Ben Schoville: Week 3, Soccer Fever Begins

“It is a very exciting time to be South African.” Jan de Vynck, South African ethnobotanist

As South Africa is being thrust on the world stage for the World Cup soccer tournament for the next month, it will be interesting to see how the rest of the world reacts to what they find here. The disparity of jobs and education is still striking even after the great strides this country has made. Right now it’s unclear how prepared the country is for the global spotlight coming this way, but on Friday we will all find out when the tournament begins with bafana bafana (South Africa) v. Mexico. Even for the casual soccer fan, it’s enthralling to see everyone else’s excitement and the speculation over tournament outcomes.

Our excavations made great progress this week including figuring out the black stuff at the bottom of the pit. Like a well-prepared soccer team, we worked together to figure out that the black stuff was infill and then dig down another 60cm across a 3 x 3m area. As one might expect, all this dirt has to be moved somewhere, which has been a secondary project of ours this season. An erosional gully has developed immediately south of the site entrance—likely as a result of the golf course construction and watering activity on the cliffs above the site. To mitigate this process, we have gradually been constructing a retaining wall that is being filled with the sieved overburden sediments from PP5-6. What started out as one of our crew member’s small stack of rocks (“Cobus’s retaining wall”) has become the “Great Wall of Cobus.” The resulting platform (“front porch”) is now a fantastic spot for taking our tea breaks and eating lunch. It really is the greatest view in archaeology (at least in our opinions).

excavation "porch"

Kyle and I eating lunch on the slowly aggrading PP5-6 front-porch retaining wall. (photo by S. Ostmo)

While my allusion to being a well-prepared soccer team is mostly hyperbole, there is a certain “socceresque” structure to our excavation strategy. It all starts with the excavators on offense, making us reach our goals. The person running the total station is called the “gunner,” and their job is to keep the excavators in the game by taking shots with the total station as quickly as possible. Perhaps this makes them the “Gatorade” of the team, but “striker” sounds closer to gunner, and in past seasons, the gunner tends to either get all the glory for a highly productive day or take all the blame if something goes wrong. Behind them in the midfield we have a “recorder” who keeps the paperwork flow going and is the first line of defense against errors. My job is called the “site-tech,” which is kind of like a defensive sweeper, keeping errors out of the database if they manage to slip past the rest of the team. If all else fails, the site director is the goalie and has to be “hands-on” to be effective. It’s a very productive system when all the parts are operating effectively as they are this season.

jobs on an excavation

Jobs on site from left to right: excavators, recorder, and gunner with the total station.

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2 Responses to Ben Schoville: Week 3, Soccer Fever Begins

  1. Pete Saucier says:

    Dear Ben,

    Sadly for me, I have never enjoyed the experience of digging a site. Do you all the pass time in conversation as you work, listen to music, or just meditate?

    Yours, Pete

    • Ben S. says:

      Hi Pete,
      Thanks for following the blog and commenting! Our system involves communication between the “gunner” taking 3D coordinates of artifacts and the excavators who are showing the gunner where artifacts are that need to be plotted. Therefore, as a general rule no headphones playing music are allowed on site so that there can be un-interrupted communication. As the season progresses and people get into a routine, all the jobs on site become more automatic and there is usually a constant stream of talk among everyone. Given that we all live in a dig-house together for months at a time, at some point the intelligent conversations become depleted and the topics become very casual with alot of banter. Alot of the names for features on site that I’ve been using in this blog (“Great Wall of Cobus”, “Lake Frikkie”, “Swing-a-ding”, etc.) have come out of conversations such as these on site while excavating!

      Thanks for asking! Cheers,

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