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.

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