Adventures in Azraq: Guest Post by Joshua Varkel

Guest post by Joshua Varkel

As a recent graduate of UC Berkeley, and having only participated in field schools, I was very excited for my first excavation at Kharaneh IV with experts in the Epipalaeolithic and lithics. Fortunately, the people, site, and experiences have all exceeded my expectations and have taught me an incredible amount.

Beautiful sunny Azraq
Beautiful sunny Azraq

Firstly, with all the turmoil currently encompassing the Near East, I was very relieved to find Azraq as welcoming and safe as it is. My first day here, I was walking around ‘downtown’ and a shop owner invited me in for some tea, and we spent the next 20 minutes talking about how Azraq has changed over the past few decades, as well as the (seemingly) peaceful family politics that everyone lives with. This hospitality has been a constant throughout my time in this small Oasis city, and has made me feel very safe in walking the streets.

As a lithic specialist who was trained under Dr. Maher, I was struck with amazement at the density and abundance of flint that makes up Kharaneh IV. Pictures do not do it justice. However, the insane amount of artifacts and complex stratigraphy equate to one thing—a lot of paperwork. Out of all the excavations I have been involved with, Kharaneh IV by far has the most amount of record keeping. Although it sometimes seems like a pain, I really do understand and appreciate the steps that are taken to ensure accuracy and reliable records. Also, you know you have a productive day when you have to come home and spend an hour or so catching up on paperwork.

Lab work
Lab work before starting paperwork

A lot of time is spent either doing paperwork, sorting >4mm heavy residue samples, or doing lithic analysis, all of which would seem a lot more boring if it wasn’t for the amazing crew I am working with. Although I am the youngest, I have been given the title of “honorary old person” and feel as if the entire crew gets along incredibly well. It may be because of the delicious food that Ismael makes, but our living room table is always surrounded by smiles and laughing faces (and quite often laughing attacks initiated by Colleen). Everyone takes their jobs seriously and acts very professionally when they need to, but they never hold back a smirk or an opportunity to be sarcastic… And that makes this excavation the best I have ever been on.


Shaving for science!
Shaving for science!

Finally, since the entire crew is made up of lithic specialists, we have the opportunity to run some lithic experiments. One of which, where I volunteered to be the test subject, was to see how well blades made from flint and obsidian can shave my beard. We did find some interesting results, but for me, I hope this was the last time I shaved with 4 people starring intensely at my face and taking close up photographs.

All in all, this is a fantastic field season with great people and a very organized field director. I am honored to be a part of this expedition into the prehistoric Levant, and hope to return to Kharaneh IV in the future.

Joshua Varkel

Josh practicing his yoga excavation techniques
Josh practicing his yoga excavation techniques

By DanielleMacdonald

Archaeologist, academic, working in Jordan, teaching in Tulsa

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