Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Gault, Part 2

The actual excavation at Gault is only part of the whole experience.  It's a backbone, so it shapes  and structures the rest, but backbones aren't everything.  It was hot and sunny during the first few days, and windy day and night. They said it was never windy at night where we were, except that it had been for past six months. It kept some people awake. I was grateful for the breeze.

We arrived May 8, Saturday, and started to work the next day. On May 11, Wednesday, it was cloudy and slightly cooler, and rained half-heartedly during the day.  I went to bed around ten, later than usual, and was cold enough to put on my sleeping fleece for the first time.

 Shortly after I zipped into the tent, we had the most spectacular thunderstorm I have ever enjoyed. The lightening was almost continuous for what seemed like an hour -- more light than dark, with excellent thunder and some hail. I didn't want to risk my so-far secure tent by opening it, but peeking under the fly I saw hailstones as big as lima beans. The people watching from the house said they saw larger than that. It was amazing and occasionally I did wonder if I was going to become a statistic. Jessie had been in Louisiana during the bad tornadoes the previous month and told stories about teaching unprepared people to use weather radios. I don't know if they have sirens near Florence; you could not have heard them anyway.

 I know I shouldn't tempt fate but I would love tenting through another such storm again.

Wednesday was Snowflake's due date. We thought the storm might bring on the calf. Nope.

Unfortunately I had a plastic tarp under my tent (it may be be protection from fire ants, but that was hard to tell since they weren't around much until after the rain, by which time I had dispensed with the plastic) and it sent the water through the floorcloth. On the plus side, although I could tell the toe of my sleeping bag was soaking wet, it did not wick and I slept toasty through the rest of the night.

In the morning I carried my gear to the garage/bunkhouse, and my tent itself, (four or five trips) so everything could dry out. Shortly afterwards I could not find my iPod for the rest of the day, and went into a fine fit of self-hatred and misery. (Insert many scenes of looking where I had already looked, in case.) Heather and Nathaniel were going to the supermarket 45 minutes away in Georgetown, and took me and my wetter stuff to a really nice laundromat. It was clean, airy, all the machines worked, had lots of seats, and WiFi. Heaven.

Once we were home,  I repitched my tent (no tarp this time) and carried my now-dry sleeping bag back to it, leaving most of my gear sheltered in the bunkhouse. I didn't get to eat dinner until nearly 8:30 and was not really human until I went to bed. This involved finding my sleeping fleece in the living room, where my iPod had been hiding. I should not be so attached to a gadget, but it was a new one, my Mother's Day and birthday present for 2011, and I really like it. My old one did not take pictures. iPods (with the Audubon app) are wonderful for figuring out what bird that was -- you can check songs. I'd felt bereft and naked without it. And it was brand new. Foolish machine.

The next day we had rain in the morning, and went to the site just in time for Mike Collins to come and tell us we were on the edge of another severe thunderstorm. They had tried sitting out these things in the big tent over the site, but Buttermilk Creek had risen high enough they couldn't leave. So we went back to the house in time to watch it storm impressively again--though not so good as the night before.  We were able to dig again in the afternoon.

After the rain, it was considerably cooler and drier, but the wind stopped, and the windmill that pumped our water just sat there.  They had not been able to wash the dishes the night before; there would be no showers. Karen and I went to buy water at the gas station, which seems weird. The gas station had a wonderful convenience store with almost everything you might need and I was able to find some dulce-de leche fudge. (I cannot get the cowboy picture I took off my phone, but he was a fine sight in the fluorescent light and the snack-foods aisle.)

Since our arrival, I had suffered from Fat Lady's Thigh Chafing, aching all over (ankles, knees, midback elbows), and I Think My Right Arm May Detach at the Elbow (I still loved the hand pick). I asked myself if I should retire. I replied "And leave SHOW BUSINESS?!!?" At breakfast I had taken arnica. At lunch I took ibuprofen. At two, I just wanted to die (although my morale was still better than it had been the day before). I asked what I was saving the fudge for?  To give me a 3:30 lift? Could I need one worse then than I already did? I ate it.

By two thirty, nothing hurt.   It was amazing. It lasted well into the next day. The chafing announced it had turned the corner to Better.  Did the barometer change? Humidity? Did my body finally get used to working? Was it  the weather being the ten degrees cooler? No idea. Since I regard refined sugar as only slightly less toxic than Everclear, I would hate to think I'd been suffering from a shortage of fudge in my bloodstream,  but wow.

I went birding after work, causing Donna to believe I was probably lying dead in a canyon (the majority opinion was that I was asleep in my tent). I encountered the cows' owners while I was staring at her and we agreed that she was surely very, very pregnant. They were hoping for twins; but on the other hand, Lily (now no longer resident at Gault) had had twins and been barren after that, and they didn't want the same thing to happen to Snowflake. Freckles's calf (whose name was officially Pumpkin Peach, which is what happens if you let a four-year old girl name you orange and white cow; we called her Vealette)  had been trying to nurse off of her grandcow Mona (who looked very tolerant); I said maybe if  the calf would try to nurse off Snowflake it would provoke labor.  Howard said the calf had tried that the day before. I suggested Mexican food or maybe  a trampoline; we looked at Snowflake and sighed.


She had a heifer calf the day after we left.

The birding this year was good but unsatisfying, as it always is. Most of interesting birds I saw were active in the heat of the day, as I was on my way to the portapotty, exactly when I wasn't supposed to go hunting after them.   Although I only saw one painted bunting, there were several pairs of summer tanagers we saw fairly often, and there were cackles of hummingbirds fighting in the background of half-familiar bird songs. PhotobucketThat was mostly mockingbirds and song sparrows and Carolina wrens, but also other birds that sounded exotic and remained hard to spot. I had only glimpses of scissor-tailed-flycatchers this year, both times from car windows.

There were cricket frogs playing chicken with our feet in the mud near the washing screens, some lovely Wodehouse's toads, skinks on the way up the slope to the Portapotties near the site, and some baleful watersnakes in Buttermilk Creek and the pond we pumped out of/back into for water screening. Mikey claimed a cottonmouth went after him but we figured it had been provoked.

No one found anything in particular spectacular, but being there was good enough. The first day when I was washing, I was washing some buckets from the below-Clovis level and I thought about Bernie in Doonesbury at Loch Ness.  He wrote in his diary: "10 a.m. : I can't believe I'm at the Loch Ness monster recording site! So excited my temples hurt!" In the next frame; "10:25 a.m.: Nothing out there. Am considering taking a nap."

It was a bit like that.  I didn't actually dig any below-Clovis levels (maybe next year; there wasn't much room), but it didn't look like I was missing a great deal of fun. First, I worry about screwing up, going down too far. (Though I am getting better at going to the right depth, which suggests practice makes a difference). Second, though the plastic trowels would make screwing up more difficult, I could just see myself breaking them and also taking FOREVER to dig a level. But they did find flakes while I was there and everyone that has been worked, incontestably, by a human, is another nail in the Clovis-first controversy and really cool.

Here's Jill doing her human fly routine to unzip a window:


The sediments were a different color and _packed_ with calcium carbonate concretions. When you have water running over limestone, you get lime in the water (as the electric kettle in the cottage showed. It reminded me of Kent). When the water stands long enough, some of the minerals in it get together and precipitate -- we had secondary iron deposits last year, little bright red stains.  This far down in Gault, it had had a long time to get together under wet conditions, and some of the flakes in my Paleo level had CaCo concretions on them. Apparently some grad student had suggested that the concretions might contain an organic bit -- a seed or a piece of twig and these could be carbon-dated. A large percentage of the concretions they tested turned out, indeed, to have formerly live hearts, so we now save the concretions when we washed the buckets of mud.

I credit myself with a major step forward in the excavation process by suggesting that instead of dividing the CaCo from the chert in the one-eighth-inch screen, we just bag it and let them kibble it in the lab. This saved something over an hour for each one-eighth inch level (one of which occurs in every multi-bucket, mostly screened at 1/4 inch, 5 cm level). It really helped the system and kept people from sunburn and madness. And the science will be better. And the finds bags get sorted through several  times at the lab, already.

What SCRAP does at Gault, most importantly, is to give it a longer, more concentrated dose of excavation than it gets most of the time: there is a difference beween the work of fifteen or so people, most of whom know what they are doing, for eight hours a day, for a week or more, and people who volunteer a couple of hours on some Saturdays a month. We also are in a better position to tweak their systems because we're there long enough to know them and be able to think about it.

Here's the quarry across the road from the house, not being worked at all hours like it was last year. it looks like an abandoned ancient Greek settlement, somehow.Photobucket

And it is a bit like a party, or a good dorm experience.  We carp about one another sometimes, as people will in a small, isolated group, but we look after one another and bring things to the attention of people who might like to know. I was very touched when Jessie came to find me to show me the edge of the storm, one of her favorite moments in weather. She made being from Oklahoma something really cool (and probably saved lives explaining the use of weather-radios to a naive audience in Louisiana, the week tornadoes were all over the Gulf coast). While she was looking for me she found a few other people who wanted to admire the edge of the storm, too.

One of the quietest people there was Will. He's been digging with SCRAP since 2006, and coming to lab fairly often for kibble washing and artifact-cataloguing. You thought he was grumpy but he was mostly shy and very soft-spoken.  He took some really good photos, particularly his first trip to Gault in 2009 (I think). He had a good camera, which certainly helps, and a good eye, and persistence.This year he was a bit disappointed that we had missed the peak of the cactus blossom, but he managed to capture the summer tanagers and the elusive skink, and he had better luck than anyone else did in terms of finding projectile points (it was a slow year for them. Nathaniel found one, too, of course).  He also took this lovely shot of the survivors of the expedition in Austin, seeking food.


Here he is finding broken Archaic points:Photobucket

We spent a lot of time on the water-screens talking and enjoying the sun (it was during the months of rain every day in New Hampshire; we enjoyed getting some summer). He had some unhappinesses, but he was hopeful things would work out and looking forward to the summer.

He had a heart attack last Sunday, June 19th, and died very suddenly.  I'll miss him, as will his daughters and a lot of his friends in archaeology and other places.  I wish he had had more time to learn about his Indian heritage and the local history he loved.

And the work at Gault goes on. They are, like everyone, terribly short of money. You can buy tasteful merchandise here.   You can read their newsletter here.

1 comment:

Laurie said...

Informative, poignant, sad ending.