Category Archives: Turkey

A Meal for Sharing: Turkish Inspired Baked Eggs

Turkish Inspired Baked Eggs reminds me of the homey cooking I was treated to while working in Turkey.  It is a bright tomato and chick pea saucy stew in which you bake/poach eggs until they are just set.  The perfect bite should be scooped up from the pan with flat bread, catching a bit of the veg with a glorious bite of baked egg with golden, soft yolk.  You can make it a bit more fancy by baking the eggs in individual pans of sauce for a dinner party, but it is best eaten from the main skillet family style.  That is one of the best parts of eating with friends in Turkey, the shared feast placed around a central mat, everyone passing portions and plates, dipping into platters with your flat bread, and sharing the meal in a way that is more than just sitting around the table together.

This is also a recipe that was requested by some dear friends, Jill and Sean from Blue Gate Farm in Iowa.  Jill and Sean got Dave and I hooked on farm fresh eggs. In fact, they’ve ruined us forever from store bought.  We stumbled onto their farm (almost literally) from an amazing event that they organize each year called the Farm Crawl where a number of small farms highlight their wares and put together a ton of fun for anyone who wants to come by and visit.  Dave and I belonged to the Blue Gate Farm CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) while in Iowa and “upgraded” our order to include their truly free range eggs and honey.  At the end of that first season with the CSA Dave and I bemoaned the end of the lovely weekly boxes of vegetable treasures and the eggs, and we grumbled as we had to start buying the veg from the grocery store again, but we didn’t throw a hissy fit until that first Saturday breakfast of pancakes and eggs.  Oh those despicable eggs…

One of my Eating Culture classes visiting Blue Gate Farm.  Sean and Jill are at the far left and the amazing chickens are in the background on the far right.

One of my Eating Culture classes visiting Blue Gate Farm. Sean and Jill are at the far left and the amazing chickens are in the background on the far right.

I’ve always enjoyed eggs and honestly I didn’t notice a great difference when I first switched to the farm raised eggs.  They certainly were prettier with the nice, tall standing golden yolks, and they were delicious, but they tasted like eggs to me.  My poor taste buds simply didn’t recognize the shift until I tried to go back to the grocery store version.  Dave and I took a bite and looked at each other with horror on our faces.  What was this thing we were trying to eat?  I quickly fired off an email to Jill imploring her that if there was any kindness in their souls they would still allow us to buy eggs from them over the winter.  This started a lovely tradition where every other week Jill or Sean would show up to our favorite brewery (Peacetree Brewing in Knoxville, IA) with a cooler of eggs.  We would come, buy a couple dozen eggs, eat a take out dinner from the local Chinese restaurant, and enjoy a lovely pint of our favorite frosty offerings from Peacetree.  We still miss that ritual!

Little Man playing at Blue Gate Farm. It’s nice when the place where you get your food is also a fun place to run around.

The Turkish Style Baked Eggs recipe is one that I put together to highlight those glorious eggs from Blue Gate Farm and the sense of community it inspires.  It is a dish meant to be shared with friends and loved ones, served with tons of flat bread and preferably with a couple of pints of your favorite frosty beverage (a nice sparkling cider works well here too).

Note: Small children, pregnant women and those with compromised immune systems are generally discouraged from eating eggs that are not hard cooked.  For our own little one, we scramble up an egg or two on the side and then serve his scrambled egg with a liberal dousing of the stew.

Turkish Style Baked EggsTurkish Inspired Baked Eggs
Ingredients:
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 medium onion, finely chipped
1 15 oz. can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 tsp. smoked paprika
1 tsp. cumin, ground
1 tsp. coriander, ground
1 tsp. dried thyme
1 28 oz. can of diced tomatoes
1 tbsp. tomato paste
½ cup water
4 eggs
Flat bread (see Using Frozen Pizza Dough recipe)
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 425º.
  2. Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium high heat and add 1 tbsp. olive oil. When the oil is hot, tip the onions and garlic into the pan and sauté until soft but not browned.
    Onions and Garlic
  3. Add the chick peas to the pan along with the smoked paprika, cumin, coriander and thyme. Stir to combine and sauté for a couple of minutes, or until the spices start to give off a slightly toasty aroma.
    Chickpeas and spices added to the pan.

    Chickpeas and spices added to the pan.

    Everything starts to look toasty and brown.

    Everything starts to look toasty and brown.

  4. Add the diced tomatoes with their juices, tomato paste and water to the pan and stir to combine. Bring the sauce to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and partially cover the pan. Simmer for 15 minutes. The sauce will reduce a bit and concentrate its flavors, but you still want plenty of liquid.
    Adding the diced tomatoes and tomato paste for depth.

    Adding the diced tomatoes and tomato paste for depth.

    The stew thickens, so add just a little water to loosen it up and provide the delicious sauce to bake the eggs in.

    The stew thickens, so add just a little water to loosen it up and provide the delicious sauce to bake the eggs in.

  5. While the vegetables are simmering, prepare the flat bread. See Using Frozen Pizza Dough for directions, or simply warm up store bought flat bread in the oven.
    The stew is ready for the eggs.
  6. Taste the chickpea and tomato stew for seasoning and make any adjustments that you would like, adding a little more water if the sauce has reduced too much. Then make four shallow indentations in the stew to hold the eggs. This won’t be perfect, but it helps to keep the egg together and to mark where you want to drop them. Carefully break the eggs individually into a ramekin or small bowl, and tip them into the four indentations. Season the eggs with a dusting of salt, pepper and paprika.
  7. Place the skillet into the preheated oven and bake until the whites are just set but the yolks are still soft, about 5-8 minutes.
    Turkish Style Baked Eggs
  8. Serve this directly from the pan at the table, alongside a fresh green salad and with copious amounts of flat bread. Enjoy!

Click here for a printable version of the Turkish Inspired Baked Eggs recipe.

Farm fresh eggs

Birdsong

Recently I’ve been getting caught up with special archaeologist friends and reminiscing about our days in Turkey.   I shared with them the post about our soccer adventures (Taking One For the Team) and was reminded that our team name was the Bismil Eşekler.  Bismil is the village where we stayed and eşekler translates to “donkeys.”  You can put the two together nicely.  I was also reminded of the way we all felt completely stunned, stopped in our tracks, when we turned the corner of the little field expecting to see our normal, slightly dusty, excavation workers and instead were met with a professionally outfitted team moving through their confident warm up routine.  As my brother would say, we were gob smacked, mouths open, stunned.  The other team smiled.

Inspired by these memories, I looked back into my emails written home from this time and found an entry that I’ve called Birdsong.  This isn’t at all like Taking One For the Team, but simply holds one of those moments in your life when you want to look around and remind yourself to not forget.  To remember the sound, smell and look of everything happening around you.  I don’t have the picture that I’ve been looking for to include here, but I did find one of our rooftop beds.  I’ll tell you another story that goes with that picture later.  I don’t have a spiffy recipe for delicious Turkish inspired food, though one will be coming soon.  But I do have a wistfulness for the moment of peace captured here, and the hope that we can all have such a moment again.

BIRDSONG

The weather here is finally getting to the Turkish weather that I remember and love… meaning really hot and dry. I feel like my bones are finally thawing and drying out from the last crazy Binghamton winter. We will probably start getting up an hour earlier for the fieldwork, meaning that we’ll get up at 4am so that we’re at the tepe (excavation site) working by 6am when the sun comes over the horizon. The minute the sun peeks over the Tigris River, you feel the heat wash over you like a wave. We will also have to leave the tepe an hour earlier (around noon) to avoid a bit of the intense heat of the afternoon where it easily tops 110º Fahrenheit in the shade.

The fields that have been a rolling deep green are now a beautiful golden and when the wind moves across them it looks like a sparkling golden ocean. Where my new trench is on the back of the tepe there are these gorgeous green birds and a small stream edged by green with singing frogs. If we could just get rid of the thousands of little flies from the millions of sheep and goat pellets that would be nice. Our days are punctuated by one of us (myself, my workmen or another crew member) choking on a bug as it goes straight down our throats or up our noses in their own desperate search for moisture. Who says archaeology isn’t glamorous? Bet you never say Indiana Jones hacking on a fly… We all now joke about the tasty bugs.  Makes your coat glossy.

The other day was a special evening at the dig house; I hope I never forget it. Our dig house consists of the 4th and 5th floors of a six-story cement apartment building. I had gone up to the roof where we sleep, and where it was cooler. It was still light out so I wanted to get caught up with some of my trench journals. I was there by myself, listening to the ethereal music of the Battlestar Galactica soundtrack (the remake, not the original). The sun was just setting behind the other houses in the village, and at this time of year that means a crazy sort of pinkish opalescent color all across the sky. It affects the rest of the light so that everything is bathed in this pinkish glow. It even makes Bismil (the locals call our village Pis-mil, and “pis” in Turkish means “dirty,” so when the locals rename your down as dirty…), with its piles of dung cakes and wandering donkeys beautiful. As long as you don’t inhale too deeply.

I was enjoying the light and the music and the space to think and write up my journals when suddenly there were dozens of sparrows flying everywhere. I guess that the bewitching hour is also when it’s cooled off enough for lots of tasty bugs to come out. These sparrows and a few bats appeared out of nowhere, and suddenly I was surrounded by beautiful birdsong and these birds and bats swooping and diving everywhere. It was stunning. The journals were set down and the music discarded. I laid back on my little bed on the rooftop and simply watched and listened. I never want to lose this memory…

Dave trying desperately to fight the sun and sleep longer.  The rest of us already caved to the sweaty 6am heat, but it will take a daring bird to remove this sleeper from his roost.

Dave trying desperately to fight the sun and sleep longer. The rest of us already caved to the sweaty 6am heat, but it will take a daring bird to remove this sleeper from his roost.

A Request for Hummus

One of the best parts of this blog has been reading and replying to comments from readers; and most recently receiving requests for recipes from friends.  Cooking is a way that I connect with people.  It’s something that I can do as a gift, or as a way to build a friendship, or to show love to friends and family.  Often when I am cooking for someone, I am also thinking about that person while I’m chopping the onions and garlic, stirring the veg in the pan, or tasting for final seasoning.  It makes cooking more than just putting ingredients together for a meal, but it gives me time to also think about the person or people that I’m cooking for.  Its’ an act of love, not just of eating.  So when friends request recipes from me I take it as the highest compliment.

It is therefore a great joy that in a couple of upcoming posts I will be sharing a couple of recipes requested from friends who are distant in geography but close in my thoughts.  The first recipe I’ll be sharing is for hummus.  Hummus is one of those foods that is super simple to make, irks me to buy premade, and is incredibly personal in how you prepare it.  The two greatest influences for me in my hummus was the first time I was taught to make it in Beirut, as well as from my experiences in Turkey.  In Beirut, the friend who taught me to make it created an amazingly herbaceous version, speckled throughout with finely chopped parsley.  In Turkey I was most influenced by our amazing excavation chef, Necmi, who guarded his culinary secrets dearly, but whose hummus was incredibly silky and redolent with garlic and tahini.

Then there was Iowa… Not a statement that normally follows a genealogy of hummus.  But it was in Iowa that I was able to expand my initial anthropology of food course into a series of courses, spanning food production and politics; to the cultural expressions of food and identity.  It didn’t make sense to me to teach a course on food and not get to taste or prepare food to share in class.  So for those classes, especially, I tried to make sure that I brought food to share with my students, and in a couple of cases (some more successful than others) to make food with the class on campus.

One of the most successful cases of this was with my Food Politics class when we spent one class meeting in the college kitchens making ricotta cheese and pizza dough for our own white pizzas. This isn’t just a “fluff” exercise, but it takes the intellectual side of talking about a subject and makes it real by actually touching, preparing, sharing and eating food together.

For this particular class it happened that I had a couple of students who were lactose intolerant and I didn’t want to leave them out.  So I started thinking of the bare pizza dough, fired in the oven, what would go well with it?  Hummus…  Make the pizza dough into a spiced flat bread, serve it with the freshly prepared hummus and you’ve got a rock star food to share.  So that’s what we did; made pizza bianca with the homemade dough and ricotta, as well as a meze of hummus and flat bread.  I was greatly impacted by many of the students from that class, and it’s been great to keep in touch with them as they graduated (or will soon!) from college and we’ve moved up north.  This recipe was requested by one of those students, but she and her friend were inseparable and therefore I can’t bring myself to dedicate this hummus to one without the “other” (anthro humor there… sorry…).  Chelsea and Becca, this is for you ladies.

As you will see with this recipe, basic hummus is a great blank canvas for a myriad of flavors.  I’ve added smoked paprika for a little Spanish flare, spinach for some extra greenery in a form that my son will eat (sometimes), or roasted red bell pepper for a different savory taste.  The sky (and your imagination) are the limit here, so feel free to whip up a batch and personalize it to your tastes.

I like to serve hummus in a shallow bowl, with a depression at the top to hold a little golden olive oil, and a sprinkling of paprika over top.

I like to serve hummus in a shallow bowl, with a depression at the top to hold a little golden olive oil, and a sprinkling of paprika over top.

Hummus

Ingredients:

2 garlic clove (or more to taste)
2 (15 oz) cans of chickpeas, rinsed and drained
3-4 Tbsp. tahini (sesame seed) paste
3-4 tsp. lemon juice
2 tsp. ground cumin
2 tsp. ground coriander
2 tsp. salt
Approximately ½ cup olive oil

Directions:

  1. Drop the garlic one clove at a time into a running food processor through the feed tube.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary.
    Dropping garlic into the feed tube.

    Dropping garlic into the feed tube.

    Scrape down the sides of the bowl so you don't lose any of that garlicky goodness.

    Scrape down the sides of the bowl so you don’t lose any of that garlicky goodness.

  2. Add the rest of the ingredients except for the olive oil and pulse until the ingredients are mixed but still a bit rough.

    A rough mix of ingredients.

    A rough mix of ingredients.

  3. Then turn the processor on and through the tube slowly pour in the olive oil in a thin, steady stream until you get the desired creamy consistency.

    A smooth, creamy hummus.

    A smooth, creamy hummus.

  4. Taste and adjust for seasoning.  Blend the hummus again.  Taste.  Blend.  Enjoy!

Click here for a printable version of Marie’s Hummus recipe.

A perfect dish for sliced flatbread, fresh veges, or even as a "sauce" for sandwiches.

A perfect dish for sliced flatbread, fresh veges, or even as a “sauce” for sandwiches.

Playing in the Mud

It was hot.  So hot that if I left my trowel in the sun for even a few moments you could have fried an egg on the metal blade.  Blazing hot, but to think of it in those terms made you feel even hotter.  I was collecting yet another bag of broken pottery (officially called coarse ware or cook pot ware, affectionately called crap ware) in my first archaeological field season in Turkey.  I wasn’t exactly sure that I knew what I was doing, and I had no idea what to do with the stuff I was digging up, other than to record it properly.  I hadn’t yet learned how to take the material remains and interpret those back into the lives of ancient people.  Somewhere during the collection of that bag of boring, unpainted, undifferentiated pot sherds, I actually stopped to look at one.

At work analyzing pot sherds in Turkey.

At work analyzing pot sherds in Turkey.

It was the same earth-beige color as the rest.  Roughly the same shape as the palm of my hand, and on the outside surface was a perfectly clear finger print preserved in the clay.  The finger print of the woman or man who had actually made the pot whose surviving piece I now held.  This print was not decorative, but was simply a movement recorded in clay; and I was hooked.  For the first time, all the books on ancient history, all the poorly made films about ancient civilizations (Alexander with Colin Farrell… hours of my life I can never get back), all the museum displays, all of it finally was linked back to real people.  There were real people who made real pots that quite often weren’t pretty, but I bet could be used to put together a delicious meal.

One of thousands...

One of thousands…

Those pot sherds became the focus of my life for a good five plus years.  My dissertation was based on thousands of pot sherds, enough sherds to make your eyes cross and fingers ache just at the thought of analyzing them all.  When I was writing up my findings back in Indiana, Dave surprised me with a present of a pottery class.  It was something I’d always wanted to do, but had never made the time.  Now that I was crunching numbers and trying to interpret ancient life from thousands upon thousands of pot sherds, I was finally going to see what went into making a pot.  And I loved it!  There is something magical about pulling the pottery up from the wheel and seeing it transform before you eyes and between your hands… even if it falls.

004

Pottery I made in Indiana.

When we moved from Indiana to Iowa, I lost access to that studio and then Little Man came on the scene and I hadn’t been able to get back to pottery until now.  I’d heard that through the city of Nanaimo there was access to a pottery studio where they also taught classes.  So I tracked down a copy of the Nanaimo Parks, Recreation and Culture Activity Guide and found the information on the Bowen Park pottery studio (in the senior center at 500 Bowen Road).  The best part was that they offered multiple days of open drop in time, where as long as you already know what you are doing you can come by for a small fee and use their facilities.  I was hoping that the muscle memory of throwing pottery would come back, even though I hadn’t held clay for nearly three years.  And it did… more or less.

001

With my reintroduction to the world of throwing pottery, I wanted to cook dinner in a casserole dish or pot that I’d made myself.  I wanted to use my own pottery again, to feel the accomplishment of creating something useful not just pretty.  I also wanted comfort food, which meant casserole, and the mother of all casseroles in our household is Chicken Taco Casserole.

003

Chicken Taco Casserole is not a light meal, and frankly I don’t recommend trying to lighten it.  I’ve tried it with baked tortilla chips, and they just dissolved in an unappetizing mush.  I’ve tried it with reduced fat canned soup (yes, you heard me right, this recipe calls for canned soup.  Embrace the retro ingredient) and that was a mistake; total lack of flavor and an off putting texture.  This is one of those go big or go home casseroles that we don’t make often, but we savor every delicious bite, scraping our plates (and the casserole dish) clean.  And while you certainly don’t have to bake this in a ceramic casserole made by yourself or a local artisan, I have to tell you that it’s really great if you can.  I don’t know why, but it just seems like things taste better when served in your own pottery, pottery made for you, or pottery made by a local artisan.  It’s similar to how things you grow in your own garden taste better than those things you buy in a store.  It’s powerful when you know the hands that made something, not just an extruder or mold press half way across the world.  So if you get a chance, support your local potter.  You’d be amazed at the craft and artistry that goes into what seems like a simple bowl or mug.

My first casserole dish, made in Indiana.

My first casserole dish, made in Indiana.

Chicken Taco Casserole

As you can see, one chip has already been stolen by someone with fast hands while I was reaching for the camera.

This casserole is the definition of family comfort food for me.  It’s a family recipe that we’ve tweaked over the years and my parents make it differently than I do, and my brother has his own spin on it too.  The ingredients below give a nicely spicy version, but in terms of full disclosure, I haven’t been able to make it with any spice since Little Man came along.  We’re hoping to get him there some day, but for now I omit the chili flakes all together (unless I’m feeling risky and just give a sprinkle to the sauteing chicken), and instead of a half can of jalapenos, I use a full can of mild green chilies.  The taste is still great, but I can’t wait for Little Man’s palate to develop to spicy foods…  Mama misses her chilies.

And a quick warning…  The first time my dad and I tried this casserole with the added chips and cheese on top… the topping never made it to the table.  We pulled the delicious casserole out of the oven, called the rest of the family to dinner, and stood there in the kitchen eating the chips and cheese off of the top.  By the time the rest of the family got there we’d smoothed out the top of the casserole and no one was the wiser… until now.

Ingredients

3 chicken breasts, boneless and skinless

Salt and Pepper

½ tsp. chili flakes

2 cans cream of mushroom soup

2 cans cream of chicken soup

½ small can of diced green chilies

½ small can of diced jalapenos

2 cups grated cheddar cheese

1 large bag of good quality tortilla chips

Directions

1.  Preheat the oven to 350º Fahrenheit and prepare your favorite casserole dish by giving it a generous spray of cooking oil.

2.  Heat a large, nonstick skillet over medium high heat and add a little oil.  Sprinkle the chicken breasts with salt, pepper and half the chili flakes.  Put the breasts into the hot pan spice side down.  Then sprinkle the exposed side with salt, pepper and the remaining chili flakes.  Cook until golden, then flip and sear again.  Saute until the chicken is cooked through, about 10-12 minutes total.

These chicken breasts were large, so I only used two rather than the three suggested in the recipe.  Taster's preference.

These chicken breasts were large, so I only used two rather than the three suggested in the recipe. Taster’s preference.

The beauty of browned food...

The beauty of browned food…

3.  In the meantime, in a large mixing bowl combine the soups, the chilies and a good sized cup of grated cheddar.  Mix this all together and set it aside.

The casserole base with the green chilies, but alas no jalapenos.

The casserole base with the green chilies, but alas no jalapenos.

The casserole base with cheddar cheese.

The casserole base with cheddar cheese.

4.  Once the chicken is cooked through, remove it to a plate and shred it into large strips.  Once shredded add the chicken to the rest of the casserole mixture and stir to combine.

The combined mixture... the start of a beautiful thing.

The combined mixture… the start of a beautiful thing.

5.  Now comes the fun part, layering.  Grab a good sized handful of your chips and crush them into the bottom of your casserole.  This should more or less just flatten them out a bit to make a good base.  Then layer in approximately 1/3 of your casserole mixture, and smooth it out.  Top this with another good handful of chips, and repeat the layers until you cap off the casserole with the last of the mixture.  Be sure to reserve a good handful of chips and about 1/2 cup of grated cheddar for the topping later.

Starting the layering with some crushed chips at the bottom of a casserole dish.

Starting the layering with some crushed chips at the bottom of a casserole dish.

The last layer of chips.

The last layer of chips.

The top layer of the casserole mixture caps off the chips, protecting them from burning.

The top layer of the casserole mixture caps off the chips, protecting them from burning.

Ready for the oven.

Ready for the oven.

6.  Put the casserole on a baking sheet (in case of boil overs) and slide the whole thing into your hot oven.  Bake for 30 minutes, or until bubbly and hot.  Pull the casserole out of the oven, top it with your reserved chips and cheese, and return it to the oven to just melt the cheese.  Watch it like a hawk here in case the chips start to burn.  Once the cheese is melted and the chips brown up on the tips, remove the casserole, let it sit for about 10 minutes (if you can hold off the savage hordes long enough) and then enjoy.

Deliciously browned.

Deliciously browned.

Click here for a printable version of the Chicken Taco Casserole recipe.

As you can see, one chip has already been stolen by someone with fast hands while I was reaching for the camera.

As you can see, one chip has already been stolen by someone with fast hands while I was reaching for the camera.

Black Pellets of Doom

In honor of Little Man starting potty training today, I thought I would share this story from Turkey…

 Flying Black Pellets of Doom or The Sheep Are Out… Turkish Style

 Third archaeological field season at Kenan Tepe, Turkey

My mom pointed out that I haven’t told many sheep and goat stories this year, and that their absence has been noted.  So I thought I would tell you a little about the herds here in southeastern Turkey.  If you have a strong attachment to a romanticized notion of clean shepherds gently herding their cute flocks, stop reading now…

Every day a couple of different herds are taken across the tepe where we are excavating, and in the evenings they are often “parked” there as well.  By way of quick Turkish lesson, “tepe” is the word for “hill.”  It’s the same as “tell” or “höyük” or “chagar” depending on which Middle Eastern country you are in.  We work at Kenan Tepe; the hill of Kenan.  “Kenan” is the same as “Canaan,” so the name of our site means the Hill of Canaan or Canaan’s Hill.  We do not know what the village or town was called in the ancient past, since much of our excavation has focused on the prehistoric portions, and the historic parts haven’t given us any writing as of yet.

Here the shepherds tend to be men, but I have seen two young women caring for a small herd of cattle.  I have never seen sheep and goats herded separately, but they are always in a mixed, motley group.  Herd size can range from as few as five to as many as 50+ beasties.  There is always one donkey amongst the group, laden down with food, water, etc. and sometimes being ridden by a small boy.  Every now and then there is a shepherd that goes by my trench, singing to his flock.  It’s a beautiful tone that just sort of floats on the wind.  With the birdsong and frogs in the background it’s really nice.  Most shepherds make a sort of shushing noise to their sheep to help steer them… as well as throwing rocks.  Their aim is amazing.  They don’t do it to hurt the animals, but when you have that many not-so-bright-beasties roaming the hillside you need to steer them somehow.

Now to describe the sheep themselves…  These are not what you picture as the cute, little, white, fuzzy lambs skipping across the tepe.  These sheep have been especially bred for their wool and have very large… shall we say… gluteus maximi… that hang over the backs of their legs and flap in the breeze.  This is not their tail; that is there too.  Apparently these… bottoms… are full of fat and are considered a delicacy; one that I must admit I haven’t developed a taste for yet.  Too gamey.  The fleece, however, taken from this particular region of the sheep is supposedly the softest and highest quality.  Makes you think of cashmere in an entirely different way.

The first time I saw one of these sheep up close I thought it had a huge, cancerous deformity flapping along behind it.  Then I noticed that all of them are the same.  In some strange way the goats actually end up being the cuter of the two.

Now to the crux of my tale, but first let me remind you that my trench is more then two meters deep.  That means that when I’m in my trench, standing on tip toe, I can just peek over the edge and be eye level with the ground.

Last Saturday (we get one day off a week, and that is Friday for the Muslim holyday), when I hiked up the side of the tepe to my trench to get working, the entire side of the hill looked like someone had upended a massive pepper shaker.  The flocks must have been “parked” on my side of the tepe the whole time we were off.  That means that they were “doing their business” all over the hillside, and it was absolutely covered with small black pellets, and those would be swarming with flies in the heat… thank you sheep!

We had gotten to the tepe at our normal 5am, but rather than the clear blue sky we are used to, it was hazy and overcast.  We could just see a white glowing space where the sun was.  This is unusual for Turkey at this time of year, but we foreigners just thought it was a nice cool morning and we enjoyed the respite from the heat.  Our workers kept eyeing the horizon suspiciously.  The morning turned a little blustery, and we thought it weird that the horizon stayed looking so blurry, like rain but without any moisture in the air or lightening.  What we were actually seeing but not comprehending was a sandstorm.  We were just too ignorant to know it.

Around 11am the wind really started to pick up.  A huge blast hit my trench, sending a very large dust devil right through.  It literally knocked us over and sounded like our sun cover was being ripped to shreds.  Just before this happened, my workmen and I had been noses to the ground, completely oblivious to the upper world around us.  Now that we were upended by the wind and so being curious souls, we all crept to the edge of the trench, stood on tip toe and peered out at a world gone mad.  Everything was airborne, including all those little black pellets.  I opened my mouth to exclaim and then clamped it shut immediately before any black pellets of doom could come flying in.  A little herd of cows were all standing diagonally into the wind.  This couldn’t be good…

We ended up shutting down the excavation early that day, before our tents, our trench journals, and our lovely bags of artifacts were swept up Wizard of Oz-style and dropped into the Tigris.  I’ve seen a dust devil pick up a bag of light animal bone, sweep it straight up 30 feet in the air, and then gently hover craft it over the river to deposit it in the sheep and goat herd on the opposite bank.  This wind was not gentle, so we gave up and went home for lab work.

When we finally got back to the dig house the crew all ran up the eight stories of stairs to the rooftop to see if we could rescue our bedding.  Luckily only one mattress had blown off the roof (we never did find it…), but everything else had blown across it and was now in a large dusty pile.  Sleep time was going to be a bit gritty this evening.

By 4pm the sky turned yellow.  For those of you who have seen the movie Pitch Black… Bismil had that same crazy, yellow hue that the planet did when there was sunlight.  Eerie.

Eventually the wind died down and the next day was back to normal.  That small taste of a sandstorm made us all wonder what it would have been like out in the desert, where the entire landscape is moveable.  This part of southeastern Turkey looks a lot like southern California (if you take away all the cities and freeways); lots of rolling golden hills and flat land for crops.  Our landscape had not changed by the time we got back to the tepe and our excavation trenches, but the contents of our trenches had.  The first thing my workmen and I had to deal with were the heaps of black pellets of doom piled around the bottom of my trench.  I started being disgruntled with the sheep…

Sunrise over the Tigris River from the top of Kenan Tepe.

Sunrise over the Tigris River from the top of Kenan Tepe.