Monthly Archives: November 2014

Just the pits: storage and production contexts at Ambroyi

Continuing excavations in this year’s second and third excavation units (HB3 and HB4, respectively) revealed interesting insights into life in this part of Ambroyi medieval village. A major observation involved the use of space for production and other activities within the village: we have found that in addition to shaping the yellow bedrock of the Kasakh Valley into living floors, the medieval inhabitants dug into the bedrock to construct pits for storage and for the construction of ovens.

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Photo: A storage pit in HB4 mid-excavation. 

Our excavations in these northern trenches revealed more thick field stone walls, resting on floors carved from bedrock and, in the case of Unit HB3, paved in thick cobbles.  The dynamism of human utilization of the geological landscape is ably illustrated by the multiple levels at which medieval people were living: not only on the medieval ground surface, but exploiting the insulating, cooling, architectural and preservative capacities of the clay strata.

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Photo: The MASC 2014 team excavating Unit HB4, with HB3 in the background. 

Units HB3 and HB4 (pictured together above) represent western and eastern excavated sections of a single large ‘activity area’ enclosed by the thick masonry walls we have come to associate with village architecture at Ambroyi. The large expanse of bedrock flooring in HB4 was found to contain a number of pits and ‘work stations’ for the processing of *something*– perhaps grain flour for baking. While some of the pits in HB4 were associated with small ovens which will be discussed later, the southeast corner of the trench contained a large, bell shaped pit carved from bedrock and a tall (approx. 1m) tonir style oven, complete with a flue (ak in Armenian) dug under the floor.

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Photo: Bell shaped pit (top) and oven with flue.  

The photo above shows how the bedrock floor inside the tonir oven has been baked red-orange from repeated use. Just on the other side of our 1m baulk, excavations bottomed out quicklu on a paved floor abutting the wall.  Directly in the center of this floor, we encountered a phenomenon that many archaeologists both dream of and dread: a context where the soils dislodged from off the stone cobbles fall down, indicating an empty space below the floor. This empty space proved to be another bell-shaped pit, covered in a stone lid which fitted nicely into the surrounding flagstone floor.

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Photo: HB3 photographed from the north: the mouth of the bell shaped pit is just visible beneath its slightly-askew lid. 

Other pits at Ambroyi were contained within rooms filled by collapse or slow time– these pits were found filled with soft soil and the occasional artifact.  The bell shaped pit in HB3 has been largely preserved both by its bedrock walls and by the lid covering it; the pit was therefore mostly empty, except for 50cm of icy cold water which had seeped in thanks to a rising water table!

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Photo: The romance of archaeology– bailing out a medieval storage pit.

Storage pits and pit-ovens are interesting for a myriad of reasons.  They provide numerous data about technology in the medieval period– of cooking and eating, of preservation, firing pottery, and construction, to name but a few aspects. Also, pits are interesting because of their preserved contents: complete or near-complete (if broken) vessels buried in soft fill soils, lost tools and ornaments, and the soils themselves, layers of ashy or organic soils (think garbage) that are better preserved from the decomposition that can happen in exposed, mixed fills. As beautiful as glazed pottery or architecture might be, pits can be one of the better parts of archaeology!

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Photo: Another sunny, friendly afternoon in the Kasakh Valley

All photographs taken by the author. 

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