Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Archaeology – 99.9% Dig, Sweat, Move Dirt

by Roberta Estes
Archaeology is so tangible.  Everyone wants to dig in the dirt and find treasure.   Indiana Jones watch out!
Today we took a break to come back and find a 9 year old boy happily digging in the bottom of one of our archaeology pits.  Not exactly the kind of “find” we wanted.  And yes, that tends to “ruin the pit”.
But for the most part, archaeology, for those doing the digging, is 99.9% dig, sweat and move dirt from place to place.  More precisely, you dig it out of one place, sift it with a screen sifter to be sure you have even the smallest artifacts, and then when the pile under the screen sifter gets too large, you either move the pile or the sifter, one or the other and start a new pile.  Eventually, when you’re done digging in that location, meaning you’re reached a “sterile” layer, you then get to backfill all of the dirt that you just dug out and sifted.
Many locations, known in the vernacular, as “pits”, produce nothing of note.  Here, we have lots of oyster shells, and I mean LOTS of shells.  In some of the earliest deeds this general location was called “Oyster Shell Banks” for a reason.  There are lots of other kinds of shells too.  One thing is for sure, the native people didn’t starve here, nor did the early settlers.  If you could fish or gather shellfish, you could survive. 
Other locations produce interesting things, but just not exactly what you are looking for.  Can anyone guess what the “find” below is?  It’s actually quite attractive with its design on the front.  If you can’t guess, I’ll tell at the end of this posting.

Many things that people threw away 100 or 200 or more years later, we find fascinating.  Trash piles, known as middens, are the archaeologist’s mainstay.  Find the midden and you can tell heaps, pardon the pun, about the people who lived there.  Think about our current middens, known as landfills.  People would think we worship an entity that looks like Ronald McDonald based on all of the fast food wrappers in the trash.
The area where we’ve been digging apparently served as a trash heap for some number of years, and apparently, off and on for centuries.  It’s in a rather high area very close to a sheltered channel that leads to the sea.  This would be a wonderful area for a fisherman to pull his boat in and unload his catch and clean it safely out of the wind and sun. 
In fact, can you see the artifact below in the photo?

If you can’t see it in the photo above, maybe the one below from the other direction will be easier.

This boat isn’t “old”, but it is in the process of being reclaimed by the earth.  One good storm with blowing dunes and this boat will be covered, waiting for the next group of archaeologist in another 100 or 200 years.
Oh yes, before I forget to tell you, the mystery artifact is a part of an old stove.

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