Exploration of the ancient settlement of Tell Khaiber started this week. A team of six British and four Iraqi archaeologists began investigations at the southern mound (Tell Khaiber 1) where satellite images showed the presence of large buildings at least four thousand years old. The first couple of days were spent on collecting all the various equipment needed to start, from special hand-picks that were made to order in the Nasiriyah suq to water containers. The nearby canal was bridged to provide better access to the site. Workmen also had to be hired and all the equipment tested. The archaeologists will be recording everything straight to computer, and both software and hardware needs to work in the windy and dusty conditions.
The immediate priority has been to try and learn more about the settlement at Tell Khaiber before actual excavation starts. Pottery and artefacts sitting on the surface have been systematically collected. Analysis will help to identify patterns and dates of occupation. Surface scraping in the area of the large building has begun. This tried and tested technique involves the removal of topsoil after which, in favourable conditions, the ancient walls become visible. A gradiometer is also being used to peer beneath the surface. This machine records magnetic differences between walls and room fill without disturbing the deposits underneath and can help to pinpoint the location of ancient buildings.
Although only the surface has been examined so far, already everyday items left by the inhabitants of ancient Khaiber are appearing: grinders and fragments of vessels made of stone, a stopper made of bitumen, and even a piece of ivory.