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.