Monday, May 30, 2011

So then I went to Gault.

Gault is a wonderful place, where the Plains Country meets lower, lusher environment and all of it overlies limestone. This means very sticky clay and the formation of chert or flint beds. The people who lived here never needed to take up agriculture until after the Europeans settled in. They had been rain-free since last September. Since we brought the snow last February, they were hoping we could change that.

Although they told us about the drought, it was still plenty humid. But the creek was barely trickling and in the field behind the site, the wildflowers were much taller than the grass: just a sea of Mexican Hat.
which does not show in the pictures, so you get a closeup with a butterfly.  They said it had been too dry for bluebonnets at all that year, and we were most of the way through the cactus flower season, so the flowers were not as amazing as some years. And the chiggers appear to be returning to Gault. But as long as the rain held off, we had no fire ants.  Little horrors were attracted to my water bottle, though, and I got several bites on my hand before I learned to bang it on the ground before using. Some kind of ants were also really alert in the site-tent, and you had to hang your lunch up or they would get into it amazingly quickly.

 The first couple of days, it was at least 100 degrees. I don't do well in heat anyway. I got  FatterLady's Thigh Chafing, which took six days to get better, possibly because it reacted badly to the hand cream I put on it. Eight-Hour Cream (the family nostrum for almost everything since about 1937) was better.  I tell this partly because, after I was home, I found an anti-chafe substance at the sporting goods store, called BodyGlide. Even though the name speaks to me of sex romps, I am glad it exists and I hope it will work. Although the pattern of above-normal cloudiness and drizzle and below-normal temperatures continues in New Hampshire, and I may not need it again for a long time.

So I wandered around being stunned by the heat and trying not to wince when I walked.  There was a small scorpion in the living room (we posed for pictures and then I put it out front). One of the campers the previous month had been attacked by an owl roosting in the back yard.  I immediately thought I could cope with a Harry Potter scar, but fortunately the owl had calmed down. One of the cows, Freckles, had produced a sweet little brown and white calf who spent most of her time hanging out with her grandma cow, Mona. Snowflake was due to give birth on Wednesday. The MOST pregnant cow we had ever seen.

 The site was in good shape, no flooding; they had taken the sand out of the deep and changed the corrugated pipe for a live sump-pump

Photobucket 2010

 and made a proper six-meter unit there.

Photobucket  2011

They found things too old to be Clovis there when they originally dug that deep pit in about 2003, and that was why the site we have been digging was laid out around there; there is a reasonable chance the there was occupation all the way down. Gault has been working on a NSF grant to explore the levels below the (incredibly rich, populous) Clovis layer there, and because working in a six-meter pit is dangerous, we have been helping them open a series of meter-wide steps or terraces around that original findspot.  The overlying sediments were extensively pot-hunted, but not so extensively as they had expected.  While we yearned  to excavate Clovis and below, we had had to do a proper digging job of the Archaic that kept turning up. Such as the oldest burnt-rock oven in Texas, which shouldn't have been there before the Middle Archaic at the earliest. The one in Gault, around which and on they have been working for at least two years, is early Archaic/Late Paleo. This distinction involves a couple of thousand years.

Photobucket 2011. Rocky mess at 6-4 o'clock in foreground is the oven.

There is a graduate student working on it. If he doesn't hurry, he'll find himself alone on a crumbling pedestal, since they want to go down at least another half a meter under it, and the squares around it are going faster.  People kept trying to tell Nancy (the local supervisor/siteboss) that another burned-rock oven was turning up in the southWest, but she didn't want to hear it.

  Since Mr. Collins hasn't had a chance to write up and properly publish his oldest finds, I give you a link from the Friedkin site, within sight of us just upstream. They had less overburden and less archaeology to do before they reached the exciting stuff.

Last year we worked on some of the late Paleo levels, and I notably hacked out a bunch of 2009 flood debris using a proper scary two-handed, over-the shoulder mattock. And we were there for two weeks, not one.

This year, over about eight days, I washed (using fire hoses and a tiny canal off Buttermilk Creek. A snake was living in our settling pond, and tiny frogs played around out feet) flakes out of buckets of mud from the pit;
 hacked out some more flood debris, but Dick wouldn't let me use a big pick;
 was Nathaniel's paperwork assistant (or 'bitch' as we call it) as he hacked out forty-six buckets of more flood debris in less one full day of work (he really needed the support; Bruce was his bucket-wallah).

Then I was able to go back to my meter and not hack, actually trowel, in actual Paleo levels.  I found about thirty decent flakes, nothing exciting. The important part (as well as the usual-- trying not to over cut, and to record things as I found them) was not getting dirt on Jill.

Jill was originally from Australia and has a day-job to do with lobbying for health care. But she had taken an apartment in Austin for three months and was singlehandedly dragging Gault into the  fifteenth century BC or thereabouts. She was very nice, even though Dick used her as the excuse why I could not use a proper two-handed, swung-over the shoulder mattock to remove 20 cm of unstratified grot.  I became fond of my handpick.

 Jill was sitting in the below-Clovis, digging with a plastic spoon (all right, a plastic trowel). It was taking her four days per 5 cm (mine, when trowelling, was taking only one day, which is on the slow side of normal). She was finding some very nice flakes (and occasionally more. but they wouldn't let us photograph the spaceship or the scale model of the Eiffel Tower). And even when I was getting dirt on her dirt, she was patient and polite.  "I don't mind the dirt, just no flakes," she said plaintively.

Friday, May 06, 2011

I am sitting in at least today's location of the Earthly Paradise: my aunt's backyard. It looks onto a small lake, where in the hour or so I have been here, I've seen a common egret, a snowy egret, a Little Blue Heron, wood ducks mallards bow-tailed grackles doves crows cardinals bluejays some huge MF of a dove, and heard red-winged  blackbirds and red-bellied woodpeckers.

We are in the process of finding out the password to my aunt's computer network. I am full of hope.

So after being pre-trip anxious for a week or so, I got ready to go. I mailed off most of my camping gear. I believed  my children had absconded with both of my larger suitcases, and since I was trying to travel lighter I ditched my long heavy cot. I got a lovely foam pad that folds to the size of a large loaf of bread. I also started playing with my mother's old Olympus.  It had a 64-kB chip in it, and despite being on not-very-HQ it takes much better pictures than my beloved point-and-shoot. But on SHQ only 8 pictures fit on the chip.

So I needed a suitcase and another chip. I had an errand in Salem and went to Rockingham Mall. I was wearing a t-shirt with a mammoth on it and ended up giving SCRAP's contact information to two people. I never think anyone reads my shirts. Also Sears was having a sale, so I found a suitcase for half-price. Then I found that Staples and Target do not carry xD camera cards, and Dick had gone home early. Nothing daunted, I got my nails done (if your cuticles were as bad as mine you would get a manicure before you went on a dig, too) and a 2gB xD card and collapsed into dinner with Sarah.

I was talking to Doug that night about suitcases and he remarked he had moved mine after the near-incursion of the raccoons.

Today, in Texas, I tried the old Olympus with the new chip and it appears it cannot cope with the perfectly good 2gB chip. So Dick will bring two of his old  less-than 2 gB chips, since he uses xDs as well.

An extra suitcase and two extra gig of camera memory are surely good things, right?

And it was a relatively easy flight down and it is beautiful here.