Wednesday, August 31, 2011

And We Come to an End (part 3)

Alright! My last actual night in Edinburgh felt like a fitting time to write my last blog post for the summer (don't fret, there could be more later). I even capped it off by having an unintended fire-drill at the hostel. Cool? Anyway, I say last actual night, 'cause technically I still have Thursday night to wait through, but I'm going to be spending it at the airport seeing as how I leave super early in the morning. I'm kinda ready to do that... Don't get my wrong! Edinburgh (and Scotland in general) has been awesome! I'm just kinda running out of things to do easily/cheaply. I'm sure if I had more time, I'd find things to fill it with, but only having this much time here, I've reached the limit of my creativity. I actually haven't been to see the castle yet... But I plan on fixing that soon. Tomorrow, in fact. I have a whole lot of time to kill, and the castle seems just the thing! But, enough about plans for tomorrow, let's get on to the post, which is about places that I've visited since I've been here! Woooo!!!

Alright, so, during the time spent at the archaeology site, we would work morning and afternoon, then spend the rest of the day visiting interesting archaeological sites around Northeast Scotland, in something of a chronological order, though that seemed to fall out after a bit. It was really quite amazing, actually. Being in a place that has so much history weighing down on it is kind of the point of archaeology, but it's so much more impressive when you can see these enormous stone forts raised up in front of you. I mean, thinking about the work that would have to go into some of these things is just mind-boggling! I'll do my best to give you a similar impression (doubtfully).

So, I promise to forget some of these, but I'll do my best. Oh, and I absolutely PROMISE they won't be in chronological order. I had a notebook that I wrote some of this down in and... I forgot it on the side of the road. Along with some beers. And a hand-made whiskey cake. But that's another story (and not very interesting).

So, we went to visit some standing stones early in our journeys. These were a fairly common sight throughout our travels, but it didn't make them any less amazing, honestly. A lot of them were pictish in origin; containing any multitude of carvings. A fairly common theme was called, I believe, a "V-rod". It was, literally, just a rod with some embellishments on either end that was angled into a V. It always had a crescent shape behind it with amazingly intricate patterns filling it in. The Picts had a very distinct style that's really easy to pick out. It's all curly and curvy with spirals and such featuring prominently (that's scientist lingo for you). One of the most interesting features of their art, though, is their reproduction of animals. They're really stylistic, but still depict the animal quite accurately. One of the more interesting representations for me was the "pictish beast". It's a creature with forelegs, a tail and a beak-like mouth. It's probably a dolphin, but it's still kind of debated (seahorse, kelpie, dragon, etc.). The first one that we saw was a class 1 stone, in that it only has pictish symbols and is incised in the stone, not in relief. We saw some of the other stones later, but for a long time that's all we came across. We saw a number of these stones, including one that was a sort of burial marker, containing a person's name in Ogham, which was a sort of alphabet.

We saw some other types of stone monuments as well, beside just the carved stones. The first site we went to was actually a recumbent stone circle. They're unique to Scotland (or, at least this very specific type is) and rose from a tradition of creating a huge bonfire that radiated out from the center with a number of arms. Eventually the arms were terminated in huge standing stones and a recumbent altar (that's where the name for the type of circle came from) was placed on the side. I say altar, but that's not really the right word for it. I guess it could have been, but probably not. It more likely represented a doorway that was then blocked by putting a large stone in the middle of it. It was amazing to see the forethought that went into the creation, actually. The stones all decreased in size as they went away from the "altar" and they each had a quartz-rich face placed toward the center. These circles are associated with lunar worship, so when the moon shone, all the stones would light up with the reflections from the quartz. Clever people, those ancient Scots. We also saw a henge that was pretty ripped up. There were only a few stones standing still, and one of those had been imported, I believe. Sad, but you can't really help it. It was in the middle of a farmer's field and years of farmers had removed the giant stones that stood in the middle of their fields. Alas. Oh, we also saw what was called The Maiden Stone, which had a really interesting story attached to it. There's a legend about a woman on her wedding night accidentally making a wager with the devil, in which she would try to bake a cake faster than he could make a road from the spot to the top of Bennachie (discussed later), which is an incredible distance. So, she takes him up on it and, of course, loses. So, he touched her on the shoulder and she turned to stone. There's a nick in the rock (A nick? It's more of a chunk.) that's supposed to be where he touched her. The stone itself is covered in bass-relief depictions of all sorts of stuff, including a mirror that's a bit anachronistic, but was never explained to us further than that.

Though the stones were impressive, by far the most impressive sights were the hill-forts and castles. We were taken to one of the most breath-taking of hill-forts quite early on. It's the 3rd tallest hill-fort in Scotland and it is a hell of a hike when you're not expecting it and just spent all day doing somewhat hard, physical labor. It's called Bennachie, and I highly suggest you take the chance sometime to climb it. It's amazing. It was an older hill-fort, so it wasn't very big (relatively speaking, let me tell you), but it was just incredibly impressive. There's absolutely no way anyone could attack this position. Admittedly, there's no way anyone could live there for long due to the lack of food, water and natural resources, but still. And really, it wasn't meant to be a year-round dwelling. It was more just a status symbol for someone really powerful and was probably only inhabited during the summer. But anyway. It was really just... amazing. I mean, the hike kind of boosted the value of the view (as well as maybe a bit of light-headedness caused by a slight case of vertigo due to the shear drop-off of hundreds of feet at the top), but I'm pretty sure we could see the North Sea from where we were (exaggeration, but not by much). The area itself was split into terraces where people would build their houses and such, reserving the top for the chieftain, or whoever it was running the village. The amount of work that it would've taken to build that place is mind-boggling. It was so bloody high up and there was so much stone! It would've taken forever. Though, that's kind of what these people had. Lots of relatively cheap labor and lots and lots of time. Anyway, after we were up there for a bit and caught our breath, it started to rain, so we had to run down. Haha.

So, even with how breath-taking Bennachie was, there was another one that we climbed that might've been just a little more amazing, I have to say. Tap o' Noth is the 2nd highest hill-fort in Scotland (we never did climb the tallest one, though that's probably because it was, like, 200 miles away) and it had parts of it that were vitrified. Vitrified hill-forts were literally burned for weeks on end until the stone melted together to form one solid mass. It's... impressive. The amount of wood that was needed to keep that fire going for long enough to reach a temperature of around 1,100 degrees would literally amount to most of a small forest. This is one of the most incredible feats of human construction I've ever seen! I mean, these fires were so huge that you could see them half-way across Scotland. They would be burning for weeks and weeks on end, constantly tended by a veritable army of people. So, when you take that into account, Tap o' Noth is quite impressive. However, when you also take the size and the height into consideration, this place becomes insanely imposing. People used to think it was an extinct volcano because of the melted rock. I mean, that's just nuts. Oh, also, when you climb it, there's a dip in the center that seems quite a bit like a solidified caldera. So, I guess they had that going for them as well. But yeah. Holy cow. It was spectacular.

The hill-forts were definitely my favorite places to visit, though we did see others. We saw another vitrified hill-fort that was cannibalized to create a watchtower. That one was pretty cool as well. It was a really stark outline on the top of a fairly large hill. Pretty impressive. Wish my camera worked... Oh, we also saw a Motte and Bailey, which is a really interesting castle construction. It's also quite old. It consists of two raised hills of earth that were close to each other, but separated by a fair distance. The one that was higher was the main fortification, the Motte. That's where the castle was built and where the people of importance lived. It was connected by a drawbridge to the smaller mound, which was the Bailey. That's where the... town was? It wasn't much of a town in the case of the castle that we went to see. It just wasn't big enough to hold a large town, so it probably didn't. The site is called the Bass of Inverurie. At the foot of it is a graveyard and a river, as well as some pictish stones, including a really flawless interpretation of a horse. Pretty amazing.

So, those were the really interesting bits. Technically we saw a Roman marching camp, but we were more just showed the town of Kintore, which was built on a Roman marching camp... Not much to look at in the way of archaeology. Meh. I'm sure we could all envision it in our mind's eye. Or something.

So! I hope you liked my meandering approach to telling you the story of my summer! That's it, I suppose. Now I'm going to go upstairs and pack up all my stuff to make sure I can get out of here tomorrow. One more day before I hit the air and fly for another 10 or so hours (grumble). Sorry if this was a huge waste of time, but I suppose it had to be tried anyway. It was fun! And thank you to those of you who read it. If you want to talk to me more about any of this stuff, just E-mail me or whatever. I suppose you could talk to me in-person as well, but what's the fun in that? (No, but really, it's fine to talk to me in person. Though I can't promise I'll be as witty. Haha.)

Au Revoir,

Monday, August 29, 2011

And We Come to an End (part 2)

Alright, I've got some more time to sit about and update you all on what went on for the past couple of weeks! I can't promise anything especially exciting, but we'll see what happens, I suppose.

Today's topic might be a little short. I hope you don't mind terribly, but I figured it was necessary, considering it's... ya know... the archaeology. Just what we did at the site and how we went about doing it. Pretty interesting stuff, I know. Try to contain yourself.

So, the archaeology that I was actually doing the whole time was mostly working on prehistoric standing structures, called hut circles. Pretty much, if you walked through this certain forest, you'd find all these random circles in the grass. They kinda look like a very small meteor hit and there's an impact zone there. They can be as many as 15 or so meters across. I think the largest one is... 50 meters? That might not be right at all. I might have totally made that number up. I didn't work on any that large anyway. Anyway, they're just circular stone walls that are left over from the huts that the native populations lived in/stored livestock in/did whatever else it was that needed to be done in them. They had wooden roofs where we were working, but they could also have thatched roofs further down south, I believe. The roofs were actually super high and probably contained a second story where the family actually lived, meaning the livestock was probably stored below. There'd be a hearth in the centre of the building that would be burning pretty much constantly, so we were looking especially for charcoal and whatnot near the centre of the rings.

Anyway, the site that I was working at was called Balbithan. It kind of comes from a bastardization of a pictish word; the land of Bithan or something. I don't rightly remember. But we had two hut circles to work in. The one that we all started on was in the thick of the trees and, frankly, created a nice muddy bog in the middle due to its bowl-like shape. Awesome. So, we laid out two trenches across the circle that met in the middle. They were off-set from each other, though, so it looked like a windmill that had lost two of its arms. Kind of confusing to picture, but if I were able to draw on this thing, you'd totally understand. Promise. We did this so that we could open up the pits into two quarter-circles if need be and they'd be opposite each other, giving a good interpretation of what was not uncovered yet. We didn't end up doing that, though we did extend one of the trenches a bit more to see if we found the entrance to the hut. We didn't. Bummer. But yeah, so we had to de-turf the trenches that we laid out, which is maybe not the most enjoyable job, but it's not too bad. We just had to rip up all the grass in long chunks so that it could be put back later. It got especially lame when we had to work around a tree stump, which happened rather frequently, unfortunately. After that was all done, we had to remove the top layer of soil, which was all recent stuff that wouldn't have any artifacts that were worth much to us in situ (Latin for "in position", if you didn't catch on) and would just be covering up all the features that we were really trying to get to. However, unlike my last dig, this couldn't be done quickly and easily with a shovel, because there were enormous rocks in the way. So we had to do it all by hand with a trowel. Not the most fun, I have to say, but alas.

Oh, all the while that this is being taken care of, there are other students and volunteers (they didn't get a mention in the last post because... well... because I didn't feel like it and I can't remember all of their names) digging test pits willy-nilly around the site. Well... not willy-nilly, I suppose. But it kinda seemed like it. Not necessarily up to the rigorous scientific standards set up by my last field school, that's for sure.

So, after the test pits are all dug and the trenches have been cleaned out, everything has to be surveyed and mapped and photographed and discussed, etc. This is kind of the real science of it. I'd never mapped the way we did it here, which was kind of interesting. We just laid a 1x1 meter grid down on the trench and used it as a reference to draw the trench on a 20 to 1 scale. You just draw what's within the square, then move the square up and keep going until you've filled in the entire trench. I'm really not much of an artist, however, so my maps might have been a little iffy. Meh.

By the way, I'm doing this all out of order. Heh. Kind of getting caught up in explaining certain parts and forgetting any sort of narrative structure to the weeks. I guess it doesn't really need it, but yeah. I feel as if I'm telling the story poorly. Well, I mean, I am, but that's just me being terrible at stories. I'll try to be more structured if I ever do this again. (I know, I know. You'll all feel lost without these updates, but it's ok. I'm sure you'll find a way to move on.) Anyway, before we actually got on with much of the mapping of the first trench, a couple of us were moved down to another hut circle further into the woods (this group was what became Delta Squad). This one was a bit more open, so there was a better view, at least... of a golf course. Heh. We also had a class of students come down to help us out. Apparently their teacher is a friend of Murray's and she started an archaeology club at the school. The kids were nice and everything, if not the most helpful. But what can you really expect from a couple of grade-school kids? For the experience that they had (not much at all), they were great little helpers! So we used child labor to open up two pits at the lower hut circle in the same manner that we did on the first one. This one was a little bit bigger and wasn't nearly as damp, thankfully. I ended up working on the second one for the rest of the dig, so I didn't see much of the top hut circle for the next week or so.

So, we got the bottom hut circle all worked out and managed to finish everything up quite quickly. Most of the artifacts that came out of the trenches were flint shards, quite a bit of rock quartz, stuff like that. However! I seemed to have all the luck, and possibly came up with two pieces of either bronze or iron age pottery. At least, that's what they think they were. It's possible. Heh. They hadn't been able to identify it on site and they hadn't done any diagnostic stuff before I left. I really do hope that's what they were. I'd be the only one on the site to find any sort of pottery if that's the case. Pretty cool stuff!

So... That's all, I think... At least that's how far we got. We never ended up finding any of the entrances, but we did track down a couple of other hut circles that we didn't open up. They're pretty much all over in that forest. It's pretty amazing when you think about it. I mean, the history in that one place is everywhere and spans so much time. It's incredible to think about.

Alright, probably just one more post to make. Maybe two? I dunno. I'm still trying to visit places around Edinburgh, so maybe that'll warrant a post. Who knows? Who wants to learn about Rosslyn Chapel? Anyone? I went there today. Pretty cool. Lots of bus confusion... Edinburgh Castle next, I believe. Exciting!

Until then!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

And We Come to an End (part 1)

Hello all you intrepid readers! I know you've all been anxiously refreshing your browser, waiting for my latest post, but to no avail. I've been without the internet for about two weeks. Honestly, not the worst thing in the world. It's alright, though. Your waiting has come to an end! Thus continues the exciting adventures in archaeology of one Mr. Alex Johnston!!!

Alright, that was... maybe a little over the top. But, I do apologize for saying I could update more frequently, and then turning around and not saying anything for two weeks. We were told that we'd have internet at the flat that we were staying at, and we didn't. We were also told that the pub would have internet access... They didn't. Finally, the library was our group's last bastion of hope for contacting our families in far-away places. It closed before we got home every single day of the week. Literally. So, alas, we've been lost out in the wilds of Alford, getting strange looks from the locals, and, frankly, deserving them.

First things first (exactly how I didn't do them on the first dig), I'll introduce you to the crew! They were all relatively marvelous people, but I have to say, certain people made more of an impression on me than others. And other people... Well, they definitely made an impression, but maybe not in the positive sense... Haha.

First off: Murray Cook - our fearless leader! He was the archaeologist who organized the trip. He's been at this for a while, but it still hasn't made him any less awkward. He apparently has become more lax over the years about his organization of the dig, because he's run into so many people that just come to the dig as a cheap-ish vacation. We only had one of those in our group, so that was a little bit interesting, and somewhat less than educational in some regards. Murray himself is an amiable person; willing to get along with anyone for a short time. However, the group kind of decided that he maybe didn't want to hang out with us all night, so we didn't see too much of him off-site, unless it was him making dinner or taking us to visit an archaeological site. He constantly would run his mouth, though most of the stuff that came out of it was actually educational, and tended to trip over himself more than any of us. He's been in this field for quite a while, so he really knows what he's talking about, he just doesn't stop talking about it ever. I think he might've taken a special liking to me for reasons that will be revealed by the time we get to the end of this post (mysterious!!!).

Next up is Murray's brother, Martin. He's also an archaeologist, though he came to the profession by a different route than Murray. Murray is more scientific in nature, while Martin is focused on history. Either way, they're both quite intelligent and look pretty much nothing alike. Martin is the younger of the two, but he definitely acts as the older brother in some cases, specifically when it comes to alerting Murray when he's put his foot in his mouth. Good-natured in general, he's still not afraid to make fun of me (or anyone else, but mostly me [this goes back to the mysterious reason why I was singled out in many ways that was mentioned earlier]) when it serves to lighten the mood, or when we were all getting drunk. That too.

The third Scotsman of the group was Jamie. He was a large man that had an enormous beard, but was incredibly quiet. Also, he was the best at pool out of the whole group by far. He was an archaeologist by trade as well, and apparently an old university friend of Martin. He was easy-going and really the anchor to the over-seeing group. His last name is Humble, which is incredibly descriptive of his character and he has a brother named Felton. I can't think of anything else to say about him, but he's cool.

Alright! On to the students! I'll introduce them in alphabetical order of their call-name.

Kim (Big Red) - Kim definitely became one of the closest friends I had there. She's from Pennsylvania and is really cool. She graduated (I think? If I understand correctly?) and just came to this because her last field school sucked. We were happy to have her. Also, she's one of the primary founders of Delta Squad, which was our awesome team of people that got everything done (there were only four or so of us). She's SUPER breakable, however, and had a lot of good stories about hurting herself. She was probably one of the better workers on the site, especially evident when the rest of us were sitting around not wanting to do anything and she was hand-troweling out a a section for the entirety of a day. Then again, she claims it's just 'cause she couldn't get up, so she figured she should just keep going. All-in-all, a very cool person and one that I hope to keep in contact with. Oh, and a kick-ass pool team-mate. We rocked the table (except against Jamie, who beat everyone).

Emma (Captain Cork) - Emma is actually from County Cork (hence the call-name) and is working on her masters, I believe. She's quite soft-spoken, but opinionated, to be sure. Especially about my music... She didn't necessarily approve of my taste. Though, I don't think anyone really did... (Especially Martin...) And I think she got quite a bit of pleasure from discussing the low-points of my musical interests. Anyway, she ended up being a pool-shark by the end of the two weeks and pretty much cleared the table in most cases (if you couldn't guess, most of our off-days were spent playing pool). She wasn't really in my area for most of the dig, so I can't accurately discuss her work-ethic or anything, but it couldn't have been too bad. Heh.

Tori (Day Bird) - Tori is from Seattle and actually knows some of the same people I do, which was a weird coincidence. It's a small world, I suppose. She was pretty cool, though quiet. We didn't really talk much, but I didn't have too many problems with her, beyond the cattiness that everyone developed by the end of the dig. Alas.

Diana (Green Pea) - Honestly, I'm gonna come right out and say that I was not sure that Diana was going to like this sort of stuff. She comes from New York and dressed really nicely, even when we were going out to the site to dig in the mud. I think the entire group shared my reservations about whether or not she was going to have a good time, but we were all proven happily wrong! Diana and Jessica were friends before the dig, so they came together to get some experience in a field school. They both could have turned out to be prissy and whatnot, but they were totally down in the muck all day. I even accidentally sprayed mud in her face with a brush (funny story) and she didn't kill me, though she did threaten to. She may not have been the quickest worker, but she didn't give up and she hiked all the huge freakin' trails with us. Props to her. She was also really cool to hang out with when she wasn't taking care of Little Fox (explained below).

Aletheia (Grey Dog) - Aletheia was actually the first person I met on this trip, and when I found out she was from U of O, I was a little worried that maybe a couple of gullible oregonians had fallen into a slave trade or something. I didn't want to end up in some sort of creepy Hostel movie re-make. Anyway, Aletheia was also super cool and another founding member of Delta Squad. (Side-note: I don't think any of the founding members of Delta Squad actually wanted to found this group, I just made them. It was a toss-up between Delta Squad and Team Mongoose, but once we started getting a ton of work done when no-one else would, I settled on Delta Squad for a team name. This wasn't an important piece of information.) I think Aletheia and I threw some of the people not from the states off because we would constantly joke about how one school was better than the other and apparently school rivalries aren't big outside of the U.S. Alas. Anyway, I had a ton of fun with Aletheia. She might not have the best taste in movies or anything, but she's incredibly nice and agreeable to pretty much anyone in the world. Another one of my closest friends there whom I would totally enjoy keeping in contact with. Oh, and she plays the bagpipes, apparently. Interesting character.

(Can you guess what the secret is that made me the odd-man-out yet?)

Jessica (Little Fox) - Poor, poor Little Fox... Jessica (mentioned above with Diana) was sick pretty much the ENTIRE trip. I felt so bad for her! She came to the dig every day but one and really tried to put in the work. She did really well for being incapacitated the whole time. Also, she was another snappy dresser. We all dressed in grungy clothes except for Jessica and Diana, who were grubbing around in the mud, but managed to stay quite presentable. Honestly, I didn't get to talk to her too much because she was usually in her room, sounding like she was dying (mostly just coughing, but I blow things out of proportion). I think she played pool for the first time ever last... Wednesday? I think it was Wednesday... I hope she at least enjoyed the experience...

Karin (Locksmith) - Ah, Karin... (I think that's how you spell her name) Karin was... an interesting character. Maybe not my favorite person in the world? Maybe? She had a strange tendency to assume we were going to injure her in some way, inform us of this and then threaten us with violence in response if we were to proceed with said action. Example: I'm raking up some dirt so that we can get it back in the trench. I've been doing the same thing in the same area for, say, five minutes or so, not waving the rake around or anything, and Karin comes up behind me and says "Alex, if you hit me with that rake, I'm going to take it from you and hit you back." Alright... I wasn't planning on hitting you? There's really no risk of this taking place... But alright. I think she was just trying to get attention from a certain Aberdinian individual named Paul. This same sort of conversation took place way more than was necessary however. I never once struck anyone there, but got warned and threatened at least three times a day from Karin. Interesting. She also listened to her music SUPER effing loud! Like, if we were all sitting in the living room and she was listening to music on her headphones, we would all have to raise our voices to be heard over the music. Crazy. I wasn't super keen on Karin. Oh, and she comes from California. That's all.

Berit (Mama Bear) - Mama Bear! Berit was from Germany and was the only one that came here for vacation. She has a real job and graduated from University a while ago; she just wanted to have a good time and do something new. She was also incredibly tall! A good 5 inches or so taller than me. She was the oldest out of all the students and really ended up taking care of us (hence the call-name). She always had the flat keys and made sure everyone was either on their way to bed or in bed before she went to bed. She was also one of the founding members of Delta Squad, though I don't think she was necessarily ready for this honor. Haha. She didn't seems super keen on the call-names either at first, though she eventually warmed up and realized that we were just all having fun (mostly me). She worked quite hard at the archaeology and I think she picked up on a lot of it really quickly. Another person I really would like to keep in contact with. Very cool person, if not a little too mothering to some of her cubs (all of us).

Harriet (Watchtower) - Harriet was kind of the wild-card of the group. Not in that she was actually wild; far from it! She was really quiet and reserved, but incredibly friendly! She had a super dry sense of humor on some occasions. She's from Sydney, Australia and doesn't like vegemite. She kind of just sat in the back of the group for a lot of the trip, though she was definitely not boring. She was kind of a wallflower, which is a distinctly calming force in some groups. Harriet also has the singular distinction of coming up with her own call-name, which is really quite a feat, considering how good a name it is. Another person that I would really like to keep in contact with, especially 'cause if I go to Sydney, her brother is a DJ who apparently knows a ton of people and gets into places for free. Bonus points.

Ok, did you guess the secret yet? Yep. I was the ONLY GUY in the group of students. Blarg... I guess there were others that were supposed to come, but they all dropped out for one reason or another. This wasn't necessarily a good or a bad thing, but it definitely changed group dynamics. I got a LARGE portion of the ribbing going on from, well, everyone, but specifically from Murray and Martin. I also ended up doing a hell of a lot of the root removal, which was not an easy job. I guess having to grow up with three older sisters helped out with my comfort-level though. Luckly.

Anyway, that's the end of the first installment! If I wrote it all down in one go, it'd be so long no-one would read it (like anyone does anyway) and I'd also be sitting down for eight hours. So, I'm breaking it up into a few pieces.
Until then!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Here we go (again)! Scotish Edition

Alright. I'm here in Scotland. I haven't done any sort of archaeology so far, so there's nothing interesting to report, but you do get to read about crazy travels! It's obligatory. You can't get away writing a blog about traveling without the whole "flying sucks" post. So, here it is. Sorry...

So, I started off in PDX, showing up two and a half or three hours ahead of my flight time, etc. etc. But my passport won't scan for some reason, so I have to wait in a mile long line (exaggeration). So, I wait a really long time, get everything figured out and get on the plane, eventually. And then the flight starts...

It's something like a nine and a half hour flight from PDX to Amsterdam. That is a HELL of a long flight! Seriously. And the space they give you for your feet is insane. I'm not a very claustrophobic person, but I seriously thought I was going to go insane. I took, like, three naps and read half of my book and thought that I must be quite a ways into the flight, maybe an hour and a half left or so, but no. I had six and a half hours left! I was going straight up mad. The crying babies didn't help at all. I seriously don't understand why some people fly with their kids. There was a constant wail of children all throughout the flight. The parents didn't seem to mind it one bit. I did. The kids took shifts to make sure that there wasn't a single moment of silence. Awesome.

So, I got to the Amsterdam airport, finally, at about what would be 11:00 pm in Oregon. We taxied for, like, 20 to 30 minutes. No joke. It seemed like we landed somewhere else in town and he had to drive us to the airport. We just kept going! So, finally off the airplane and I just wanted a coffee and somewhere to sit. The coffee was like water, and apparently they lock up any waiting areas until just before the flight is boarding. So, I sat on a table at the end of a hallway with a 65 year old lady with ADD. She kept talking to me while I was trying to read, but I never once understood what she said. Whatevs. I just smiled and tried to interpret what I think was Spanish. So, two hours of this later, we get on the plane for Edinburgh.

Again, CONSTANT wail of children! People, tell your kids to shut up! One baby, though cute, decided that making noises was the best thing ever, so between fits of crying he would just let out minute long cries of... joy? Or something. However cute that may seem, it was nearing 2:00 in the morning in Oregon and my nerves were wearing a bit thin with children. So, we get into Edinburgh after a comparatively quick flight (thank god) and we have to go through customs and such. Which I'm stopped at because I don't have any proof of why I'm in the country. Score. Good job, Alex. I have E-mails from my field director, but I didn't print them out or anything. They're not, like, legally binding. Whatever. The guy told me to look them up online. However, I can't get online, so eventually he just lets me through and says to make sure I have them next time. Flying sucks.

Finally, FINALLY, I'm in Edinburgh. I get a taxi and shoot for the hostel. I'm tired and weary and just kinda want a nap. However, it's only noon here and the hostel doesn't check people in until 3:00. So I lug my giant backpack, with all my tools and boots and random archaeological stuff, around town for three hours. Not an easy task. I just kinda meandered around town, checking out where stuff was. The castle is right outside the hostel I'm staying at, which is amazing. I'm saving that until I come back here for the third week, however. Finally, I get to go to the hostel, where I crash for a few hours.

I wake up, deciding that it was time for dinner and wandered out into the town again. I went around town, looking at different pubs, but they were all packed to the gills, without any place to sit and have a meal. So eventually I stumbled into what I assume was an old church. It had a theatre in it and a bar as well. So I bought a ticket for the next play that was showing, not really caring what it was, and went in to have a beer. I didn't order a beer, however, but an Irish cider. Totally thought it was beer and was quite surprised when it tasted completely different. Anyway, I digress. The show started and it was so good!! It was called Scary Gorgeous. It was mostly just two women on stage with a live band. The band was sort of involved in the acting (becoming patrons at a bar as well as the members of a band that the two women sang in), but they were mostly just mood music, expressing the emotions of the characters toward each other. The music was super good, as well. There was some awesome dance interludes that were really amazing to watch, though I'm not sure if I really enjoyed the dances that were supposed to be stylized sex or something. But yeah! Just out of the blue, I stumbled upon a really good show.

So, that was my first day in Scotland. Currently, I'm sitting here in the hostel, trying to write this out before my time expires on the internet card. Today has really just been lazy. I've just been reading, drinking coffee and searching for internet access. Pretty exciting. Tomorrow I meet up with the group that's doing the dig and heading up to Aberdeenshire. I'll try to keep you all updated as well as make sure that I have some sort of internet connection. We'll see!


Monday, August 8, 2011

The End of Champoeg 2011

Well, I made it all the way to the end, though it was a close call by the last day. We finished up all the units that we started, but it took some mad speed to do so. There was a group that tended to move incredibly slowly, so I was assigned to them to help speed things along. It was... kind of a hassle, but whatever. We got it done and finished up all the digging. It kind of felt pointless by the second to last day, because we were dumping our dirt on the back-dirt pile knowing that within an hour or so, we would be putting the same dirt back in the units we just excavated... It seemed a little futile, to say the least. However, we had to make sure the units went sterile and put down the tarps and whatnot (to mark where we finished the levels as well as protecting the surfaces that we uncovered).

After we had everything cleaned, photographed and tarped, we started the back-fill process. Holy crap. My arms still hurt three days after. We started by filling wheelbarrows and dumping them down to keep the tarps pressed against the side walls. We were at this for quite a long time before a front-loader came in to help out and do a lot of the work for us. However, it didn't seem to do as much work as all of us would have hoped. We were loading and running wheelbarrows for a day and a half, constantly. All the dirt that came out of the ground had to be put back. We had a good time, though. We all bonded in our manual labor, I suppose. Haha.

After the hard work, we had Prom. I'm not sure why they call it prom, but it is. It's sorta formal? Kind of? Not really. We just all got together, or most of us anyway, and had a bit of a party/award ceremony. We all got golden (painted) nails that had some sort of personal award for us. My award was "Plumb-bob Square Pants", which has apparently only been given once before, to Lyle Jinks, which is quite an honor in my book. After that we... all got drunk. Or, at least I know I did. Really drunk. More so than I'd like to admit. I just really hope my teachers left before I got too out of hand. Also, I guess I challenged one of my TA's to a foot race? I had flip-flops on and it didn't go too well. I woke up with a huge scrape on my arm that I got from taking a header on the asphalt road. Awesome show, Alex. Good job.

Well, that's the end of the Champoeg dig! I had an excellent time and I really feel like I have a home in the archaeology department; like I did my time in the field or something. I just hope I have as much fun in Scotland! I'll have more frequent updates from Scotland as well, though they still probably won't be very interesting. I leave on the 12th, so I have about a week to hang out and catch up with people. I can't wait!


Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Meet The Crew

So, I've been working on this dig going on six weeks now, and I realize that I haven't introduced anyone yet. Which I realize is kinda lame. I'll do my best to introduce everyone! Also, if anyone from field school is reading this (I don't think they are...), then I hope you don't take it personally? I dunno.

So, let's start with Dr. Dave Brauner. He's the head honcho pretty much. He's been working on sites at Champoeg (and generally just all around the Northwest) for  quite a number of years, so he really knows what he's talking about when it comes to this area of study. He's incredibly smart and a veritable encyclopedia of knowledge on French Prairie. He does have a bit of a tendency to run off on tangent story-lines, but at the same time, they're fun to listen to. His classes (like, the ones at OSU and not out in the field) are usually interrupted every once in a while with a nice long story about, say, fish, or something of the sort. Maybe not completely on topic, but still fun to listen to.

Right under Dr. Brauner in the hierarchy of the dig site is Molly Manion. She's sort of the field manager or something. She takes care of day-to-day proceedings on the site and whatnot. She's also there quite often to keep Dr. Brauner on track and moving forward with the topic at hand (it's a fun relationship they share, I think). Molly's working on her Ph.D. right now and is using the Champoeg area for her dissertation. She's kind of a hard-ass in a lot of ways, but I think it might be tough love? I hope? Heh. She's as sharp as a tack, though, and knows a hell of a lot about the area and the time period.

Our Lab Tech at the site is Jamie French. She's working on her Master's currently and helps Molly oversee the general workings of the site. She's pretty easy-going and might have the smallest hand-writing I've ever seen. She also gets frustrated when she has to correct our mistakes in cataloging all day, but that's pretty understandable...

Lyle Jincks is... broken. Heh. He was out at the site for a few weeks helping out Molly and Jamie (he's also a Master's student), but then something happened and he's now broken. I guess this happens a lot to him. He's back at the OSU lab now, taking care of stuff there. He's a bad-ass, though, in the classic sense of the term. Just as an example, he took off to... Peru, I believe, and went climbing in the Andes. While there, he lost TONS of weight (he's not a heavy guy in the first place) and contracted pulmonary edema. So... there's that.

On to the students! There's Mike, who's an older gentleman (not old, just older than the average [maybe 40 to 45 or so]), though he keeps up with all the other students. He's cool and works pretty hard. He normally works at a hospital, but got into this program a few years back as a volunteer, and finally took the class this year.

Then there's Nicholas. He really seems straight and narrow, but not in an annoying way at all. He's just pretty chill and is eager to help. All in all, a super nice person that doesn't get on anyone's nerves, I do believe. I don't think it'd be possible.

Another person who isn't, I believe, capable of getting annoying, and that's Elizabeth. She has two kids, ages 11 and 12 (they came out to the site for a little while), but still keeps up with the general pace of the group. She also tans like mad at the site. It's almost possible to tell how late in the day it is by how dark Elizabeth is. Very cool person, though.

Speaking of people that have children (there seem to be more than I expected), Mary-Ann is a bit of a firecracker! She doesn't look it at all, but she can trade jabs with the best of them (verbally, of course). Though, we did just hear about her first and only fight, that she apparently won. She's spunky wrapped in a demure package.

Her partner for the past few days has been Clair. She's nice, but you have to be able to sort out what she says and what she means. Mostly because there's a barrage of insults flying across the table between a number of parties (mostly in jest). So, I hope I have her pegged right and she's just giving me crap, but whatevs. She did tell me that I stole the level rod from her on one of the first days. Maybe she still holds it against me. Who knows.

The insults, or whatever they actually are, generally stem from, or revolve around, one person. Ryan. He's the... comic relief of the dig? That's not necessarily the right term. He just keeps talking and random thoughts seem to pour forth from him; much of it is jokingly racist or misogynistic. You know, the usual... Ruffies tend to come up a lot when he's around... I'm not sure why. Also, he may not be the most focused worker. But, you kinda can't help but like the guy, for some reason.

His partner, currently, is Cayla. She has to put up with... quite a lot. Heh. Working with Ryan is a feat. But, she gives it just as much as she gets it. She's feisty. All-in-all, a very nice person. And commendable for her fortitude in putting up with her partner.

The last three people are all pretty good friends. The last one of their group is my current partner, Ben. He's the resident hipster/ginger. He's a pretty good partner to be paired with. He's fairly focused, but not boring (far from it) and he generally keeps the mood upbeat.

(Crap this is taking longer than I had hoped. They're gonna get shorter.) Jacob is pretty much the consummate farm boy. He's a hard worker and pretty agreeable. Pretty damn smart, too.

Karen is... a space cadet? She's nice and pretty chill, but she just doesn't pay much attention to stuff. Seems to  have something else to focus on, or something.

Melody is oddly intimidating. She's a weird combination of hippie and ex-military. I don't really know what to make of her. She's an older woman that talks about some of the most random stuff and seems to have held every job ever.

Her partner is another Molly, but she may be the exact opposite of Molly Manion. She's older as well, but she's SUPER annoying. I've had her in class before, and she always has something to say, often disrupting the class to say it. I hope she doesn't read this, but honestly, she bugs the ever-living hell out of me. And she's the slowest person on the dig, I believe.

Mairee, on the other hand, is not annoying at all! She's really, really quiet and unassuming, but she's pretty nice. She's very meticulous in her work and pretty much keeps to herself.

Scott, for some reason, always tries to make Mairee laugh. It's become his daily goal. He's a pretty good guy. "Special Scott" is in the military and we all generally agree that messing with him would be a bad idea. However, he's really, really nice. He's easygoing and gets along with everyone quite readily. He disappeared, however, because I think he got called back to his unit, unfortunately.

Another Army representative in the group is Matt. He's even more reserved than Mairee, it seems. He's incredibly quiet, but every once in a while he throws out a good comment, generally made all the better because he never talks. He's really focused on his work and is a great partner.

Chelsea is a pretty easy to get along with person. She's not overly loud or obnoxious, plus she's got a cool last name (Alava). She works pretty diligently and keeps things moving along. Generally a nice person and a good partner.

Last but not least (I think?) is Chris. I... think that's how you spell her name? Anyway, she's another one that I've never worked with. She's fairly quiet and keeps to herself. She stole my shovel for a few days, which I totally hold against her. Especially when she thwacked me on the head with it (on accident and not at all hard). But whatevs. Haha. I'm just territorial about my tools.

Anyway, I hope that was everyone! And sorry for this weird post. There just hasn't been much interesting stuff going on at the site due to our trying to finish things up. Maybe the next one will be more interesting? I suppose you'll have to read it to find out! Haha.


Friday, July 22, 2011

"The Dirt That Pushes Back"

Alright. Sorry I missed about a week in there. Things got pretty hectic. Heh. My family had the Concours d'Elegance to work on, which was... something of a bust. We got rained out for the first time in the entirety of my life. Yay... But, now I'm back to work on the site and the weather is looking up!

Since I last posted, not much has changed. We lost the trail to the privy, because it ended up terminating about 5 cm into the unit that was covering part of it. That was kind of a heart-breaking blow, 'cause we've been working toward that for so long. However, now we're focusing on the well. I was actually just assigned to that unit today. I was pretty excited, because the well has a really good chance of turning up some amazing artifacts and is pretty unique in the Northwest. If we can get through what appears to be fill dirt, then we could have a really interesting unit on our hands. We found the well underneath the rubble pile that was, at one point, the chimney for the house. You could see the wood cribbing that lined the well. Or, at least that's what we're pretty sure it is.

So, my partner and I got to it with quite a bit of excitement and gusto. We cleared off the top layer that was mostly sand in no time at all. Looking forward to the next level, we got to it, only to discover a thick, solid layer of clay underneath the sand. This is the dirt that Champoeg is famous for, apparently. Or, at least it's famous in the OSU archaeology world. They refer to it as "the dirt that pushes back", because you can push your shovel into it as hard as you want, but all you'll accomplish is sliding backward. It was bloody terrible! We were shoved down in this small hole surrounded by stuff that we couldn't step on or we would be ceremonially beheaded and had to work with this dirt that would not give an inch. It was a long day, and I'm pretty sure I had "dust madness" by the end of the day. But! We did finish at least one level, and we found a huge chunk of charcoal in an otherwise fairly barren unit. The charcoal was big enough that it could've been part of a board, which was really important. We're looking for pieces of waddle and daub that would point toward the very first chimney for the house. This burned piece of wood could be something having to do with that chimney, so the site manager was incredibly glad to see it. We also found a ceramic foot-ring that was really badly burnt, so it could've been in the same fire that produced the charcoal that we found. All in all, a very exciting day. Well, beside the terrible soil that we had to work through to find it.

Only two more weeks left before I finish up with Champoeg. Then it's off to Scotland! I can't wait. I'm really getting excited to go. It's going to be awesome. I hope I can post some more interesting things when I get there.

Also, let me know if there's anything you want to know about this place! I don't necessarily know what to say, but I'd be willing to add anything anyone wanted to hear about specifically. Ya know.


Saturday, July 9, 2011

Getting Down and Dirty

And we continue on the adventure!

This week wasn't nearly as action-packed as the last one. We're just getting into the swing of things and really getting into the meat of the archaeological work. I'm working on a couple of units that surround a brick pathway. It's slow going when you have to map every single artifact that you find in situ, but we're getting through it. It's a little rough, however, when you feel like you're melting out in the sun... Wednesday was not a good day for field work, in my opinion. We found an amazing piece of blue transferware that was just laying on the ground next to someone's screen. The people running the dig weren't super happy about that, but at least they have it now. I also found a piece of bottle with some letters embossed on it. No Holy Grail or Excalibur yet, but I'm still working on it.

Tour groups have also started to come through, which is an interesting experience. Tons of people and little kids running around the site. They're generally polite and don't really mess stuff up, but it's not something you think about dealing with. For instance, I had to wait for a good five or ten minutes for someone to move out of the site of my transit, because they were talking to a park ranger. It just slows everything down a bit. I actually gave a small tour to a couple of people that came poking around the site. Generally, if people come up, someone will take them around the site and explain what's going on and what we're looking for, etc. It was a nice older couple in my case. And, ya know, if anyone wanted to come out to the site to check it out, I could totally give you a tour! The low-down and whatnot.

Sorry about the fact that there's still nothing interesting going on. I don't know if there will be for the next couple of weeks... But I'll keep posting! Just 'cause I will.

See you all around!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Shovels and Sunburns

Alright, week one down. I'm tired, beat up and incredibly excited. We started off the first day with a breakdown of pretty much everything; the history of the site, how the grading for the course is going to work, what a typical day will be like, etc. It was quick and simple and pretty basic. I had heard a lot of the history already in the other classes that I had taken from the professor who is overseeing the operation.

We're working on the Robert Newell house in Champoeg State Park. It's just a little way off of what used to be Napoleon St., which runs through part of Champoeg. While the house still stood, Champoeg was a really happenin' place! Apparently it was a forerunner for state capital back in the 1840's and 50's, at least unofficially. It's where a vote was taken to decide whether or not the Oregon Territory was going to be under English or American rule. The vote was literally tied half-and-half until two French-Canadian trappers (Matthieu and Lucier) came out of the back of the group and voted for American dominance. Thus, the first provisional government was established in the Oregon Territory. There's a pretty sizable monolith in Champoeg to commemorate the event, with all the names of those who voted in favor of American rule. It was called the "Plymouth Rock of the West", apparently, and people came from all over just to see it. They rode steamboats up the Willamette just to stop by and check it out. Pretty cool. As for the rest of the park, it's packed with history. They marked out where the old town roads used to be, so you can see the different city blocks. Our professor worked a lot in that area, so he was able to tell us exactly where certain buildings had stood. He showed us where the medical practitioner's house stood. He had his practice right next door. Also, he and his wife were both "crazier than a barn owl" according to my professor. She wrote the first novel in Oregon (called "The Grains", or something like that, which chronicled the life going on at Champoeg as filtered through her eyes [mostly it was just gossip]). Eventually she died and their place burned down. But they really didn't sound like super outstanding people anyway. A lot of major Oregon history took place right there. It's sort of humbling to think about it. This all took place when Portland, Oregon was a small farming town that no one knew about. That little switch-up is kind of amazing. Anyway, I'll stop boring you with the history. It's on the web if you want to look it up. It's really pretty bloody cool.  Read up on it and then check out the park. You totally won't believe that it's the same place.

So, on to the actual digging part! We worked for a full day on getting the back-fill dirt out of the site so we could actually start working. Luckily, they came through the day before with a backhoe to take out a huge chunk of it, but there was still quite a bit to do. I wouldn't be exaggerating if I said we moved close to a ton of dirt that day. We all kinda just slogged through the dirt, learning our way around a shovel and such. I ended up in the worst possible spot ever after lunch. We started digging out a brick rubble feature that's super fragile, so you can't be really rough with your shovel. Well, everyone around me was uncovering the feature pretty quickly while I stood in a trench filled with mud and hit absolutely nothing. I passed by the point at which they found the feature and still nothing. So I'm trying to stay off the feature (I was snapped at for being too close to it), clear out the trench I'm standing in and dig three times as much as everyone else had to. It was only then that one of the assistants told me I had picked the absolute hardest spot to work in. Awesome. So, everyone else finished their areas relatively quickly, and I was stuck working through a ton of intricate angles and thick mud. Good start to field school.

The next day, we actually started to get to work. First, we had to sharpen our tools and I, of course, sliced my thumb open. Blood gushing, me trying to hide it from everyone, etc. Just an all-and-all bad start to the day. However, once we started getting our levels going, my unit partner and I found some amazing stuff! We found quite a bit of pottery and a number of square-cut nails, as well as some other odds and ends; a pipe stem, glass, a button, etc. The pottery is all small shards, 'cause we're still in a plow zone, so nothing is going to be huge and intact, but it was still some pretty rare stuff. Some mocha-ware, some green transfer-print stuff and whatnot. Exciting! To know that I was holding objects that were part of daily life in the 1800's was mind-blowing. We finally finished the 20 cm level the next day and I got to cut in my first wall. It's just making the unit look nice and even, and also allows for easy access to the stratigraphy of the soil. My walls are freaking beautiful. I'm just gonna say that, 'cause I can't do too much other stuff well. But I can do that. And really well. Haha. We started another level around noon, but didn't have time to finish it before the end of the day. I kept getting crap from the assistants about how I couldn't keep my floor level. They're all good people, though, and just enjoy giving me a hard time. Ya know. It happens. Eventually, I got my act together and worked damn hard to keep my floor level. My unit partner... did not do so well at that. She was a little... meek. Hands-off, I guess. She preferred to stay out of the hole and just screen the dirt that I was bringing up. C'est la vie. It just got a little lame after the second day in a row, while my hands were cramping up and my back was completely gone.

So, field school was done for the week. I was heading home, and, as a little going away present, just before I made to to the intersection leading toward I-5, some guy pulled out in front of me and I slammed into the side of him. Awesome. Totaled my truck, I believe and I was stranded in what used to be known as La Butte. The town was too small so it died. Yep. And I'm stuck here. So, almost an hour later, a tow-truck comes and picks up my car, and a bit after that my dad pulls up and takes me home. Thank god for the weekend and time to recuperate. I need to heal all these cuts and take care of these blisters.

It looks like it's going to be a fun summer!

P.S. I'll try to have more interesting stuff to talk about next time.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Here we go!

So, I guess it's the night before I leave to go on some crazy adventures. Gonna get pretty nuts, I'm sure. This blog is just to allow people to keep up with what I'm doing, I suppose. I had a couple of requests to do this, so here it goes! Not much to say yet, seeing as how I haven't done a single interesting thing. I wouldn't blame you if this fact deterred you from reading the rest of the blog. I know it'd probably be the case for me. So, if you're going to keep up with me, I guess you can sit back and enjoy the ride? I won't have great service out in the field, so I'll probably just post every weekend, if I remember. Don't hold it against me if I don't, 'cause I'm terrible at this stuff. Uh... Anyway, I'm going to go to sleep. Big day ahead of me!
Wish me luck,