Saturday, December 3, 2011

It's not just all about digging

The last class of the semester was rather interesting and different. Not just because it was the last class of the term, but also because Colin was away (and so was our motivation to complete the readings – oops).

However, this didn’t prevent us from having a great discussion on the use of different types of geophysical surveys in archaeology. Indeed, it turned out that Chris (who was replacing Collin) was using one of these “geoarchaeological technologies” in his research and so was able to tell us a great deal about it!

But first of all, what are these geophysical surveys and what are they used for? In our discussion, we focused more specifically on two of them : the GPR (Ground Penetrator Radar) and the GIS (Geographic Information System). Basically, the GPR works by shooting radar pulses into the ground and recording the elapsed time starting from the moment when they are sent. Hence, the GPR has the unique ability to obtain data from known depths and produce images of specific layers or horizons.(Conyers 3) On the other hand, the GIS is a tool that enables excavators to get a dynamic viewing of morphological activity by integrating, storing, editing, analyzing, sharing, and displaying geographically referenced information. (Ghilardi 2)

In view of this, it is not surprising that technologies such as GPR and GIS were primarily brought into the archaeological field as exploratory tools, enabling archaeologists to easily find sites and digging spots. However, nowadays, these technologies have progressed and aren’t (and shouldn’t) only being used as “upgraded test pits”. Indeed, things like social change, technological innovations and ecological adaptations can potentially be studied from the data collected from them (Conyer 9)

We also discussed other possible perks of these technologies. An important element that was raised was concerning ethics, a subject that we touched upon a few weeks ago. To illustrate the usefulness of the GPR and the GIS on ethical grounds, Chris brought up different examples from his own research site in Jordan. With vast temples at the ground level, how can you investigate stratigraphic layers that happen to be underneth without taking these temples down? We found that, by mapping in horizontal slices without damage, the GPR and the GIS could potentially resolve this question by opening important heritage preservation options. (Conyers 1).

However, far from being limited to resolve ethics problem or simply produce “pretty maps”, the GPR and the GIS can help the archaeologist in their pursue of discovering the past. Indeed, by gathering a lot of information together and managing important amount of data widely dispatched in space and time, these geoarchaeological technologies enable the archaeologists to see things they wouldn’t have been able to see in the first place. Thanks to this, archaeologists can then reinterpret their findings and raise new questions, enabling them to produce models about past behaviour, and test them.

Finally, we can say that archaeology is not just about digging; it is also about getting a large picture of the environment in which people lived. In this sense, digging 1 x 1 meter units can’t always give us this a picture ; this is where geophysical surveys come into play.

This blog post concludes the 2011 archaeological field studies class! If any future student read this, good luck on excavating the rest of Magic’s remains, and, possibly, finding new animals!

Works cited :

Conyers, L.B., 2010. Ground-penetrating radar for anthropological research. Antiquity 84, 175- 184.

Ghilardi, M., Desruelles, S., 2009. Geoarchaeology: where human, social and earth sciences meet with technology. S.A.P.I.EN.S 2009 (2.2).

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Dibbling in Technology

Hello all, I apologize for the delay in getting this post up. My “lap-top” computer (Dibble 433) succumbed to the rigours of the field last week (roommate sat on it).

Our discussions the week before last focused on the uses and limitations of technology within the field. As time goes on and technological advances continue their endless march towards the singularity/Wall-E, archaeologists finds itself in a bit of a quandary. As Dibble so astutely points out, “'lap-top' computers” are getting smaller every day (433), and the traditional ways of recording data in notebooks and performing analysis by hand are quickly becoming dated. New technologies for recording data more precisely and accurately, as well as the new types of data that emerge as a result of a more expansive toolkit, radically alter the ways in which archaeologists conceive of their work. Though they bring solutions to many existing problems, they also carry, in a manner somewhat akin to the Biblical Plagues, a host of new ones.

We began with a discussion of Zubrow, who addresses some of the issues associated with the growing adoption of technology in “Digital Archaeology.” One of the first points he brought up was whether digital developments were primarily methodological advances, or whether their adoption resulted in the creation of a new theoretical toolkit. While its true that more precise ways of recording data are essentially methodological, its also true that new theories could become necessary in order to address the new types of data being generated.

We also discussed another point that Zubrow made, regarding the greater ubiquity of data generated from technological sources. The open-source effect, in which the data was available to a greater range of people, among a wider array of disciplines, has important consequences. This brought up a discussion of Tdar, a site which hosts archaeological data from a variety of sources, most of which were not peer reviewed, in order to promote greater access to research. One important observation that resulted from an agglomeration of data such as this is the need for a universal standard by which to group and arrange data. A standard format promotes greater accessibility. However, one perceived danger of such a standard is that hinders theoretical advances by constraining possible new avenues for interpreting data.

Our next discussion concerned the work of Andrew Bevan and James Conolly on the island of Kythera, Greece. This study remains the benchmark for the use of GIS and digital data collection, as they covered a ridiculously large amount of the Island's area with an equally ridiculously large array of measurements in order to gain data for the questions they were asking. One of the questions they asked was whether surface visibility affects the amount of artifacts recovered from a site, a question that reminded me of our own efforts to survey the terrain at the graveyard in order to gain a sense of what may or may not be buried beneath the surface. In our case, surface visibility was extremely low, making the placement of our test pits essentially a shot in the dark. Fortunately we were able to rely on previous knowledge of finds in the region in order to better situate our pits, but visibility definitely affected our fieldwork. Surprisingly, or perhaps not so surprisingly, Bevan and Conolly found no significant correlation between surface visibility and artifact finds. Surprising in the sense that archaeologists have long relied on the degree of surface visibility as a means of estimating the possible number of finds in an area. Yet the research showed that there was no significant variation between the artifacts found in areas with low visibility vs high visibility, due to the fact that visibility is but one of several factors determining the likelihood of an artifact being recovered. I say not so surprisingly in the sense that its logical that the amount of visibility doesn't affect that actual placement of artifacts, a distinction that archaeologists need to keep in mind. In our case, based on past experience and our background knowledge, we were able to work in regions where our chances of success were high. Yet we didn't assume that the number of artifacts in the regions we surveyed were low just because we couldn't see them.

The work of Bevan and Conolly underlines the need to take into account not only the actual process of data collection, but also the time needed to interpret and analyze it when doing a project. Their immensely technological approach also highlights the stark reality of the actual prevalence of digital archaeology within the field, which according to Colin hovers around 30%. This is due not only to adverse environmental conditions in field- rain and technology, or dirt and technology don't often cohabit peacefully, but also archaeologists desperately clinging to the tried and true (as well as cheaper) methods of manual data entry. This was pretty apparent when at the first few drops of rain in the field we had to run to cover up the total station with a tarp. I can't see the station being used very much in rainier conditions.

Our discussion helped us gain a better understanding of both the solutions and the problems that the introduction of technology brings. Discussions in a seminar may not seem as fun as digging, possibly because it isn't, but it gives us valuable perspectives into the reasons behind why we do what we do, and how we can do what we do better. Following the seminar we proceeded to retrieve our own data on the field from the total station. It turned out to be surprisingly close (Colin almost fainted) to the real thing. Yeah! No real anomalies seemed to exist regarding the points on the map. All that remained to do was to match the tags on our recovered and newly cleaned bones to the points on the map, in order to fuse the data and create a dataset for our work this year. I feel that our project thus errs on the side of success. We found an elephant, for the love of god.

Works Cited:

Bevan, A., Conolly, J., 2002. GIS, Archaeological Survey, and Landscape Archaeology on the Island of Kythera, Greece. Journal of Field Archaeology 29, 123-138.

Dibble, H.L. & S.P. McPherron, 1988. On The Computerization of Archaeological Projects. Journal of Field Archaeology 15, 431–440.

Zubrow, E.B., 2006. Digital Archaeology: a historical context. In: Digital Archaeology: Bridging Method and Theory. London, Routledge, pp. 10-31.

Ignorance is not Bliss

When most people think of archaeology, they think about the exciting stuff; digging in an exotic place, discovering amazing artifacts, and bringing them back as trophies of a job well done. But rarely do people stop to think about the correct way to treat artifacts. Should we, as archaeologists, take as much as we can find and leave nothing behind for those that come in the future? Who really owns the artifacts that are found? And who has the right to decide where they should be put for safe keeping? These are some of the issues of ethical archaeology.

First of all, upon making a startling discovery or even just an interesting find, it is tempting to excavate to the fullest extent and recover as many artifacts as possible. This is problematic however, since we must consider that even over a decade, technology has improved at an alarming rate. This means that technology will most likely continue to improve over the next decade and so on. Therefore, it seems only logical that archaeologists should leave some of the landscape unexcavated so that those who come later will be able to use their new found technologies to perhaps get more detailed and accurate information. As was suggested in the “Can You Dig it?” article by the Economist, a viable plan is to “move away from the complete excavation of sites towards a more selective, sampling approach”. This would be a responsible way for archaeologists to behave. We cannot be too arrogant as to ignore the fact that those who come after us might actually be more successful or efficient in their work.

It seems that pride is a recurring theme in many of the ethical issues of archaeology. For instance, it seems as if archaeologists have come to see themselves as seekers of the truth and unfortunately, the high importance they place on that “truth” tends to blur the boundaries on what is ethical and what is not, especially on the issue of ownership of artifacts. As was stated in the Economist article, “the ownership of artefacts and responsibility to future generations, all stem in part from archaeology's new-found scientific authority” (Can You Dig it?, The Economist). This sense of authority sometimes causes archaeologists to neglect certain cultural and moral values that might be held by the community or culture that is associated with the artifacts that are found. The most favourable solution would be for archaeologists to work along with community members in order to come to an agreement that suits the desires of both parties. Though this would undoubtedly be complicated, it is imperative that archaeologists establish good relationships with the people involved. Arguably, one of the ultimate goals of archaeology is to enhance knowledge of human culture, therefore we have to start thinking more about the “human” part of it. The Society for American Archaeology agrees with this, however its principles of stewardship have certain flaws that would be improved (Groarke and Warrick, 2006). In addition to archaeologists seeing themselves as having a greater authority than most, there seems to be a Western way of thinking and doing that presents itself in some situations. Bergman and Doershuk state that in 1994, ninety percent of practicing archaeologists in the United States were of European descent (2003), which is startling and sort of unsettling when you think of the fact that these are the people making choices on behalf of the descendants of multiple ethnicities and that bias is almost inevitable. Archaeologists have to take into consideration that their interpretations will undoubtedly differ greatly from those of others and they cannot always assume that they know better just because they have science behind them.

Moving into the future, archaeologists can no longer ignore the wishes of members of the cultures that stake claims to artifacts, nor can they ignore the fact that there could be more successful archaeologists in the future. Therefore, they must find ways to interact efficiently with the other parties involved in their work and they must recognize that preserving parts of sites will prove more effective in the long term scheme of things. In short, it is apparent that when it comes to ethical archaeology, ignorance is not bliss.


Bergman, C., Doershuk, J. (2003). Cultural Resource Management and the Business of Archaeology in Ethical Issues in Archaeology (85-97). Walnut Creek: AltaMira Press.

Ethics and Archaeology: Can You Dig it? In The Economist. (2002).

Groarke, L., Warrick, G. (2006). Stewardship gone astray? Ethics and the SAA in The Ethics of Archaeology (163-177). New York: Cambridge University Press.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Bye Magic!

When we got to the site for our final day in the field, our primary concern was identifying how to use our time to remove the most of Magic’s remains as possible. Group A had extended a trench between our original pit and the 2007 Magic pit and already removed a humerus from that trench. We decided to dig for the second humerus in that trench and to expand a small section of our original pit to the east to remove a scapula that was extending about halfway into the original pit. These bones were out two primary goals, as well as any vertebrae and ribs which we could remove from the original pit without further expanding it.

The humerus was covered by layers of thick black plastic which needed to be cut out bit by bit with a pocket knife. This was slow going and kept two people busy for the entire field day, a lesson in how difficult it can be to budget time in the field when unforeseen problems arise. We eventually removed the humerus! The scapula and several vertebrae were also removed. We also found a femur from a much smaller animal near the proximal end of the humerus but we did not find any other bones which looked as though they belonged to the same animal.

Mid-way through the day we had a quick tutorial is soil coring. We practiced using soil coring equipment and discussed the possible uses for soil coring at our site. As we already know the stratigraphy within the trench dug to bury Magic, by looking for where this stratigraphy ends we could identify the extent of Magic’s grave more quickly than we could digging test pits. We attempted to use this method to determine how far east Magic’s grave extends. However the stoniness of the soil at Parc Safari made it difficult to obtain soil samples containing the diagnostic layer of organic, pulpy sawdust which we found during excavation. Still, soil coring remains an extremely useful method of defining the edges of a site or of specific features. This is especially true at sites where features are very deeply buried, where mechanical coring equipment can be used which test pits are not feasible (Canti, 1998).

Soil coring could be useful in future years to determine the extent of Magic’s grave now that we know what to look for in the stratigraphy. Soil coring can be used to locate graves and human activity without knowledge of the stratigraphy through analysis of soil phosphorus levels (Holliday, 2006). Increased phosphorus would be left in the soil from decomposing animal matter, however as Magic is buried on farmland high levels of phosphorus could also indicate that fertilizer has been used on the soil in the past (Holliday, 2006). Our site also has extremely wet soil, which would generally cause soils to retain phosphorus however the effects of soil moisture on soil phosphorus levels has not been well studied (Holliday, 2006).

The excavation of the rest of Magic will unfortunately have to wait for another year. With the knowledge of Magic’s exact location and judging by the amount of dirt we managed to move, maybe by this time next year Magic’s remains will be reunited!

Canti, M. G., & Meddens, F. M. (1998). Mechanical Coring as an Aid to Archaeological Projects. Journal of Field Archaeology, 25(1), 97-105.
Holliday, V. T., & Gartner, W. G. (2007). Methods of soil P analysis in archaeology. Journal of Archaeological Science, 34(2), 301-333.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Errey Day I'm Shov-vellin!!!!!

The day started off pretty fantastically, I came up with a brilliant pun (seen above) based off of LMFAO’s single “Party Rockers Theme” and was busy shuffling around with spade in hand. I was very excited that day because it was Octoberfest and I was looking forward to going to the bar smelling like rancid pachyderm. During the car ride to the site (I was riding shot gun !!) we discussed our goals for that day as well as the physics of Aaron Carter taking on Shaquille O’Neil in a one on one basket ball match.

The main goals of our excavation that day were to A) Remove the skull from the pit and B) to expand the pit. By removing the skull we will give ourselves more room in the pit and access to other areas of the pit which may have been blocked by the skull. By taking the skull out it will give time for the skull to dry out a little bit before we bring it to the lab and potentially turn Peterson Hall basement into a gas pit. The reason we are so eager to expand the pit is to access bones that are jutting out of the walls and the skulls removal would mean more room (this is difficult since the bones are so large). Additionally our time is running short before the soil starts to freeze up so we need to try to expose as much as possible.

On arrival to the site we realized just how much it rained that week. The elephant head was almost completely submerged, I considered for a long time to go for a snorkel but my better judgment went against it. Once bailed, we then faced the problem of moving the elephant skull. The main difficulty of moving the skull lay in its awkward shape and fragile sections. I will spare the details but surprisingly enough we got it out without a hitch. As soon as we removed the pit we were visited by Ashley and Thomaz who came to “help”…great timing guys, really…good job.

With the skull out of the way we mapped out the ribs so that they can be removed and permit us to get started on uncovering the scapula. The ribs were cut in half which indicates a possible autopsy done on Magic. We were then faced with the dilemma of where to expand our pit. Since we don’t have the time to excavate the entire elephant we had to determine which expansion would yield the most bones. After hours of heavy archaeological discussion we determined to expand North and East. Expanding northwards will permit us to remove the humerus while simultaneously connecting our pit with the pit dug in 2007. The logic in this expansion was that it would be less work in connecting the two pits so it would permit us to expand in two directions. We picked the east side over the west because of the presence of our massive back dirt pile which would be directly over the west scapula.

Before expanding north wards we had to bail out the old pit which hasn’t been touched since 2007. Because of its age the pit was filled with sediment. We decided to continue our current pit and the northern expansion so we split into three groups. One group mapped out bones and worked on our first pit, the second group worked on taking down the barrier between our pit and the old pit and uncovering the humerus while group three worked on re-excavating the older pit since it was filled with sediment.

We managed to remove the humerus and create a passage connecting our pit with the older pit. We found a large amount of plastic garbage bags which may indicate the presence of a mass grave. A fractured pelvis bone was uncovered however we are unsure if it belongs to Magic or not. We managed to reach Magic’s backside in the older pit, which was to our pleasure very rich in decomposing fatty tissue.

Even though we did not use remote sensing, coring or chemical sampling of soil in our dig, much can be said about it and its relation to our work. The three methods would have had great potential in the beginning of our dig since they are focused on possible site detection. However as we progress in our excavation the uses for these methods are apparent. Core sampling or auguring is used to give a quick idea of the stratigraphic content of the soil without having to dig a test pit (Stein 1986). Coring gives an idea of the soil composition of a possible archaeological site. It indicates the depth of the cultural layer as well as giving a stratigraphy of the soil content. Even though they are less time consuming than test pits or shovel tests they do require a greater degree of analysis in determining what a cultural layer is (Roskams 2001). The reason that I bring coring up is that we found a layer above the scapula which is composed of fatty tissue and animal flesh. This layer is made up of dirt and sod soaked in fatty tissue and is what we would be looking for if we conducted a core sample of the area.

Chemical sampling uses soil samples to show levels of phosphate is (Roskams 2001). Levels of phosphate will be present if the soil was disturbed by fire or the presence of a human or animal burial. This method is used in the initial phases of the excavation to get an idea of what may be available before digging of test pits is (Roskams 2001). Often soil samples are obtained by coring. However we did have records of methane output obtained by the Geo-department who’s van we olfactorily demolished (luv you guys xoxox ) . Therefore we are familiar with the use of chemical sampling but on a different scale, instead of using soil we use gas output.

Remote sensing can take many forms. It can include electromagnetic scanning, aerial pictures or ground-penetrating radar, to name a few. Essentially the goal in using these methods is similar to those of coring and chemical sampling, which can give an understanding of what is under the soil before digging (Kvamme 2005). Use of ground penetrating radar gives archaeologists the potential to direct their excavation according to what the scan finds (Kvamme 2005). Remote sensing can give an idea of artifact distribution before the dig commences so less time is wasted in digging test pits which potentially contain nothing of relevance. Remote sensing would have benefited our excavation in determining the direction for us to expand our pit. As mentioned before we decided to expand eastwards. However after further excavation we found the second humerus was positioned underneath the scapula heading westwards, which was directly under the back dirt pile. Remote sensing would have given an idea of where to dig to uncover the most bones as well as where to position our back dirt pile.

P.S do not trust McClean with a coffee, he has a tendency to THROW THEM AGAINST WOMEN’S WASHROOM DOORS

P.S.S ANOTHER thing about Sting, do you know that Sting’s song “Walking on the moon” was originally “walking in the room” because he wrote the song while he was pacing in a room. HA HA!

Kvamme, K. 2005. Terrestrial Remote Sensing in Archaeology. In: Maschner, H.D.G.,
Chippindale, C. (Eds.), Handbook of Archaeological Methods. Lanham, MD: AltaMira
Press, pp. 423-77.

Roskams, S. 2001. Excavation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Stein, J.K., 1986. Coring Archaeological Sites. American Antiquity 51, 505-527.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Up Close and Personal with Magic

When we arrived at the site on week seven, we were faced with a huge hole filled with water and what looked like chunks of elephant brain. We were all excited to see how much Group A, or Team Danger, had exposed and if we were going to be able to get Magic’s skull out that week. Team Danger had done a good job uncovering most of the skull, a few vertebrae and the beginning of what looks like a scapula.

After bailing the water out, we all got down to digging to try to reach the bottom of the elephant skull and uncover more of the rest of the elephant skeleton. After a few hours of digging flat on our stomach, with most of our faces bright red from keeping our heads upside down into the pit, we realized our arms weren’t long enough anymore and we had to get into the pit to get work done. So those who could fit squeezed in next to the skull and continued digging.

At this time, it had started raining, some of us (I’m thinking of Ashley here, who, for some reason, always seems to have it worse than all of us - remember field walking through the meters tall reeds?) were knee deep in a mix of mud, clay and rotting elephant flesh and had smelled so much of the methane coming from the decaying elephant that we couldn’t distinguish one reeking odor from the rest. Don’t get me wrong; we would not have traded it for anything else! We quickly realized, however, that to be able to work on the rest of the skeleton, we either had to get the skull out or expand the area excavation for logistical reasons and practical excavation (Glassow, 2005). The strategy of exposure of a burial, according to Glassow, is similar to the exposure of any object or cluster but differs in the way that the “knowledge of the human skeleton often guides” where we will expand next. In this case, knowledge of the elephant skeleton shows that expansion should continue to the North and the East of the elephant skull.

Because of lack of time, we continued digging down into the pit and started recording data with the total station. The total station “allows the three-dimensional position of an object to be recorded in one quick operation” (Glassow 2005). Each exposed vertebrae, the lower mandible, and the skull were recorded into the total station. This sort of area does not require the use of a grid because, according to Glassow, when the objects of interest are “relatively large and easy to discern during excavation” their point providence can be recorded once they are exposed. I think it is safe to say that elephant bones fit in the ‘relatively large’ category.

The last half hour of our afternoon was spent trying to get pieces of the skeleton out of the pit to bring back to the lab. The skull was too heavy and big to get out but Thomas and Elise were able, after carefully rotating it every way possible, to get the lower mandible out. Next step? The vertebras. This required the skull to be lifted lightly in order to dislodge them. Not an easy task considering the size and weight of it but a successful one.

Lastly, I just wanted to include a picture of what we uncovered of Magic in relation to the size of an average African elephant (the dimensions are not accurate). Knowing that Magic died at 30 years old, and that African male elephants in captivity mature faster than others…let’s hope it stays warm until December!

Glassow, M.A. 2005. Excavation. In: Maschner, H.D.G., Chippindale, C. (Eds.), Handbook of Archaeological Methods. Lanham, MD: AltaMira Press, pp. 133-75.

" Magic (Majeska, Majestica), an African Bush elephant at Hemmingford Parc Safari ." Elephants Encyclopedia - facts and information about elephants since 1995. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Oct. 2011.

"African Elephant Loxodonta africana - Appearance/Morphology: Measurement and Weight (Literature Reports)." Wildpro Disclaimer. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Oct. 2011..

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Digging down through the layers: Stratigraphy at Parc Safari

Week Three for Team Danger was pretty exciting. After locating Magic's remains in a test pit during our second excavation, we arrived at the field eager to see exactly what Group B had been able to uncover. We were not disappointed.

After several minutes of bailing foul smelling water out of the elephant pit, we went to work on the task of freeing the skull from the ground. Our first goal of the day was to locate the midpoint of the cranium. After about an hour without success, we started being concerned if we would be able to remove the skull the next week if we hadn't even hit the half way mark yet! Colin was eventually able to expose it, but time was running out.

While the midpoint debacle was unfolding, other team members were hard at work expanding the pit and getting as much dirt out of there as possible. Anna and Manu expanded the pit by approximately 50cm so we could uncover the mandible and tusks. Success! As the day was coming to an end, we knew we were not even close to getting the skull ready to be removed, but we had made a considerable amount of progress. By 4:15, most of the team hit a wall of lethargy. Snack time had been scarified because of excitement, and because of time constraints. If there is one lesson to be learned, it is to never skip snack time.

As we get deeper into the excavation (pun intended,) we're starting to learn more about other methodological aspects of archaeology. For one, we're looking more closely at stratigraphy. In methodology classes, the common example of stratigraphy is a cross-section of a million years of dirt. The illistrations always show stone tools, ritual artifacts, and several storage pits intruding very clearly into another strata. Our site has none of these exciting features, but stratigraphy can come in very handy. For example, a thick, heavy clay layer that appears to be uninterupted means that we will not find any graves below it. The largest and most common strata we have found is a mixed, dark soil. This can mean that the area has been disturbed from the process of opening and closing graves. The third layer is organic trash that was buried by the zoo. There appear to have been large and small deposits of this material, which are an instant indication that there has been human activity. However, we have learned that organic trash is not an automatic indication of a grave.

Layers are more than just an indication of activity, they can tell you a lot about an area - if you're willing to listen. Roskams talks about the kinds of relationships that strata can have. For one, they can relate to their immediate neighbor and indicate changes that happened when one layer ends and the next one starts. Secondly, what he calls the "true stratigraphic relationship," is the chronological order(Roskams, 155).This can show the history of what has occurred and more importantly in what order. The final kind of relationship, is how layers correlate. A layer my have been interrupted or two layers may almost be the exact same, but are not physically connected. Looking at these connections can be informative and crucial to understanding a site. However, as Roskams notes, it can be problematic to make correlations without 100% proof they are connected.

In our excavation, we're making connections between patches of organic waste or black soil we find in a persue of graves. The organic waste may have been depositied at different times, but it has the same meaning to us whenever we find it; people dug a hole and deposited it, which mean they may have buried an animal too. Moreover, the clay layer indicates to us that we can probably stop digging there. At the back of Magic's head, a uniform clay area is becoming more exposed on the side wall. Colin has noted this could indicated the extremity of grave, but it could also just be a large clay deposit marbled into the other kinds of soil.

Furthermore, when considering stratigraphy, we need to include or exclude certain factors. In human archaeology, there is sometimes an exclusion of any non-human finds (Roskams, 180). In our case, we are doing the opposite. Mountain Dew cans, two-by-fours, and pottery shards are tossed aside to excavate the fauna!

Lastly, Roskams, highlights the importance of the "grave complex". Why was the individual buried that why and why? As we continue the excavation, we will learn more about the orientation of Magic's body and other factors, but for now we do know that h/she was in a mass grave because we have found a small scapula near the skull. Why is it there? The plot thickens, and only more excavation will tell us the answers!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

There's Magic in the air!

When we started out from McGill in the field van last Friday we had no idea what we were in store for that day. We had heard the news that Group A (AKA: Team Danger) had discovered what was most likely a bone belonging to Magic at the bottom of one of their test pits and we were excited to start uncovering it. While we sat in the van and listened to music and played a few friendly games of Werewolves to pass the time we wondered what we might find that day; after our last trip during which we found a grand total of two little vertebrae I'm sure we all would have been happy with anything. We found more than just anything.

When we first arrived we weren't sure what to expect at the location, it had rained the previous night and there were some ominous looking clouds in the distance on our drive over. The ground was wet and muddy but not nearly as bad as our worst fears and the sun even came out and was shining brightly when we first arrived. Better yet, while there were mosquitoes around, their numbers were nowhere near the biblical level that Group A had promised they would be.

We started out by cording off a rectangular area encompassing Group A's test pit that had hit bone and digging out the first layer of the trench with shovels. The ground was extremely muddy and not very far down the pit began to fill with water. Eventually Thomas uncovered something that looked like bone and Colin told us all to switch to using trowels. This is the point where we discovered why field clothes STAY field clothes. We painstakingly scraped away the mud and clay while the pit slowly filled with water (Colin and Elise began to bail out the water constantly at this point). Slowly but surely more and more bone was uncovered. What appeared to be a second piece of bone near the first also appeared. As we slowly dug away the dirt we realized it wasn't a second bone, it was connected to the first. At this point we began to realize how big the find was, we kept uncovering it but there was just more and more bone.

Taking a break we all stood back and looked at the find and tried to figure out just what it was. Joking suggestions ranging from a T-Rex to Bigfoot to a Dragon were made but we all knew that the bone had to belong to an elephant. The question was, which bone was it? "It's a pelvis" was the first suggestion, to which there were murmurs of agreement, until Colin said something which caused everyone's ears to perk up in excitement. "I think it's the skull." From then on we all worked hurriedly, bailing and digging as carefully and quickly as we could. At the end of the day we had uncovered what must be a good portion of the bone but much of it still laid buried. Colin took a picture (which I would post here except I'm having trouble accessing his album) of the bone in the pit and we decided to pack it up and head home. The ominous clouds had returned and the mosquitoes had finally caught our scent and were beginning to swarm. Group B left the site exhausted, muddy, missing about a litre of blood combined and completely satisfied (maybe a little more so after a coffee from the rest stop and a few friendly games of Werewolves during the ride home).

Group A, you have some awesome digging ahead of you!

Here are some pictures of elephant skulls from google image search to help you visualize what you're looking at when you're there (I can guarantee after seeing these photos that it is indeed the skull that we found).

Elephant Skull

(apparently this guy's name is Tony, I just included it to demonstrate the size that these things can be!)

P.S. Ashley is always the werewolf.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Mosquito galore

The trip started interestingly enough with random talks and comments on pop culture in the van such as Will Smith and his songs and the fact that Sting hates his song ‘We’ll be together’ because it was originally written for a Japanese beer commercial. Because it was group A’s second trip, we confidently assumed it would follow the last experience with a few differences such as digging new test pits. However, upon arriving, we learned what all archaeologists have; to assume that the land would not have changed in 2 weeks is to make an ass out of you. Two weeks, with a few rainy days here and there, was enough time for the road to become spread with grass, the earth to become more swamp like and for the birth of a host of mosquitoes, to whom we were the ideal banquet. I say this because not only were we there for at least three hours, but we all took turns holding the prism for the Total Station which as you all know, means that we cannot move until the Total Station is centered on the prism. But I am getting ahead of myself.

Before leaving McGill, MacLean presented Colin with a map of our site displaying various amounts of methane all over the area. Curiosity got to us and we decided, with Colin’s approval of course, to dig test pits around the upper North-West area (behind a row of trees) because it seemed like a large animal (or so it seemed according to the large amount of methane exposure on the map) was buried there. After digging 6 test pits we unfortunately found nothing though it was well worth the effort seeing as we got to view Colin, in his archaeology outfit, take the machete to the trees that were obtruding the Total Station’s view of the prism. We realised at one point that the trees were just too dense and seeing as we couldn’t chop down trees, we did what any archaeologist do in that situation, we use the GPS.

After that little experiment, which showed us how unpredictable test pits and finding objects can be, Colin decided that it was time we found the limits of Magic’s range and excitedly, we started to dig 4 test pits. One to the right (North) of Magic’s old test pit from 2007, one just to its lower left corner and two to Magic’s left (South). Anna and I worked on the test pit situated on the right which eventually became Trench # 3. About 10 cm deep we found a small tibia and a fibula. Seeing as it was close to the surface, the bones probably do not belong to a set but rather, were deposited there when the earth was turned by the framer’s tractor. Other than that, we were unable to get to the bottom swap layer because of all the huge (and I do mean huge) rocks in our way. Jason’s and MacLean’s test pit as well as Alice’s and Manu’s went much smoother and they both reached the water/swamp level. After a few jokes on the interesting smells coming from them, it was Alison’s pit from which the jack pot was found. They discovered what we think may have been an epiphysis but it was small and fractured so we weren’t sure. They also found a huge bone with the same kind of formations. Next to it sticking out of the side wall in the pit, was a ball-and-socket joint. Jason’s test pit at first revealed nothing but, upon checking the earth dump, they found a couple of bones: two un-fused epiphysis from an animal smaller than that an elephant. Both pits provided us with bones that were smaller than an adult elephant but bigger than any other animal at the park. Could it be Magic wasn’t an adult? Or was another animal placed at this exact spot and got mixed up with Magic’s bones? All this means, is that we need to dig deeper. Overall, we learned how to use the Total Station properly with the prism, that Magic’s bones continue more towards the south, that a mask and water proof gloves might be for the best next time, and that bring a whole bottle of off would be a great idea.

Ps: Group B, remind Colin that you’ll need smaller buckets to be able to get in the pits and bail out swamp water. We improvised and cut a plastic water bottle in half.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A hole lot of NOTHING

Friday, at noon, a small group of students gathered in the Basement of Peterson Hall, ready for an afternoon of driving, traipsing through forests of high grass, and digging through mud, all in pursuit of an elusive goal. We were traveling to Parc Safari, to hack our way through the grass, dig our way through endless mud and clay, all to find the skeletons of dead animals. Each of us likely had our own personal goals in mind, be it emulating Indiana Jones, or just basking in the spirit of scientific discovery, But mine, I knew, was the most noble! I was going to find a LION! (Of course, I have no idea whether a Lion had actually been buried there.)

My contacts from Group A had dropped a few hints as to what we were to expect, and most specifically bragged about the fact that, while we were going to have to use a sketchy Geo Van, they had lucked out and got to drive to the site in a swanky, new, rented minivan. And, so, I was shocked, when we walked out of Peterson hall clutching various necessary implements (Namely, shovels, Boxes, and, most interesting, a machete, clutched possessively by Tom) to find a huge Black SUV, which, while not the most ecological, would not have been out of place in a Spy movie, in the possession of the Omnipresent Government Agency.

Pulling onto Peel, we headed through the traffic of Downtown Montreal, Tom’s Selection of music blasting through the car. The Car ride itself was fairly quiet, going by quickly as we headed to the American border. Colin pulled off the highway at the last exit before the border, through a veritable labyrinth of sketchier and sketchier roads in rural Quebec, before finally parking the car on a dirt (or, rather, MUD) road between a hill covered in vines, and a field densely packed with tall grasses.

After a quick tour of the site (punctuated every so often with such phrases as “That’s the Elephant pit. Don’t fall into it.”) We got to work. Though the terrain of the Graveyard (the tall grasses) made it fairly difficult, we did a field survey, covering the area between the Historical remains of a farmhouse and the Test pits dug last week by group A. Though the Grass was difficult to march through, we called upon our inner fortitude and pushed forwards, avoiding pits. As White and King state, “During field survey there is a constant need for measuring space, especially calculating distance. Much of this is associated with basic logistics like establishing and maintaining transect width (pg 101.)” Unfortunately for Ashley, this resulted in the unfortunate reality that she was forced to hack her way through the Meters tall reeds that were growing on the foundations of the farm house.

During our survey, we found a largish mound, just the west of Magic’s pit, and, Colin, full of the spirit of discovery and joy, decided that we were to dig our test pits on this mound, because he was curious, and “A big mound next to a pit where we know a part of the elephant was found is good!” The test pits we sank were to be a half meter by a meter, and would likely reach the ground water or bedrock. Well, no bedrock was reached, but plenty of other rocks were. At every turn, we were stymied by the multitudes of rocks within out pits (Rocks which Colin had the Gall to call Pebbles.) On that mound, few pits were able to go deeper than half a meter deep before an impassable rock was to be found. The most interesting piece of archeological remains that was found was a length of ubiquitous orange twine, running through two or three test pits.

Colin then concluded that, if there was anything to be found in the mound, we weren’t going to find it without a backhoe, and sent the few of us who had attended the first class off to dig more test pits in other promising locations, and those that hadn’t attended to learn to use the Total Station.

These test pits proved as fruitless as the others, My own, dug between the “Mass grave” and Magic, yielded nothing but a solid layer of Dirt, followed by a thick layer of compacted Sawdust, refuse from the barns the animals stayed in during the winter. Tom, the luckiest of us, found a plastic bag containing two small vertebrae on the surface level of his last test pit.

This really reinforced how much of Archeology is truly dependent on luck. How, even in this site, which, supposedly, is incredibly rich, it is possible for a group of people to fail to find anything, with a number of test pits scattered throughout the area. Who knows, had I sunk a test pit a half meter to the left, perhaps I’d have found my Lion… Or perhaps I’d still have found a whole lot of nothing.

One last note. Word of warning to ya’ll digging next week: Apparently The entire cemetery is a hotbed of Simian herpes. (I exaggerate, but the reason we’re digging at this particular gravesite is that the other one has known Simian burials, which can infect us with some horrific form of herpes… We should be safe at this cemetery, Except that we have NO records of what was buried in what we’re excavating.)