PAGE(S) 3: Back at base
A large part of the time in Armenia is spent on fieldwork: mapping the Hrazdan Valley and excavating archaeological sites therein, but (luckily, in these temperatures) it is not all fieldwork.
The mapping expeditions produce brightly coloured maps where each colour marks a different basalt flow or other geological feature. These maps, coloured in during the field trips, need to be updated and synchronised regularly. The excavations also produce many artefacts. As these cannot be taken out of the country, they need to be processed and analysed during the field season.
The expedition base in Yerevan is the ideal place for this. As far as fieldwork accommodations go, the house of the Partevyan family is palatial, with showers, Internet access, and lastly ‘Café Hovhannes’. This sheltered corner of the back garden doubles as an open-air office during the day and an ideal spot for relaxing when the sun has set. The long table becomes a bewildering jumble of science papers, rocks, artefacts, tools, books, crockery and office equipment, which develops its own stratigraphy over the course of the season. The day starts here, where the progressively weary looking team sits around the table waiting for breakfast and, most importantly, coffee to be served. The table is used as a work station by the specialists analysing materials and drawing artefacts. It serves as a welcome rest for the elbows of those who return from the field in the afternoon, and at night it is the gathering point for the team to socialise over a beer and the occasional G&T.
In the afternoon, with the table free of coffee cups, glasses and beer bottles, bags of artefacts are emptied on the tablecloth for the archaeologists to examine, much to the dismay of one archaeologist drawing artefacts at one end and of the geologists with their maps at the other. Even though total stations, GPS equipment and computers are used to register spatial data on the excavations and field trips, parts of the fieldwork still relies on old-fashioned paper and pencils, which do not go well with obsidian tools and the dust of hundreds of thousands of years stuck to them. The artefacts are analysed and divided into different types, measured and weighed, and the data entered into databases. Meanwhile, the three geologists compare results from their mapping expeditions. Their maps, coloured in by hand using simple crayons during the field trips, need to be updated and synchronised regularly. They also regularly need to expand the colour spectrum of their crayon collection, usually done by paying a visit to the toy section of the shop across the street, since the field trips keep yielding ever more new units to map. At a later date these analogue maps, but also the hand drawn sections of the excavation trenches, will be digitised and georeferenced in order to combine all results for spatial analysis and publication.
Most of the fieldwork is over, apart from one or two short, sharp sorties to test lingering hypotheses and new archaeological sites. The season has been underway for a few weeks and it is beginning to take its toll on the team. You can see it in their step and in their faces, so lab and office work are not unwelcome at this stage. I am not the only one with end-of-season-feelings as most of the team will be boarding a plane to the Netherlands, the US, Britain or Israel in the next few days. The skeleton crew remaining behind will carry the field season over into August, and I am sure they will be subjected to spleen in their last, solitary days. I am flying home on Saturday, and I am looking forward to my own shower and bed, but also to next year’s field season. I am currently wrapping up my own loose ends in terms of section and artefact drawings, and wondering if there will be a man with a chicken on the flight, like I saw on the way in…
About the Author
Yannick Raczynski-Henk is a PhD candidate at Leiden University and has been working in Armenia since 2009. He writes about his experiences in Armenia on his weblog .