Until Next Year Jordan!

The Kharaneh IV 2016 field season has come to a close! We have all traveled home and are resting, recouping, and relaxing after a great field season. It was a wonderful excavation season this year, in no small part thanks to a fabulous crew! Continue to follow our blog throughout the year as we post updates about our ongoing research. Throughout the year we continue analysis of the Kharaneh IV material, and will post about some of the laboratory analysis that takes place after the field season.

Danielle and Lisa

Danielle and Lisa excavating at Kharaneh IV

Danielle and Lisa excavating at Kharaneh IV


Reflections on Fieldwork: Guest Post by Felicia De Pena

Guest Post by Felicia De Pena

Felicia and Theresa planning their excavation strategy

Felicia and Theresa planning their excavation strategy

The first time I laid my eyes on Kharaneh IV my heart fluttered and tears welled in the corners of my eyes- six months I had spent reading about the site and none of the research or photos do it justice. Millions of lithics lay sprawled on the ground glittering in the desert sun nearly untouched for thousands of years just waiting for archaeologists to clean and categorize them.  Josh and I walked around site in awe, gingerly picking up artifacts and taking in the environment we would soon be working in.

Mornings start early in Azraq as we tried to be on site by sunrise. First breakfast is normally chomped down quietly with a cup of instant coffee or tea and the Pajero was swiftly packed with all the tools and supplies for the day. Arriving on site in the morning was pleasant, the sun rose over the hills and the castle sat, almost majestically, off in the distance. We began our day’s work, which often included plenty of heavy lifting, some spoons, sunshades, and ubiquitous paperwork! A refreshing break at nine prepared us for the inevitable heat of the day. After returning from fieldwork, lunch awaited followed by a respite before lab. Our early evenings were often filled with lithics sorting, more paperwork, 4mm sorting, or other organizational tasks needed to keep the team running

Paperwork party back at the dig house

Paperwork party back at the dig house

smoothly.  At first the lithics sorting was puzzling to me but after a week of working with some amazing lithic analysts the pieces fell into place and sorting the assemblage became easier and dare I say fun! Our time in the lab, although a serious job, never felt too much like work. Giggle attacks, sing-a-longs, and light-hearted sarcasm made lab time fly by and before long our trays were whisked away to be replaced with dinner dishes.

Colleen and Felicia running a hair cutting experiment

Colleen and Felicia running a hair cutting experiment

Our home in Azraq was comfortable and the community most hospitable. Daily walks to the corner shops and visits from our neighbors were certainly pleasant parts of our days. Perhaps not nearly as pleasant as the amazing food Ismael prepared for us daily. Our downtime was often spent sitting under the olive tree chatting, reading, or drinking tea. I could not imagine a better team to have spent my summer with. At one point we decided to run an experiment on flint blades and the use-wear hair cutting left on them. We got Theresa to knap some lovely blades while Colleen and I discussed the plan of attack. I lost two inches of hair that day and Colleen lost a little skin off her thumb, but all in the name of science!

My experience in Azraq is incomparable to any other- the site, team, and artifacts will remain at the top of my personal list of best excavations. I am excited at the prospect of returning next year with even more knowledge and experience under by belt, as I will continue studying with Dr. Maher throughout the year.

Felicia De Pena

Adventures in Azraq: Guest Post by Joshua Varkel

Guest post by Joshua Varkel

As a recent graduate of UC Berkeley, and having only participated in field schools, I was very excited for my first excavation at Kharaneh IV with experts in the Epipalaeolithic and lithics. Fortunately, the people, site, and experiences have all exceeded my expectations and have taught me an incredible amount.

Beautiful sunny Azraq

Beautiful sunny Azraq

Firstly, with all the turmoil currently encompassing the Near East, I was very relieved to find Azraq as welcoming and safe as it is. My first day here, I was walking around ‘downtown’ and a shop owner invited me in for some tea, and we spent the next 20 minutes talking about how Azraq has changed over the past few decades, as well as the (seemingly) peaceful family politics that everyone lives with. This hospitality has been a constant throughout my time in this small Oasis city, and has made me feel very safe in walking the streets.

As a lithic specialist who was trained under Dr. Maher, I was struck with amazement at the density and abundance of flint that makes up Kharaneh IV. Pictures do not do it justice. However, the insane amount of artifacts and complex stratigraphy equate to one thing—a lot of paperwork. Out of all the excavations I have been involved with, Kharaneh IV by far has the most amount of record keeping. Although it sometimes seems like a pain, I really do understand and appreciate the steps that are taken to ensure accuracy and reliable records. Also, you know you have a productive day when you have to come home and spend an hour or so catching up on paperwork.

Lab work

Lab work before starting paperwork

A lot of time is spent either doing paperwork, sorting >4mm heavy residue samples, or doing lithic analysis, all of which would seem a lot more boring if it wasn’t for the amazing crew I am working with. Although I am the youngest, I have been given the title of “honorary old person” and feel as if the entire crew gets along incredibly well. It may be because of the delicious food that Ismael makes, but our living room table is always surrounded by smiles and laughing faces (and quite often laughing attacks initiated by Colleen). Everyone takes their jobs seriously and acts very professionally when they need to, but they never hold back a smirk or an opportunity to be sarcastic… And that makes this excavation the best I have ever been on.


Shaving for science!

Shaving for science!

Finally, since the entire crew is made up of lithic specialists, we have the opportunity to run some lithic experiments. One of which, where I volunteered to be the test subject, was to see how well blades made from flint and obsidian can shave my beard. We did find some interesting results, but for me, I hope this was the last time I shaved with 4 people starring intensely at my face and taking close up photographs.

All in all, this is a fantastic field season with great people and a very organized field director. I am honored to be a part of this expedition into the prehistoric Levant, and hope to return to Kharaneh IV in the future.

Joshua Varkel

Josh practicing his yoga excavation techniques

Josh practicing his yoga excavation techniques

Week 3 at Kharaneh IV

Theresa teaching Josh how to flintknap

Theresa teaching Josh how to flintknap

The third week has come and gone! Time has been flying by this year and now we only have one more week of excavations before the end of the project. This week we were joined by two new crew members, Theresa Barket and Bethany Theiling. Theresa is a long time project member and flintknapper extraordinaire. Bethany is a geoscientist and isotope specialist from the University of Tulsa. She is joining the project for the first time and will be conducting some isotopic work on shell beads recovered from the site. Although our daily schedules are busy with excavation and lab work, we took some time after site one day to explore Qasr Azraq, located right in the heart of Azraq and only a short walk from our house. This Qasr was originally a late Roman fort but was reused in later periods for fortifications or a place to live. Lawrence of Arabia even stayed there during the Arab Revolt!

Bethany and Colleen exploring the room where Lawrence of Arabia stayed in Qasr Azraq

Bethany and Colleen exploring the room where Lawrence of Arabia stayed in Qasr Azraq

Back on site, excavations of Structure 2 are moving along well. We have identified the western boundary of the structure and are slowly working to remove the capping deposits while carefully recording the material recovered from these deposits. For our excavation strategy we usually dig in 1 x 1 meter square units and follow the natural stratigraphy of the sediments. However, now that we are just above the surface of the hut structure we have subdivided the units into 25 x 25 cm squares. This gives us the opportunity to maintain excellent horizontal control so we can analyze the spatial distribution of artifacts. The work is slow going (we are now excavating primarily with leaf trowels and spoons) but we are recovering some really exciting archaeological material.

Abd and Ahmad organizing flotation

Abd and Ahmad organizing flotation

The last week is always busy, with continuing excavations, inventorying our finds, and backfilling the site. We are gearing ourselves up for the last week and will post more stories from our finds this season!

Lithics in the Laboratory

As Adam so eloquently wrote in his blog post from last year’s field season (see post here), work during an archaeological project does not end when we leave site and put away our trowels for the day. After lunch and a rest, we are back to work in the evenings sorting and analyzing artifacts from the site. This year we are fortunately to have a team composed of students interested in lithic analysis, so the focus of our analysis this year has been on stone tools collected from the site. To begin our analysis, we must first float sediment brought back from site to recover the artifacts, then sort through the 4mm heavy fraction to separate the faunal bones, lithics, and other cultural material from any remaining sediment. Finally, we sort the lithics according to our technological typology. After the field season, a sample of lithic material is shipped to UC Berkeley or the University of Tulsa for specialized analysis such as use-wear or more detailed attribute analysis. The faunal material is sent to specialists, Louise and Adam, for further analysis to identify the range of animals that where hunted at the site.

Lab before artifacts

Lab on the first day before the excavation (now it is filled with crates of artifacts!)

This year we have several goals for the lithic analysis. Back in 2010 we excavated a deep trench in Area A (the Middle Epipalaeolithic area) to get a better understanding site occupation over time. In particular, we are interested in how the lithic technology and retouched tools changed over 1,000 years of occupation. Through looking at these changes we can understand how the site connects with other contemporary sites in the region, how technology changed over time, and which different groups were living at Kharaneh IV. This year we are finishing up the analysis of the deep trench lithic material so we can trace these changes through time.

We are also processing material excavated during our current 2016 field season, specifically the artifacts from Structure 2. The artifacts recovered from the second hut structure will provide insight into how people organized their inside space vs their outside space. Through comparison with Structure 1 we can identify whether there are similarities or differences in how material was organized across space in these structures and how this relates to community structure during the Early Epipalaeolithic.

The large amount of lithics at Kharaneh IV certainly keeps us busy in the evenings as we try to better understand the site’s Epipalaeolithic inhabitants.

analyzing lithics

Danielle, Ahmad, and Felicia discussing Kharaneh IV lithic analysis

The Excavations Begin!

We are now a week and a half into the 2016 Kharaneh IV field season! We returned this


Teamwork removing the surface deposits 

year with a mix of new and old crew members to continue our exploration of the Early Epipalaeolithic occupation at Kharaneh IV. Our first week was short, only three days on site, but we were very productive. We unbacked filled our old excavation area in Area B and started two new excavation units. This area has occupations dating to the Early Epipalaeolithic period (approximately 19,000 years old). This field season we are exposing and excavating Structure 2, originally identified in 2010, to better understand the behaviours of the Early Epipalaeolithic inhabitants at the site.

improvised photo shade.jpg

Improvised sun shade for photography


Felicia and Colleen admiring the frescoes at Qasr Amra

Last field season we opened excavation units to find and map the boundaries of Structure 2, however we were unable to locate the west edge. This field season we are opening units to the west to find the extent of the deposits. We have been diligently working in two 1×1 meter excavation units to bring these down to the level of Structure 2. In one of the units we encountered a hearth feature, which contained burnt material such as gazelle horn cores and lithics. This hearth extends further to the north, however these deposits remain unexcavated (perhaps for a future field season!).  We are now almost at the level of Structure 2 and I hope to have the full structure exposed by early this week.

exiting Qasr Kharaneh

Crew leaving Qasr Kharaneh

Outside of work hours we visited some of the desert castles including Qasr Kharaneh and Qasr Amra. Both these buildings were built in the Umayyad period. Qasr Kharaneh functioned as a caravanserai (roadside inn) and Qasr Amra as a royal retreat and bath. On Friday (our day off) we visited the Azraq wetland reserve, the last remaining part of the Azraq oasis. Most of our current crew is new to Jordan, so we have had fun exploring some of Jordan’s cultural heritage together.

More updates to follow and I will post more frequently in the upcoming weeks!



Watching the fish in the Azraq wetland



Return to Jordan: Fieldwork 2016

The year flew by quickly and it is now time to start our 2016 excavations at Kharaneh IV. This year Lisa and myself arrived in Amman a week before excavations to attend the International Conference on the History and Archaeology of Jordan (ICHAJ). The conference has been fascinating and we have enjoyed hearing about new projects and catching up with old friends. On Saturday we head out to Azraq to begin our excavations on May 31.

This year we are joined by students from UC Berkeley, University of Tulsa, and Jordanian archaeologists. We will return to work in Area B, excavating the second hut structure at Kharaneh IV. In 2015 we began to uncover the structure, and this year will be working on carefully excavating the structure to understand the organization of space within the hut.

We will continue to post updates on our excavation and adventures in Jordan on our blog.

Amman in the evening