We are now in the second week of fieldwork and things are going really well. Every day we spend in the desert collecting data, we learn more about the landscape. This is important as a big part of our research is focused on trying to understand how people interacted with their environment in the past. Standing out in the desert today it’s difficult to imagine what the environment was like 6,500 years ago during the Neolithic. Palaeoclimatic data suggests it was much wetter and the lake level was much higher (check out our publications). To try and understand this human-environment interaction we need to look at as much of the landscape people might have used as we can. Essentially we are looking for spatial variability in artefact and feature types and densities, but also in geographic features or sediment types for instance.
We are currently continuing an intensive surface survey we began last year to understand the nature of the distribution of the archaeological record along the ancient lake edge. The landscape has undergone a lot of erosion since artefacts were originally discarded during the mid-Holocene, which means almost all of our archaeological record sits on the surface. This means we don’t need to excavate. While some may see this as a negative feature and unusual for archaeology, we believe this presents us with a tremendous advantage. Excavation is extremely time-consuming to gain a good understanding of large-scale horizontal distribution. Because we don’t have vertical depth we can cover hundreds of square meters very quickly, so rather than excavating a few 5x5m or 10×10 meter trenches, our survey area is 3km across! We can’t look at every single artefact or feature on the surface (however much we’d like to!), but our intention is to gain series of very high resolution ‘pictures’ across as much of the surface as we can.
This year we are filling in gaps left from last year’s survey. Our transects consist of two bisecting strips, 100x10m running north-south and east-west. Usually my job is to calculate the coordinates of the transects we intend to survey once Simon and I discuss locations based on what we have done so far. A number of our transects last week were extremely dense (>5,000 artefacts), and I believed the transects I had generated for today’s work would also be dense (and therefore take the whole day!); alas this was not the case. Because our awesome team is so good at doing what they do, by 7am this morning I realized we wouldn’t have enough transects for the day. So I had to calculate them in the field, without my laptop. We use a LOT of electronic equipment in the field, but trying to make them all work together to simulate my computer was not an easy task. The instruments we use are made to acquire spatial data, so anything we upload usually requires computer interface. I had to generate coordinates (thank you Windows Excel Mobile!) and manually enter them into the differential GPS unit. Usually I can upload a single shape file generated in our GIS. The tricky part was figuring out where to put them without running into a) an old transect or b) an awkward geographic feature such as a sand dune. Fortunately I had old data files from last year and trekked around the landscape to scope out the locations (which we would normally use high-res satellite images for). It only took a PDA, two GPS units and a couple of hours, but it worked! Guess what I’ll be doing tonight… I’m really happy our team is so capable and committed- thanks for your hard work!
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