Ben Schoville: Week 4, The Nature in Excavation

In the same way it’s true that “you can never step in the same river twice,” when excavating archaeology you are never on the same site twice. Excavations proceed dynamically and once an artifact—be it a stone tool, broken bone, or discarded paleo-vuvuzela—is removed, its context will never be seen again. By the nature of excavation, you are the only witness to how the past was and was not preserved before it is gone. One of the things I love about archaeology is this aspect of never seeing or doing the same thing twice. It gives every day a fresh challenge, and I learn something that I never knew I didn’t know every minute.

collapsing tarp

Figure 1. The collapse of the sail cloth required draining the water from the excavation area.

For instance, this week we had a minor issue that could have been a major issue when our normally small “Lake Frikkie” in the giant tarp over the site over-filled its banks and came crashing down due to heavy rain. It’s probably not a stretch of the truth to say most archaeologists don’t get into the field because of an earnest interest in engineering. But excavating a site presents numerous challenges that must be met from many angles and to remove the now land-locked lake from the archaeological pit required a mixture of bucket chain gang, siphon tubing, and a system of ropes and pulleys to raise the protective tarp once again. There are not many other disciplines that utilize (some say borrow…or steal) so many tools from other disciplines as archaeology. As Schiffer (1988) accurately stated, “Archaeology is the quintessential interdisciplinary discipline.”

We’ve finally started to get down into what we think is intact archaeological sediments. The geologic story is not entirely clear, but it seems that the tall intact profile was eroded in such a way that near the base of the profile a bowl-shaped channel was exposed with thin red lines visible in profile view suggestive of intact hearths. The black stuff at the bottom is definitely disturbed in-fill sediments but there seems to be a shift in the nature of the infill underneath. So instead of finding the bottom of the profile wall, we will need to “step back” our trench to see if the intact sediments form another eroded profile or if it is more continuous. Either way, this signals the beginning of the end of our small excavation season this summer since we’ve achieved our two big goals of understanding what happens at the base of the profile as well as creating safe areas where we can excavate the profile in our next big field season.

view of Mossel Bay

Figure 2. On a nicer day last week when the sail cloth was firmly in place and Dicks was water screening.

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3 Responses to Ben Schoville: Week 4, The Nature in Excavation

  1. Jay Greene says:

    Cool, Ben – mentioning Lake Frickkie and then not elaborating on it. Inside joke, of the “Ya hadda been there” variety. Fruckkie pleased to be so honored?


  2. Ben S. says:

    haha, thanks J. Yeah, Frikkie is a character and so is the water pond in the sail cloth so it seemed a natural fit. He’s developed several new recipes this year which has been nice. Thanks for reading! Cheers,

  3. Ben

    We so enjoy your on site explorations and adventures at Mossel Bay. For sure you have all become jacks of ALL trades. Keep up the good work.

    L and H

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