Saturday, July 25, 2009

Week Three Summary

It has been a great three weeks so far, and it occurs to me that we are at the halfway point in our class! The days have gone quickly, and yet I feel there is still so much to do. We have completed our investigations around the hut hearth that was discovered last summer by the field crew, and we continue to have questions about it. It seems unlikely at this point that we’ll ever find out the dimensions of this particular hut. We can tell that its hearth was in the northwest corner of the hut, but whether the longer dimension was the north and south walls or the east and west walls will probably never be determined. We did, however, discover yet another trashpit fairly directly north of the hearth, reinforcing the idea of what is ‘inside’ and what is ‘outside’ in regards to the structure.

We did have a lab day on Tuesday, because Mother Nature had ideas other than digging – and it was a beneficial experience for the students. As those who have gone through field school before can attest, often a student will discover during his/her first field experience whether they are “dirt” archaeologists, “lab” archaeologists, or whether they prefer not to pursue this career at all. In light of this revelation, I was glad to have an entire day in which Jesse and I could impart some “labby” wisdom. The students were able to participate in the first and a very important part of the process – the washing and dry-brushing of artifacts. Metal and charcoal are dry-brushed, whereas the majority of other artifacts are washed gently in water. The lab is where a visitor is most likely to see a toothbrush, not the field; they are very practical tools for the delicate work that comes after digging. An entire day in the lab with your fingers in lukewarm water, or coated in charcoal dust can be a tedious experience, but some people really enjoy handling the artifacts, and connecting with them through the gratifying experience of cleaning them up to preserve them for the future.

After the delay, we thought the rain was gone for the week, but we were wrong, and on Thursday we were chased inside after lunch, where we got to spend part of the afternoon watching a new episode of Time Team America on PBS’ website. If you haven’t seen the show, I recommend you check it out! You should do so with the understanding though, that this is not typical archaeology. Archaeology is typically done over a much longer period of time, and usually without such large machinery, but the show is valuable in many respects. It is making archaeology accessible and interesting to the public; something very near to my heart. The past belongs to everyone, not just to academics who have the opportunity to discover it in the soil, and programs like Time Team America, while not perfect in their approach or methodology, are advancing that idea in a wonderful way. It also provides an excellent lesson in interpretation – how and why we do what we do, for ourselves and for our visitors, to eager field students like ours.

On Friday, a chilly day to start with, we moved slightly further north of the hut hearth site in order to investigate a suspicious depression in the landscape flanked by a tree growing out of some large, rather telling rocks. Our students wrote about it this week, check out their blog entries! We suspect it may be another hut, and as the day warmed up and the sun came out, we started seeing more evidence of the potential for another structure! Though people often believe that our main objective in digging a site is to find artifacts, the small things that people drop/lose/throw away, but in fact something that can sometimes tell us more than those little things are features: the non-portable artifacts. Features are human-made objects that don’t move, like trashpits, or hearths. They are just as informative, if not more so, than a few pieces of broken ceramic or glass; and they are what we hope to find in the northern excavation. We are looking for another hearth, and maybe this time, the floor of a hut or at least its dimensions. Stay tuned, many exciting discoveries are sure to come in the next three weeks!


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