigraphic sequences (or, the physical relationships between deposits and features). 

Part of the Harris matrix from 97.541.

We also create other forms of digital documentation that are extremely helpful in understanding the work that has been done to date.

Excavation journals are written in Evernote and archived on the project data server; excavators can easily take pictures and annotate them to explain how they are excavating or to highlight features of interest.

A section of Emily’s notes from 2015.

Our networked project database allows for easy access to data on contexts and samples. It pulls together information from all participants, including excavators and specialists.

The Excavation database form. We currently use Microsoft Access, but are in the process of developing a web-based platform!

Spatial data recorded in ESRI’s ArcMap (a Geographic Information System, or GIS) are also easily available. We archive all files from previous years, so researchers can access plans from each day of excavation to see how they were recorded by the excavator at the time. These “day plans” show the state of the excavation area at the end of each day.

A day plan from 2015.

We also have access to the 3D models produced for every context, which provide all the spatial data from the excavations. Because these models are detailed and dynamic, they can often provide much more clarity than traditional photographs. These models help us to “relive” the excavation, in a way, by allowing us to see what each context looked like before and after it was removed, in all of its three-dimensional complexity. We also continue to develop 3D volumes of each context using these models, which allow us to virtually reconstruct and re-excavate each area in different ways.

The 3D model from a 2016 context, shown in Agisoft Photoscan.

All these resources are available via our networked data server, and therefore directly on each area supervisor’s computer via a remote desktop connection. With all these tools at our disposal, we are able to get up to speed quickly on previously unfamiliar excavation areas!

Look forward to more posts from Gygaia Projects over the course of the year!