Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Plot Summary: Indiana Jones and The Bid for an 'A'

I've been looking at my old papers from college and realized some of them might make for great blog entries. Then again, some of them might work better than Ambien for those of you suffering from sleep deprivation? Either way....

I attended the University of California at Santa Barbara from September 2000 through June 2004. I graduated a double-major with a bachelors in cultural anthropology (emphasis: archaeology) and religious studies (emphasis: Near East), and, thankfully, a lingering interest in the more romantic side of things. Here's a paper I wrote during my junior year for "Anthropology 118TS: Archaeology of the Ancient Near East" (very appropriate, huh!), sources included. The class was taught by Professor Stuart Tyson Smith, an egyptologist and famous for his self-promoted involvement in The Mummy movies (or at least the first two at the time).

Anyway, that's plenty of background I guess. Simply put: this one combines my love of writing stories, Indiana Jones, and a bit of academia into one package. Chickity-check it out!


My name: Dohni Ganderlay, British novitiate from the Cambridge University in the study of archaeology. My life: often does not quite work out the way I want it to, or at the very least, the way I had expected. I have to admit though, that my experiences spent over the last few months under the captured employ of the famed adventurer/archaeologist Henry “Indiana” Jones have been anything but what I would have expected—in retrospect that is!

It is the spring of 1934, and in my twenty-second year I have come to learn that when dealing with life’s problems you must swallow the bad with the good. At the beginning of the year I was hired by a swaggering French archaeologist named RenĂ© Belloq to work with him on a classical period site in the Levant of the Near East as part of my research training. Monsieur Belloq put me to work in two ways: one, by being responsible for constructing the preliminary report of the dig, and two, by snooping around the competing dig of the aforementioned Indiana Jones, located at Bir Abu-Moya, and secretly causing any stifling trouble that I could. I had no idea what I was in for.

After the first week, I was caught while trying to steal from the mule caravan that Dr. Jones used for carrying supplies. I never was a very good thief! Fortunately, the rugged American spared my life and instead of having me imprisoned or worse, put me to work as his own assistant—what better way to keep an eye on me. To my even greater surprise, he started me on his own site’s preliminary report, the very same thing Belloq had bade of me, and I even found out that both competing dig sites were being employed by a powerful Arab antiquities dealer out of Syria. It seemed a challenge had been posed to the two long-standing rivals, by the interested Arab dealer, to see which archaeologist could finish his respective dig first. The rules, however, consisted of doing this one by the book, (as is not always apparently the case with Dr. Jones and Monsieur Belloq). Be that as it may, I found myself right in the middle struggling to avoid the vengeful hand of the Frenchman, and keep up with the hectic pace of the dig set by the intrepid American.

Chapter 1: The First “Step” Towards a Trench of Trouble

The expedition at Bir Abu-Moya began in late January (due to the time constraints laid upon the "contest" by the Arab dealer), and we were often forced to cover the strip of land where the step trench was going to lay on the south side of the Tell with a sloping network of tarps to prevent the occasional rain from swamping our work. Indy, as he has asked us all to call him, spent much of the first few days pacing the site and orchestrating the ten-week dig plan while reminiscing with the lead digger—a large, joyfully baratone-voiced Egyptian named Sallah—about how he wished there was a dungeon to be delved or a tomb to be raided amidst all this. I kept my wits about me though, and tried to remain as professional as I could, eavesdropping on nearby conversations only when I thought it the least dangerous.

On a more archaeological note, pertaining to the beginning of my preliminary report, I have determined that the first area we uncovered at the base of the Tell can be dated at latest to the Natufian Period (ca. 9000 B.C.). The absence of ceramic material and the fact that later periods tend to show more advanced housing structures (bordering on what is present in the Near East today) are clears signs that this step in the trench is dated as thus. The hut we found was also dug a meter deep into the ground, which is consistent with Natfuian style (Roaf, 30). Additionally, the appearance of Einkorn wheat may have something to do with the temporal placement of the site seeing as how rachis was found on the stalks (indicating a wild variety) and wild cereals were specifically a major part of the diet, as opposed to later domesticated kinds, during this period (Roaf, 27). Considering the wheat found, I have surmised that the basalt mortars and pestles were used to process the harvested grain while the notched piece of basalt found was likely used to shuck the tough husk off of the more pesky stalks. Then, as for the more advanced lithic technologies found, it would seem that the lunates were manufactured as sickle heads to harvest wheat and reused through Helwan retouch as a practice of tradition. Most curious of all was the stone “pillow” burial that Sallah and his sturdy-backed diggers uncovered. “Queer,” Sallah had commented, saying that it looked as if the person had been pinned down, though I was not too sure, and decided to comment on this later after some thought.

One thing is sure, however, this first trench has a cultural affiliation all its own, uniquely Natufian. To help illustrate this point the following is a transcript of a conversation Dr. Jones, Sallah, and I had one evening as the sun dipped down into an orange-purple horizon:

“Well, judging from the finds so far, I’d say the people here at Bir Abu-Moya had some ‘contemporaries in the Zagros Mts.’,” Indy announced after a moment’s thought. “We’re probably standing on what was future Palestinian soil” (Roaf, 30).

“Their economy was certainly one of open settlements,” I added. “Semi-permanent agriculturists I would wager, exploiting a vast array of both plant and animal life if what we know of the Natufian is correct.”

“Perhaps, Indy, we are seeing the decline of a Band community?” Sallah asked sternly but with a tentative pause.

“That’s certainly possible,” I answered, looking towards the rugged American. “We know that there was a trend away from familial-based hunting and gathering, to a more interfamily exchange system between settlements.”

Indy merely nodded in silent confirmation, his five-o’clock-shadowed face looking towards the horizon – towards the distant camp where Belloq resided.

...Chapter 5: The Dig Continues

Two weeks after we finished trench 1, we began on trench 2. The going was not easy, however, not after battling a three day storm that kept us to our tents and had half the crew come down with a cold. There is little rest for the wicked though, and Indy has bade me to work quickly and concisely in my documentation so as to keep up with the rabid pace which is to make up for lost time.

Thus, with mounds of time to myself now, I continue the report. At a glance, step #2 would appear to be Natufian as well due to the lack of ceramics, but the sudden appearance of a rectangular house built using domed-topped mud brick, featuring distinctive “herringbone pattern” thumb impressions (which help to key the molds together), lends the trench to be dated during the “Proto-Neolithic” (ca. 7500 B.C.), or Pre-Pottery Neolithic (Roaf, 31). The house appears to have been sieged by fire and then partially reconstructed such that there was now two adjoining rooms (separating families or parts of family) with the hearth moved to occupy the center of what could be a sort of kitchen or commons. Red ochre is often found decorating interiors beginning in the Proto-Neolithic as it is here, and is one of many things used to illustrate pictorials of animals, which among the most common are lions and bulls (Roaf, 36). It is not surprising then that we find the bull image and lion figures, of which the pregnant woman represents a type of fertility worship, as both motifs are indicative of cultural influences out of Mesopotamia. Ultimately, this becomes the forerunner of what is known as the “Proto-Hasunna” and succeeding “Samarra” cultures, emphasizing a “need for storage buildings over housing,” and “reveals a greater degree of possession awareness” where “lines of social/economic divisions appear” (Lecture, 4/15/03).

From the finds we can also conclude that plant domestication is well under way and goat herding (primarily for the meat, hence the longbone finds) indicates a diversification in resource control and economy. The social complexity is structured around “settled farm villages” with the largest ones being almost 1 hectare in size (Roaf, 33). Ancestor worship, as confirmed by the burial with the displaced skull, indicates a belief that “ancestors probably exercised a powerful influence over their descendants and had to be pacified by prayer and sacrifice” offered up to the skull, presumably (Roaf, 33-34). After examining the burial, Indy had commented that, “That sure wasn’t the way to get ‘ahead’ in life...”, to which I could hardly disagree, though it seemed a brilliant way to get ahead in the afterlife.

And with that, I have not even had a chance to catch my breath, for even now, I can hear Dr. Jones calling me to make ready to accompany him on a trip into the nearest town for replacement supplies after what we lost during the storm.

...Chapter 7: The Dog Days of Digging

Damn Belloq! Damn him straight to hell! I will not soon forget the day that a pack of wild dogs stormed our camp forcing us to scramble to higher places and tearing the throats out of two of our workers! Dr. Jones seems disarmingly unfazed, even though he too knows it was Belloq who sent the hounds, and I thought I caught him actually enjoying the charade as he took pot shots with his revolver at the dirty mongrels. At noon, the dogs just seemed to emerge from a dust cloud in the distance closing until it was too late, and while I am truly rattled, Indy has undauntingly demanded that we press on with the dig, and so we must!?

Step trench #3 has brought us into the Early Bronze Age (ca. 3300 B.C.), as far as I can tell, major clues coming from the more advanced building structure and the fact that the Khirbet Kerak ware found is a local style prevalent during this period (Roaf, 82). The absent finds in the sterile soil below this step help to explain the massive leap in time from the previous step, and various cultural and economic elements which I am about to elucidate also point towards the Early Bronze Age.

The cultural affiliation during this period at the site seems almost entirely Egyptian, more specifically the pre-dynastic period of Naqada in Egypt which would respond to the Early Bronze Age in the Levant. Also, the Abydos ware present may have something to do with the export of olive oil which was exchanged and later found in tombs of the Egyptian First Dynasty, hence giving a background and explaining why both of these commodities appear at Bir Abu-Moya (Roaf, 82). Given this, the cylinder seal and mud-brick building found here both point to the site as having been identified as an “Egyptian colony or trading outpost” (Roaf, 82). Furthermore, the material record here shows us that the tanged axe, likely a hold back item from the earlier Calcolithic period, and the lapis lazuli helps to demonstrate the beginning of a luxury item trade. One might even suggest that the economic elite here were taking on a model of “conspicuous consumption” such to the extent that one would expect this trend to continue and increase (Lecture, 4/29/03).

Thus, without a doubt, it is clear to me that the social complexity of the site at this step would be that of an ancient Egyptian outpost community; utilizing indentured servants or slaves at the beck and call of an Egyptian upper class whose goal was to exploit and orchestrate the agricultural and social development of the land. “It holds,” Sallah told me, “that some of the greatest and most enduring legacies have been left by that cradle of the Nile—Egypt!” he finished with a wink. And quite frankly, how can I deny that?

...Chapter 13: From the Middle Bronze to a Bronzed Middle

We began on step trench #4 on the seventh week of the dig, clearly behind schedule but determined to beat Belloq with time to spare. I have to admit, I am fully behind Indy now, finding his slapdash nature quite amusing and often finding myself fantasizing about one day becoming like him...well, um, moving on.

The date for this particular step falls during the time of the Middle Bronze Age with the knowledge that Amenemhet I, whose cartouch was among our finds, reigned from 1991-1962 B.C., but more specifically cerca 1800 B.C. because we know that “after about 1800, almost all Middle Bronze Age sites in the Levant were fortified” (Roaf, 118). My notes on the casemate wall and gate include the fact that it would have been nigh impregnable with its rubble-filled central recesses, and difficult to siege due to the man-made slope (for deterring tunneling, ramming, and tower attempts directed at the walls themselves), while the narrow, three-chambered entrance would have created multiple barriers for enemies to bypass—no easy task! Clearly, though, the destruction of the walls and burnt remains is a testament to how fiercely the city-states of this time were warring with each other.

Indy was quite insightful in helping me piece together parts of the social network that was occurring at the time, mainly that a group known as the Amorites (Semitic interlopers) were migrating in from the south and mixing with groups from the north such as the Hurrians (an Indo-European sect out of the Caucasus Mts.), and lead to, among other things, a synthesis of works in metallurgy and craftsmanship, particularly with bronze weaponry (Lecture, 5/1/03). In turn, I have attributed the “duckbill” axe and trident finds to such a cultural composition. And, so far as the economy appears in this step, there seems to be a crystallization of the concept of increasing conspicuous consumption, what with the finds of lapis beads, the gold falcon’s head, and the decadence in which the inscribed tablet we found went about describing a particular door.

Speaking of which, the tablet bore an incomplete passage dictating the introduction of a communication between what I believe are two remnant city-state rulers of a fallen Egyptian Old Kingdom. Now, undoubtedly, the comparable power between such rulers after the fall of a great dynasty would vary, and as such, one ruler might answer to another, creating a kind of “big king/little king” relationship (Lecture, 5/6/03). In order to sequester aid or resources beyond one’s immediate control, let us say, a little king might have to humble himself either in person or via tablet inscription to the nearest big king, as we have here. This brings the hierarchy of the social order in to view and helps to explain possible alliances or rivalries we might see in future steps.

As a final note for this trench, we also find Tell el-Yahidiya ware sherds among the finds, notable as a style that emerged out of this mixed culture during the Middle Bronze Age that resulted in finely made pottery “featuring a red polish, and black punctate” (Lecture, 5/1/03). As an aside, while we were sifting through the sherds, Indy became startled and jumped back letting out an alarmed breath as he leaned away from something nearby. I do confess, the man is quite intriguing for all his courage, after all, it was only a baby gartner snake! Unfortunately, Indy got the last laugh when I had made the mistake of overindulging in the little bit of sun we had one day, partially under an umbrella, only to have earned a dark and painful tan across my stomach, and the new British colloquial nickname of “The Walking-Fag” (i.e. The Walking-Cigarette). [I think I must have felt uncomfortable here using such a term, so I concluded to clarify my intentions, and the joke was just too good to pass up!]

...Chapter 18: Famous Last Words

I began work on step #5 during the later half of the eighth week, quickly finding myself with growing speculations as to how the overall site here at Bir Abu-Moya impacted the historical scene. Once again, the destruction wrought on a wide-scale here gave us near perfect preservation, and judging from advanced building architecture and artworks found within, namely the appearance of the portico entrance and the base ring ware (both of which are thought to have originated during the same era), we came to the conclusion that this new step was from the Late Bronze Age (Lecture, 5/15/03). The scarab that we recovered was also key in designating the exact time frame to around 1250 B.C., due to the fact that it is inscribed for Ramesses II who is known to have ruled during this period (Roaf, 144).

Semblances of cultural development in this step all point to a syncretism of styles and motifs, mainly through art and remnants of religious practice. Bir Abu-Moya was without a doubt a frontier for converging ivory styles drawing upon both a “Syrian” tradition, as displayed through the remains of the back-to-back women piece, and a “Phoenician” tradition (closely related to the art of Egypt), as embodied by the openwork panels which were also found (Roaf, 156). The Hurrian sealing, alternately, creates an interesting dichotomy with the previous and more absolute Egyptian occupation level, manifesting itself in a seemingly international style wherein the materialization of ideology (i.e. depictions of rituals and the gods involved in a reinforcing manner that has a lasting effect) can clearly be seen.

Economic values are shifting such to the extent that bronze (formerly an extremely valuable commodity used exclusively in weaponsmithing) is now being seen used in the construction of figurines as we have here, suggesting that perhaps more valuable resources are on the way (i.e. the advent of the Iron Age). Beyond that, there are more things I will touch on about this step later, but the social complexity at this point is certainly one of demonstrative opulence held in check by the fact that this site seems to have been on the front lines of ongoing territory disputes and, more locally, solid attempts at multicultural uniformity leading to the creation of new ceramic styles, and new ways of looking at worship.

I think it was Dr. Jones who said, “The people of this time and place were living life the way their superiors adjudicated it for them...mixing together those elements which they often wanted to survive by. That, or become lost in time.” Its ironic, now, that he had said that, for neither I nor any of the crew have seen or heard from him in the last nine hours.

...Chapter 25: The End of a Long Road

We have entered the tenth week and still no sign of the American! Every day at dawn we send out a group to search and see if they can find Indy, but no such luck yet. We are confident Belloq has not beaten us, though there is no way to be sure, and while the digging continues with everyone on edge, we are no less determined now that Sallah has taken over. Nevertheless, I am still committed to doing my part, and so my look at step trench #6 begins.

From what we know of history, the Sea Peoples and Assyrians became increasingly important in the development, for good or for poor, of the Levant during much of the periods which we have already covered. With that in mind, I see the utter destruction at this level akin to that which would have been perpetrated against Assyrian takings in the Levant (mainly because of the interregional hatred that was expressed towards Assyrian rule), and furthermore, the presence of Assyrian potsherds helps to give a material context (Lecture, 5/27/03). Thus, I place this trench during the later half of the Iron Age, sometime during the 7th or 8th century B.C.

I have come to the conclusion that the body under the eastern building was an Assyrian soldier, both the scale-mail armor and blow to the head (with no proper burial) indicate features and the kind of fate one might expect of an unfortunate Assyrian guard. The body under the western wall, however, could have been a priestly dignitary carrying a sacred temple vessel to safety, one which bears an inscription that possibly translates into “ox-head, fence, house,” or “The Sanctuary of the Bovine Altar” (Roaf, 150). Certainly, there was some sort of religious activity going on in the western building as there is a “horned altar” positioned out front where there appears to have been animal sacrifices made judging from the organic residue found (Lecture, 5/27/03). These finds coupled with the “woman with lions stand” and the “cow Kernoi” help to elaborate upon a flourishing international style of syncretist beliefs, meshing both Mesopotamian (from the Assyrian rule) and Aegean (from contact with the Sea Peoples) traditions into a unique motif. It is astonishing how much pressure from outside forces (e.g. the Egyptians from the south, Hurrians from the north, Sea Peoples from the west, and Assyrians from the east) this region was able to endure and ultimately assimilate into an identity of its own.

The economy in this period at Bir Abu-Moya is almost exclusively mercantilism centered around guild-based polities. The evidence of converging pottery styles, cremation practices, and extensive warfare indicates a culture consistent with that of the Philistines during the Iron Age, while the social complexity was likely that of a peripheral imperial city-state. And while our understanding of the Bir Abu-Moya site becomes clearer, so too does the events surrounding Indy’s disappearance. I will not soon forget when he came riding in atop a brown stallion just today exchanging gunshots with a group of pursuing Arabs. A scramble throughout the camp to find a hiding place until the dust had settled ensued, and when we finally got a chance to talk to the dirty and bruised American, he said that he had left fully a week and a half ago to spy on Belloq’s operation. Apparently, the wily Frenchman had hired a group of nomad strongmen to patrol his camp and, for Indy, there had simply been too many eyes to dodge. Subsequently, Indy told us, he had spent the remaining time eluding the nomads in an attempt to get back. The good news was, Belloq’s men had revolted against him (chaffing under the Frenchman’s direction) and Belloq was out of the race. Thus, we had won and our adventure at Bir Abu-Moya was over!

Epilogue: Interpreting The Mysteries

Bir Abu-Moya begins in the Natufian, a time in which there is little else going on as far as historical and archaeological records have thus far shown in the Levant or in many of the surrounding areas. In fact, modern Israel and Palestine constitute some of the only areas that we have knowledge of there even having been a Natufian period (Lecture, 4/8/03). This is partially to explain for why we see an odd example of secondary burial in step trench 1 (the skeleton with the stones) during this time but not in any other, mainly showing how Bir Abu-Moya remained untouched by other cultures, but also how the people kept to their Neolithic beliefs.

At step trench 2, we see a slow departure from more Neolithic modes of thinking wherein family ties are most important, to a linked community where families are dependent on each other. The house’s development shows an evolution from round huts to squarish designs to facilitate adding on, individual walls which are easier to repair in case of fire, and interior walls which help to divide portions of the house between men and women or among different facets of activity that each room in the house serves. This abrupt change coincides with the changing economy from hunting and gathering to farming, and roving band societies to semi-permanent ones based on exchange routes with other nearby settlements.

The odd circular foundation found at step trench 3, which appears during an era after a long time of vacancy at Bir Abu-Moya, is likely a tower (among others) positioned at the edge of the Tell proper to look out for invaders during a tentative time of Egyptian expansion. After all, these are foreign lands to Egyptian rulers and not as secure as their homelands. Then again, the tower could be a sort of storage chamber necessary for large supply depots in an ongoing effort to expand. In either case, Bir Abu-Moya changes after a long period of absent settlement (due to continuing bad weather conditions and drought) where farming is no longer the main drive, but rather outpost links in a long chain of state-controlled trade routes are the purpose.

By the time of step trench 4, a cycle of continual claims and loses by numerous different cultures and states vying for control has begun, each seeking to exploit the established land to its own desires. With the fall of the Old Egyptian dynasty we begin to see how there is a need to hold on to bits and pieces of the past occupations and mesh them with the new, so as the new protective walls come up around the site at this level, so too do we find the older mud brick structure still in place, though it has been relegated by its new rulers to a lesser designation (i.e. the dung depository) as a negative statement aimed at the previous rulers.

Then, as we enter steps 5 and 6 we see how the example of materialization of ideology takes the form of temples set up to reinforce state-oriented codes and religious edicts. The pattern remains the same but there is now a clear sign of “one-upmanship” being expressed by each successive ruling faction. Thus, when we find objects that conflict with the new order winding up discarded in a pit, we can assume that those objects were the things that were meant to be forgotten. In all cases, we still find the society repeating itself: ancestor veneration with the skulls, burnt pits with the remains of enemies and/or sacrifices, and new buildings erected to protect and facilitate survival are all in the later steps. Each time though, the details are included in the growing melting pot of culture that is the Levant in its entirety as it stands today.


Lecture. "Anthropology 118TS: Archaeology of the Ancient Near East." Professor Stuart Smith. UCSB. Spring, 2003.

Roaf, Michael. Cultural Atlas of Mesopotamia and the Ancient Near East. Andromeda Oxford Limited, 1966. 27-156.

[And yes, I got an 'A' on this one. :-)]