Field School: Week 7

I had a couple of interesting finds this week – a blue & white glass bead & part of a pig mandible with several teeth still in it, which was honestly pretty creepy.

We had lectures on maritime archaeology, the wreck of the HMS Braak, & the archaeology of Naval properties, all very interesting topics.  Because of all the federal laws in place to protect historical & cultural resources, all projects completed by or involving federal agencies must have surveys to assess their impacts on those resources.  Big organizations like the Navy might have some archaeologists on staff, but for individual projects or smaller agencies, that’s where Cultural Resource Management firms come in.  CRM is booming right now, & these consulting businesses hire people like me to come out to their project sites for however long they need, be it a week or a month or a season, & help with the surveys & test excavations required to see what might be impacted by the project.  There’s even a name for people who wander from project to project – shovelbums!

It was crazy hot & humid this week – one day it was 98° but the heat index was 110°.  It did cool off eventually though, & really it hasn’t been too bad for July in the mid-south.  I thought it might be 100° every day.  I have just 3 more weeks here before I head home to Florida!

Field School: Week 5


We opened several more units this week, including some that had been dug before & we’re going to do further work on, or that are adjacent to other squares and just make it easier to see the whole picture.  We have a resident bunny who hangs out with us for some portion of almost every day, he’s not real tame but he lays in the clover and watches us.

The highlight of the week was our field trip to George Washington’s family home at Mount Vernon in Alexandria, Virginia.  We didn’t actually get to go into the house but we had a special lecture & tour of the grounds with the staff archaeologists.  It’s a complicated place – the excavation they’re doing this year is behind the kitchen building, with modern utilities on top of the historic kitchen midden on top of the postholes of a building they didn’t know was there, with a giant hole from a 1940s tree replanting dug through the middle for good measure.  We also got to see the Lives Bound Together exhibit in the museum, which is on until September 2018.  Lives Bound Together tells the stories of Mount Vernon’s enslaved population by directly contrasting the objects they used and the lives they led with those of the Washington family.  On the way back to St. Mary’s City I was lucky enough to spot South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s motorcade on the other side of the highway, so that was interesting.

We have a long weekend over Independence Day and then we’ll be back to it with a Wednesday to Sunday schedule for the rest of the summer.  With five weeks down and five to go, I’m now officially halfway through the class!

Field School: Weeks 3 & 4

In Week 3 we became noticeably better at picking out which objects were artifacts, although not necessarily at knowing what they were.  We opened a couple of new squares, with my group starting on a new unit one square away from our first one.  It too was full of gravel, but not so bad on the roots since it wasn’t next to a tree.  We learned the art of schnitting, a technique of removing soil little by little using a shovel to scrape away the top layers very quickly. We found a few small pieces of various types of artifacts mixed in with the pebbles, but we were really looking for a modern pipe trench that was mapped in adjacent squares and finally found it on Saturday.  We took a tour of the nearby Spray Plantation and Brome Howard Inn to look at the architecture and check out one of the original slave quarter buildings that used to sit near where we are digging right now.  It was a sobering experience to stand in that tiny building and try to imagine living there with 7 or 8 other people.

Week 4 was my turn for a lab rotation – basically scrubbing dirty chunks of brick and coal all day.  I did enjoy cleaning glass though, it’s pretty and it’s one of the only things we have that really gets clean!  It was interesting to get an idea of how the lab setting works and what materials require different handling, but I’d rather be out in the field.  This past week we also survived our midterm artifact identification test, I haven’t gotten my grade yet but I think I did fairly well.

In my wanderings around campus I discovered a bunch of forts in the woods, including one tiny fairy village made of pebbles and twigs, and a turtle in the science building.  It was so hot one day that I decided to walk through the building instead of around it so I could have a few minutes of air conditioning and spent a few minutes with Izzy the diamondback terrapin.  At first I thought she liked me, but then I realized that she just thought I was going to feed her.  I visit her a couple times a week anyway.

This Week in Awkwardness

I got my train ticket booked!  I’ll be taking Amtrak’s Silver Star 934 miles from Orlando, Florida to Alexandria, Virginia.  I keep trying to figure out how to get from St. Mary’s City into D.C. without a car, and even though there’s a ton of public transit through there, it’s pretty much impossible because the times just don’t match up.  I think if I want to go anywhere I’ll have to take a bus to Lexington Park and rent a car.  Maybe one of my fellow students who does have a car will want to go places or at least let me borrow it.

This week I visited International Plaza, the fanciest shopping mall I’ve ever been to.  Valet parking, chandeliers in the food court, Tiffany jewelry store on the premises kind of fancy.  I couldn’t find so much as a pair of pants that didn’t cost my whole paycheck.  I wandered into one store wondering if this is one of those places that I REALLY don’t belong, then found a ratty pair of jeans on the clearance rack marked down to $85 from $245 and was like YUP.

I discovered SkyScanner, which is not just any old flight search engine – it searches all the flights from entire COUNTRIES over months at a time to find the best deals, so if you’re flexible about when you travel and exactly which cities you fly out of and/or into, it’s a fantastic resource.  My days of wandering through multiple airline sites plugging in various cities and seeing what happens are over!

Added to the Travel Map:

Karlu Karlu, Northern Territory, Australia – piles of giant boulders also known as Devil’s Marbles because Satanic placenames rule I guess.

Foundry Branch Trolley Bridge, Glover Archibold Park, Washington, D.C. – abandoned in the woods.

Dinosaur Kingdom II, Natural Bridge, Virginia – a museum depicting Civil War soldiers fighting dinosaurs.

Devil’s Hole Ruins, Cresco, Pennsylvania – remains of….something – a ski lodge, a speakeasy – nobody knows.

Map Rock, Melba, Idaho – ancient petroglyph map of the Snake & Salmon Rivers, carved into a rock.

Livraria Bertrand, Lisbon, Portugal – world’s oldest still-operating bookstore, established in 1732.

Asik-Asik Falls, Alamada, Philippines – waterfall in a lush jungle, only discovered in 2010.

Bayers Lake Mystery Walls, Halifax, Nova Scotia – another set of stone walls that nobody remembers the purpose of – five sides, maybe a fort.

Just Pretend it’s the Zombie Apocalypse

I’m going to do something uncharacteristic and tell you a little of my personal background.  I’m from Flint, Michigan.  I lived right in the heart of the city for two years, and spent the vast majority of my life in various suburbs of it.  Both of my parents worked there, my grandparents go to church there, I went to college there.  You may have heard of Flint.  Built & then abandoned by car manufacturing, crime & unemployment run high.  It’s been in the top 3 on the U.S. murder rate lists every year for at least a decade.  Lately, Flint has been in the news for having an undrinkable water supply.
Some people seem to think that the people of Flint voted to switch their water supply from Detroit to the Flint River because it was cheaper.  These people don’t know anything about Flint because anyone who lives anywhere near Flint knows that you don’t mess around with the Flint River.  Eighty years of industrial waste, they find bodies in there all the time, you certainly don’t DRINK that.  But our lovely governor Snyder appointed someone who knew jack-all about Flint, the residents, or the river, who had absolute power over the mayor, the city council, and everyone else who had actually been ELECTED to their positions, and HE was the one who made the call to run that filth into people’s homes.  It was every color except clear, little kids started getting rashes, people’s hair was falling out, but no, they said, it’s fine, boil it a little, everything’s alright.  Then they admitted maybe it wasn’t perfect and started giving out filters, but the problems persisted.  FINALLY, after A YEAR AND A HALF of the lucky people filling bathtubs bit by bit with bottled water, filling jugs at friends’ houses outside the city, and the unlucky ones just drinking it because they didn’t have the means to find another source, the powers that be said oops, there might actually be a problem here.
As it turns out, they had to put an awful lot of chemicals in the river water to make it safe to drink, and since nobody bothered to add an anti-corrosive to the mix (like we really need to be drinking that too), it was eating the lead pipes as it made its way into people’s homes.  The filters they gave out don’t remove the lead, and boiling the water only makes the concentrations higher. It’s actually so noxious that the few  factories that remain can’t use it because it destroys their machinery.  Oops indeed.
All that lead is now settled in the systems of thousands of little kids, and there’s no telling what the future holds for them.  They could have developmental and behavioral problems for the rest of their lives because the state wanted to save a little money.  Years from now we’ll be seeing them in mental health clinics, special education programs, and prisons.  They’ve switched the water back to the Detroit source, but the damage is done, the destroyed pipes are still leaching toxins and will have to be entirely replaced.  Who knows how long that will take, or how much it will cost.  The people of Flint can’t afford to fill bathtubs with bottled water, on top of the bills that the city is still charging them for unusable water.
Forget the question of how he still has a job, why isn’t Governor Snyder in JAIL?  If anybody else poisoned an entire city’s water system they’d be labeled a terrorist.  Meanwhile Nestle siphons millions of gallons out of Lake Huron and sells it back to us at obnoxious prices.  It looks like people who can actually fix the problem are finally starting to pay attention, now that Flint is in the media everywhere.  They’ve declared an emergency & sent the National Guard in to hand out bottles of water and filters that actually do work on lead.  U.S. Marshalls have been told to bring the emergency manager to a hearing after he declined Congress’s invitation.  I imagine Snyder will be next.  It only took two years.