Tuesday, October 5, 2010

“If only it were like Indiana Jones!” or Meditation on the fact that archaeology is inevitably slow but worth it in the end

(EDIT I was just recently informed that Group B uncovered some exciting remains this past Friday, October 1. So please keep in mind that when I had written my entry we hadn’t found anything yet! merci)

Every aspiring archaeologist almost certainly must confront the unfortunate truth that the archaeological process is rarely as it is portrayed in film and adventure shows. We all hope to discover that coveted research find, whether it be a pharaoh’s tomb, a mythical lost city, or a seemingly trivial ceramic fragment. For us budding excavators at Parc Safari, our search this past week continued for the supposedly bountiful animal bones. When I had first heard about the abundance of animal remains at the site, I had a series of fanciful imaginings of us excavators practically tripping over gargantuan ribs and femurs jutting from the ground. However, after we had begun excavating, the site became more and more in my mind simply the abandoned overgrown field it ostensibly is, void of any noteworthy archaeological remains. Of course this is not the case, but my dubiousness illustrates that the archaeological method is a slow, often painstaking process, one in which your desired finds will rarely present themselves conveniently within the first few days of excavation.

Last Friday, September 24th at Parc Safari consisted of digging more test pits in order to determine the location of our future excavation unit. As Glassow maintains, test pits are integral to the archaeological process, as they provide the archaeologist with a basic understanding of stratigraphy, as well as an opportunity to come across some material remains like bone or artefacts (Glassow 144). Such finds of late in our test pits included, as Dominique mentioned, the Parc Safari “garbage,” providing evidence that dead animals were not the only materials deposited at the site. A more promising find, one that is directly related to our research focus of finding animal remains, is the retrieval of red rope, which according to Parc Safari staff was used to bind the dead animals prior to their burial at the site.

Upon reaching bedrock, we evened out the sides of the test pit, and proceeded to map out the distinct layers of soil, as well as including any features such as rocks, garbage, or the prized “red rope.” Drawing profiles is more an art than a science – final drawings of test pit profiles necessarily seem to be simplifications, as the layers of soil will rarely be as clearly defined as they are rendered in drawn form. That being said, this perceived lack of difference is inevitable given my considerable lack of expertise concerning soil types; profile mapping requires a level familiarity, achieved only through experience, through which we become more perceptive of such subtle differences. To the unfamiliar eye, things tend to look the same.

Archaeology demands the dedication of the excavator. Our experiences at Parc Safari have further highlighted the fact that, even though we know there are animal bones on the site, the locating of such remains is far from a straightforward task. Although the going is slow, archaeology is rarely unrewarding in the end. I remember for the first time uncovering a cache of ceramic fragments at the top of a Mayan structure in Belize this past summer, and suddenly every source of pain, bother, and frustration was rendered entirely insignificant: the deathly mosquitoes, the suffocating humidity, the trowel and shovel blisters. Fortunately, as humans, we are able to selectively remember and conveniently forget. This capability for me transformed a largely arduous ordeal (upon reflection) into a rewarding, enriching experience. As evidenced by our progress at Parc Safari so far this semester, archaeology is slow and labour-intensive. But it is in the end, I think, well worth it.

Works Cited:

Glassow, M.A. 2005. Excavation. In: Handbook of Archaeological Methods. Eds Maschner H.D.G., Chippindale, C. Lanham, MD: AltaMira Press.

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