Tag Archives: doha

Dig House Living: Seasonality & Materiality

For the past couple of days I’ve been here in Qatar, setting up the dig house for the 2017 season of the Origins of Doha and Qatar project. My husband, Daniel Eddisford, is the excavation director (while I’m the digital archaeologist) and we’ve been doing all the chores required such as picking up the rental SUVs, cleaning up the dig house and buying odds and ends for the arriving team.

Our dig house is undeniably urbane as these things go–Dan & I wrote an article about the contemporary archaeology of dig houses that featured much less comfortable living quarters, including Flinders Petrie’s residence in a tomb in Egypt.

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Flinders Petrie in front of his tomb dwelling in Giza.

Dig houses, as we say in our article, are good to think with–they are structuring structures that give shape to our thinking about the past. They also dictate critical social relations amongst team members so we try to give a lot of thought and care about our setup. Our dig house consists of two adjacent flats in “Education City” a sector in Doha that houses all of the universities. There are young families who live in the other apartments and we have a bit of grass, some palm trees, and open space.

Yesterday Dan picked up several boxes of our kit that we’ve stored away for the year at UCL – Qatar. We have all sorts in there, spare lamps, kitchen knives, a christmas tree, a muffin tin, jigsaw puzzles and each team member has their own box of stuff that they’ve stored over the past year.

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It’s a tricky thing, storing stuff from year-to-year for excavation seasons. It’s a sign of confidence that 1) the project will continue without interruption and 2) you’ll be invited back. Even if you are very confident you’ll be back, it’s good to hedge your bets–we usually leave a random assortment of clothes that aren’t quite knackered…but close, along with various other odds and ends that aren’t worth transporting across the world, but we hate to throw away. Dan and I had stuff stashed on three different continents at one point.

So this stuff, these little caches of assorted, slightly-knackered and mostly worthless kit become a bit nostalgic when you open them the next year. I’d forgotten about the hoody that I’m currently wearing. I bought it over a decade ago and I probably really should throw away but am currently thankful that I’ve left it as it’s chilly this week in Doha!

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This is a silly laundry basket that I bought for a long season in 2011 and am always happy to be reunited with.

It’s also a point of pride, of anticipation of future work, to leave a box with your name on it. On the other hand, it can make people incredibly grumpy when they leave a box and then cannot retrieve the contents, even if they contain relatively worthless materials. When you do not plan on coming back, you often shed these same possessions, sometimes by burning or sometimes the project has a place to either donate or pass on clothing. Çatalhöyük had a giant box of miscellaneous ragged clothing that we’d rummage for costumes and such. Infamously, if you did not retrieve your washing from the clean washing pile you might find your beloved possessions in that same box.

It’s an interesting class of possessions, slightly worthless, slightly precious, always a surprise when you rediscover it but nostalgic at the same time.

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DOHA: The Doha Online Historical Atlas

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I’m very happy to announce that DOHA: Doha Online Historical Atlas has been launched, just in time for CHNT: Cultural Heritage and New Technologies. DOHA brings together several years of research including archaeological excavations, historic documentation, and a whole lot of fancy GIS-based georeferencing work.

We are also looking for contributions from people living in Doha. We don’t have a seamless citizen science solution quite yet (involving tedious server complications, etc), but for now we are taking georeferenced media here:

https://originsofdoha.crowdmap.com/

It is difficult to visualize research that is spread out over an entire metropolis, so I am quite pleased that it has all come together. We also have a quick video showing how to use it:

It is in beta, so we would love any feedback on it:

http://www.spatialheritage.org/doha/

Origins of Doha Re-Photography Featured on CNN

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I was happy to see that a mash-up that did a while ago for the Origins of Doha project was featured on the special Qatar Foundation section of CNN. The photo is near the Souq Waqif, and we located and re-shot the photograph using one of the few landmarks left in that area, a small minaret visible above and to the left of the men walking toward the camera. The black and white photograph comes from the Bibby and Glob expedition to Doha.

I posted some of my initial attempts here:

https://middlesavagery.wordpress.com/2013/01/02/rephotography-in-doha/
https://middlesavagery.wordpress.com/2013/01/07/take-two-rephotography-in-doha/

You can see the full feature about the Origins of Doha Project, as linked from the project webpage HERE, and includes the print versions of the article in Arabic and English.

Re-thinking “Construction” and Phasing at the Ridwani House

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During the midday lunch break, the Ridwani House becomes a gathering place, a place to eat, chat, rest and pray away from the dust and machines that completely surround it. Dan, Katie, Kirk and I usually head out to a local Indian restaurant for an absurdly inexpensive Thali for lunch. When we come back, full bellies making us slow and somnambulant, we sit in the shade of the porch, careful not to disturb the sleeping construction workers.

The Ridwani House was fully reconstructed in 2006, not even a decade ago, and it is set to be reconstructed yet again. The archaeology that we are excavating underneath the Ridwani House reveals that the singular house was probably once two houses, joined in the 1940s, and then fully made-over in 2006. It is set to become a museum with a feeling of “Old Doha” in the middle of a concrete and glass wonderland. Though it lacks furniture beyond a few woven mats, construction workers who are building the surrounding skyscrapers use the Ridwani House as a source of comfort.

A construction horizon in archaeological recording is not unique. Buildings are built, remodeled, leveled, reconstructed, and generally messed around with for all of their “lives.” A construction phase shows the general level of activity with the accompanying change and untidiness until the construction is deemed finished and life starts again. This period of disruptive flux marks the end of one phase of the building and the beginning of a new phase. But who are these mid-phase travelers, construction workers occupying the house, living there in their own way? All of their activity is reduced to a dotted line on a matrix.

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Anyone who has done any kind of construction on a house knows that the workers leave their own traces between walls, whether these are particular craftsman-like touches or graffiti (see http://www.constructiongraffiti.com/ and some particularly interesting examples inside the WTC memorial: http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/racist-sexist-slur-filled-graffiti-covers-new-wtc-article-1.1249195). The historical archaeology that we are doing is so recent that it bleeds into contemporary archaeology–rooms that we have excavated are now filled with concrete and are used as mosques and lunchrooms.

The Ridwani House will be reborn in a few years as a museum, technically in its fourth phase, depending on how you like to lump or split your archaeology. The construction horizon will be finished, and the building will enter another phase of uselife. I suppose it wouldn’t bother me as much if I didn’t know how invisible construction workers are in this whole process. Doubt me? Put on a high-viz, hardhat and a pair of boots and fade away.

…and then there are the days that you spend with your head down a toilet.

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Digging in the center of a “Heritage House” in Doha.

We got the call and three days later, we were on a plane back to Doha. So we’re back digging in Old Doha, finding remains of an older house beneath a “Heritage House” that has been preserved in the middle of an enormous construction site.

Every trench that we’ve opened has revealed either architecture or evidence of occupation, so we have a lot to work on in the next couple of weeks. There’s been a lot of “beasting”–moving lots of dirt in a rapid fashion. As most of it was construction infill, there weren’t a lot of photos or levels taken, just a lot of pick-axe and shovel handling. Exactly what I needed after being so well fed in England!

Yesterday I beasted out the rest of the construction fill from a small 4m x 3m room and so today I was rewarded with digging some archaeology, which meant a massive slow-down in pace and a lot of paperwork. I have to climb a ladder to get in and out of the trench, as the room I am digging in is about 2m below the threshold now. The whole room has been heavily invaded by the later structure and there is huge concrete, stone, and industrial epoxy mess on the east side of the trench that I try not to look at too often. It’s horrible and I don’t plan on chunking it out as it underpins the building. ugh.

Sorry about the terrible photo--I only had a single halogen light way up on the wall.

Sorry about the terrible photo–I only had a single halogen light way up on the wall.

But I have a couple of walls surviving and there was cut in the western bit of the room to poke at as well. It was sealed off with concrete, so I hacked away at it and found that it was filled with rocks. Lovely. About 30 cm down (.30m for nerds) there was a layer of concrete that had been smeared on to some other rocks–you could still see the finger impressions. There was a hole in the middle and that is when I realized that yes, I was digging out a toilet.

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The first 20 cm of the fill had a bunch of broken tile, probably the remains of the fitting out of the bathroom. Then…yep. Yellowish-brown silty stuff. Happily I was wearing gloves.

I got about a meter into the fill then stopped, as it was too deep to dig safely. As it was, I was balancing myself on my hands awkwardly in a small rectangular cut–good thing I’ve been practicing my handstands. I finished digging the toilet (hamam) and saved all the fill for our lovely paleobotanist, Mary Anne Murray.

So now I have to finish that pesky application to the R1 University. Happy digging, y’all!

The things you find down a 60 year-old toilet in Doha.

The things you find down a 60 year-old toilet in Doha.

Take Two: Rephotography in Doha

Should that be re-rephotography?

I wasn’t entirely happy with my last attempt at rephotography, so we tried again. This time, we went while the area was somewhat deserted and took photographs across a wide plane of vision, then stitched them together as a pano. I would have liked having people in the modern photograph, but they tend to move, which is not so good if you are trying to stitch photographs together.

Instead of just getting a small window of current Doha within historic Doha, we were able to make them equal players, which I like. This was a much easier photoshop job as well, just two layers, a mask, and a gradient and there we have it. I thought about masking some of the details out near the mosque in the background, but some confusion in the overlay is a good thing–not a seamless past melting into the present, but a hodgepodge–this appeals to my sense that reconstructions should present the messy palimpsest that archaeological interpretations entail.

Quintessential Rescue Archaeology: The Origins of Doha Project

The construction site where we excavated as part of the Origins of Doha Project.

At some point I decided that it would be a great idea to book a flight from San Francisco to Doha, Qatar on the day after the end of the Fall 2012 semester–my deadline to file my Ph.D. A week later, I’m mostly recovered from that last, big push to finish, cleaning out my apartment for my subletter, partying beyond all reason at Cheyla and Nico’s house, and hopping a jet to fly 8,000 miles.

As is my current pattern, I got in for the last week of work at the Origins of Doha Project’s site in central Doha. We hope to work a bit more at a different site in January, but we’ll see. The site is a giant, chaotic construction zone with 5,000 construction workers going everywhere all the time and 19 tower cranes whirling overhead.

The insides of one of the heritage houses stripped out and lined with concrete.

Most of the archaeological remains are long gone, but there were a few  “heritage” houses that are being preserved, though they’ve been heavily restored twice and are pretty disturbed. These heritage houses are becoming a museum and are being cleared out to accommodate air conditioning and other modcons, so we were brought in to record what was left of earlier builds of the houses.

The exterior of one of the heritage houses, excavation director Daniel Eddisford for scale.

I helped my friend (and former Zubarah colleague) Kirk dig and record a little bit, spending an inordinate amount of time on an isometric sketch of a blocked concrete drain setting next to a well and a bath inside of a house. The team had been digging for a couple of weeks–I was surprised to find that this was the first archaeological excavation performed in Doha. Cool. We returned to site the next day to record a couple of wells in a different heritage house.

The well. A bit difficult to record, yeah? There’s dirt over the measuring tape so I don’t trip over it and fall into the well.

This is the well I recorded. The utility of drawing is probably pretty obvious in this case, as you can’t get a good photograph of the well with all the safety scaffolding in place. I pounded a nail in the eastern wall with my trowel and strung a line across the room. The houses are on a North-South orientation, so it made drawing the multicontext plan easy. There was a later soak-away coming in from the western wall that I also recorded. A soak-away is basically a drain coming from a toilet. The well was over three meters deep and didn’t smell, thankfully.

My kit in the doorway, with my unfinished multicontext plan.

It was still really awkward to move in the room and I tried to spend as little time over the well as possible and still record it. It was urban rescue archaeology all the way–dodging bulldozers and improvising the best way to record fairly trashed stratigraphy as quickly as possible while still producing the best record we could for the archive.