Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Week 3: Intrigue

We arrived at the site this week to find that high water tables combined with the recent torrential rains had given rise to vibrant wetland ecology…in our testpits. From the small accusing brown frog in Claudine’s test pit to the bloated dead rat floating in Tay and Anita’s, there were many new sights to take in. Additionally exciting was the fact that we had another professor on site this week – though she was of the Burnside, rather than the Peterson Hall, variety. A newly appointed Geography professor, Margaret Kalacska’s research focuses on the use of remote sensing to identify clandestine graves. As there were plenty of “clandestine” (albeit unintentionally clandestine) burials scattered over our site, she was attending the dig this past week in order to see whether our excavation could prove useful to her field of research.

Instead of continuing to test pit the area, we began to focus on some of the more promising excavations that had been conducted the week previously. Colin, Claudine and I started out on the meter by meter pit that was turning up a lot of human generated debris, and found coffee cup fragments, a bit of plastic and a piece of paper in short order. Oh the social complexity required to generate such beauty!

If you look at the intricately detailed Paint map below, it's possible to figure out where the house pit is in relation to the rest of the site.

Tay, Anita and Carrie turned their attention to Grave 1, an area that had produced a few assorted animal bones when we were digging there two weeks before. Grave 1 is located on the downside slope of a small mound on the western boundary of the site. Over the course of the afternoon, they turned up a mandible, ribs, some epiphyses, a small bird bone, and a nail in a piece of wood. The ribs were a particularly thrilling discovery. Colin, when chopping through some of the more stubborn roots, thought that he had come upon a particularly recalcitrant piece of plant matter, which upon closer examination turned out to be a piece of bone that had been clippered in half. In addition to the amusing excavation pratfalls it provided, Grave 1 is interesting due to its context, as there’s a line of stones in the immediate area that seems to indicate some sort of architectural framework. These large rocks line the edges of the pit where bone was discovered, which suggests that the Parc Safari grave diggers may have utilized a previously existing site (be it a cellar or some sort of oven) for their pit.

Despite my obvious bias towards the house test pit, I’ll have to say that Grave 2 proved to be by far the epicentre of excitement for the afternoon. Early on, Corey came upon what he thought was a large bone, and as time progressed, turned out to be some sort of skull. As just two weeks previously Andre had jokingly stated “This year, I’m gunning for a giraffe”, all of the students assumed that he had inside information and so of course it must be a giraffe.

Fortunately, we didn’t only find a skull. After further excavation, a set of large ribs began to emerge from the east wall of Grave 2, leading us to question whether or not they were related to the skull. We all began to gather around the grave in awe and wonder, as Andre explained that the unidentified skull could either be related to the set of ribs (in which case we were probably going to be able to excavate an articulated skeleton this year) or to the carcass in the plastic bag (in which case we would just have a skull as that carcass was far too ripe to work with). Accordingly, our priority for the next week was to determine whether the mysterious skull was related to the body inside the plastic bag or to the set of ribs, and work from there. By that time the light had begun to fade, and all of the eager, inquiring students were forced to save their questions for another day as they were shooed into the cars to begin the long drive home.

Next week: Is it a giraffe???

Spoiler: No, it’s an equid.

Tay and Carrie digging happily in Grave 1

Chris 'scientifically' testing the resiliency of the earth.

The world's most exciting test pit. Colin, Claudine and I found bits of paper, plastic and even a decomposing coffee cup!

The local in peace.

Intrigue Part 1: Corey uncovers what appears to be a very large bone in the middle of Grave 2. What could it possibly be? Ahhh, to be present upon the threshold of archaeological discovery.

Close-up. Could it be an alien skull?

Discovery to scale. Whatever that thing was, Corey probably would have lost in a fight.

Notice the Gordian knot of red string at the edge of the pit. It was quite irksome to trowel through as our miniature dollar store clippers were too dull to cut it completely and the larger hedge cutters were M.I.A. Andre eventually wound up ripping it out of the ground, Hulk style. I mean, he carefully excavated around it and then removed it with the utmost delicacy and finesse...right...

It emerges...

My god, a trowel coming out of its eye! Maybe it ate the previous team of archaeologists! Run away! Run away!
For those of you who are less interested in Python references, note the shape and length of the skull, and size and position of the orbital sockets. Giraffe or not?

Andre communing with the beast.

This is actually a different picture. Andre, however, was communing so intently that he did not notice the paparazzi.

"Ok. So. Some bad news. After careful consideration I think we're going to have to address the possibility that this may be some sort of undead ungulate. We're going to need to back fill this pit before the sun sets, just in case."

Colin, solemnly remembering his previous zombie ungulate encounter.

"Actually, on second thought it may just be a giraffe. That would be exciting though."

Our possible giraffe looks a bit like it's trying to eat the carcass in the plastic bag. I'm still voting for undead African fauna.

Claudine lost her sunglasses (Actually, she's going through back dirt, but the former is a much better caption).

No comments: