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.