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.)

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