Monday, January 08, 2007

goodbye guisiguit

One of my projects that kept me busy all last semester was a weekend job doing archaeological fieldwork for a local cultural resource management (CRM) firm, Archaeological Prospectors, at a site called the Lower Guisiguit. Guisiguit, for those not fluent in Maliseet, means "wide enough so as to be navigable by canoe". The project started in November and finished up, finally, yesterday.
The story goes something like this: the government of New Brunswick gave the contract to build a stretch of highway near Florenceville to a corporation called Brunway, which hired a construction company called Atcon, which hired an archaeologist named Darcy to do the archaeological assessment portion of the environmental impact assessment. I met Darcy in Belize, by the way, he's a good guy. Anyway, he found enough in testing to recommend that they have an archaeologist on hand while building the highway, monitoring, in order to make sure they weren't destroying anything important. So they called Archaeological Prospectors, which is generally a one-man show consisting of Jason. Jason was hired to do the monitoring, and almost immediately had to put a stop to the work on the riverbank because they were turning up a lot of artifacts. That's where I come in.
In early November I heeded the call to go digging, despite a pretty busy semester (two jobs and a fullish course load), because it sounded like fun and there was a distinct possibility I would get paid. As it turned out, it's better pay than I've ever had before, with a free single hotel room and a pretty decent per diem, and the work has been very interesting. Unlike the field school in Belize, which was at a fairly slow pace (as is typical of research archaeology), CRM moves fast, and we were working for every scrap of daylight, every day.
A typical day would start at 7 am, meeting in the hotel lobby and heading out to the truck to drive out. We'd stop at the gas station to fill up the gas cans, and to get coffee and, in my case, a light lunch for later from Tim Horton's, and then drive out to the back roads to get to the site. Jason's choice of pump-up music varied from the Arctic Monkeys to Sigur Ros, which is fairly surreal at 7 am.
The site itself was next to the Guisiguit, with construction leading to it on the both sides of the river. There had been extensive dynamiting and excavating all around, so the landscape was jagged and full of rubble, and there was a large pond almost on top of the site, about fifteen feet from the river, where the concrete footings of the culvert are to go; it was a fairly weird shade of green. The excavation itself was under a blue and white striped circus tent, which became more and more bedraggled as the dig wore on; the dirt and wind, not to mention the shrapnel from the dynamiting, took their toll, and as the dig expanded past the bound of the tent, extensions were built on three sides with tarps and lumber and a metal-framed car park. On the very last day, we came in to find that part of the tent had blown down on to the space heater (kept running to keep the ground from freezing) and melted, luckily without burning up the whole thing.
There were a lot of people working on the site over the two months; there were four students, including myself, but really, Sarita only came the first weekend; Josh and Dierdre came up quite a lot. There were also a bunch of workers from the reserves nearby - Bev, Jamie, Danny, and Jinks, and also Storm though I didn't meet him. And there was Greg, Jason's friend from his army days. A lot of the non-students had worked at the project at Jemseg years ago.
So what did we find? Mainly a lot of flakes. There was a broken biface, and also a hearth feature and a kind of strange hole that may have been a storage pit, but the vast majority of what we found were flakes from stone tool-making. If you can picture the scene, one can imagine maybe an overnight camp where people would stop on the riverbank and make a fire and sit around making tools in the evening, possibly while on a longer journey along the river. It's not what you could call a major site, but we pretty much had to excavate it now if ever because the construction means digging out the whole thing - that's CRM for you. Jason has a reputation for erring on the side of excavating more than he needs to rather than less, but I can't really see the harm in being thorough, except that it makes the corporations rather grumpy.
My heart bleeds for them.
Anyway, we were supposed to finish up by Christmas, but Jason set the policy early on that we were to dig until we found no more flakes (as opposed to stopping when we found five or less per unit, or some other arbitrary number) and the flakes jut kept showing up. This weekend was the last weekend; I ruined everyone's day on Saturday by finding the very last flake, and so we excavated two more units on Sunday, finding nothing, and packed up. It was exhilarating being there for the end of such a long project, and one that's pretty out there as far as methodology goes; winter in Canada is not a particularly popular time to be excavating. Diesel space heaters, heat lamps, a couple of generators, de-icing cable for eavestroughs, lots of lighting equipment to stretch out daylight hours - it's an endeavor. On the last day we had to bust up the surface of the new units with a rock hammer and melt the chunks in buckets before we could screen them. That is not really standard, as you might imagine.
So it's over, and I am richer in money and experience for it. If you ever drive on the Trans-Canada just outside of the McCain's Fries capital of the world, keep your eyes peeled for a big culvert with a little river running through and you'll be driving over what used to be an archaeological excavation. The more you know!


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