Today, I—Jennifer—embarked on an entirely expected journey. This journey was that of the Surveying team lead by Zac. Ever since arriving on Great Mercury Island and hearing the phrase “pedestrian survey” I was…mildly curious. And after hearing all the tales of the gruelling walks and the Lord of the Rings-esque nature of this activity, I was quite keen (as they say in New Zealand) to take part in this quest. And since I had previously spent five days in a row on excavation, I knew my time in the realm of surveying was fast approaching.
And let me tell you: It was certainly a journey.
We (Zac, Liam, and I) began by finishing up surveying the eastern coastline which took us up until a brief break at mid-morning. This particular section of our quest was the section that everyone (except for Zac…so, really two thirds of us) was still enthusiastic about. Although in retrospect, I think that Zac was excited in his own way. However, he has seen there and back again and all that lies between so his enthusiasm is tempered by wisdom, sore muscles, and responsibility. Perhaps a bit like Aragorn? Gandalf?
But I digress.
I, on the other hand, was brimming with enthusiasm as we walked up and down steep hills that overlooked ravines like this:
In fact, so enthusiastic was I that not even a botched jump over a patch of marshes that resulted in a soaking wet and smelly shoe could dampen my spirits. After our mid-morning break, however, things became a bit more tiresome. But still, my good spirits remained as we trekked up a particularly steep hill. For whatever reason, I always managed to end up on the side of Zac as we surveyed our 25 meter transects that was uphill. And even that fact failed to bring me down.
After all, the quest had just begun and we had much to show for it archaeologically. We had located two particularly nice exposed sections of topsoil. These showed a stark contrast in the naturally occurring topsoil, A-Horizon, and the cultural layer—the last of which was black in color and showed traces of charcoal deposits. In addition to that, we had found many terraces. The majority of these were narrower in size (perhaps a meter or so wide) which would have been used for gardening among the Maori people who once resided on Great Mercury Island. Some of these were stone-faced which made identification of these terraces as easy as looking for horizontal or vertical patterns along the hillsides. (See below for some brilliant examples. Take note of the general goofiness of our resident Aragorn/Gandalf, Zac.)
See? That’s quite a start to an adventure. It took Bilbo Baggins ages to have his first truly exciting adventure with the trolls. And knowing what you know now about cultural layers and terraces, I think it’s safe to say that we all know that an archaeological survey is way cooler than outwitting some trolls….
But then lunch hit.
Ah, lunch…the most devastating of blows to ones’ sense of perseverance. It was at this point, where my stomach was full, the sun was annoyingly hot, and the landscape about us still left much to be “explored.” Please note the use of quotation marks around the word explored. That is an important bit of character development on my behalf designed to show my growing disillusionment with this so-called quest.
And so, with a weary heart, I began the second half of our journey. This was more of the same—trekking uphill and downhill as we inched across the landscape. But I was tired. I was bitter. I may have had the thought “Who’s dumb idea was this to survey these dumb hills?” once or twice.
But, around the time when my water bottle was slightly less than half full, I had a change of heart. I realized that even Bilbo, a remarkable hobbit who had many fantastic adventures, must have had twice that amount of mundane and unpleasant moments as well. But did he call it quits when his calve muscles were sore from walking along the Old Road? No. Did he think to himself “This sun is too bloody hot and these dwarves get on my nerves and I should just bugger off?” Probably. But the point is, despite all of that, he never gave up. Because he knew that those aspects were part of a larger plan that would contribute to the overall success of his adventure.
Using Bilbo as my role model, I reached the same conclusion. Just because surveying was gruelling and not quite how I had pictured spending a fair chunk of my time at an archaeology field school, doesn’t mean that isn’t important. In fact, with the data Zac collects, the people leading this research experience will be able to determine which areas of the island were inhabited and with that knowledge, decide where to set up the future excavation sites. That’s a huge deal! And if I can be a part of it, and get to look at fantastic scenery (not to mention sing more than culturally accepted amount of Lord of the Rings theme song) along the way, then this is an adventure I am honored to take part in!
-Jennifer AKA Peregrin Took