Excavations have been progressing nicely over the last few weeks with the focus still at Bangkong kiln 11 but also the local folks have begun excavating another kiln (BK26) around 100m to the south.
In Trench 2 we have been primarily looking at how the kiln was constructed and how its size, shape and capacity to produce ceramics, has changed over time. As of this morning we have found that the kiln consists of 8 separate floor surfaces associated with at least 3 different walls. This implies that there were at least 7 different modifications and reuses of the kiln, with the capacity changing every time. This becomes important as the kilns capacity, and therefore how many pots it can make, has defiantly changed over time, potentially with supply and demand issues. When we try to piece together long term change in trade and exchange networks in the past, the inferences we can make from the kiln will help to support arguments relating to the growth and decline of the Angkorian Empire.
So, if changes to capacity can inform us about how much pottery people in the past needed, we also need to know when the pottery was being used and how long the kiln was kept larger or reduced in size for. In order to find this out archaeologists use a variety of methods to date various different parts of sites. At Bangkong I’m using 3 different methods to provide 3 different answers, all with their own benefits and shortcomings. Firstly (and probably the most familiar to people with an interest) is radiocarbon dating (14C). 14C works for organic materials which will have absorbed radioactive carbon from the atmosphere during their lives. This includes, bones and plant remains. Mostly at the kiln we are finding neither, but occasionally pieces of charcoal have been recovered and these will be used. Secondly, I’m using a technique called Optically Stimulated Luminesce (OSL) which dates sediments and minerals by detecting when they were lasted exposed to sunlight. In the field this involves hammering tubes into the side of trench and capturing the sediment inside to ensure that it doesn’t see light again. OSL is being used from layers of sediment thick enough from between the different floor layers. Finally, at UNE we are working on a pioneering new dating technique known as Rehydroxylation dating (RHX) which hopefully will allow the dating of fired ceramics such as pottery and roof tile. For this technique pottery and pieces of the kiln itself are being recovered for analysis.
Away from the trenches I’ve been continuing to explore the many temples spread out across the Greater Angkor region, including recent visits to the walls of Angkor Thom, Ta Prohm and Ta Keo. I walked part of the walls of Angkor Thom with the team working in Angkor Wat and we had a picnic lunch on the SW corner, which to my delight included a scotch egg. The walk was fairly easy going but amazingly there were no tourists anywhere. Increasingly it’s becoming clear to me that by being a little more adventurous and exploring away from Bayon and Angkor Wat, it is possible to see the most amazing things here in peace and privacy. The same was partially true of Ta Keo. There were a few more folk around but it didn’t feel busy and it was still possible to take a bit of time and appreciate the beauty in a tranquil setting, away from the noise and hum drum. Ta Prohm unfortunately was a different matter as I arrived just before a busload of excited tourists. I don’t want moan about people enjoying themselves, but very rarely people seem to forget that these ancient ruins are temples, places of worship, and should be treated with a certain degree of reverence and sense of decorum. Enough moaning! I’m still mesmerised by the beauty of these places and every new temples brings new delights.
On site again this week, finishing off BK11 and moving on to help the team at BK26 so hopefully more exciting discoveries ahead.