Monday, October 1, 2007

Week 2: The Wah-Watusi!

Above: They wrote the song, but we found the cow.

No archaeological dig ever progresses quite the way it was originally intended, and of course, digging up Magic has been no exception. In a perfect example of this hard and fast rule, we began our day Friday afternoon by looking for an elephant skeleton, and by the evening, we were looking for a Watusi skeleton.

We got the green light from the farmer to dig up the elephant on his property, which we took to be a good sign. However, getting permission to dig up an elephant and finding it are two different things. We were directed to the general area where the elephant was, told how deep it was buried, and left to it: the only real guideline we had to work with was that it was "somewhere near the road".

Fortunately, a decomposing elephant leaves a sizable depression in the ground, one that someone with a trained eye can spot with little effort. Despite the thick vegetation that had taken over the area, we were soon able to estimate where the elephant should be, and planned our test pits accordingly. Unfortunately, any test pit we placed within the depression quickly filled with water, which mixed with the dung that the area had previously been used to store. As a result, we weren't able to get any deeper than maybe a foot and a half in any of the lower test pits, a problem considering Magic is supposedly under three or four feet of soil (and dung). So until we can solve the water table problem (or the water goes away on its own), we probably won't be able to get at the elephant skeleton.

That said, virtually every test pit we dug uncovered something. Phalanges, vertebrae, ribs, all kinds of different bones were strewn across the field, some of them hardly below the surface (we even found bones above ground on the road and under roadside vegetation). On top of all that, red string was found in at least three of the pits, seemingly connecting them together. The theory at the moment is that this string might define the boundaries of the hole into which magic was tossed; however, that doesn't square up well with the fact that the soil in each test pit appears to be highly disturbed. Finding bones out of context suggests that during the process of burying Magic, Parc Safari dug up the bones and dirt that were there beforehand and then redeposited them, throwing them all over the place and separating them from the rest of their skeletons. If the soil all around the string is disturbed and there appears to be no rhyme or reason to what we find where, then the string probably hasn't stayed in its original context either. In any case, hopefully over the next few weeks we can figure out what, if anything, the string is supposed to tell us.

But the big find of the day was not the red string (thankfully), but the horn and maxilla of a Watusi cow, an animal I had never heard of prior to this dig. When we first uncovered it, we all excitedly assumed that the horn was actually one of the tusks of our elusive quarry (horns and tusks look mighty similar when you've been digging all day). Luckily, one of the zoologists from Parc Safari was there to remind us that Magic's tusks had been removed before he was buried, and to help us identify the species. We weren't able to get the horn fully excavated before we had to leave (they're huge), but we're making plans to try and dig out the rest of it as we continue onwards in our search for Magic. Something tells me, judging by how many non-elephant bones we've found so far, that there'll be even more detours before we get down to what we were originally digging to find.

Above: You can see why we thought we'd found a tusk.

So the rhino group will pick up where we left off this week, and hopefully they'll have more luck locating the elephant (or at least they'll find some other goofy-looking animals to dig up). We'll have to think up new group names: maybe whatever they find this week can be theirs, and we can be the Watusi group.

That's all for now,
The (tentatively named) Watusi Group

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