Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Gettin Down and Dirty

“What on earth is that creature?!” “Was that bigfoot?” “Are they the muddied descendants of some lost tribe emerging from the forest?”

Visitors to the Fort St. Joseph archaeological site likely uttered similar musings amongst each other when they discovered mud covered students mucking out a trench Tuesday afternoon rather than pristine and professional looking excavators. Contrary to popular belief archaeology is not some romantic Indiana Jones movie complete with danger, drama, and romance. While there is the danger of stabbing yourself with sharp object in the wet screen, and the drama of uncovering a long hidden artifact is plenty to get your pulse pumping, archaeology is messy and hard work. In my personal opinion however, the sweat and the mud of real archaeology are BETTER than any silly Hollywood film (still many of us females wouldn’t say no to having Harrison Ford around at the site).

Just a little messy...
Some of you may be surprised to know that those of us who worked to muck out the trench belonging to the wet screens this past Tuesday afternoon jumped at the opportunity. What real archaeologist doesn’t love the feel of mud squishing between their toes and the opportunity to sling a wad or two at friends working nearby? Fun and games aside, the real reward in archaeology is emerging from the field, sweating, filthy, and knowing that you found something important that will help our generation better understand those generations past. In the unit I work in, N25W9, with my pit partner The Lance Meister, we have discovered numerous interesting artifacts that are helping us discover the lives of those who once resided at Fort St. Joseph.

Most notable are a lead seal, wonderfully preserved with French writing still legible on the surface, and the first tinkling cone of the season! The lead seal read “Graine de Lille”. Our resident seal expert happily informed us that this likely translates to seeds from Lille, Lille being a region in France. This was an important find because it says a lot about what kinds of supplies the fort residents were bringing in from France and clues us in to their ability to access materials from distant places. Remember guys these people did not have UPS!
First tinkling cone of the season!
Being the individual who holds a mud covered artifact for the first time in 100 years does not make you the sole winner in our game of hide and discover. Those who take care of all the jobs in between, like mucking out the trench, cooking dinner, supplying tarps for shade and saws for root cutting, share in the triumph of an archaeological discovery. That being said I’d like to give a special shout out to those community members who cook us dinner, kill poison ivy, help us dig, and most importantly give us the time of day when we are covered in filth and smelling not quite fresh. We would not be here without your support and so you should take the most pride in every muddy, rusted, or decaying artifact we pull from the ground.

Erika :)

Photo credits Cathrine Davis

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