Thursday, July 26, 2012

These Hands

           Ground was broken today, for the first time this season, at the Fort site. We will be moving our work there from the Lyne site on Monday and we will all finally begin the archaeology that we have so longed for. However, before we can move our work to the Fort site we have to finish our work at the Lyne site. This meant that every pair of hands was working feverishly with a new fire of aspiration lit under the archaeologist attached to them. Today, these hands, the hands of every person working in the Fort Saint Joseph Archaeological project excavated with an accurate intensity and the goal of digging the fastest and hardest they have yet. We’re going to finish these units and we’re going to dig the Fort.
            Where did we leave off from yesterday when we started these units? Less than twenty centimeters down!? It’s go time. These hands are ready to move. With a newly developing muscle memory this work is becoming second nature and we’re prepared to make it the last twenty centimeters by the end of the day. A challenge that we’re all up to; digging hard and digging well.
            Shovels and trowels working in a flurry, removing a centimeter of earth with every shovel-full. Buckets filled with soil faster than we were able to screen it. One person digs and the other screens. A non-stop flow of Archaeology ensued. Like the workers on the Henry Ford assembly line, our hands moved with skill in a new effective system of constant activity. Before you know it, you’ve finished your level and are ready to begin mapping.
            Measuring tape and levels. Make sure the floor is even. Put those fingers to work at clipping away those last few roots and mapping in the ones too large to take out. What’s the soil matrix? Note the change in the color and texture. Are we already that deep? Make your measurements precise and don’t miss a thing. Just because we’re working fast doesn’t mean we can be sloppy. Note the artifacts we’re finding; a handful of flakes, a few nails, bits of charcoal, some fire-cracked rock. Jon and Sue found some iron and lead shot! That’s good, but don’t get distracted. The paperwork is approved! Get more paperwork and get ready to go down another level. Back to digging.
            After an hour of repetitive motion, your hands seem to form to the handle of the shovel, of the trowel, of the handle on the 1/8 inch dry screen. Eyes are constantly scanning while hands are constantly moving. Is that a culturally significant piece of altered stone, or just a beautiful example of a Michigan pebble? Bag the flakes and don’t miss a thing. The buckets are filled with soil again and need to be screened! You can’t dig if you have nowhere to put the dirt. Bucket after bucket, your hands and eyes work independently of one another in a Zen-like state of artifact searching and identification. Did I miss anything? Re-check and then re-re-check. After all of this it is easy to lose sight of the big picture, of the significance of what exactly it is you are pulling out of the earth after hundreds of years of laying motionless and unseen.
            And then you find it; an artifact that takes your breath away and causes your heart to skip a beat. For me, it was the tip of what is possibly a bi-facially chipped projectile point or stone drill. For Sue and Jon it may have been the projectile point that was discarded mid-production. For Adam and Annie it may be the bullet casing that had visible English printing on it. You see the excitement of other peoples’ faces when they get to see and touch what you just pulled out of the ground. These were made and altered by human hands hundreds of years ago just like our hands working so eagerly to recover what may have just been cast aside.
            At these moments, you take a step back, you give your hands a rest, you take it all in and remember the significance of what it is your hands are doing and touching. We are finding objects that time had forgotten and bringing them back to life and relevance with our own amazement, interpretations, and wonder. The excitement takes you once again and you return to your work with a new zeal and respect. You now have in mind the feeling of what a single artifact can give you and your mind begins to race with the thoughts of the amazing things we have yet to uncover within the Fort site. Monday couldn’t come fast enough. 

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