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, November 25, 2008

Work is crazy busy

I finished analyzing the projectile points last Friday, all 281 of them! They were really starting to run together for a while. As I may have mentioned, there's really more like a continuum between point types. Some specimens are the "classic" type that matches the pictures and descriptions. But more fall somewhere between types, having attributes of more than one type. This seems particularly true for some of the less well-defined point types. The reason we do metrics along with nominal traits is to do statistical analysis, and I think a scatter plot of the three main Transitional Archaic types from our site (Frio, Fairland and Ensor) will show a lot of clustering and bleedover.
Since finishing, I've written another short TxDOT report and done a quick background review and started two reports for upcoming San Antonio projects. The client actually wanted my boss to send people out this weekend to do surveys so that they could have their report by next Friday. Note that we JUST received the signed contract and good project area maps this Monday. As it is, I'm going out with Tina and one other person tomorrow to survey the smaller area and as much of the larger area as we can get done in a day. I was really hoping to take tomorrow off, too.
After Thanksgiving, I finally get back on the big pipeline job, for the first time in almost 5 months! We'll be in Sulphur Springs, doing some backhoe trenching and surveying some temporary restraining order properties. I get to use my new backhoe excavation competency training! I also get to train someone in crew chiefing, and then I have to come back to Austin because there's a million other things they need me to do.
I am definitely looking forward to this long weekend.

Monday, November 17, 2008

What's the point?

So I've spent the better part of the last two weeks at work analyzing projectile points from the Siren site in Williamson County. These are what are commonly referred to as arrowheads. However, while all arrowheads are projectile points, not all projectile points are arrowheads. Until around 600AD in Texas (give or take, and the numbers have been moving older) projectiles were darts, thrown with an atlatl. Then, the bow and arrow technology was introduced and adopted (some say rapidly, some say gradually).
On a tangent, not all projectile points are really projectile points either, as usewear studies have shown that many points were either also used as cutting tool, or only used as cutting tools.
Back to the point (sadly, pun intended), my analysis is partly quantitative (a number of standard dimension metrics) and partly qualitative. This includes things like trying to determine if the point has been thermally altered, and if so, was it intentional. That one is pretty easy, and the most common chert from the site takes on a very distinctive color and lustre and a waxy feel when it's been intentionally heat treated. Other elements include reworking (basically, rejuvenating a worn or broken tool), beveling (which is often a sign of reworking), location of notches, and type of shoulder. In some cases, like basal margin, options include "shallow concave" and "deep concave", with no set definition of the distinction. Since I'm still a relatively junior lithic analyst, this can be hard and at times a bit frustrating. I'm proud that my bosses think I'm capable of this level of work, but I'm still afraid sometimes that I'm doing things wrong. On the other hand, I've already been told that there's not exactly one right way and that 5 different people will look at the same point as many as 5 different ways.
Right now, I've been working on the dart points (although I did change one to an arrow point). I'm about to get into the "Untyped" category, which means I get a crack at trying to identify them as well as analyze them. Nothing like questioning your superiors! Then, the arrowpoints. There's somewhere between 250-300 total points, and I've analyzed 190-odd so far. After that, the 500+ bifaces. And maybe, just maybe, I'll get to spend some time in the field again!

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Monday, November 03, 2008

The TAS meetings

So I said I would blog about this, and it's been a couple weeks. There's nothing else going on in the world, right?
The drive up was eventful. We took SH 71 for the first part, which takes you through Llano. So we get to the bridge across the Llano River, and there's a few emergency vehicles blocking the bridge and diverting traffic. We get close and I notice there's a woman standing on the wrong side of the bridge, and two men are talking to her. We ask the cop if there's another way across the river, and he says "Bridge is closed, you'll have to wait." This is only an hour or so into a 6 hour drive, so waiting was not on our minds. We pulled out our atlas and found a way across. It turned out to be an absolutely amazing road that takes you on this little bridge/low-water crossing west of town. Basically, take RM 152 west until you hit County Road 102. Turn right on CR 102, and that'll take you across the river.
I'll also say that the climb up onto the Llano Estacado through the Caprock Canyonlands was pretty beautiful also. We also got to see some of the wind turbines we surveyed for south of Sweetwater.
Once in Lubbock, we check into the hotel and start drinking, first in our room and then at the hotel bar. Again, this was an archaeological conference, so that's where the action was as far as networking and catching up was. Also checked into the book room and the silent auction room. I picked up a couple of older journals with classic articles. Tina bought a book on cannibalism and got some earrings at the silent auction.
Saturday I caught a few papers. One was by someone I worked with this summer, and it was a good talk. A couple were by my bosses, presenting the final results of the analysis from the dig in Kerrville back in 2004. The wheels of archaeology turn slow! One interesting paper was about a possible source of tektites around Cuero. I think I might have blogged about tektites in Texas before. What was interesting about this was that the dates from the source in Cuero are not the dates for the known strewn field in Texas that is a result of the meteor that created a huge creater in the Chesapeake Bay.
Two other papers have some relations to work I've done or will be doing soon.
One was an experimental archaeological project testing the ability of a bow and arrow to penetrate a medium (deer) or large (bison) animal. They tested 3 different weights of projectile points and 3 different amounts of force, and found that a single hunter would require a relatively heavy projectile being shot with a lot of force to kill a deer with a typical prehistoric Texas bow and arrow, from a set distance. This suggests that in order to kill larger animals (like bison), various hunting strategies would have been necessary. The Perdiz point is associated with large-scale hunting of bison in Texas from 1300AD to 1600AD (known as the Toyah phase), and at the site we dug in Junction we focused on the Toyah phase occupation(s). Pretty soon, I'll be doing the metrics and analyzing the artifacts from that site.
The other paper had to do with tool-stone associated with a specific geologic formation that stretches across parts of Northern Texas and Central Oklahoma. This formation (the Antlers Formation, and I couldn't find any really good links on Google) was actually once the ancient shoreline of North America, hundreds of millions of years ago. The huge Keystone pipeline survey crossed a portion of this formation, and we had a string of sites with lots of lithic artifacts in this area.
So yeah, I got to drink a lot of beer, meet some new people and catch up with some old friends, and I learned stuff! I also found out that Lubbock is really boring and ate almost no vegetables all weekend.

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