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.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Home again soon, briefly

The good news is that we're almost finished with the initial part of the Oklahoma survey! Barring anything crazy happening (which is probably jinxing myself, but it includes finding lots of sites so that would be okay), we'll be heading back to Austin on Friday. This is much earlier than we originally anticipated.
The bad news (well, sort of) is that we picked up three counties of the Texas portion of the survey, plus a lateral off the pipeline. They want us to start on this July 7. So I'll be heading back to good ol' East Texas in a couple of weeks. Or maybe back to Oklahoma for backhoe trenching. Either way, I'll only be back for 10 days or so.
I'm excited because now I'll be back for July 4th weekend, which is one of my favorite holidays just because my friends always manage to have a kickass BBQ and there's an art show added on this time.
Anyway, I'm tired of sitting in the hotel lobby and want to get over to Sherman (yay, Texas!) for a while. Hopefully they'll have the broken wireless fixed soon.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Lots of walking today

Generally speaking, Oklahoma is very linear. There are county roads running north to south and east to west almost every mile. When you are doing a very long linear survey, this is helpful. You can break your survey stretches up into small, manageable chunks and often arrange it so that you are always walking towards an awaiting vehicle. Sometimes, there's creeks that are impassable or reticent landowners and you have to do a "walk-in, walk-out".
Today, there were simply no roads. It was a stretch leading up to the Little River (and yes, some of us older folks made Little River Band jokes, and coincidentally, they played a show at a casino here last week!) across a stretch without all the county roads. Because of access issues, the nearest entry point was about 2.8 miles along the pipeline route from the Little River. We were able to score a ride on an ATV part of the way with one of the civil survey crews (they basically stake the line), but it wasn't quite half way there. My crew was chosen to walk the rest of the way to the river, THEN turn around and start surveying back. We would meet up somewhere in the middle with a second crew who was surveying towards us from the drop-off point. A third (very lucky) crew got to survey to the road from the drop-off point.
So, in summary, get dropped off and then walk almost a mile and a half to the river. Start surveying. When you meet the other crew, walk the rest of the distance back to the road. Total miles covered: roughly 4.3. Actual miles surveyed by my crew: .6. Oh yeah, and it was in an undulating terrains, which means lots of little up and downs into creek tributaries. And the grass was knee-to-waist high.
We did find a site, pretty much where we expected one to be. Nothing exciting, just a bunch of flakes and a bit of burned sandstone. It almost made up for the hike.
The amazing thing is that we covered all this terrain in around 5.5 hours of actual field time. We actually got done early, and decided to just call it a day. Tonight we're having a full crew dinner at a BBQ joint, then tomorrow we're moving down to Durant for the final stretch.

Oh, I do have to add...I did almost ask my boss to "Take it Easy on Me"

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Another rain day

It rained here in Ada (and central OK in general) all morning. It's clearing up now, but it was pouring for a while so we scrapped going out for the day. Too bad, as it's in the mid-60s outside. If we can make it through the rest of the day with no rain, it may be a pleasant day for survey tomorrow.
Considering the crazy weather of the last couple of months, the fact that we've only lost 2.5 days of work to rain over a month is really good. With the exception of last Monday and today, the worst storms either dodge us or pass through in the night.
Spent most of last week in Austin, sweating my butt off and spending money like a sailor on leave. Got to hang out with a lot of people, which was very nice. I also saw Afrika Bambataa at my friend's record store! And ate breakfast tacos on more than one occasion.
The Oklahoma survey is proceeding rapidly. We've made it up to milepost 110 out of a total 158. Of course, there are a number of gaps in there where the landowners have denied access, but we've still surveyed at least 80 total miles. After this week, they're probably going to reduce our group by one full crew. We have a couple of people leaving for field school in Belize, so it really only means that one crew member and one crew chief will be leaving, and there's plenty of other work waiting at the office. If I'm sent home, I'll probably be in Louisiana before too long, wading through the bayou.
Now, to work on my thesis for a while.

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Thursday, June 05, 2008

Movin' on up!

Tonight is the last night in Stroud. We're driving almost 50 miles to get to our survey area right now, which means that 2 hours each day is devoted to drive time. So we're moving down to Ada, which is pretty well centered for the next 50 miles or so of survey. It's also a much bigger town, with a movie theater very close to the hotel. We'll also have microwaves and refrigerators, which means I can get a little bit closer to my regular dietary routine.
I did find out something interesting about Stroud tonight. There's a huge concrete foundation behind our hotel, just up a small hill. It's visible on Google Maps. Apparently, this was the location of a huge outlet mall which was completely flattened by tornado some years back. There've been a number of tornado watches and warnings north and west of here the last few weeks, and the tornado watch siren went off the second or third night we were here. I know this has already been a crazy year for severe weather (Bruce Sterling's Heavy Weather, maybe?), and Oklahoma seems to be right in the path of it all. So maybe there's another positive to moving 60 miles to the south.
We found a site today, by Wewoka Creek. Not sure how big it is yet, so far it's just two surface finds and a positive shovel test on a nice little sandy rise. I didn't see the whole shovel test, as I was setting up other people's spots, but there was apparently a lot of burned sandstone at one point, suggesting there may be a hearth or other burned rock feature. I don't know how much of it we'll dig up, though, probably just enough to know the site extents and whether it's significant enough to avoid. Such is the nature of most pipeline surveys.
Not much else is new. Still lots of ticks and poison ivy out there. Saw some deer today. Oh yeah, I also put some new pictures up on Flickr, including a great portrait of me in action.

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Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Survey machines

Today my crew covered 3.5 miles, AND we finished early. Most of it was through hayfields and pastures, and we only needed a few shovel tests each mile. Best of all, we didn't find anything. I know that sounds funny coming from an archaeologist, but some days you'd rather find nothing instead of having to spend a lot of time recording a minor trash scatter (or even a non-diagnostic prehistoric lithic scatter).
Yesterday, we did go back and record the two sites we found on Saturday. One of them was nothing, and I would have been okay to just call it a mistake, as the artifacts were questionable, but we had forms started and then someone found some historic glass nearby and so we had to go through with it. The site closer to the river was better, as we turned up a couple more chipped stone tools (nothing too nice and not diagnostic) and a couple of groundstone tools as well. Still not a major site, but it was a nice change of pace.
The other crew found a late-19th and early 20th century cemetery. It was covered in brush and poison ivy and had apparently been partially bulldozed. It's possible that there's more burial than there are markers left. I also heard it may be Native American, but I really don't know, as it wasn't on one of our stretches.
Tomorrow we've got a major challenge. My crew is going out on a one-mile stretch with a crew of biologists and one of the general survey crews. We only have access to this for one day, so if we find any sites, we have to record them and keep going. It's also a walk-in, walk-out, so that it's actually a two-mile walk. If we're lucky, we don't find anything or just a small site. But it's a nice sandy stretch by a major river, so it's possible that we'll be very busy. I'm going to have my crew spend some time in the morning filling out a lot of the information on their forms, to save as much time as possible.
I'm definitely looking forward to my break.

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Sunday, June 01, 2008

Day off

And I need it. Despite it being S-A-T-UR-DAY NIGHT last night, I was asleep by about 10:30. I even had a 6-pack of Lone Star (an import up here!) chilling in my cooler. Woke up on my own about 7:40, feeling rather refreshed. Went to the hotel restaurant for breakfast (2 eggs, hashbrowns, thick-cut bacon and toast for $2.99), then to the laundromat to wash the stinky, poison-ivy covered field clothes. A lot of folks are headed to Tulsa for the day, to check out a museum or just do some shopping at a real grocery store and maybe catch a movie.
I, on the other hand, am going to Oklahoma City to pick up one of my crew members at the airport. I'm also shopping for some snake guards (for the crew), field pants (for me), and groceries at the health food store and the Super Target. I'm hoping to maybe find a thrift store and pick up a cheap microwave. They're 30 bucks at the pawn shop here in Stroud.
Yesterday was a good day. It was mostly open prairie, and while it was really hot it was also pretty dry. I found a projectile point in the two-track road almost immediately, pretty much right where we predicted there would be a site. We didn't spend much time there, since our goal for the day was miles and not sites, but we'll be back. Also found a second site about half a mile in, along a small creek. We finished that 2.1 mile stretch 30 minutes before the anticipated time, so we drove a few miles down the road to survey another stretch. This was a hilly stretch with a lot of wooded areas. Even though it was only 1.25 miles, it was a lot harder because of the dense understory. Lots of thorny plants. All told, we covered 3.35 miles in a day, which was our best day so far.
I have a small patch of poison ivy on my right arm. I figured out it was from resting my arm on my pants while crouching after taking off my long sleeved shirt. Doh! My main nemesis these days is the biting gnats which swarm in the wooded areas. Both of my ears are red and slightly cauliflowered from gnat bites. I look like I just got done with a rugby game or boxing match.
I'm definitely looking forward to my break in Austin in 10 days. I need to eat some healthy, home-cooked meals!

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