RECORD / MZ SITEWIDE / Video and Film Clips / Synopsis
Laerke Recht & Rick Hauser, 2014-
Updated July 2014

Film and Video clips

Film clips

VC4 Using a Jackhammer in J3

   Only rarely is such heavy equipment used in excavation; and then, only if it is a bear certainty that no artifacts will be destroyed nor stratigraphic information obliterated. This is a chance to see how the instrument is used to cut through what was a cement-like, impenetrable matrix, the unique occlusion of soil, elements and time.
   It would been otherwise well-nigh impossible to carry on excavation in this area.

VC6 Walls as Containers

   Giorgio Buccellati takes us on a first-person tour of the Royal Storehouse, taking particular note of conservation measures throughout. Since this sequence was filmed early in the excavations, older methods are pictured and explained. Later, we refined the fabric covering itself, replacing heavy (and ultimately destructive) canvas with a lighter inexpensive fabric. Surprisingly, it's more durable.

VC12 OH2 Digital Publication

   A visual adaptation of a PowerPoint presentation about the excavations (published digitally only).

VC13 Dirt Removal

   The first of several sequences about this important aspect of fieldwork. Here, the installation of a conveyor belt is featured. The process is seen relatively close-up, so the viewer can evaluate the effort required for installation. In VC15, the installation is seen as one of a number of continuing excavation activities. In VC31, the same process is covered, but is seen at a distance, so there is a sense of context. The perspective of over-all site excavation is presented, and dirt removal is seen as part of that complex web of activity. In VC26, another technique is used for hauling excavation dirt away from the work of excavation in a given unit - the rickety/jerry-rigged (and very efficient!) "little train".

VC14 Brickfall as Marker

   Although this sequence also speaks about the nature of brickfall and the larger issue of how units relate diachronically (and synchronically), it characterizes major events as "markers" of chronological time, setting limits to our understanding of how such happenings occurred.

VC15 J6 Fieldwork

   Here, there are four distinct activities. Each should be followed through from beginning-to-end, by playing the sequence over a number of times and tracking each activity separately. Each requires a different type of tool.
   These activities are:
  • cleaning a wall (small pick)
  • clearing a square (shovels)
  • deploying the tent (two sections, not continuous)
  • dirt removal (conveyor belt)
   The installation of the conveyor belt is seen from a larger perspective, giving a sense of how the operation in one unit may have an impact on surrounding areas.

VC16 Meeting of Centuries

   Reading the soil is an exciting and very complex enterprise. In this sequence, the relationship of layer-to-layer documents graphically the melding and passage of one century into another - Khabur and other layers just subsequent to the Tupkish palace become what is known as "Mitanni" - several hundred years documented in the soil, giving rich meaning to the idea of "interface".

VC17 Meticulous Recovery (bead necklace)

   Some artifacts stand as testimony to the skill of those who excavate.
   In this case, Yustephat found a tiny clay bead (about 1 cm in diameter) in a darkened soil matrix that appeared to be a burnt layer in a complex unit just south of the Royal Storehouse. As he worked, other matching beads came to light. He proceeded ever more slowly, until an entire necklace of beads was recovered. Among them, golden beads of similar size and a larger bead in lapus lazuli, with a carved surface.

VC18 Conservation (Western Staircase)

   This sequence shows application of our conservation technique to the mortar in the interstices of the recently-excavated (MZ20) "western staircase". A strip of burlap is applied over the "crack" between the stones, over the dried mortar that dates to the first making/repair of the steps. Then, mud from the surrounding plain - the very same dirt that was used by the Mitanni workmen when they first filled up the cracks - is slapped onto the burlap and smoothed down so as to provide a tight seal. The area will be covered with a tarpaulin and then backfill (dirt from this season's excavations) and left until next season, when excavations will resume.
   Until then, the burlap strip will serve to mark the interface between the applied mud and the ancient mortar.

VC19 Animal Representations at Urkesh

   It became apparent that the animal figurines - quadrupeds/four-footed creatures for the most part - could be grouped in this manner - they were similar to each other. Interestingly, it became apparent rather early on that these categories corresponded to animal species - distinctions that could be isolated; and, after a time "read" in a manner similar to the manner in which we apprehend grammatical structure in a written narrative.

VC20 Aerial Photography at Urkesh

   This complex little sequence documents how the excavation team at Urkesh uses a simple parafoil and an abundance of ingenuity to shoot images from high above the site. These photographic images yield two-dimensional plans of the structures and contextual information about layout.
   The sequence is the first of two about kite photography. Here we see the intricate dance of staff members as they manoeuvre the kite into position above a precise place on the mound. It requires cooperation and coordination of a great many people to pull it off.
   Not to say, a sense of humor.

VC21 Tracking Obsidian to the Source

   In this astonishing sequence, Ellery Frahm, Research Associate, University of Minnesota and University of Sheffield (post-doctoral assignment) takes us back to the origin of three diverse artifacts of obsidian, the hard, glass-like material that originates in the caldera of volcanoes.
   The fragments are scarcely larger than your little fingernail, yet they can be analyzed chemically and their signature traced to its point of origin. All are in a line with Tell Mozan, marking what must have been an ancient trade or supply route.

VC22 A Song for the Dead

   This impressionistic sequence is interdisciplinary. It marries song - an ancient Hurrian melody reconstructed from a cuneiform text that dates to centuries after Mozan ceased to be - with a classic Sumerian/Akkadian story that tells of the descent of the goddess Ishtar into the netherworld - heard here in English translation overlaid with a rendering of the actual Akkadian text. These elements are seen against the excavation of a tomb of the Khabur period - subsequent to the disappearance of Tupkish's palace.

VC24 Living Space

   Excavations at Tell Mozan are documented by a variety of methods. The majority are writings and photographs. This extended film clip explores another method, an end-of season review in real time. In this case, Giorgio Buccellati, Expedition Co-Director, and James Walker, Senior Staff Member and Unit Supervisor, exchange impressions about an unusual stone structure on the Western slope of the Tell.

VC25 Mystery Room

   When a complex structure is excavated, there is always an effort to differentiate amongst the various rooms. Sometimes finds from inside the walls of a given enclosed space help determine the function. For instance, the main storage space/exchange depot of Royal Storehouse AK was determined by an extraordinary number of discarded sealings (over 1,000) found scattered in three separate layers atop the building floor.
   One of the rooms in Area A10 in Royal Storehouse AK is the subject of this short film. Its function remains a mystery. The finds within it are quite ambiguous and do not lend themselves to easy decipherment.

VC26 Ingenious Inventions

   As Giorgio Buccellati says, "High tech and low tech are bedfellows at Tell Mozan". This is manifestly the case for the two "inventions" that are featured in this short (and spirited) clip excerpted from the documentary film, "Unwrapping Urkesh" (1998).
   The first is a rickety "little-train-that-could" used to clear excavation dirt away from a work area. It appears somewhat jerry-rigged - and in fact it is! Made up of bits and pieces of mechanical detritus - wheels and guide-rails and pulleys and string - but it works brilliantly and does with alacrity and efficiency what it was designed to do.
   The remote-control device that was devised to trigger the camera above the excavations is nothing short of genial. The mercury switch/ampoule in the little box repositions itself in such a way that when the camera is level and the excavation area below in one focal plane, then and only then can the camera can be triggered.

VC27 Pottery as Text & A Song for the Dead

   Marilyn Kelly-Buccellati eloquently explains how different ceramic pots were adapted according to function. The sequence is a preamble to VC22.

VC28 Ceramics

   Tens of thousands of broken piece s of pottery have been analyzed by Marilyn Kelly-Buccellati and her staff. The result will be the most complete chronology ever published of the typology of third-millennium ceramics.
   A great contribution to scholarship, for such information is used to date events, structures, artifacts across millennia.

VC29 Ceramics Lab

   Spectrographic analysis aids the human researcher. Here, Marilyn Kelly-Buccellati shows Martin Sheen, the noted American actor her methods for data collections and the invaluable computer tools the University of Minnesota (and Ellery Frahm) have brought to her research.

VC30 Walls

   Thus sequence offers the best description yet if the conservation measures now in place at Tell Mozan - those awarded by the Getty Trust and other international entities. The sequence is quite subtle and complex; Giorgio Buccellati explains the system in all its complexity to Martin Sheen.

VC31 Dirt Removal

   A ubiquitous subject. This sequence is taken from a technological point-of-view. (corkscrew lifts, for example). Very comprehensive.

VC33 Miniscule Narratives on Sealings

   Recovery. Cleaning. Analysis. Recording. The life of a sealing at Tell Mozan. The stories these minute pieces of dried mud tell are intriguing, ambiguous, challenging.

VC34 M'saq's Kiln

   It is somewhat chastening to realize that complex operations can be executed with the simplest of means. In this case, Qamishli potter M’saq, a long-time associate of the staff at Tell Mozan, builds - from the ground up - a kiln to fire pottery. He uses the very same materials that constitute the pots themselves. However, here, the structure is almost monumental, reminiscent of Mycenae's "beehive tombs".

VC35 A16 Courtyard

   A thorough-going and engaging look at the stratigraphy of courtyard - its beautiful tailored stone flooring, and the immense escarpments that flank it - and which contain the record of subsequent millennia that overlay the space.
   Federico Buccellati skillfully articulates layout and layering; he explains to Martin Sheen, who is visiting the site.
   Here is where the cache of sealings that contained Tar'am-Agade's story - and proof positive of liaison between Urkesh and polities to the South (Tar'am-Agade's father was none other than Naram-Sin, one of the great rulers of the third millennium in Mesopotamia!).

Video clips

VC01 Sandstorm over the Excavations

   A sandstorm blows over the Temple Terrace, seen from outside the excavation area, just north of J5. The camera pans over the excavations, and it includes the Temple at the top. The scene becomes progressively darker, and at the end the camera is engulfed in the whirling dust. The only sound is the deafening howling of the wind.

VC02 Sandstorm Approaching the Expedition House

   A sandstorm approaches the Expedition House from the south. The workmen have been called off, and are rushing with their tools to the shelter. A high cloud (a visible manifestation of what we call "wind") moves at great speed and makes it difficult to even stand up straight.

VC03 In the Eye of the Storm by the Expedition House

   Dust accumulations grow fast in open areas but even inside houses. The depth of this fresh accumulation next to the wall visible in the foreground was about 1 cm. after the dust storm subsided.
   This fact is of particular interest for those who excavate - think how quickly a given artifact (or floor) can be covered - hidden to "history"!

VC07 Rainwater Eddy in C2

   Winter rains can be so strong that they cause veritable streams to form on the surface of the tell (the so-called wadis). The intensity and velocity of the water is surprising, and it explains some of the features we find in the excavations, for instance the channels in J5 and the erosion in J2. These events cut through features, often to the frustration and dismay of those excavating.
   The scene is south of J7, and when the camera pans to follow the water stream, the view is towards the south of the Tell.

VC08 In the Eye of the Storm by J5

   We are in the eye of the sandstorm (VC1 - VC3). The wind howls as it skims over the surface of the Tell, moving dust at great velocity. Several workmen have difficulty standing up and lay down on the ground!
   The abrasive force of the wind is well-documented here, and its impact on opposing vertical surfaces (walls and sections) can easily be gauged. We wonder at the force, but encounter daily its palpable impact on surfaces that we excavate.

VC09 VC10 VC11 Slaughtering a bull

   Giorgio Buccellati captured the slaughtering of a bull in a local meat market. It is important to those who excavate Urkesh because the practices documented in sealings that date back millennia seem not to have changed much to the present day.
   Of course, what we see on the sealings is the end result of the process - a hock of meat hanging from a hook. Here we see the process itself in real time.
   Obviously, we who deal in past times must account for the present (in which some theorists say all our work is constructed. This is a straightforward contribution to that effort, and as such bears scrutiny and analysis.

VC23 Flood

   The water simply pours over the surface of the Tell, emptying into the village to the West. How it may sculpt surface that we take to be "pristine" or "intact" as we excavate is very much worth considering. "Laminations" document this unimpeded flow of waters in ancient times.

VC32 Excavation in J1 (Raw Footage)

   The high angle from which this coverage is taken affords a bird's-eye-view of diverse and ongoing activities in one excavation unit. The footage in unedited, but gives an idea of the basic materials we have to work with when we craft a "film" (an edited sequence).
   In this matter, it is important to maintain, in spite of the choice of view by the camera, a critical objective on the activity in every part of the (film) frame. What, exactly, is going on: Where is the focus? How are the "sequences" (unedited) related? How can they be made useful for educational/archival purposes?