Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Geoarchaeology at the Crusader Castle of Margat (Qal’at al-Marqab), Syria

I'm pleased to announce the publication of the final article on my work at Margat Castle, Syria:

Shillito, L-M., Major, B., Almond, M., Anderson, E. and Pluskowski, A. in press. Micromorphological and geochemical investigation of formation processes in the refectory at the Castle of Margat (Qal’at al-Marqab), Syria Journal of Archaeological Science

For those without a subscription the final version of the manuscript is also available open access on my academia page here (you'll need to log in).

This is the end product of a pilot study I started in 2010. It was initially envisaged to be a test for a larger program of research, looking at differences in activities and resource use between different phases of the castle's occupation, but unfortunately due to the deteriorating situation in Syria, I was never able to return. I still have the lovely gifts I was given by the Syrians I worked and lived with. I wish there was some way of knowing if they are ok. I have posted about these samples on and off for a while now. I've been working on them in the background, as my main focus has been on other projects and teaching, and I feel especially sad to be packing them away in the 'analysed' box. I might get them out for teaching next year.

As well as being a great site, this has also been an experience for me as informally publishing 'work in progress' reports on my blog, before the final paper was submitted. It's interesting to see how the work developed. I am especially grateful to Hans Huisman, a micromorphologist who got in touch after seeing some of my blog posts and offered very useful advice on some of the features. My first post on Margat was back in 2012, when I gave a brief introduction to my work and our hopes to identify different types of mortar, though in the end that aspect of the research was put on hold as our samples were just too limited to say much. The second was one of my monthly micrographs, showing the different types of basalt pebbles that are frequently seen in thin section. The director of the site thinks that the basalt pebbles were collected from a nearby beach, and we see them used as flooring in some parts of the castle. I used another set of images for another monthly micrograph image, this time showing lime fragments containing forams. You can see why this is such as fascinating site if you are interested in different building materials and technology, there is such a variety of materials used, which I'm sure we could link to different parts of the landscape, to help understand resource use and provisioning of the castle. The real 'work in progress' post was a plea for information, this strange speckled appearance that I hadn't really seen before, and thought might be manganese, turned out to be iron oxide (though there is still a bit of Mn in there). The final post shows dung deposits with metal oxide staining, and explains how my interpretation of these deposits was adjusted after discussion with Dr Huisman.

So there you go, the story behind the paper. I hope it is a useful contribution, and that some day peace will return to the beautiful country of Syria, and that I will be able to meet up with the kind people I worked with, and show them the thin section slides.

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