A couple of years ago I had the opportunity to take a class in archaeology and food with Cynthia Shafer-Elliott, the editor of this book. Out of that class came a new love for ancient recipes, and a much deeper understanding of life in the Ancient Near East during the Late Bronze and Early Iron Ages.
Well-named, each essay really did take about five to fifteen minutes to read and was both engaging and informative. It is a brilliant concept, and would have proved invaluable seven years ago, when I joined an excavation for the first time. It would have helped me understand the logistical and practical aspects of a dig, the names of things, the process, and the importance of sweeping.
I am thankful for the author bios (who to look for on Academia.com) and the basic layout of the book will make it easier to find the topic I need for later reference. Although I anticipated many of the issues treated within its covers, there were some subjects I would not have known to ask about, such as landscape archaeology, and the technical aspects of dating in chapter 30’s “Science” essay.
My husband and I have been going to various lectures and presentations since the early 1980s. I will never forget, in my young twenties, looking at NASA satellite images that revealed a hidden spice road underneath the sands of Arabia, then handling raw frankincense resin after the lecture. But for all the lectures I have gone to, and the decades of avidly reading Biblical Archaeology Review, there have been real gaps in my education. I have interchanged, for instance, “sherd” and “shard” until almost the end of my time at the Akko, Israel Excavation three summers ago. So basic! If only I had had a book like this to fill in those gaps and provide a level foundation to build my education on.
Of special note were Chapter 10 on baulks (not just to navigate between squares, and protect integrity, but also to date layers, and provide context); Chapter 19 on identifying artifacts and their uses, particularly secondary use; and the entire sections on types of archaeology and the ethics of digging. Though I have, on purpose, never bought antiquities, I find myself more emotionally invested in protecting against potential looting.
I took notes on Chapter 23, processing pottery, which proved very helpful when I returned to Israel last summer as part of the Akko Study Season Research Team.
But I gained the most from reading about how archaeologists approach interpreting the data. Even as I read about processual archaeology, I thought about all the motivations people have besides optimization, so I was quite ready to read about post-processual, and heartily agree with the “basic tenet of subjectivity.” (p153) I found myself fascinated with all aspects of household and ethnicity, garbage, and metallurgy (the last two areas feature large at Akko).
Though tools were talked about in several of the articles, it would be nice for a first-time excavator to have a chapter on what basic equipment is used, how, and why, what tools work best in what kinds of situations, and so on. This would have been of great help to me.
The science chapters were enjoyable and written in a readable style. Even so, I found myself wading through Beyesian statistics! Nevertheless, dignifying the reader with all the information was welcome and appreciated.
A kindle preview is currently unavailable, so here is an overview of what to expect in this must-have handbook for someone new to the dig.
Part One has sixteen chapters on the Basics of Archaeology.
Part Two, entitled “Artifacts, Architecture, and Dating” takes the reader through several chapters teaching on recognizing and identifying various artifacts, “reading” pottery pieces, and understanding the processing of pottery. More chapters help the new archaeologist identify hard-to-recognize features such as mud brick walls and dirt floors. The rest of this section is devoted to the science of dating sites and artifacts, and analyzing data.
Part Three reviews the various types of archaeology including newer disciplines in ethnoarchaeology, archeometallurgy, explorations into household, gender, and experimental archaeology, defining cultic contexts, and how children are identified. A number of chapters ask what we can learn from the ancient environment, animal bones, the landscape as it is today compared to what it was thousands of years ago, and even from the study of garbage.
Part Four goes into the ethical issues raised in a dig, such as decisions archaeologists must make about what to keep, and what do with what is kept. Who owns these artifacts? The community? The country of origin? Whoever financed the project? Uncomfortable questions concerning looting, the provenance of an artifact, decisions made concerning museums, and how to excavate in contested areas are all given brief yet well-researched coverage.
For teacher and student alike, this book is a gem.