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..

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