Monday, June 17, 2013

The Old Buzzard’s Guide to finding old dead stuff.


Buzzard’s like archaeologists start with the big picture - the view from above. At Eleon this had been done in previous years by way of a geological survey and a surface survey, both of which indicated potentially juicy finds to be pecked over in the area. Of course one needn’t be as keen-eyed as a vulture to see the huge section of polygonal wall still firmly standing since the Classical period; in fact you’d have to be as blind as a bat to miss it. The huge stones are perfectly cut, resting above a horizontal level and lock together like puzzle pieces, which is likely why they have survived theft, tremors, and time. Geological surveys, though fine and well, are open to interpretation and therefore misinterpretation. Connecting the dots from the results can locate a fine wall just below the surface or simply an accidental alignment of natural stone; rather like seeing crabs, gods, and dippers in the night sky. Even the surface can be deceiving. Shards are thick on the ground well as in the first few centimetres down but they are a mix of time periods, styles, colors, and shapes. A plain unglazed fragment of red terracotta lying in the grass could be a Mycenaean, Archaic, or Classic pot; or last year’s refuse from a garden shop down the road. Beautiful green-glazed Byzantinian shards look suspiciously like they may have come from granny’s china cabinet. Only someone with a vulture’s keen eye and a good bit of experience in pecking over many old bits is likely to be able to separate the junk from the juicy bits.
Of course you can’t be a good archeologist (or Buzzard) unless you are willing to get under the skin (so to speak). Dirt’s skin like most skin is notoriously hard to peck/pick through. The sod does not want to reveal its under-layers easily so peeling off the epidermis can be blistering tough. Hit it too lightly and you will not pierce its skin – too hard and you will bounce off a rock or smash something you’ll be sorry for (Murphy’s Law applies to Buzzards too and miniature votives can be very delicate [Not guilty]!) It is important to pick inside the lines (same rule for coloring inside the lines). Without a framework to track who is pecking up what, one may as well bring in the pachyderms (or a backhoe) and rip it all up into a heap. Unlike buzzards who care only for purification and flavor, archaeologist must concern themselves with provenance and findspots. The grid setup is confusing at first (for a birdbrain) but if one looks as it from a bird’s eye view it makes sense. The grid starts at the horizontal and vertical center point (where the total station is set up) which splits the entire site into NW, NE, SW, and SE quadrants. The grid counts every 10 meters from the center to the north 1,2,3,… and also from center to the south 1,2,3,… From the center to the East every 10 meters of the grid is lettered A, B, C, …. as is the center to the West. Easy right? But wait – there’s more! Each 10 X 10 square is subdivided into four 5 X 5 meter squares which are lettered: a) top left, b) top right, c) bottom left, and d) bottom right. So HEB’s unit is NW B1b. This is the unit I’ve been picking around in for most of the last two weeks. HEB is the trench supervisor who is responsible for keeping track of points (elevations for features and some artefacts), deciding how deep to pick, (usually about 10 cm at for each pass), how hard to peck (and with what), taking pictures, making drawings, describing finds, and many other details including reminding some (eh-hemm) to, “dig a trench, not a hole” (which is tempting when one finds a delightful tidbit poking out and just asking to be liberated from the clinging dirt [I mean matrix]).
Sadly pecking around in the mud is even too messy even for lovers of dirt and old dead stuff, so last week’s showers put a damper on the dig. But Sunday’s sun must have dried things up so next week Gaia should give up more of her buried hoard. Of course, Sol’s wrath may be the death of us.

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