It’s an old saying in archaeology that ‘you never know what you’ll find until you dig it’ and it has certainly held true for Bangkong so far. When we arrived at the site, now nearly two months ago we had no idea how complicated and well preserved parts of the kiln would be. My part of kiln 11 was finally finished last week and has given up many of its secrets. In total we have found eight separate floor levels, and 4 different walls, each a result of the kiln being rebuilt.
Key to our understanding of ceramic production is why the kilns were being rebuilt, as the answer could provide crucial glimpses into life in the Angkorian period. For example, an effect of the reconstruction is to shrink the capacity of the kiln, therefore, was it a deliberate act to reduce capacity, as not so much pottery was needed? Alternatively, was it a result of regular damage to the kilns and if so what caused the damage? If it was due to the firing process, could this mean that the ceramic production technology was not yet fully developed, suggesting a local adoption of high fired ceramics? Or perhaps it was seasonal damage caused by the effect of the rainy season, meaning that the kilns may have only been in use for a few years before being abandoned. One of the ways I will address these, and other, issues is through comprehensive dating of the floor surfaces to see how long they may have been in use for, whilst other colleagues will be examining the ceramics themselves.
Kiln 11 has been at times a demanding, stressful and complicated excavation but as an introduction to an entirely new type of archaeology, is has been excellent. The completion of kiln 11 meant my time was freed to begin excavation another kiln, number 14. Rachna and I selected 14 in part as it looked initially to be relatively straightforward. Situated on a low mound, a single floor surface with visible on the surface and so, after laying out a 3x1m rectangle, I began to peel away centuries of soil accumulation. You never know what you’ll find until you dig it however and sure enough after only 1 day of excavation and carefully digging less than 20cm down, 5 floors and 3 or 4 walls became clear.
Further excavation of the upmost floor has since revealed two wide, rock hard clay pillars in the middle of the kiln, and a deep, well-constructed fire box, all lined with perfectly preserved baked clay. The rubble remains of the kiln roof are a major component of the fill we are removing and some pieces have imprints of plants, which would have been used to help support the roof. Even after just a week, its secrets are being revealed to us.
It was whilst sorting through the imprinted rubble pieces last week I came across 3 small scorpions, lying in wait ready to pounce on an unsuspecting finger, or exposed toe. I recoiled in mild alarm immediately, raising the interest of my workman, who has dutifully been aiding me during the hotter periods of the day. He smiled and chuckled when he realised the cause of my surprise and proceeded to pick up the scorpions and, after pinching their tails, allowing them to run over his hands. As I stared in disbelief at his foolhardy bravery, he upped the bar significantly, and nonchalantly dangled the scorpion from his lips, posing proudly as I leapt for my camera.
Kiln 14 is around 300m away from kiln 26 where the rest of the team is currently based and I find myself often alone for hours in a day, but towards the end of the week I increasingly had young visitors come to silently observe my work. Kids from the local village have been arriving in twos or threes and stand perfectly still as they watch with a mixture of intrigue and suspicion on their young faces. I always smile and say “Hello” (Susaday) once I notice their arrival but they never reply and they always leave silently, slipping away into the surrounding scrubland. As ever the dig goe s on, and we wait to see what new surprises lay in store, you never know what you’re going to find until you dig it!