Here we are at day 12 already, some of us counting down the days we can sleep in our own beds or shower multiple times a day, some of us yearning for a longer stay, but everyone in a relaxed, good mood after 10 days of hard work , new things and of course, Nick’s culinary skills matched with Simon’s desserts. Every day is a new one where the possibilities are endless due to the mass of new artefacts, bone and useless rocks being excavated. After snoozing the never-ending beeping nightmare of a watch waking me up at 6am religiously every morning, I roll (not too far as I’m on the top bunk) out of bed and to the kitchen for that coffee which turns me into a semi-functioning person. Students are of course, at their full potential after a good wholesome breakfast and a hot beverage. Already the theme song of “every day I’m shovelling” is in my head. The day from here lurches into GO mode which doesn’t stop until the last dish after desert has been put away and the tables wiped. Sunblock, lip balm, socks, shoes, raincoat, rain pants, more sunblock, plasters, hat, sunglasses and of course water bottle and backpack and off we go across to Coralie bay. After a short trench tour of seeing the ever-growing progress from the last day’s work, we settle into our respective trench areas and get down and dirty (literally). The trench tour has been an awesome – and for some, very scary- way of delighting (and horrifying) the lecturers and staff with our stuttering grammar and yearn to describe correctly what is really taking shape through our days of excavation. Cuts, deposits, layers, features, artefacts – slowly we are accustomed to the vocab and lingo we need to start breathing. And we have. And so we trowel, trowel, trowel and shovel, shovel, shovel and sift, sift, sift and label, label, label and then –its morning tea time- lunchtime- afternoon-tea time.
The day goes zoom! So fast. KABAMMM!! The joys of an annoying but nonetheless exfoliating sand storm thanks to the gusting winds means that we keep our backs to the weather and our eyes sometimes shut. In the main EA64 where I am working, (in one of the extension pits to the main area) today is about excavating through the layers and deposits and potential features in order to see if anything else arises. Let me tell you it is a trooper job trying to excavate when the wind is trying its hardest to fill your trench back in with sand. The finds over the week have been phenomenal, one of the more exciting excavations on the island (from what I’ve gathered from the regular excavators on GMI). Back in my trench however, many shiny obsidian pieces are admired and fewer fire-cracked rocks than before (thank goodness), with the hopes of a faunal assemblage or two to appear in the next scrape of the trowel. We fill out the necessarily paperwork for our fire scoop feature and then back to the scrape, scrape, shovel, shovel until the metallic clang of trowel meets artefact. Meanwhile in the trench over the way, EA66, fellow excavators Mana and Sarah are working their way through artefact mayhem – artefact literally every centimetre in a large clump, a hangi feature which they are patiently labelling and classifying. An exciting new game arises across the trenches – “Would You Rather” as we shovel and scrape and excavate into the afternoon. Soon enough it is the mad rush to leave everything to a good place until tomorrow and then the post- excavation work begins. People think studying archaeology must be this glamourous digging around and finding artefacts and exciting things but it is that and so much more. Cooking dinner, cleaning the toilets, labelling continuous pieces of paper with number sequences, drawing diagrams, flatting with 20 something people for days at a time, physical strength, and mental strength are a few others to mention. A little endurance is required at continuing in your trench when other people are coming across amazing bone fragments and faunal assemblages while you stare at your rock wondering if it is even fire-cracked. However – tomorrow is a new day and the opportunity to be surrounded by a real field project is amazing. Field school is an overwhelming experience with a glance into the chaotic yet rewarding all-round experience to the life of archaeology. Thoroughly enjoying the long hard days and the challenge it is presenting to practically learn every day and not just through the words in a textbook – to think on my feet and get stuck in. With only 2 more days of excavation to go – let the exploration and adventure continue!
Ciao for now,
The day began with 2 sad (but hearty) jam sandwiches, a strong coffee and a banana, a meal fit for a hard day’s work of excavation. My shoes had dried out after falling into the ocean the day before, I was beginning to communicate with the local sheep and the weather was perfect, with slightly overcast skies and a gentle breeze which took the edge off the heat of the day. Today I was working alongside Kelly in EA 65 continuing our search for a terrace in the Western extension; and I intended to follow Simon’s clear instructions thoroughly to “dig until [we] hit the ‘hard clay-like orangey layer’ (translated from his archaeological lingo). Precise instructions indeed, but we knew what he meant! Strangely this seemingly simple task seemed to take quite a while longer than we had originally hoped, and the ‘hole’ which Kelly seemed to be digging into the side of our trench turned out a significantly large obsidian core and a potential drainage system! Time well spent! Nevertheless, when this job was complete, Tim moved in with his Lidar scanner (a device which looks like a weapon for world domination) and produced a pretty impressive digital image of our trench made up of millions and billions of tiny points shot into his computer using a laser. Simon then decided to move me into the Northern extension of EA 65, where we hoped to gain a better understanding of what was going on with the fire features and hangi pits found in the main trench. So together we spent the latter part of the morning cutting through the turf layer, turning out a decent amount of obsidian flakes and fire cracked rock (luckily no sheep poo this time)! I was hoping that we might find Atlantis, but sadly this was not to be. At dinner time I was informed that great progress had been made in the larger trench (EA 64) and that whilst we were finding only small amounts of artefacts, they were uncovering large chunks of obsidian, bones, and all sorts of exciting things (Lucky duckies!) and Sarah says that in EA 66 “there were so many artefacts that we could barely go down any layers!”. But the find of the day award went to Matt (our British friend who has just joined our excavation) with his find of a fully formed and polished adze after only an hour of scrambling around in the dirt- a very impressive feat indeed and one which will leave me crying with jealousy all night long (good job I brought my teddy with me). Due to the success of the day, with only a small rain shower dampening our spirits (lame pun) there was a tremendous amount of artefact registration to be done in the evening, so me and some buddies decided to help out! The rest of the night was spent with good company, relaxing, tending to battle wounds and filling our faces which some well-deserved food. Tomorrow we look forward to much of the same (minus the rain shower), and hopefully this time I will beat Matt with the ‘artefact of the day’ award. But for now, I shall retire to bed with a good book, some chur music and my teddy bear Victor.
Bones. Whether you’re wanting to walk upright or just design a really cool flag for your pirate ship, bones are absolutely invaluable. In archaeology, bones are invaluable because they can provide us with a great deal of useful information. But I’m getting ahead of myself…
Sunday saw the field school team enjoying a well-deserved day off, which was spent trekking around Ahuahu/Great Mercury Island and visiting the survey sites of previous field schools. Refreshed and relaxed after our weekend – and heartened by cloud cover providing some respite from days of beating sun – the team headed back into the field on Monday morning.
Excavation Area 64 (EA64) has proved to be somewhat of an enigma for the team. While it is clear that the site has been the location of one or more occupations, the sandy nature of the site makes interpretation of the archaeological record difficult. Why is this exactly? In short, sand is highly mobile. Think about this next time you’re at the beach. Take a step into the sand and what was once on the surface is now slightly lower. Now think about the all the other processes that can move grains of sand around (wind, rain, rivers, the ocean and animals are some examples) and you suddenly get an idea of just how tricky sand can be. This was the problem the team faced, but things were suddenly about to get a lot more exciting.
Days of excavation at EA64 had resulted in a great deal of artefacts and sites of past activity being uncovered, but suddenly towards the end of last week things began to slow down. Less and less artefacts were being discovered and while some of the team were still working on excavating hangi and fire features, it was thought that we’d uncovered most of the significant material in the trench area and were reaching what is known as a sterile layer. When this happens there are two courses of action; the first is to simply make the trench bigger by de-turfing an additional area and enlarging the excavation with the view of finding more material. The second is to dig smaller deeper pits – known as test pits – into the existing excavation area, again with the view of finding more material. Dr Louise Furey from Auckland Museum decided the best course of action was to dig a test pit and was immediately surprised to find that not only were there more artefacts to be uncovered, but that they were bigger and occurred with greater frequency than those found in the layers above. The team were back in business.
Obviously it would be a huge undertaking to dig the entire excavation down to the new layer, so in cases like this archaeologists hedge their bets somewhat and make an educated guess about which parts of the existing excavation to extend. It was decided to dig deeper on only two sides of EA64 and after a rousing speech by Alex Jorgensen the team were furiously digging with the view of reaching the depth of Louise’s test pit.
Suddenly Murphy’s Law – or a variant thereof – struck. New, larger, artefacts were being uncovered with astonishing frequency after only a few bucketfuls of sand had been removed from EA64 – testament to the tricky nature of sand; just when you think it’s game over, you’re on the next level. Literally.
So what did we uncover? Well, among copious amounts of large obsidian artefacts were chert flakes, fire cracked rock, and charcoal.
So what about bones?
Waiting underneath the sand layer which we previously thought to be sterile, was a small number of mammal bones, an exciting find for all on the field school, staff and students alike.
While, naturally, further excavation will be required to find out more about the mammal bones and what they can tell us, we can infer several things from this exciting find. The first is that we can now be relatively certain that animals were being killed – and perhaps cooked and eaten – at the site. Whether this find can tell us about a larger subsistence strategy on Ahuahu/Great Mercury Island remains to be seen, but bones can tell us many other things. For instance, perhaps the bones are from a mammal species that once lived in the area but were hunted to extinction – at least on a regional level – if we can compare this information against historical or ethnographic records, it may assist us in obtaining a relative date for the occupation of EA64.
As usual, the answers lie (mostly) in one place: underground.
It was windy again today. We had 70km an hour winds to start off the day, which lessened by perhaps 2 or 3 km an hour throughout the course of the day. Intermittent squalls paid us a visit during the first few hours of excavation, which had all of us working on Excavation Areas (EA) 64 and 66 temporarily making a strategic retreat to the comfort of a lone, old pohutukawa tree. After lunch the sun came out to warm us up; natures reward for continuing our excavation through all she through at us. She could have turned off the AC though.
After hopping between Simon’s trench in EA65 and the big EA64 during the previous excavation days, today I (Emma) finally claimed an excavation space of my own. Alongside Logan and under the watchful eye of Alex, we had de-turfed a 2 by 3m extension to EA64 in the SW corner and cleaned it up yesterday, bringing it down to the cultural layer. The area was chosen due to the presence of some visible rocks seemingly in a line to the west of EA64; the aim was to explore further west and bridge these rocks with the current edge of EA64. Today in the extension we spent schnitting (German for digging off a thin layer with a shovel; but a hell of a lot more fun to say) to quickly bring us down onto a mottled yellowish deposit whilst still systematically collecting artefacts. Speaking of artefacts, we found some obsidian, quite a few fire cracked rocks, and even some ochre. Back to the layers; both the cultural deposit, the more mottled yellow sand deposit and a more organic looking ruddy brown deposit, which made its appearance in the NE corner of the extension, reflected deposits present in EA64 proper. Most interestingly was a dip present in the baulk of the trench (aka sides; we love German words, in case you hadn’t picked up on that), about half a metre before we hit the stones on the west side. There was some clay visible and the area went straight from the cultural deposit to the yellow deposit. We speculated that perhaps this indicated a filling in of the space to create a flat area for cultural activities; the stones would act as a barrier to line the edge. However it is still early days in our trench. The plan is to bring the whole area down another layer and keep investigating the relationship of the large row of stones in the centre of EA64 and the ones we have in our trench.
Thus concludes my novel of a blog entry. All this despite the fact we were all eating more sand than excavating it thanks to our lovely little breeze.
If Wednesday was the day of rain, Thursday was the day of wind. We arrived on site to discover overnight rainfall had carved a new channel taking our stream out to sea. The dampness is often useful for revealing features not visible in dry sand or soil. We began the morning with a quick trench tour so all the students have an idea of what is happening in different trenches. After the trench tour we began work. I have been working on a trench to the north of the stream, where coring last year revealed promising material deep under the sand. Because we are working in two different locations we have to set up two total stations to survey the trenches. I have been running the second total station over the last few days. Survey is a very different task to excavation, but it gives you a very good overview of what is happening in the trench. You have plenty of opportunity to think about deposits, even though you don’t dig them, and to think about the different artefact distributions across the trench. We have a lot of evidence in our trench to suggest slope wash has moved artefacts down-slope, so we are interested to see if we can get down to a layer that is less disturbed.
The rain was gone by morning, but in its place a fresh south westerly. The wind increased throughout the day to the point where digging was stopped in some areas, we lost our sieving tripod, and empty buckets were flying. The temperature was much more bearable, but the wind certainly saps energy levels. Once again the day finished with a swim and evening work. Tonight students received a lecture from Zac, an MA student at the university. Zac was actually a student on the very first field school on the island, and has pursued a research interest on the island. His research examines the distribution of archaeological features across the island and how this relates environmental variables and use of place. We are all very relieved to be back inside out of the wind and are looking forward to another (hopefully slightly less windy) day of excavation tomorrow.
We began the day with a sleep in however short it may have been and reported for breakfast at 6.45am. By 7.30 am, Richard was still tired and complaining but we managed to depart on time for the field. Today, Kelly and Richard were stationed in EA64, continuing excavations on the main trench. Richard worked on an area in the south-west corner of the trench and managed to find obsidian flakes, shell fragments and ochre. Sieving of the excavated material revealed sheep poo, roots, and some smaller obsidian flakes. Kelly worked in the north-east corner, spending most of the day finding nothing until a rock revealed itself to be part of circular rock feature, which due to the abundance of charcoal in the centre indicates it may have been a fire feature. Zac found some potential post holes and half sectioning authenticated that Richard was out of his depth, but Zac was onto it. Richard’s troweling technique needed some serious work and he cried while our senior tribal chiefs made an example of his poor method. Luckily, there are ten more days for him to perfect the technique. Using her magical powers of archaeology and deduction, Louise observed a depression in the north-west corner and the excavation area was extended by 1m by Logan. Yet again, he found not a lot and is on the brink of being shunned from our island society (“the tribe has spoken”). Louise herself began excavating the eroding sand dune to the north of the excavation area which we collected all the surface artefacts on day 1. Some interesting artefacts were found including a potential hangi (earth oven) and further excavation work is planned for the coming days. Sarah and Rosa joined Josh for their first day of surveying using the Total Station aka the Wizard Stick. We also surveyed some existing rock formations in the area surrounding the excavation site but for the most part, we shot in new deposit layers and artefacts located by the excavation team. The rain hit mid-afternoon leaving Richard feeling wet and Kelly looking like she had spent a week in a coalmine. Yet again, Richard cried. We continued working in the rain with puddles in shoes and tears in our eyes, yearning for dry clothes and hot drinks. However, Kelly went swimming in the rain and Richard just wanted someone to hug him. After showering/swimming/hugs, Kelly and Richard processed the day’s excavation photos and deposit forms from Day 1. Sarah looked at the data with Josh that was surveyed throughout the day with the total station. The smell of shepherd’s pie and plum crumble temporarily distracted us from our tasks and we’re all grateful for a hot meal tonight as the rain continues. Tomorrow, we look forward to more excavation and surveying and hope that this is the last of the rain.
Richard, Kelly and Sarah
Today marked the first proper day of work, here at Great Mercury Island. After a trek through long grass and sheep paddocks we made our way to Coralie Bay where we would be focusing our attention for this season.
We were all slightly weary after trying to adjust to the new habitat, but nonetheless eager to start finding out what we were in for. Divided we conquered the many tasks at hand. While one small group disappeared behind the main house into the dunes of Oneroa to survey, the rest formed into neat little packs to begin site preparation.
We did a resistivity test on a 20m by 20m area whilst others began identifying, marking, and labelling the multitude of exposed artefacts at the eroding dune face. It was pretty exciting actually discovering stone artefacts and fire-cracked rocks for ourselves! What was less exciting was thinking we’d found some fascinating stone artefacts which then turned out to be little presents left behind for us from our friendly neighbourhood sheep.
Meanwhile the survey team was learning why reception is an important part of archaeology. Still back at the main house, we were setting up the deceptively hard to pronounce Theodolite total station. This is a turret esc robotic laser surveying system, which tracks a prism on a stick to give you a map of artefacts or the layout of your excavation. We were crawling on our hands and knees combing the grass to find the mythical wooden peg which we would place the station over. Sitting on the previous year’s field school site we could spy on the main group roughly a kilometre away. We definitely did not contemplate lasering them. That would be an absurd notion. Setting up the triangulation point the station’s hand held device decided it wasn’t talking to the main Theodolite. We walked up and down a hill waving the hand held at the station, but even at point blank the Total station didn’t respond. Josh, the wizard of surveying, fixed it within two seconds. We were relieved, confused, and really itchy from the swarms of insects escaping the dunes. Once the points were set and we triangulated the main team’s location, we packed up the gear and carried it across the Tombolo of Great mercury island.
Back at Coralie Bay, the resistivity survey had shown an interesting anomaly that the dig team was going to investigate. After using Pythagoras’ theorem to create a perfectly square area (who’d have thought trigonometry would actually be useful!) we were on to de-turfing. Initially, this sounded fine. Then we began. As somebody who has never picked up a shovel in her life, I was in for a shock. I was given the run-down and demonstration by our supervisor who made it look way to easy. The first challenge was getting the spade to break the earth. Humiliation ensued. Eventually (and I do mean eventually) I got the hang of it, sort of. My poor body was not expecting such pain. As Emma so aptly put it, it was complete torture; so how were we still having fun? The de-turf did reveal a fascinating stone arrangement, so I know everyone is really excited to learn more about this. Worth it.
The main point of surveying arose as more and more artefacts were unearthed. We were late to the site because of the setting up process and there was a fair few little baggies for us to use our science on. The prism staff (also known as the wizard stick) has to be held perfectly level for the Total station to create a virtual map of all the locations of artefacts and trench walls. Every find required the position to be marked with a perfectly level wizard stick. The tiny little bubble in the level was afraid of being the centre of attention. We had a common train of conversation: ‘Ready?’ ‘One sec… Its steady.’ (Five seconds will pass). ‘Ok you can move the stick.’ By moving the stick it meant you could unlock your joints that were holding the staff hard against the wind and dusty ground. Suddenly we were the most popular people on site, moving from test pit to trench and back to our artefact scatter to try and get a few done before our services were required. It turns out people aren’t amused when you say they are the third in the queue and could you please hold the line.
As a team, we ended the day with patchy sunburn, aching bones, splitting headaches, but all of this was cured by a swim in the sea and a chocolate pudding that was too good for words to describe.
Bring on tomorrow,
Hayley and Logan
Over the course of the blogs, have you ever wondered how many rocks actually make up our excavation site? Well, probably not, but we can tell you anyway! 1856, to be precise. How do we know this you may ask? Over the past two weeks there has been two total station teams shooting in (recording the specific point) every single rock in the immediate vicinity of the excavation areas.
Wait, we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let us tell you about total station. It is a laser based survey device that allows us to record any point in a 3-dimensional space, through the use of a tripod and target pole. We can then look at the points using computer software, creating an overall map that we can add to each day.
As well as rocks, the total station teams shoot in artefacts, different soil deposits, cultural layers (the soil layer that cultural events occurred on), features like hearths or hangi, and the full excavation area. As you can imagine this would keep us very busy, and at times is quite stressful. Our reply to calls of ‘total station!’ was “stand by caller, your rocks are very important to us. You are next in the queue; we will be with you momentarily”.
This brings us back to our rocks. The aim of shooting in every rock was to map out the construction of the terraces, and see their relationship to the excavation areas. Through using the total station, we are able to digitally reconstruct the excavation site. This can then be used by field school students to aid in their research projects.
After 12 hard days of survey and excavation, our time was coming to an end. Everybody was running around frantically in order to complete everything on time. While the survey crew were shooting in the final rocks, the other teams were busy filling in the trenches we had so lovingly excavated over the past two weeks. While the final paperwork was being completed and the photos taken, chain gangs were formed to efficiently move the soil up and down to the trenches. By the end of the day you could hardly tell we were there.
All in all, it was a wonderful two weeks. We were surrounded by a beautiful landscape and terrific archaeology, but perhaps the most defining aspect of field school was working alongside such knowledgeable supervisors and directors, enthusiastic peers, and generally amazing people.
– Nick and Bailey