Voices from the Field (2019-06-27)

Rolling Stones: Excavating on a slope in 95.555

Ebru Kaner

Welcome to area 95.555! This area was opened in 2015, and this year I am continuing to excavate it; my Ph.D. dissertation explores LBA fortifications in western Anatolia, with a focus on Kaymakçı, and I am excited to learn more about the fortification system in this area!

95.555 is challenging to excavate because it is on a steep slope; there is a drop in elevation of around 5.5 meters from the southern edge to the northern edge! Ancient people preferred to construct their fortifications on such slopes because they wanted to build their defense system on terrain that was difficult to attack. So, they managed to build a strong defensive system that was not easily reachable by enemies without extra effort, thanks to the topography of the area. Overcoming the challenges of this fortification system is as hard for me as it would have been for ancient enemies since it is the first time I am excavating on a slope.

Taking a GPS point while enjoying the view.

The hardest part of excavating in this trench is to understand the stratigraphy, which is complicated by the history of building in the area as well as by the slope. For this reason, we are extremely careful and meticulous while digging. All of us in 975.555 work together to help in this hard task. Nonetheless, excavating on the slope is not that bad; our view is extremely pleasing and breathtaking!

Sunrise at 95.555.

We look forward to continuing our vigil on the northern wall to protect Kaymakçı from the White Walkers!

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

Voices from the Field (2019-06-21)

Exploring Daily Life at Kaymakçı: Work in Area 109.523

Dalila Alberghina

When you spend every morning in a trench for two months, somehow that trench becomes your home, as much as your team becomes your family. The 2019 field season is my second year in a row as the area supervisor in area 109.523, and it’s the second and third season for other people on our team as well! This not only creates a better atmosphere among team members, it also greatly enhances the outcome of our daily work in the field because each one of us is already familiar with the area and the materials that had been and are being excavated.

Looking for artifacts in the sieve. We sieve all the soil we excavate to find small ceramics and pieces of bone.

The area we are currently working in is located in the so-called Southern Terrace, located outside the Inner Citadel but within the larger outer line of fortification walls that encircled the entire settlement during the Late Bronze Age.

The “Southern Terrace.” The current road roughly follows the route of the ancient road through the site, past area 109.523 (in the foreground), up to the Inner Citadel.

While the general layout of this part of the settlement was already known thanks to geophysical  survey conducted between 2012 and 2016, the excavations (beginning in 2014) provided a great opportunity to understand and reconstruct the nature of domestic occupation and to grasp the essence of daily life of people living at the site during the 15th, 14th, and 13th centuries BCE.

Results of geophysical survey in the Southern Terrace. The large buildings being excavated in area 109.523 are found throughout this part of the site. (From Roosevelt et al. 2018)
Area 109.523 from the air, looking east. The stepped sondage in the southwestern corner (at bottom right) has recently encountered sterile deposits and bedrock, well beneath the architectural level(s).

In a nutshell, we are literally sticking our nose inside other people’s houses! The work in area 109.523, in fact, focuses on the investigation of long rectilinear buildings separated by alleys or corridors and aligned perpendicular to a street that connected this part of the settlement to the Inner Citadel. The main contexts we have been exploring in these first two weeks are two of these domestic units, internally divided into different rooms by small walls. How were people using these spaces in their daily lives? This is what small but crucial details try to tell us, from the differences in the texture and color of the soil to the distribution of ceramic sherds, bones, and other artifacts.

Objects for textile production from 109.523 and other areas, including spindle whorls, loom weights, and needles. (From Roosevelt et al. 2018)

And so day by day, paying attention to details, we get a perhaps more complex but better picture of daily life at Kaymakçı, from the way people prepared and stored their food to other daily activities conducted within the domestic units and in abutting corridors and alleys. In the next weeks we will continue our exploration of other parts of area 109 to add more pieces to the puzzle! In the meantime, you can learn more about this area, as well as other parts of the site, by reading a recent article published by our team.

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

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!