Ben Schoville: Week 2, Mossel Bay—Cave Guys

One part of working on the project for a few years that has been particularly rewarding is getting to know and work with the local South African crew and townspeople. This year, fellow grad student Simen Ostmo and I are collectively known as the “Cave Guys” by the golf course guards we drive past every morning. We also work with the local !Xhosa employees daily at the site. Involving local communities in the research that we are doing will hopefully lead to a stronger relationship between the scientist “outsiders” and the South African people who have deep roots in the area.

the "cave guys"

Simen Ostmo from ASU with the rest of the "cave guys."

This week, we “cave guys” dug down about 60cm in a 3x4m area of the same overburden that I described last week. Progress has been slowed by massive rocks that fell into the infill. Towards the end of this week, we hit a dark horizon at the bottom of the site, which could be intact archaeological sediments. Or it could be ponding of slope-wash. Or it could just be part of the rest of the overburden. Bottom line is, right now we don’t know what it is, but we are working to figure it out. Every shovel, trowel, or toothpick scrape at an archaeological site is like unwrapping a present from prehistory (that can never be returned…even if it doesn’t fit). Most of the time the gift is more dirt to dig through but sometimes we don’t know what we’ve got until we figure it out by understanding the geologic contexts. The goal of field excavations is to open up as little of the site as possible to test hypotheses about the past. When sites are threatened from erosion or development, the situation is a bit different but the onus is always on the researcher to conserve as much as possible for future research, and that’s exactly our strategy for figuring out the “dark layer at the bottom of the pit.” On Monday, we will be removing a small corner portion of the dark layer to see if it extends into the intact sediments. My guess is that it is just part of the infill, but we all have our hypotheses about what is going on with the geology at PP5-6 that are quickly falsified.

inside cave excavation

Total station being worked by Dr. Marean. Large rock in the foreground will be removed through non-explosive "crack-rock" this week.

This week also saw the arrival of winter to Mossel Bay. While not exactly a cold-snap from northern hemisphere standards, the change was abrupt. The site is protected by a very large sailcloth stretched over the entirety of the exposed sediments, which has kept the rain off the site and off of us. However, with our recent expansion at the base of excavations, the sailcloth has a tendency to sag and create large rainwater lakes directly over our total station equipment. Rather than wasting “Lake Frikkie” (the name of our cook) by dumping it onto the ground, in a flash of modern human creativity Curtis devised a plan to siphon the water using garden hose into a retaining barrel to use for wet-screening. It worked perfectly, and rather than being a hazard on site, we will now have a replenishable source of water for wet-sieving archaeological material.

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4 Responses to Ben Schoville: Week 2, Mossel Bay—Cave Guys

  1. Jay Greene says:

    Very much enjoy reading your blog, Ben. Brings back memories. Julie tipped me to it. Keep it ip!


  2. Hope Williams says:

    The blog updates make me sad not to be there, although I am glad to hear that the need to wear rain gear under the sailcloth due to unexpected-but-periodic outflows of Lake Frikkie has now been eliminated =D

  3. Melanie Poupart says:

    It’s awesome to be getting the updates – can’t wait to hear what’s in the “dark layer at the bottom of the pit” and beyond. All the best to all you cave guys! 🙂

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