Archaeology is a science, but it is also an art–a good deal of educated guesswork goes into the analysis of the finds. This summer I had the great opportunity to lead a field at Mt Raitano, Sicily, but the results were less than desirable.
To begin with, the actual goal of our original investigation was to excavate a series of rather large rock cut chambers on the southern ridge. Of the five chambers to investigate, only two were accessible from a side entrance; the remaining three are only accessible from a small opening at the top and drop about twenty feet straight down. These are rather large chambers, but they have never been excavated–some have argued that these chambers were Mycenaean tholos tombs, but others have argued that they are medieval granaries. Unfortunately for us, a series of events pulled us away from these chambers. The result was that our purpose and goal had to be switched to four possible rock cut chambers on the northern ridge of the mountain, but these were almost completely filled with earth/soil.
By this point, though, a tholos tomb connection had been almost completely abandoned with only one key to the tholos tomb remaining–the beehive shape of the southern chambers. None-the-less, we continued with our investigation now as a comparison. namely how similar will these possible four rock cut chambers be to the five on the southern ridge? What we found blew our minds. Seeing no soil change at all, and knowing that I likely had a good six meters before reaching the bedrock, I instructed my team to move rather quickly (still looking for a soil change, but expanding the loci beyond the ten centimeter norm (one being quite large–forty centimeters deep). Chamber 2 was not completely filled to the top (as Chamber 3 was), so it wasn't long before the handpick made a rather familiar (and very irritating) noise...a clang on stone. We reached bedrock long before was expected.
I won't say too much, as the publication is forthcoming, but I learned a lot from this experience. First, I learned that I probably shouldn't always expect similarities that may not be there. Second, and this point is rather irritating to me, I relearned that sometimes original use is lost to us. Finally, and this is the point to take home, I learned that not everyone on the team should be trusted. This last statement should be explained.
As will be seen later this fall at ASOR, upon rappelling into the larger chambers on the southern ridge, I discovered two rather odd petroglyphs inscribed inside the chambers. When our local Sicilian contact asked for pictures I didn't think twice...why not? It was only later that night that I was tagged on Facebook by a friend asking if I had seen my petroglyph on the web with a rather strange interpretation. The local Sicilian had taken it upon himself to develop an outlandish theory for these two petroglyphs, and then he had the audacity to publish his theory with my pictures on Facebook for the world to see! Is archaeology an art? Yes, it is, but it is one of those scientific art forms that demands that all interpretation stem from observations. If one's observations are incomplete, then one must not jump to conclusions on the issue. Is this less than desirable? Of course it is, but it is also necessary to continue in a sense of academic honesty about the issue at hand–which translates into not making crazy statements like aliens or Noah's Ark (no, the local contact did not make a statement this odd, but he might as well have done so).
In the end, although I did not find what I expected to find, and although I couldn't determine the original use of the chambers, I learned a great deal what to expect and what not to expect. These are lessons that I will take to the field next year as well.