Whether you’re cooking dinner, writing a paper, or driving a car, everything requires a specific technique. Over the past two days, I’ve expanded my technical repertoire to include proper methods of total-station orienting, trowel sharpening, and dirt flinging. Yes, dirt flinging–a useful skill for any average college student. (Or is it?)
We spent yesterday chasing another pattern of phantom postholes but had little to show for it by the end of the day. (Why can’t X just mark the spot, for once?) Today, though, the mystery became just a bit clearer, as we uncovered another posthole and discovered one more hiding in the baulk between two units (take my word for it; dirt can be downright sneaky), presenting us with a total of three postholes in a rough line. Combine this information with the previous posts and features we’ve excavated, and voila! We’re still absolutely nowhere. Despite the roughly 29 square meters our team of eight has excavated at this portion of the site, we’re still grasping at straws for potential clues–Have we found a house? If so, how did the house align with the contour of the slope, and which direction did it face? Are we standing inside or outside the building? And most pressing of all, why did these people build storage pits that were so darn shallow?
The world may never know. (Scratch that, it’ll just have to wait until next week. XD) Thankfully, we have some metal detector data (and our brains, of course) to help us unravel the puzzle. I think we’ll forge ahead in a new direction next week (quite literally), based on what we’ve learned from the units we’ve excavated so far.
Thursday. . .
. . .and Friday. See how the sifters are conveniently placed to backfill as we work? Also, the entire leftmost 2x6 m track was clean-troweled and photographed today. Twelve square meters is a lot of troweling, believe me.
Speaking of which, since we had managed to excavate the 2×6 m swathe in entirety, it was time for the units’ picture day! Detailed documentation and paperwork is completed individually for each unit as it is dug, but before photography (when we preserve the units for near-eternity in pixelated form), some preliminary steps are required. First, we use the total station, a piece of surveyor’s equipment, to check and re-set the nails marking a unit’s corners on the arbitrary, invisible grid we’ve imposed on the site. My partner and I received a crash course in total station technique, taking turns “sighting” a mini prism by peering through a square machine with an archaic interface, set on a tripod. The total station fires a laser beam that reflects off a prism attached to a meter stick, balanced on the head of a unit’s corner nail.
When you look through the lens of the total station, it feels almost like you’re preparing for a missile launch–you have to peer down the sight and through the lens, use knobs to adjust the focus and direction of the sight, align the cross-hairs with the center of the prism, and press a Big Red Button when you’re all set. Except, rather than launching a missile or a rocket, the total station tells you precisely how much spatial difference there is between a point on the grid and the position of the nail. Then, you yell across the site at the prism-holding person, “One point five centimeters west, two south!” and get them to adjust the nail. Sounds like fun, am I right?
The pre-photographic phase, again, requires a pass of clean-troweling, where everyone lines up across the width of the units and shaves off every offending speck of dirt that is humanly possible to eliminate. But, for the prettiest photos, you need the sharpest trowels. Thus, my partner and I received another crash course–this time in trowel sharpening, a process which involves rapidly scraping a metal file against a trowel’s edges. Man, we had those trowels as sharp as knives! (And certainly sharp enough to cut our fingers while bearing down on them during clean-troweling. Ouch.)
Once the unit has been completely bagged and tagged, it’s time for some good ol’ fashioned dirt flinging! In order to prevent an unfortunate cow from stumbling into our units and to avoid invoking the wrath of the land’s owner, once we’ve came, seen, and conquered, we fill in the holes with dirt from our sizable backfill pile. Yesterday, we had to fill in the L-shaped block of units where one had been excavated as deep as 60 cm below the surface. After lunch, we all picked up our shovels, lined up around the dirt pile, and flung clumps of dirt into waiting wheelbarrows. As I quickly learned, there’s a technique to this, too; when you fling dirt with a shovel, you can’t follow through on your swing like in tennis. You have to stop the motion of your wrist at the precise moment you want your dirt airborne. As one of the grad students so profoundly stated, the speed at which one swings his shovel is proportionate to the cohesiveness of his dirt clod. Yep.
After you’ve dumped dirt over the product of hours of sweat and tears, everybody hops onto the “mush pit” of sifted dirt and stomps around, just as if we were pressing grapes for wine (as in one of the famous scenes from “I Love Lucy”). At this point, you’re incredibly thankful for the artifacts you recovered and the data you acquired, since all your work has been quite literally returned to dust. XD
Have a great weekend, everybody! Thanks for reading.