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, March 28, 2007

My neighbors think I'm crazy

I've been letting our grass grow since we moved in (which was back in September). It was already fall and most of the lawn looked dead because the seller didn't live here and didn't bother watering at all after the offer was made. So I figured I'd see where the good and bad stuff was by letting it go. Plus, Tini and I are trying to make our yard as Green and sustainable as possible.
A couple of weeks ago, I noticed that there were at least a hundred giant thorny weed plants growing in the back yard, with more in the front and by the AC. Some of them were 2 feet high, and it was kind of an eyesore. Plus, they hog the water from everything else. So I went outside with some gloves, a garden spade, and a garden claw and went to work. I was trying to get the taproot out, which is not easy. Our next-door neighbor happened to notice and mentioned that he uses weedkiller spot treatments on his, even though he knows he should be more green. His kids just looked at me like I was nuts for digging out all these weeds. It took a long time, and Tini and I didn't get all of the roots out, but it looked a lot better.
So then we started noticing the johnson grass and other tall weeds and grasses. The front had some pretty high patches, which stood out on our pretty well-manicured street. And, since I haven't taken the time to go buy the reel mower I want (not to mention that it doesn't work well on tall grasses), I went with the alternative: I grabbed the Belizean lawnmower. Yep, I cut my grass with a machete. Our across-the-street neighbor came over and mentioned that her husband does odd job and could mow our lawn. I told her I was just getting it ready for a pushmower and that I didn't mind. I guess I could have mentioned that I was trying to be carbon neutral, that the only energy I was burning was my lunch, but I was tired and just thanked her.
Anyway, I'm pretty damn sore right now, and the backyard still needs to be done, and I still need to buy and assemble a reel mower. But the front yard looks pretty good.

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Friday, March 23, 2007

Why I am so tired.

This week, I've been waking up around 5:45 to do a burn lane survey at Bastrop State Park. Basically, there's a 10-foot wide corridor along most of the property lines that is going to be impacted. I don't know if they're going to do a controlled burn as a firebreak, or maybe berm up some dirt, I just know they're calling it a burn lane survey. I also know that some of the area we walked through today had already been subjected to a controlled burn, and that we found a couple of sites in this area. This was a plus because all of the snaggy, thorny underbrush was gone. However, the burning messed up the upper 20 centimeters of the site and made all of the thermally fractured rock fragments we found suspect.
This job is a challenge because Texas State Parks are underfunded. So we're driving to and from the project area every day, which is 90+ minutes round-trip. We leave early to beat the rush hour traffic (both ways). We're trying to haul ass because it's a really tight budget, but we keep finding sites. This is, of course, the point of the job. However, most of these sites have been sparse artifact recovery over large areas at some depth. Even in nice sand, it takes a while to dig and screen a 30cm diameter hole that's a meter deep.
So I've been waking up early to walk a lot, then dig and screen really deep holes. Finding a dart point (albeit a rather ugly Kent point, which is so ugly there are no photos of it online) was a nice reward today, as it was the first projectile point I've ever found in a shovel test.

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Thursday, March 22, 2007

My SXSW in a nutshell

It's been over for a while now, and I was too drunk and tired to write about it when it was still timely. So just a quick capsule, and we'll be back to archaeology again tomorrow.
My highlights were:
- Seeing Rakim rock the mic. The only way it would have been better is if it had been over the Eric B. beats instead of a live band.
- Getting to see The Buzzcocks at Emos for free as a last minute hook-up. They were fucking loud and just great. I think I was grinning the whole time. Thanks Choo, Stacey and Kenneth.
- Bob Mould at the Emos Annex. Him and an acoustic, doing amazing versions of Sugar, Husker Du and solo stuff. I was in heaven. I kept telling St. Murse which songs I wanted to hear next, and every time it was the next song, or something close (like "Makes No Sense at All" instead of "Hate Paper Doll").
- Seeing a band I had never heard of before, Shout Out Out Out Out, totally tear it up. It was crazy electronic dance stuff, with 2 drummers, 2 bassists, and 2 keyboard guys (one of whom became a 3rd bassist for a song). The singer used something that gave him a robot voice, which just added to the funtime mayhem. I will totally see them if they come back to Austin.
- Getting drunk in the daytime and falling asleep by ten every night.

The lowlights:
- Seeing the new worst "artist" ever. For years, I would have told you that the worst band I had ever seen live was Heavy Vegetable at SXSW back in '95. In my review, I believe I called them "a big, rotten suckini". But they have been supplanted, by someone who I will not name because I don't want to increase their Google ranking or hits by even one. He was the opener for Ghostface and Rakim at the Scion party on Saturday, so look it up if you really care. He was just truly truly awful. I personally felt like it was a slap in the face to Rakim (the dopest MC ever) and Ghost (one of the best these days) to put them on the same bill with some scagged-out glam loser stealing Too Short's rhymes. A bunch of sorority girls and electrotards in sweatbands and tiny shorts were into him. I wanted to bum rush the stage and cut out his tongue.
- I didn't get nearly as much free beer as I had hoped.

All in all, I had fun and enjoyed hanging with friends, but the festival itself has gotten really big and there were crowds and lines everywhere. As long as old bands I want to see are in town and playing day shows, I'm sure I'll go again. But I certainly wouldn't take off of work and put up with all the shit anymore just to see what's out there.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The hard part of my job

Archaeology is a fun job, a great profession. You get to hike in cool places, find cool things, get dirty, throw rocks. Yeah, there's extreme temperatures and dangerous flora and fauna but those are tolerable and usually avoidable. Today, however, was hard for a sensitive soul like myself.
See, in Belize the sites we're working on are protected. They're in the middle of a huge ecological preserve, and digging them is theoretically the most destructive thing we do. CRM archaeology is known as salvage archaeology because you're essentially salvaging the data from a site before it is destroyed. We work because roads and malls and subdivisions and pipelines and wind turbines are being built using public money and/or land. That can be hard.
Harder still is when you meet the people who might be losing some of their land to construction projects. Sometimes the land has been in the family for generations. Sometimes, it's nice old people who have put a lot of time and love into making a nice home for themselves, maybe to pass on someday. One older couple today built their house 30 years ago, on a relatively small (by rural Texas standards) stretch of land that was a good 10-15 miles outside of San Antonio. They've maintained some nice old oak trees, and they've made a side business out of growing huge agave plants. The woman across the road has lived there for 25 years, and has a very well-landscaped, rock-walled oak thicket on the edge of her property. Both houses are on top of a ridge that has a road cut through it, so they're isolated from the traffic.
In the past 20 years, though, San Antonio has expanded immensely, and their little rural homesteads are being rapidly surrounded by humongous cookie cutter subdivisions. Thousands more people, driving their SUVs to their job 20 miles away in downtown San Antonio, needing a wider road. So these older residents will lose some of their trees, and their setback, and their landscaping, and some of their privacy while gaining noise and traffic and pollution. Yes, they'll be reimbursed for the land and landscaping and trees, but only the assigned value, not the real value to these people. I'm aware that this is going on all the time when I survey, but we very rarely get to meet and talk to the landowners.

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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

How dry I am.

It's unusually dry in Austin right now. Before that, it was extremely dry in Nolan County. And the Bay Area wasn't as humid as I'm used to either. Add to that working with dried out flotation samples from Laredo, and my skin is flaky and uncomfortable. In some ways, the lack of humidity is very nice, as it's making for nice warm days and cool nights. And when June rolls around and it's 90+ degrees and 80% humidity, I'll look back wistfully. Right now, I'm just itchy.
Not much to say about the latest Buffalo Gap survey. We got it done, and found 14 rather dull sites. Basically, there's lots of chert up there, and everywhere there was chert to be found, the prehistoric Texans had found it, quarried it, and left their detritus laying around. Not really any nice tools, no hearths, just lots of chert flakes lying on the ground.
This week, I've processed the aforementioned flotation samples (almost 2 years old!), captioned some photos, filled out some site forms, and made some artifact tables. I've worked on 3 different projects so far this week, and there's still one more that I know of. The plus side is that some of the work is leading to helping write an interim report for the big Junction dig. That's another writing credit on my CV and good experience as well. Some of the other work is also good experience and positions me to have a lot of input on a cool project. So I can't complain.
I'll be working on a job west of San Antonio next Monday through Wednesday. I was worried that I'd be sent on an all-week job and have to miss the free South by Southwest stuff. Now, I've got clearance to work on Sunday in the office, which along with a vacation day means I can do daytime stuff on Thursday and Friday. I also live on a bus line now so I can indulge in the free beer without having to worry about driving. If only there was more stuff I really wanted to see.

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