Project team


Supported by

  • The British Museum
  • The British Institute at Ankara
  • University of Manchester

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Domuztepe dig diary 2008


For six weeks in summer 2008, British Museum and University of Manchester archaeologists excavated at Domuztepe, a late Neolithic settlement in south-central Turkey. British Museum curator Alexandra Fletcher kept a diary to report on the latest activity on-site. Follow her progress here.


Week one: getting there

Excavation at Domuztepe

Excavation at Domuztepe

‘Madam you are very overweight,’.... I grin at the man behind the airport check-in desk and pay for the excess baggage. My bags contain everything I need for an archaeological dig and getting on a plane is the first step of a long journey to south-central Turkey, where we will be working for the next six weeks.

Two flights, a taxi ride and two bus journeys later I arrive on site to a chorus of greetings from the dig team and see Domuztepe, our site, for the first time in three years..

Domuztepe is a tell, a man-made mound rising 14 metres above the surrounding farmland, created by people living in one place for hundreds of years. At around 7,500-7,000 years old and 20 hectares in area, it is the largest known Neolithic (stone age) settlement of its time. The excavations are helping us understand how urban societies might have begun.

The start of the dig season is busy. Huge clouds of dust rise from the excavation areas as filled-in trenches are re-emptied so work can begin.

A nearby village is also a flurry of activity as our camp is set up. A deserted school is our workroom, where all our finds will be cleaned and recorded. This is surrounded by tents – home for the dig season. Everything must be taken out of storage cleaned and set up. The last few members of the team arrive and finally we are ready to begin.


Week two: opening up

Photographing a trench

Photographing a trench

The working week starts on a Saturday, as Friday is a day off and we employ people from several nearby villages to help with the excavation. This week we worked hard to open up a new area for excavation, a large trench covering 400m2.

At first the topsoil was a mixture of ancient and more recent objects, but by the end of the week stone walls were beginning to show. Elsewhere, in older trenches, we have now reached some of the earliest remains yet found and are finding beautifully painted pottery as a result.

The weather has been very hot, about 40˚C, and none of the trenches have shade. We start work as the sun rises at 06.00. By mid-morning the whole site is covered by a shimmering heat haze and members of the dig team are thickly plastered with sun cream.

Excavation stops at 13.00 to avoid the hottest part of the day. As it becomes cooler in the late afternoon, we start work again in camp to clean and record objects.

At the end of the week we were glad to see the British Museum conservation team arrive and we made an important visit to the local museum in Kahramanmaraş. The building is being extended and we have been offered more display space and a new storeroom for the artefacts from Domuztepe. It is very exciting that we will now be able to move out of our current storage facility into somewhere much better.


Week three: in the shade

A shade covering the excavation area

A shade covering the excavation area

This week has seen the construction and testing of a shade for our excavation areas. Shade netting from a plant nursery was balanced over the work area using guy ropes, metal pegs, stones and drain pipes.

Nothing can be hammered into the ground inside the trench as it might damage the archaeology. So, the plastic drainpipes sit on the soil and are held in place by the guy ropes. In the hot weather the shade has proved popular and seemed incredibly robust.

Excavators merrily strolled around in its greenish shadows without needing sun cream or hats, creating much jealousy among those still toiling in the full sun. Nonchalance was short-lived however, as the hot weather brought with it thunderstorms and high winds. A guy rope snapped and seconds later the shade collapsed, leaving excavators scrambling out from underneath. One archaeologist bravely fought to protect a surface he had just cleaned, but eventually had to admit defeat.

Since then, however, the shade has remained in place without incident, thanks to new, stronger guy ropes.

Next week brings changes to the team as we lose the geophysical surveyors who are going to other projects. It is always sad to see people leave, but tradition has it that if you throw water over the dig’s minibus as they go, they will come back again. This means you have to remember to close the minibus windows before you leave otherwise you get a soaking.


Week four: a VIP state visit

Making breakfast on the back of a tractor trailer

Making breakfast on the back of a tractor trailer

The governor of the Kahramanmaraş district came to visit the Domuztepe site this week and created a whirlwind of activity. The heads of two local villages and the nearest town worked together to make everything perfect for such an important occasion. A whole new road was built to provide better access to the excavations and a new shelter was built, so that the governor could take breakfast on site during his visit.

The big day dawned and the army and military police were everywhere. All the local roads were closed and helicopters circled overhead. Nevertheless, we loaded up our minibus as normal and set out for the site. When we arrived preparations for the visit were well underway, despite it being only just 06.00. A catering company were cooking breakfast balanced on tractor trailers and tables and chairs were being set out.

The governor arrived in a cavalcade of nine cars, so parking on the slope of the site became a bit of an issue. We were all introduced and he took a tour of all the trenches. We all then ate an elegant breakfast in the new shelter. Freshly cooked food was a bit of a change from our normal 09.00 ‘breakfast’ of bread, salad and cheese, which is usually eaten sitting on the ground. The governor also visited the workroom in our camp to see what we had found so far this year. Everyone seemed to enjoy the visit and we are already hoping he’ll come again next year.


Week five: the dust descends

The sun tries to break through the dust

The sun tries to break through the dust

There is always one bad week during an excavation and this was it. We were hit by storms moving north from Syria. They brought high winds, heavy rain, and a thick haze of dust with them. Roads became blocked by mud slides and it became too dark to start work at the usual time in the morning.

It quickly became clear that many of our tents leak as they are designed for hot dry weather. In the high winds one blew away entirely. After the storms the dust persisted, coating everything in fine, choking silt. Even though the sun struggled to break through all the dust it was still incredibly hot and illness has also affected some in the team, making for a tough week for all.

The dust finally cleared by the middle of the week and we began the serious business of closing down the excavation. After plans of the site were drawn, photographs taken and notebooks completed we wrapped our trenches in plastic sheeting and filled them in with soil, ready for us to return next year.

The work did not end there though as many more things need to be completed before we head home. Not least, we now have to move all the objects from earlier excavation seasons into our new storage facility at the Kahramanmaraş Museum.

In total 255 heavy crates full of objects need to be checked, cleaned and moved across town, which is going to take about six days. Objects from this year also need to finish being conserved, packed and taken into the museum and we are frantically recording, drawing and photographing them to be ready in time.


Week six: packing up

Loading up the lorry

Loading up the lorry

It has been a week focussed on moving crate after crate of archaeological finds.

Excavations started at Domuztepe in 1995 and over the years a sizable store of objects has built up. To our horror, when we arrived this year we found that our old store room had been flooded and invaded by cats and mice, probably through a broken window.

Fortunately, we were offered a new home in the local museum and this week it was ready for us to move in. Every crate of finds was checked for damage and luckily, held within their bags and boxes, most things were fine. We had huge amounts of help from colleagues at Kahramanmaraş Museum - lifting boxes, giving us space to work on objects, staying open late and, probably most importantly, keeping up a steady supply of sweet, strong, black Turkish tea to keep us all going.

By the end of the week we had moved just under 300 crates of objects, most of them very heavy, across town in a lorry and then up and down several flights of stairs. We discovered muscles we never knew we had and were very glad to see the new store finally locked and sealed up.

With all our conservation, recording, photography and drawing for this year’s excavation also finished this week it was time to pack up the camp ready to leave.

Saying goodbye to everyone is always sad and the team scattered to different homes in Turkey, America and Britain. The sadness is also tinged with relief at the thought of living in a house again, instead of a tent, and there is always the next Domuztepe dig season to look forward to.

It just remains to say a big ‘thank you’ to all those who made Domuztepe 2008 possible, especially the British Institute at Ankara, the British Museum Department of Conservation and Scientific Research, the British Museum and all our friends and colleagues in Kelibişler Köyü, Kahramanmaraş and Pazarcık.