Pistachio Country

The area of the ancient city of Doliche is very fertile and used for agricultural purposes today. Accordingly, our excavation areas are surrounded by dozens of small fields, and when we are digging our neighbours are busy on their fields, too. The main crops are grapes, pistachios, figs, and olives, but there are also other fruits and nuts, like cherries, walnuts, and almonds. August and September are the main harvest season. Having a large variety of fresh fruits available daily is one of the perks of fieldwork in Doliche.

The most famous crop of the region is pistachios. They count among the best pistachios of the world and are the key ingredient of baklava, a pastry made of layers of filo filled with pistachios. Baklava is a popular dessert in most countries of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Near East, but the baklava of Gaziantep stands out for its supreme quality and is world-famous. This is not least due to the exceptional quality of the pistachios. They are harvested by hand in late August and early September.

The most ubiquitous cultivated plants in ancient Doliche are grapevines. The mode of cultivation is very peculiar. The canes grow close to the ground. Thereby, the grapes are exposed to the heat of the soil and ripen faster. After the harvest, they are either spread out on the ground to dry and become raisins, or they are boiled into Pekmez, a thick and sweet grape syrup. If you can find it, try it out! It is delicious and very healthy.

Very delicious are the figs that grow abundantly in the fields. On a hot summer afternoon, eating some figs from one of the many trees is very refreshing. Later in the season, the harvest of walnuts starts.

Some crop plants grow wild, like sumac. The fruits, which are sour, but very refreshing, are usually dried and ground into a spice that is popular in the Eastern Mediterranean and Near Eastern cuisine. Another plant that populates the city area is caper shrubs. The thorny bushes have beautiful flowers with white petals. The people from the village do not make use of the caper buds and caper berries. However, it seems that the modern name of the hill, Keber Tepe, means Caper Hill, referring to the many caper shrubs.

by Michael Blömer

Of Sieves and Sealings

One of our current side projects is sieving a lot of soil left over from the campaign last year. In this soil we expect to have a load of small sealing imprints, left over from the ancient city archive of Doliche.

Already before the excavations conducted by our team, Doliche was known for the amount of sealings found at the site. These sealings, or more correctly sealing impressions, are made to seal scrolls, mostly important documents, that were stored in the archive. Basically, they represent the negative imprint made by a sealing-ring of a private or public person. The archive of Doliche existed during the Roman period and was burned down during the cities’ destruction by the Sassanian King Shapur I. This represents a stroke of luck for us, as the sealing impressions are originally made out of clay. Therefore, during the fire, the sealings were fired into ceramic which is how we are able to find them today.

As we excavated parts of the probable archive location last year, the possibility of finding those sealings in the remaining soil is high. The problem is however, that they are so tiny, that we can’t see or find them during the excavation process. That is why we have a wet-sieve at the field to sieve the soil containing the sealings.

So this year we have one team working at the sieve to retrieve the sealings from last years soil. The sieve consists of two actual rusts which have a rough and a fine gradient to catch and separate the tiny and the big stones. After filling the sieve with soil, we work it through the sieve, so that only stones, sealings and other bigger pieces remain in the sieve. All excess soil will fall through the rust.

However, the sealings are still hard to spot as they are covered with dust, and they blend in with the other stones and material. That’s why we use a wet-sieve technique in this case. The whole sieve will be then flooded with water and the material will be washed. After this the sealings can then be sorted out and separated. You still need a good eye for the small buggers though! The amount of sealings that we can get out of the soil after a days work ranges around the one hundred.

Sealings as a findgroup show remarkable craftsmanship and a wide variety of depictions of animals, people, gods and inscriptions. Between public and private sealings there are hundreds of different kinds of depictions and there is always the possibility to find new ones during the sieving process. And quite frankly some of these pieces can be breathtakingly beautiful!

by Fynn Riepe

From Field to Trench

In order to show you how excavations work exactly, we decided to give you an example by case. Because the 2020 campaign just started, this year’s trenches aren’t nearly ready to show the process of excavation from start to finish. Therefore, we decided to show you trench 02 of the 2018 campaign. Trench 02 is part of the bath-complex on the Keber Tepe. More importantly its part of the floor heating system, the so-called hypocaustum.

After deciding where to dig the next trench (more on that in the next post!) the surface area is cleaned from all kinds of plants and bigger stones. Then a first set of pictures will be taken. After that the trench will be excavated successively, layer by layer. After we took away all visible layers, and we can clearly see that we have reached a different situation underneath the layers we have taken away, we designate a new planum. That’s when we will take new photos of the trench and document the process. After which we start to take away the next layer. Below you can see three different stages of trench 02: from left to right planum 1 to 3.

Whenever we take photos of a new planum during excavation we will also draw that same planum while we are still in the field. In these drawings we document where which layer is located and what kind of remains can be seen. Most of these drawings will be done in 1:20 on A3 paper, and depending on the complexity of the trench they can take quite a while. Furthermore, once the trench is completely excavated, we will also draw all the profiles of the trench. In these profile drawings like the one below, we can follow the layers vertically. Based on the profiles we can then decide which layer is older or for example if a pit was dug recently or if it is ancient.

Each layer will be given a designated number and all the finds we make will be sorted corresponding to their layer number. We then describe the layer by colour, inclusions, density and many more factors. All the small-finds will be labelled and send to the excavation house for further processing. Here we analyse all the finds and hope to be able to date the layer based of that. Ceramics and coins are the most valuable finds for this. The first can give a broad time-spectrum, based on the time of usage of that kind of ceramics, while coins are often inscribed with names of emperors or Kings etc. These can then be dated, some more securely than others, based of literary evidences.

As you can see, a big part of excavation is the documentation of our work in various different ways. Generally there is never enough documentation, which stems from the reason that archaeology itself is a very destructive science. By that I mean that once we excavated something, all the layers, finds and everything else above the final layer have been destroyed/taken away. Therefore, it is important to document everything before these layers are gone forever.

But if done in the correct way, we can learn so many things about our history that are normally covered with dust and time…

by Fynn Riepe

A comparison of the Surface and the finished Trench!

The two hills of Doliche

Our excavation house is situated at the fringes of a small village called Dülük. The Village is situated just north of Gaziantep the 6th biggest city of Turkey and the centre of the wider region south of the Taurus mountain range and north of the Syrian Border. In the past years Gaziantep has grown ever closer to Dülük, so much so that as of now a new industrial district has been formed around the village itself.

The name Dülük derives from the ancient Doliche which was the name for a city situated right next to the modern village on a small hill. That hill, the Keber Tepe, is one of our ongoing excavation projects. Here the ancient Roman city was abandoned and never built over, as the hill had been used as agricultural land since. At the moment we are excavating here on two different fields. Both an ancient church from the 4th century A.D and a Roman bath complex from around the 2nd century A.D. have been unearthed so far.

The excavations on the Keber Tepe are ongoing, and we are currently focusing on the eastern part of said church. To be able to plan for possible future excavations we are also conducting a survey of the surroundings and a geo-physical prospection of certain areas of interest on the hill itself. More on those topics in the future…

To the south of the village lies the Dülük Baba Tepesi a 1211 m high mountain on which the ancient sanctuary and a later monestary where located. This was the home to the ancient god of Jupiter Dolichenus, aptly named after his city of origin. The Dülük Baba Tepesi was the main excavation site of the project from the early 2000s until 2014. Right now the excavations have mainly finished, however a considerable restoration project is currently ongoing. This serves two different causes. Firstly to prepare the site for a possible opening to the public in the future. And secondly to keep the sites archaeological remains in good condition.

As our campaign this year moves along, we will keep you updated with news and exciting information directly from our field teams. For now, we will show you our working methods starting with the next post. If you are interested in more information about our project in general check out our website. Stay tuned and subscribe for more insights about this our project!

by Fynn Riepe

But! Where do we even live?

A small tour around our Grabungshaus. Where and how do we live during the campaign.

Did you ever wonder where archaeologists are living during a campaign abroad? Well, today I will show you our home for the duration of the campaign: the “Grabungshaus” or excavation-house.

Because we knew that this project would be a long-term project and based on our experience up until that point, we started building an actual house belonging to the project in 2015. In order to accommodate the whole team during a campaign, it had to be quite big (and its still very crowded some times!).

All in all we have 14 different rooms for our team of which 11 have two the other four beds included. At the moment of course this allows us to spread the whole team across the house with 1 person per room. These rooms are split onto two different floors which are mainly used as sleeping floors. Of course, we have showers and loads of bathrooms too! Always needed after a messy day in the field. An added bonus: everybody gets their personal balcony!

However, it doesn’t stop there. On the ground floor we have our depot and find processing areas. Here all the finds made in the field will be worked on and stored. Our restoration team is also at work here. Furthermore, we have a nice court/garden area right next to the entrance, which allows for some leisure and shade during hot days.

Further common areas are the workroom on the 1st floor and the kitchen and dining room on the 2nd floor. The workroom allows for plenty of space to do some research, work with the database or finish a homework left over from last semester. The dining room is where we will eat together during breakfast and dinner. For lunch, we stay in the different areas where we work, so that we don’t have to drive back to the house every time and lose valuable hours.

One of our favourites is of course our big roof terrace. Here we spent the evenings when the sun has cooled down, talk, have an after-work beer, play chess and generally just have a good time! We also have our weekly meetings here, where we discuss the different projects, what has happened during the last days and what our plans for the weekend are. It does help that you have a nice view from here! Fun fact: one can see both our working areas on the neighbouring hills from here.

So now that you know how we live, tell us what you think! Next time we will have a look at the different projects we are working on here and a more in depth look into our work as an archaeologist. Stay tuned!

by Fynn Riepe

Stay updated:

Excavations and Covid-19

During a time of a global pandemic like this, it is of course important to make sure that the health and well-being of everybody involved is not endangered. Therefore, we made preparations and plans even before the excavation began.

While masks and gloves have been organized, the whole excavation house was also fitted with disinfection spenders. Furthermore, we made sure to order a couple of thermometer “guns” to check the body temperature of our team twice a day, before and after work.

We decided to enforce compulsory masks during our stay here in Doliche. This includes everywhere in the house as well as during fieldwork. The only place where we allow to not wear a mask is during lunch- and dinnertime and outside on our roof terrace where we can assure a safety distance of at least 1.5 meters.

Even while we are forced to alter the usually very communal and approach within our team, people are getting used to the new situation and challenges. All the while we make sure to not lose the fun and keep the spirits that accompany a “normal” excavation.

Nevertheless, our efforts here in Turkey as much as at home are a team-based effort, and we need to make sure that the health of everybody involved is paramount. So in that sense we hope for an exciting and rewarding campaign this year, even if the circumstances are difficult.

Of course, we also wish that we can relay this experience to you in the coming weeks and most of all:


by Fynn Riepe

The start of a new adventure

Welcome! Today is the first day of this year’s excavation in Doliche. And not only the excavation is starting, but also this very shiny and new blog you are reading right now!

In the following six weeks we will show you our life and work during an excavation abroad and everything that comes along with it. Between insights in our living conditions here in Turkey, reports about our everyday life and descriptions of our working methods you will find plenty to learn about excavations and the people taking part in one!

Stay tuned for the next couple of days (or weeks?) to check out our work here in Doliche. If you want to be updated regularly, the option to subscribe to our updates is of course free!

So enjoy the content, and we hope you can learn a bit more about excavations and maybe be as excited about archaeology as we are 🙂