Wednesday, July 16, 2008

lucky thirteen

Yesterday, our twelfth day of digging (seventh in the swamp), we finished up the swampy area, staying an extra two hours to avoid another slog through the swamp this morning. For some perspective on how bad the clay was, last week we did 31 test pits the whole week - yesterday, upon getting out of the worst of the clay, we did 36.
This morning I was exhausted. Last night I was late getting home, and then we were slow getting supper together and Marie stopped in for a visit, and though I got eight hours of sleep, it just wasn't enough. This morning was pretty surreal. We listened to the Velvet Underground coasting through the back roads of Minto trying to find the best route to the other side of the river; we saw a lynx dart across the road ahead of us, and Jason told us stories of his brother, who goes by the stage name Mr. Wonderful: he is a stripper, but is now semi-retired because men keep showing up to his shows, and apparently that is not acceptable. You hear some great stories in the field, but the only one that can compete with Mr. Wonderful is Jamie's story of delivering his firstborn son at home (the placenta sort of steals the show in that one - Ellis still gags when you mention it).
Anyway, the place is pretty nice, especially in contrast to the boggy mess of the last place. We're on the other side of the river (quick geology tip: rivers tend to have a side that they are eroding and a side they are building up with silt; this side is the one being eroded, so it doesn't have silty deposits of clay all over) and basically spent the morning digging holes in fine sand (translation: easy for me, a screener) in a shady forest overlooking a calm river. Jamie found a nest of big hawks with little hawklings about twenty meters from where we are working, and we had not one, but two visits: some river specialists wading about and splashing in the river for our amusement, and a representative of The Client, Michelle, who complimented our lovely square holes and took a picture of me and Ellis looking chic in bug nets.
All in all, things are going well. I have Friday off for some blood work, so tomorrow is pseudo-Friday, and then we are going to Sean's parents' for the weekend. Good times, good times.

Thursday, July 10, 2008


Almost two weeks into digging, I'm feeling pretty comfortable, probably because we have hit a major roadblock. Clay. Clay, like you make pottery out of? That stuff. Thick, smeary, clay, almost a meter deep in places. It means that instead of up to seventeen test pits in a day, Craig and I are getting one done, if that, and one truly awful pit took two days to dig (not ours, thankfully), because we have to push every. cubic. centimeter. of clay through the screens to make sure there are no artifacts in there (yes, there have been entire sites in clay before). So it is much less physically demanding, except for tired feet from standing in one place and sore trowel hand from relentless squishing, and more mentally exhausting, staying vigilant for a flake of chert in the middle of all that endless clay.
Also, every day we hike through a bog to get to our testing area. Maybe bog isn't the right word, but it's full of mossy hummocks and chest-height bushes and dead trees and, most important, watery holes that will swallow your leg right up to your hip if you misstep and land in one that is covered in moss. This is pretty exciting stuff, mainly because we barrel through at a pretty impessive clip, and I have the shortest legs in the group, so I fall behind or have to fly through without really looking where I am going. Today, I almost lost my shoe in a hole.
The bird nest we found last week? Two of the three eggs have hatched, and the babies are pretty ugly at the moment. We're still not sure what kind of bird they are, but Adam - Ellis' boyfriend and another Belize alumni - may be joining us, and he's a biology dude, so perhaps he can fill us in.
It's only 8 and I'm already fading fast...

Me doing my thing (and Craig, also pushing clay through the screen):
Clockwise: Jason, Ellis, and Jamie, also doing their things.
Burt, a salamander Jamie found yesterday. He is safe and sound, though obviously a little lacking in the tail department.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

harder, better, faster, stronger

After four days working in the field, I have started to hit a good rhythm. After the first day, I was utterly exhausted, but had to go to Walmart on the bus to sort out bug nets and water bottles and so on - luckily Sean came with me and woke me up when we got to our various stops, because staying awake just wasn't happening. Since then I've been crashing every night pretty early, and I mean crashing - collapsing into bed and staying comatose from nine at night til six in the morning. I woke up briefly Tuesday night from the fireworks going off two blocks away, but that's pretty much it.
I'm covered in bruises from random trees and branches, and also a pattern of them on my thighs from catching the screen with my leg. I have only a few bug bites, but they look kind of bad. I'm going to start taping my hands to help my blisters heal up. All in all, I'm starting to transition from somewhat jellylike to a more active sort of figure. I'm thinking by the end of all of this I might actually be in good shape, like when I came home from Belize. I'm not even eating terribly bad (except for tonight, when the need for salt overwhelmed my usual sense) because it's too hot to load up on food. Digging holes in the sun, with no breeze, in 30 degrees of humid, humid weather? Not the time for big heavy lunches. Happily the horseflies are less of a problem now that I've stared wearing a long sleeved shirt and a hat with a bug net, and my sad little muscles have begun catching up with where they need to be, so I can appreciate the finer points of the landscape.
Ellis and Joel found a bird's nest with three eggs in the bushes near one of their pits on Wednesday. The mother returned to the nest and we marked the area with flagging tape, and apparently the construction people aren't allowed in until the chicks have been out of the nest for three days, so go us for saving the baby birds. Ellis has identified it as a kind of sparrow, but I can't remember what kind.
Today they found a beehive. Not so much fun.
I've been partnered with Craig for the past two days, who went to Belize with me and has done some work with Jason before. He's a geologist as well as an archaeologist, and he's pretty accustomed to digging holes, so he's been digging and I've been screening, which has worked out really well for me, because I don't have the right sort of strength for digging, but I can screen (which is still really physically demanding) for hours and hours. As a team we've been leading the pack in numbers of pits dug - yesterday we did sixteen test pits (they are 50 cm x 50 cm x 50 cm deep), where we are expected to do at least twelve (or six each, if working alone).
Anyway, we've been working on a relatively easy piece of terrain (if you call a clearing full of bushes and a dense new growth forest easy terrtain) all week, but tomorrow afternoon or Monday we expect to move on to the second site to be tested: a wetland area. No cover, lots of bugs, a high likelihood of wet feet, lots of grass roots to get through before getting to soil, and mud to push through screens instead of sand. It should be an experience.