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.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A first for me

Today, after multiple false starts trying to get a backhoe out to our survey area (much of which was badly rutted and partly underwater), we finally used a roundabout way to get to a nice upland ridge overlooking a creek. Theoretically, this area had already been surveyed and would not have such deep deposits that a backhoe was required (basically, a shovel test can only get you about a meter below the surface). But, it was a nice spot and it was actually dry, unlike the floodplains. SO I have our driver pop in a backhoe trench. It has about 60-70 centimeters of a nice brown sandy loam, and then a very strong yellowish-red clay layer (which would be very old and predating the presence of humans in Texas or the Americas). I'm out there partly to show a bunch of newbies and rusties how we examine and record a backhoe trench. So I start cleaning an area of the trench wall with a shovel, showing the actual clean profile. I go over the different strats and call out depths and such.
Then I start cleaning the whole trench wall. You're pretty much supposed to do this anyway, but depending on time considerations and probabilities and such, I don't always do this. Nothing was obvious in the backdirt and there was nothing in the small area I had cleared. Plus, it had already been surveyed.
As I'm going along, having cleared maybe another foot of wall, I see a cool ferrous concretion in the wall and try to knock it out. When I bend over to try and find it, I notice a piece of what looks like chert sitting on top of the dirt I had just cleared off the wall. "Interesting," I thought and take a look at what I figured was a small gravel. I realize it's an artifact of some kind, look at it again, and "Holy shit, I just found a point!" It's an ugly little Gary point, but it counts. I've never found a point in a backhoe trench (or a shovel test) that was not on a known site. Plus, I had eight people watching when it happened.
We end up doing another trench and a series of shovel tests, mostly just trying to find the site boundaries. We also did a column sample (a small test unit) on the original trench and screened the trench backdirt. All in all, we found 6 more flakes in the original trench, had 3 positive shovel tests that found 4 more flakes, 3 pieces of prehistoric pottery, and a possible point base. I also found 3 more pieces of pottery in a gopher mound, including an incised sherd and a very nice rim sherd. It ended up being a decent site, and we've recommended avoidance due to potentially significant, intact deposits.
So yesterday I talk about the high possiblity area, and sure enough, it produced! It took some looking, but it was there alright. It made up for the freezing mist we had to work in all day.
Tomorrow we head to the South Sulphur River for more backhoe trenching. We're also going to do some more shovel testing on a very large Caddo site that was found earlier this year. It's a lot of hard work, but it's really exciting! I'll try and post some pictures tomorrow.

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Monday, December 15, 2008

Baby, it's cold outside!

People sometimes wonder why we do so much of our archaeological work in the summer here in Texas, where it's regularly over 100 degrees and often 80+% humidity. I've been known to gripe about it myself from time to time, when I'm covered in Ivy Block, sun screen, long pants and a long sleeved shirt walking through greenbriar and sweating my ass off.
Well, right now it's about 20 degrees outside in Tyler, Texas. I drove up here today from Austin, where the temperature dropped from 68 degrees at 10pm to 40 degrees at 10 am. The crews here were working in far northeast Texas, near Paris, where they had to deal with sleet and freezing rain and weather in the high 20s. The trucks still have some ice on them. Tomorrow promises to be just about as cold, and I can only hope it stays dry.
On the plus side, the poison ivy is dead, the snakes are hibernating, most of the vegetation is brown and dry (although the greenbriar is still green and sharp). And we're digging backhoe trenches in some of the highest probability areas we've had on this whole project, right in the western part of the Caddo heartland. One of the crews delineated a site today that included an incised ceramic sherd, which is almost definitely a Caddo artifact.
All the same, I'm going to be wrapped in layers of all my warmest field clothes! I bought a lot of stuff at the REI clearance last year for just such an occasion.

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Wednesday, December 03, 2008

I walk the line again

Well, sort of. So far I've done some backhoe trenching and some access roads. It's not like the early days in Oklahoma, but somehow it still has been leading to 11 hour days including the post-field work. It seems like there's twice as many forms now, although it's really just that crew chiefs are now doing some of the paperwork that the field director was doing for us before.
Yesterday, I got to be an official Competent Person for the trench excavations, even though I haven't gotten my certificate yet (and I'm really excited about it). I used the tensometer and rated the soils and everything. It really isn't all that exciting. Mostly, as I may have said elsewhere, we've lost our plausible deniability because we know all of the safety issues and standards involved in open excavations.
I haven't seen any Caddo stuff yet, although we're in the Caddo area of Texas. In fact, there's been no cultural materials for my crew so far. Just a lot of walking and driving, and paperwork. Tomorrow will be more of the same, across three counties.
On the other hand, I'm almost in to overtime already, and it beats being in the office! Plus, the hotel room has an LCD TV and lots of cable.

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