Where in the hell am I?

Stories from the road, and home, by a contract archaeologist.

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Location: Texas, United States

I work out of town a lot as a contract archaeologist. Sometimes it's interesting. It can be quite funny, although probably only to other archys. Home is Austin, with my wife and our cute kitty and all of our crazy friends.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

When is brown not brown?

Today's educational post has to do with colors. One duty of an archaeologist is to describe the soils they're digging in. I used to think there was "dirt" and "sand", but boy was I wrong. Fortunately, there's soil surveys done by qualified government folks to make our job a bit easier. There's also a booklet you can get that has decriptions of all the aspects of soil that you could ever want to, or need to, know. And someone at work made an even easier cheat sheet for us.
Our main tool, however, the Munsell Soil Color Chart, based off of the work of Albert Henry Munsell. In a nutshell, the Munsell Chart tries to put some uniformity into soil colors, because we don't see things the same way. So, when you say "brown", you are assigning a number to it. Actual "brown" in the Munsell Color Chart is 10 YR 4/4. You might think something is brown, then when you hold the dirt to the chart, it's actually 10 YR 4/1, which is a greyish brown (I don't remember them all). As soils get more red, you try a different page in the book (like, say 5 YR or even 5 R). Not too difficult.
Of course, there's still a bunch of subjectivity. Sometimes, a dirt can be sort of in between 2, or even 4 different color numbers. Dirt will change colors as it dries out, and the ambient light can make a difference as well. And then there's mottles...but this is now getting dry. If you have clicked on the links, then you can see that a Munsell "book" as we call it costs a lot of money. I want one, but not at that price. We could have used one today, but we forget to bring one of the office copies, so we relied on the semi-complete 10 YR page that someone let me borrow and tried to make up what the reddish colors we had might be.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Today's lesson

So I'm currently in Pearland, which is a suburb (or maybe exurb) of Houston. The area we're working in is Missouri City, another sub/exurb of Houston. It is not in Missouri, of course. It is, however, just south of Sugar Land, which is well known as being the (allegedly former) home of Tom "the Hammer" Delay. (I'm not personally crazy about Wikipedia, by the way, but I'm a little lazy and not feeling like doing deeper searches).
The lesson is not about Tom Delay, but it is related to him, since Molly Ivins always made reference to the fact that he was a former exterminator. When we arrived at our project location, we were immediately swarmed by something in the neighborhood of 9,738, 261 mosquitoes.
Mosquitoes are a common drawback to doing archaeology. They like water, and most prehistoric sites are near water. They like grasses and natural areas, and that's where we dig. But today's situation was epic. It was worse that anything I ever had to deal with in The jungles of Belize.
I skimmed the Wiki article and learned a little bit (I probably would have learned more if I was a biologist, but shouldn't they already know??). Most mosquitoes have a life span of less than a month. The female mosquitoes, with one exception, are the ones who bite, because they require protein to feed their larvae. They are attracted to elements of the scent of sweat, but also to the carbon dioxide in exhaled breath. The one thing I didn't learn is what role they play in the "Circle of Life". I know that dragonflies and birds eat 'em, but are they the sole food source for anything? If all the mosquitoes in the world were to be eradicated, would it truly upset the delicate balance?
All I know is that covering my clothes in 100% DEET kept them from actually biting me, but sure didn't keep them from buzzing around me the entire time I was out in the field. I also know that I personally killed at least 50 of those damn things while sitting in the truck.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Back in the ATX

The rest of Corpus was very easy. I drank a lot on Thursday. We drove home on Friday. My mom was in town for the weekend, and we had a BBQ and everyone had fun. We also went to the Sunset Valley Farmers Market and supported local farmers and artisans and such. Yay! Go there on Saturdays, you'll love it. We also dropped by the South First Art Walk on Sunday and said hi to our friends, and I bought some records at End of an Ear. Yay! Go there and buy records and such!
This week I'm back at TxDOT, although I stayed home today to take care of some house-related stuff. The highlight this week was getting to go through the reports storage room and grabbing 2 legal boxes full of TxDOT reports, which would have cost me 300 or so bucks. They will make a nice addition to my bookshelf at my SWCA office, and a couple of them are from projects I actually worked on.
Not much else to say (since I don't want to gripe about the washing machine flood). I think next week I'll be doing some work in San Antonio on some bridges. 2 of the 3 big digs I've worked on so far were for bridge construction/replacements, as is the next big dig we're doing. So hopefully we'll find something cool!

Thursday, October 12, 2006

A history lesson

Today was an easy day, very short. I took a nap and walked on the beach, where I saw a lot of dead fish and helped some lady who's X-Terra was stuck in the sand (not a good commercial). I also had a lot of drinks at the hotel bar.
Anyway, I decided the day before to use this forum as an educational opportunity, rather than gripe. So today we'll start with the King Ranch.
On Wednesday, we surveyed along the northern boundary of the King Ranch. Some people who don't know that there is an actual King Ranch might still know about King Ranch Chicken. The other reason you may have heard about the King Ranch has to do with Dick Cheney shooting someone in the face, but it wasn't exactly the King Ranch.
My perspective: The King Ranch was about a million acres of Texas that no one else wanted very much. If you've ever driven on US 77 to Brownsville, you've driven through King Ranch and know what I'm talking about. If it weren't for the discovery of oil, and the sheer size of it (probably bought at about 1 cent an acre), the King Ranch would be as anonymous as the rest of South Texas north of the Rio Grande Valley proper. I can tell you that the stretch along the Barney Davis Power Plant is pure Texas scrub, with no archaeological sites.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Muggy and buggy

That describes this morning, except during the 2 downpours. I think I have 50 mosquito bits, and I found a tick on my side when I got home. The rain mostly served to wash the bug spray off, and I was kind of damp the rest of the day.
The only interesting thing I saw was watching a deer totally eat it trying to jump a fence. I think another crew startled it, and it was running to the fence when it noticed us and jumped early. It kind of bounced off the fence and did a half flip backward and landed on its back. We were stunned, and a little worried that it was going to be badly hurt and that we might have to do something about it. But it rolled over, got up and ran a little ways before finding a place to crawl under the fence.
One last notable thing: there is a red tide off of Padre Island right now. When I'm outside of the hotel (not in the field, but near the Gulf) my throat starts to itch and I feel like there's something caught in it. So I've pretty much been staying in my hotel room after work. Fun times...

Monday, October 09, 2006


So last year at our office White Elephant Christmas party, I ended up with some MREs. I actually traded something for them (there were 4 total) and then I ended up trading 2 of those afterwards to get something for Tini. I figured they'd make good field food. I actually finally brought them in the field with me this week, to Corpus. I didn't think the hotel we're in would have a microwave or a fridge, but it actually does. Still, I decided I'd finally try one.
Man, are those things calorie-packed and rich. The slip inside says each MRE is 1200-1600 calories. That is a days worth of calories for me (or close). I mean, if I were hiking around the jungle or the desert with 50 lbs of gear, then it'd be good. As it was, I only ate the main course (Cajun beans and rice with sausage) and the candy bar (which was more like an energy bar, anf not a Hersheys bar like I expected). I still have the cheddar cheese pretzels, the pack of crackers and pack of cheese spread to go with, and the gatorade. That's almost 1,000 calories left over for the field tomorrow, when we do a long day with lots of walking. My tummy hurts because the food was so rich (and I did have 3 Lone Star tallboys, which the troop aren't getting but probably wish they were). The food wasn't too bad though.
In conclusion, MREs are good when you need tons of calories but not good for sitting around a hotel room watching TV. Tomorrow, if we get back early and the day wasn't too hard, I'm working out.

Where in the hell am I? In a hotel room on North Padre Island, surveying for 2 power plants in Corpus Christi.