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.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

The grunt work of archaeology

We've been out here on the site that I can't say much about for almost 2 weeks now, and we've only now about to really dig on the target deposits. We've spent a lot of time doing the more mundane tasks: cleaning the walls of our backhoe trenches and recording them, re-digging the 10-year old backhoe trench that uncovered the target deposits, removing roughly a meter of culturally sterile overburden to reach the zone right above the target deposits, laying out grids and doing scads of paperwork. Then, there's the special circumstances involving rain. We built covers for our trench using 2x4s and PVC roofing panels. Even so, the torrential rains that began late last Thursday and throughout the weekend did a number on the trench and the site. So we spent a good deal of time re-cleaning trench walls and digging out heavy, wet, muddy dirt that got washed into the trenches and burgeoning units.
I have to say that I really enjoy the more physical aspects of the gruntwork, even if it's really just ditch-digging. My muscles ache in the good way and I can basically eat as many calories as I want. On the other hand, it's time that was intended for the "real" digging. I can also get frustrated with all the paperwork and details of recording.
So tomorrow, on a short day of our second week out of three, we should have most of not all of our crew actually digging (or screening) on the meat of the site. I really wish I could write about it, but we've been told to keep things quiet for now. It's fascinating and challenging and likely a once in a lifetime dig, and we haven't even found anything new yet...

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Chaos in Tejas part 2/3

I'm totally exhausted from my weekend. Not enough sleep, lots of time on my feet. I used to do 4 full days and nights of South by Southwest, but I was also a good deal younger.
Friday's show was pretty good. The Kids were great, and the crowd was way into them even though they're more "punk" than hardcore. The Persuaders were more garage, and most of the crowd was not into them at all (for good reason in my opinion), which just made the band play longer and taunt the crowd more.
Last night was a big one. Every band was really good (missed the first band and most of the second). Drop Dead amuses me because the singer looks and sounds like a total New Joisey mook, but he's from Providence and rants about smoking and meat eaters and politics, and has a really harsh sceramy voice. And then there's Gordon Solie Motherfuckers. Stacey warned me not to get too close, and they throw stuff at the crowd and apparently get into the wrestling gimmick. So I stayed about 3 rows back and off to the left, but to no avail. I managed to avoid the flour and most of the dropkicking stage divers (I did lose my glasses briefly) and the singer hitting people with the mic and a "wet floor" sign. But I got blindsided by one of the big plastic trash cans being thrown around. I saw spots and my ear was all hot and red, and if I hadn't been wearing earplugs I might have had my eardrum damaged. I moved another 10 feet away and stood near the bouncers. It was a great show regardless, and I'm definitely grateful for Stacey's warning (and the free beer from Mike Sanchez afterwards). Today, my ear has a small cut and is a little cauliflowered. I'm hardcore!!
Afterwards, I went over to Eric and Joolie's for some much needed friend time. Choo and Billy were there, and Dan and Stacey came. Ended up getting home sometime after 4.
Today we went to Sears to get a weed eater. The one downside of the push mower is that it doesn't do much to the tall, hard weedy stuff but knock it over. Not a huge deal, but we had 5 different people knock on the door this week and ask if we needed our lawn mowed. I mowed it 2 weeks ago! So now we have a semi-environmentally friendly addition to the yard routine, and hopefully people will stop knocking on our door.
Oddly, tomorrow will be spent clearing the brush on top of the sites with chainsaws and machetes. My work and my homelife are too similar lately.

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Friday, May 18, 2007

Chaos in Tejas

Yeah, the hardcore festival is going on, and sometimes I think it might also be an apt description of my life lately. I've been bad about updating, mostly because there hasn't been a lot to say. We're trying to keep a garden alive, trying to keep a house moderately clean, haven't had much time with our friends at all lately (which is depressing). Work at the office has been very dull, but busy. If archaeologists are the "cowboys of science" then I'm the absentee landowner's representative's office manager's assistant. Yee hah!
The New Jersey trip was nice, in that Tini was there for the wake and funeral, we got to see my brother and his family, and I got to spend a few hours in New York City. I'll try and find some time to Flickr some photos this weekend. Spent more money that I probably should've, without a whole lot to show for it but a belly.
I really liked Bastard Sons of Apocalypse and Le Fraction last night, while the other bands ranged from pretty good to "eh". Tonight is the big Kids reunion show, so it should be crazy and a slightly different crowd.
Next week, I'll be working out of town in San Antonio for 3 weeks (well, back on weekends). I'm pretty sure I mentioned the project on here before, but we're supposed to be keeping it really quiet. It'll be a neat project, and could potentially be pretty huge. It'll also be hot and buggy, with a 60% chance of poison ivy.
I've been meaning to take some pictures of our garden/back yard. We've had more success with accidental plants, like the huge squash plants growing out of the compost pile, and the giant sunflowers by the shed. About half of the pepper plants have already died, and half of the tomatoes are looking pretty shaky as well. We're going to end up with a bunch of herbs and squashes, I think. Whenever we had the free time to work on getting plants in and a good soil foundation, the weather didn't cooperate. So we ended up rushing them into the ground literally just before leaving for New Jersey, and we missed the amazing rains in April that would've really given them a good base for getting rooted.
That's about it. See, you didn't miss much.

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Monday, May 07, 2007

Change in plans

This week I was supposed to be heading out to Midland/Odessa area, at least for a couple of days. Never been to that part of Texas, plus I wanted to Save The Cheerleader and see where W's early failures occured. But, we found out on Saturday afternoon that Tini's grandfather passed away, so we're leaving later today for New Jersey for the week. Our company gives 3 days of bereavement leave, which really helps. I don't know if a lot of companies do this.
I never met her grandpa Joe, as he's had Parkinson's for a long time and couldn't travel to our wedding. We had been planning to go up sometime later this year. I guess he got pneumonia and slipped really quickly.
My grampy died back in 2004, while I was at field school in Belize. I flew up for his funeral. These occasions are weird, because it's a sad time, but it's also something like a family reunion and so everyone is usually pretty happy to see each other for the first time in a while. In this case, I'll also get a chance to visit my brother (who lives 45 minutes away in Pennsylvania) to see his new house and meet my second niece. I'm also looking forward to spending a day in New York City, which I haven't seen in at least 10 years. I'm going to give Tini the "old stompin' grounds tour"
We'll be back early on Sunday evening.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

What's going on

So the big archaeology meetings finished up. I had a good time, saw some good presentations, learned a few things, met a couple of new people and ran into a couple of folks I hadn't seen in years. I had a brief personal crisis that revolved around the tension between academic and contract archaeology, but now is not the time to talk about that, except to say that the nice thing about contract archaeology is that I got to go out in the field right after the meetings, unlike the academicians.
Most of this week I've been surveying outside of New Braunfels. I guess there's a housing development in the works for a big old piece of land, and this piece of land has a historical marker on it suggesting that it was the location of a Spanish mission. More intriguing is that the hill on the property is called "Mission Hill" and was apparently the location of an old German settlement as well. So the developer, realizing that bulldozing stuff like this might make people angry, has us surveying.
Try as we might, we couldn't find any traces of a mission. This could be because it was a small mission which existed for about 2 years. Or, it could be because the mission was probably somewhere else. Yep, there's competing historical markers in New Braunfels concerning the location of the mission.
We did maybe find some traces of the German settlement. There's 2 cisterns built into the sides of hills, both of rather unusual construction. One is partly brick-lined, with the lower portion is plaster covering the excavated bedrock where they dug out the hill. The bricks are pretty old, although we couldn't date them precisely. At the foot of the cistern, there's a retaining wall and most likely a small pool carved into the bedrock. Another strange thing is that there was not a single artifact nearby. Usually, there'd be at least a few bits of glass or metal or something but we couldn't find a thing. This cistern is not too far from two large houses at the top of the hill, but those likely date to the '20s and the cistern seems older.
The other cistern is basically in the middle of nowhere. It's made entirely of dressed limestone slabs, except for an opening at the bottom which has a brick arch. This thing is also probably 15 feet in total height/depth. It is also an unusual design, and also did not have a single artifact associated with it. It was also serving as a home for a baby vulture, which was not happy with us and kept hissing and growling at us. Tini saw a couple in a cave 2 weeks ago and said they were cute, but this one was about the size and look of a small, plucked chicken.
So, now that we checked out the property, we have to write it up and do some research to try and figure out just what the hell is going on there and whether it's something that might need some more work or preservation. At least we can tell the client that they don't need to worry about the mission.

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