Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Week 6: Pictures

No write-up at the moment, but here are some pictures from digging last Friday. Unfortunately, I wasn't there, so I'll just have to take an educated guess at what's going on, and any holes can be filled in by Cameron's post on how the day went.

The Watusi, now our primary focus for the dig (we hope to get it out by the end of the semester), as there remains far too much of the elephant's fleshy stuff.

A good look at the leg laying near the watusi's face. It's an odd one, to be sure, odder still in that it probably doesn't belong to our watusi, and is relatively complete in its articulation. Maybe a mass grave?

The mystery leg, with yet another bone that appears to be in some way associated with it (below it). My guess is that that's a pelvic bone, but we'll have to wait and see.

Extending the watusi trench further towards the road so we can uncover the rest of its body.

Bucketing out the ever-deepening watusi pit.

That beige patch is, if I'm not mistaken, some still decomposing stomach contents. Delicious!

We were being a little optimistic when we assumed the watusi was fully decomposed. As it turns out, there's a sizable amount of rotting fat, just as there was in the elephant pit.

This is, I've been told, a solid piece of fat. It goes without saying that this day is probably the worst smelling so far.

And, back on the other side of the trench, another leg! If we have time, we'll try and take whatever that is out as well.

The pit was actually filling up fast enough that it needed to be drained as it was being dug.

Trench extending and measuring.

Finally, the watusi head was ready to be removed, taken back to the lab, and cleaned. Apparently it's quite heavy, and I can vouch for the fact that it's still full of brain matter.

The skull, fully removed. The horn that was further underground has an intact horn sheath, which is nice.

Professor Costopoulos trying to load the skull into his trunk. I'm guessing it didn't work out.

The skull, back at the lab. Looking through the foramen magnum, you can see a fair amount of brain left inside.

The skull with a piece of dried up flesh still attached.

Working away in the lab trying to clean out the skull. Not only was the brain-case still full, the skull itself needed a serious toothbrushing to get most of the mud/possibly flesh off of it.

So that's all we have for now, a written update will be coming soon.
The Field School

Tuesday, October 23, 2007


As the clouds filled the sky and the rain (didn't actually) began to fall, the Archaeologists kept excavating, completely unaware of the terrors that lie beneath the soil...

Apparently in the spirit of upcoming halloween (and every terrible teen slasher film that ever existed) our watusi excavation decided to get a whole lot spookier last friday.

The decision was made that the elephant pit would not be worked on last friday because it was too hot and humid of a day, and putting someone in a pit with a decomposing elephant in the sweltering heat may have raised a few eyebrows. It did get cloudy as we arrived, but the decision was made and considering our small numbers, the order of the day was to continue the excavation of the watusi and begin mapping finds in the Watusi pit.

Upon our arrival at the site the Watusi pit was again full up with water. After bailing it out we finally got down to excavating our good friend. In essence the entire front half of the Watusi has been excavated, and it seems to be almost completely articulated. The right ride of his head was uncovered, showing the back of the maxilla and mandible, complete with a nice grin of teeth. The Watusi's other horn is starting to show as well, but it seems to be surrounded with that black decomposing fat soil we've all grown to love and cherish. The neck vertebrae leading back the pectoral girdle was also uncovered. If you look at the picture posted in the week 5 breaking news section of the blog you can see that the Watusi's neck is broken, how we don't know, but it is shown very clearly in the picture, where it's rib cage and legs are pointing west (up in the picture) and it's head is pointing east (down in the picture).

The protruding ribs from the prior week were further excavated. They turned out to be the distal ends of the thoracic vertebrae. The animal's left scapula, which was articulated to the humerus, was uncovered, as well as sections of the rib cage. At the end of the day we had a nice clean front half of a Watusi sitting in front of us. Very cool, and much scarier looking dead than alive.

This leads to a big question, where's the back half of the Watusi? Team tiny's test pit (M4) is only about a metre, maybe less, south of the Watusi pit, which seems to be the direction the rear end of the Watusi should be sitting! There could be several explanations, some more credible than others. We could be dealing with half a watusi, which is quite unlikely, though incinerating dead animals is quite expensive...but that crazy/hilarious scenario is highly improbable. The most likely explanation is that team tiny's pit missed Watusi butt by only a few inches. We began to expand the pit southward (or Watusi's rearward) but didn't get down to the level of the Watusi, that will be one of the Elephant Team's jobs next time.

We also found what seems to be a pelvis and some leg bones in the North Western section of the pit, right by (sort of on top of) the Watusi's head. We aren't sure how the new bones and the Watusi bones are related, but the probability that this particular Watusi had a whole leg growing out of it's forehead is slim to none, so we can hopefully assume that these bones weren't physically part of it.

As far as mapping goes a datum was placed by the North Eastern corner of the pit and mapping of Watusi pit finds began, with depth, distance from South side (North measurements), and distance from West side (East measurements) being taken on several finds. These mapped finds include the highest points of the thoracic vertebrae/scapula/rib area of the pit.

At the end of the day we escaped the site, just as the torrential downpour began. Pretty lucky.

I guess that's all for now, sorry for the lack of pictures. I had taken some, but they were on my computer, which decided to crash today, so if I can retrieve them I'll post them.

Cheers, The Rhino Squad

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Breaking News: Week 5

There isn't any real "breaking news" per se...but we had to show off how cool the Watusi excavation is looking, you know, to make people jealous. (UPDATE: There really is breaking news, an article in the Gazette! Check it out.)

Above: McGill Archaeologists unearth ancient evil
(See what we may be getting ourselves into by choosing this career path here)

Above: Kate Poirier compares her "Funky Monkey" grin to that of said ancient evil

That's it for now, the week 5 post will be up the beginning of next week, enjoy your weekend.

Cheers, Team Rhino

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Pictures: Week 4

Blogger is being problematic at the moment, so I wasn't able to put up all the pictures I wanted to. I'll post the rest later.

Above: When we got to the site, it was so wet that the watusi pit had become this guy's private swimming pool.

Above: Liz bucketing litres and litres of water out of one of the pits.

Above: This picture provides a good layout of the watusi pit (drained, in the middle), and the possible elephant pit in the back (where all the people are).

Above: Magic may very well be somewhere down there. This is before we found any decomposing flesh, although we could definitely smell it.

Above: The watusi pit. Note the line, just right of the horn, that distinguishes the natural deposition from the more disturbed soil where the watusi is. That line was probably the edge of the pit they dumped the cow in.

Above: What we assume to be magic. The white is probably skin, and while there isn't a lot visible in this picture, it stretched to cover most of the bottom of pit M-9.

Above: Giles, the only one of us brave enough to dip their head below the surface of M-9 and excavate. The methane was so strong that it eventually became too difficult for him to breathe.

Above: Chris and his perpetual companion, the total station.

That's all now, hopefully more later.
The Watusi (?) Team

EXCITING UPDATE: You've seen the best, now for the rest (I kid, they're all good):

Above: You can see some of the watusi skull here, as well as the base of the horn.

Above: A good view of the ribs (at the back) in position with the watusi horn. There's a solid chance that we're going to find most (if not all, knock on wood) of the watusi skeleton.

Above: A better picture of the partially exposed ribs.

Above: Ben working with the total station prism. To get measurements, the total station fires a laser into the lens in the middle of the X and records the distance in three dimensions from the prism to the station itself.

Above: Extending the possible Magic pit into a possible Magic trench.

Above: Working away at the watusi pit and doing some total station measurements.

Above: Another nice day out at the dig. Hopefully we'll keep having them, although something makes me doubt it.

Pictures: Week 2

Better late than never, pictures from Week 2.

Above: Taking a look into a pit. Obviously, something in there is pretty interesting, although I can't remember what.

Above: Working away in the mud. Buckets were necessary to drain the pits of groundwater.

Above: Professor Costopoulos examining something. Once again, there's no doubt that it was deeply fascinating.

Above: Dario, his hat, and a large, muddy vertebra.

Above: Sue and a different large, muddy vertebra.

Above: More intense examination, this time of something Cameron found.

Above: Ben digging a test pit. Already, the hole had filled to the brim with water.

Above: The partial maxilla that we found near the watusi. We don't know for sure whether it's associated with the horn yet or not.

Above: The watusi horn, just as we were uncovering it. It's quite large, and so at first we weren't sure whether it was a tusk or not.

Above: Professor Costopoulos talking with the Parc Safari representative. He seemed about as surprised as we were about everything we found, which is not particularly reassuring.

Above: The site. Not bad for an graveyard/dung pit.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Week 4: Paydirt

Four weeks in, and not a moment too soon, we've finally struck paydirt. Greasy, black, partially decomposed paydirt.

We were beginning to have our doubts. We found houses, cows, rhinos, monkey jaws, garbage, a hypodermic needle, and a significant quantity of feces, but our quarry, Magic, had remained elusive as ever. We wondered what would happen if we couldn't find it. Would we move on to the house? Try elsewhere? Go back to the rotting rhino? Naturally, conversation turned mutinous. Some spoke of trying to make a break for the American border, where, we've been told, they remember where they bury their elephants. Others conspired quietly to sneak back at night with a backhoe. There was little that could be done to quell this nascent uprising, and we knew only a miracle could ever bring us back.

Fortunately, the archaeological gods were watching, and they heard our cries of despair. After emptying buckets and buckets of water out of our test pits, we got to work, fearful of what may come if we didn't discover something. Our trepidation, however, was quickly replaced with joy. Magic! Our white whale! Buried a metre and a half deep, in test pit M-9, we found what appeared to be a very large and solid chunk of decomposed fat and skin. Professor Costopoulos quickly realized that M-9 was very similar to the pit that uncovered the rhino in the first week: the soil was highly disturbed, the groundwater was greasy (known, delectably, as adiopocere), and the dirt near the corpse was darker and somewhat more enriched than its surroundings.

And then came the smell. Many of us, all of us, were by now used to the odor of dung. That said, we were definitely not prepared for the smell of unearthed feces combined with the scent of decomposing animal. The air in M-9 was thick with methane, seeping out of its muddy, greasy walls and floor. Deep and narrow "like a chimney" (Professor Costopoulos' words, and a useful simile to describe how the smell billowed out of it), we were unable to conclusively identify what we found as an elephant, so we set about to widen the 1x.5 m square to 2.5x1. Hopefully, we'll know for sure whether to celebrate or not by next week (please don't forsake us, O Gods of Archaeology!).

In much more definitive and exciting, but much less elephantine, news, it appears that the watusi skeleton is lying in a relatively undisturbed position. As buckets of mud were hauled out of the ever-widening watusi pit, it became clear that the horn was still connected to a skull, and that the skull may very well be connected to the rest of the skeleton (some ribs have been exposed that look to be in the right place so far). As we are unable yet to all dig out Magic (assuming, knock on wood, that it really is Magic down there), we may be able to uncover the watusi over the next couple of weeks. We know that it doesn't overlap in any way with the elephant (there's a great picture, which will be made available shortly, of the exact limits of the watusi pit in the soil), and that ensures that we don't have to rush to get it out.

Finally, pictures will be up tomorrow of the last few weeks worth of digging. We have some good shots of what we assume is Magic (it might not look like much, but you luckily can't smell it through the internet), as well as the watusi skeleton, the site, and everybody looking busy.

That's all for now,
The Watusi (?) Team

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Week 3 Pictures!

We've finally got some pictures up! I've included a good number of them to give those of you who aren't part of the dig and reading this blog (hopefully there are a few of you!) a visual account so that you may live vicariously through us, or just have an idea of what excavating "Elephant Station" is like.

Above: The middle of Elephant Station ( pits M5 and M9)

Above: Looking into Team Tiny's pit (M4)

Above: Losing half of the aptly named Team Tiny into the recesses of their test pit (M4)

Above: Chris Ames working on mapping the site with the temperamental total station

Above: Team Pterodactyl working on test pit M9

Above: Working away

Above: Expanding the Watusi pit (M5)

Above: The Watusi horn in test pit M5

Above: A phalange from the articulated Watusi toe found in test pit M5

Above: Monkey Mandible in (I believe) test pit M12 found by Team Funky Monkey (formerly known as loser)

Above: This picture had to be included for obvious reasons

Above: Here you can sort-of see the edge of the house (where the grass is no longer flat!) and also a bit of the wooden "floor"

That's it for now, next time site pictures should be included in the initial post.

Cheers, Team Rhinocer-Awesome