Down the (bed)rock by Çağla DURAK


Whenever I say I am studying archaeology, people start talking about Indiana Jones or Lara Croft immediately. Well… Sorry guys but we do not run away from bad guys or we do not destroy temples like there is no tomorrow. However, this does not mean that our job is less exciting than you think. Especially at Labraunda, you never know what’s coming next.
The Tetraconchos hot bath
I came to Labraunda to excavate with a team investigating the surroundings of the Tetraconch building which is a sudatorium of a bath complex. The goal was to find a structure related to the Tetraconch which might be a private residence or a villa. We started by opening a test trench west of the building in order to see if there were any kind of structure remains connected to the Tetraconch. The first week passed by taking the topsoil and organize the documentation process. As we went deeper, we were losing our hopes slowly because the layers were very mixed since it was located on the slope. 
Opening the trench

We were like “Come on villa, where are you?” But there was no answer coming from the soil. Now you are probably thinking like “Okay where is the excitement? Where is the fun?” Here we go…
At some point in the trench we started to find some strange long blocks. They looked like they were put there on purpose with an order. Then we found tiles attached to those long blocks. Everyone was like “Okay could these be graves?” I’ve been attending different excavations for four years and I learned that brain storming is one of the most important parts of the job.
Olivier Henry and Merve Günal removing the tile with incised cross
So, we were three people sitting around the blocks and discussing what they could be. Then we decided to open up between the blocks and see what was inside. Everyone was so careful, trying to find at least one significant grave good to prove our interpretation. But they were all empty. Then we decided to take out the bricks attached to the blocks and suddenly someone yelled “BINGO!” That was the time when we found our first tile with a cross on it. 
At that time we started to think they might belong to Christian graves since we have a church very close to the Tetraconch. However, there was still something missing; the graves were totally empty… We could see that the graves could be going deeper since we didn’t reach the bedrock. Here comes another very important part of the archaeology; documentation… The thing was we would have gone deeper than the blocks if we kept digging so it was necessary to remove the blocks. Before doing something destructive, you need to record everything properly. That’s why documentation is very important, because digging as also destroying. So, first we draw every single block and stone according to a chosen scale. After that we took photographs of every part of the trench, we also took photos with a drone (I know it is so cool).
Drone flying over the Trench

After we removed the blocks, there was nothing but soil everywhere. So, we went deeper and deeper and deeper. Then we heard something hitting a stone. So, we immediately cleaned the area to see what was going on. As we cleaned the area we found slabs below each grave that we found earlier, only a meter or so below!
I had no idea what was going on. On a Saturday morning, I woke up and went to the trench.  Everyone was so quite that I could hear my own breathing. Then our excavation director Olivier Henry said the slabs belong to graves and we need to open them.
Bottom of the trench with grave lids appearing
On Saturdays we usually work until lunch time and then go to a nice hotel in Milas to have some rest. But that Saturday was completely different. There were three different graves with slabs on top of them. We shared them and worked in pairs. One was troweling and one was sweeping and we were using very small tools looking like dentist tools. In my grave, I was the one sweeping. After five-ten minutes I saw something yellowish in the soil. That was the bone. While carefully digging around it, we realized that it was a skull. And then arms came out. We cleaned around the skeleton for documentation. 
Me, cleaning around the skull



Photographs were taken and context sheets were filled. Then someone came and said it was the lunch time. But, you know, we were digging the graves, looking for coins and good ceramics. We weren’t thinking about lunch at all. While everyone was eating, we were still there cleaning our graves. As I mentioned above, Saturdays we eat lunch and go to hotel. So, it was also time to go down to Milas. 
While opening a grave, you should keep digging until you clean the grave completely because of a very simple reason; you cannot leave the skeletons outside since they are very fragile and there is always a chance that a someone or something might come and destroy everything. So we told the rest of the team good bye and continued digging. When we reached the bedrock, it was time to take out the skeletons and put them somewhere safe. While these were happening, the weather was not helping us at all. We knew that the rain was coming. So we needed to be as fast as we could. When we were done with everything it was already three o’clock.
After a nice weekend, we went back to work on Monday morning and SURPRISE! There were more slabs. Everyone knew what to do. We got our small tools and picked our graves. I was working on a small grave which was looking like a child’s grave with Olivier Henry. 
The Child grave before opening
We removed the slabs and started digging carefully. In a normal day, a child’s grave would make me cry non-stop. But while working, you focus on the work you’re doing and leave the emotions outside but, still, I did not know what I would do if I found a child’s skeleton in the grave. Half excited, half terrified I started digging with Olivier Henry. Again, no one was talking. Then, I saw something green in the soil while sweeping. I was like “Hocam!? Is that a glass?” But he said it was a coin and the world froze for a moment because it was my first coin in four years. I held it in my hands and I was like MY PRECİOUSSSS!! But I knew I needed to stop being a Gollum and pass to the documentation process. First, take the level with niveau machine, second take photograph, third put the coin in a bag to keep it safe and fourth write about it on your context sheet. Done! The grave was empty. But I had the happiest time of my life by finding that coin. My first coin.
The team digging the tombs in a 'dead' silence, focused!
If you are studying archaeology, it is very important to go to excavations. Because at school, no one can show you how to make things right on the field. Of course you learn everything in theory but touching the soil, seeing the color changes between layers, finding ceramics and even skeletons is a totally different experience and keeps you motivated in a school year so that you can understand well the things you see in class and make connections between the things you learn and things you see on the field.

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