Field School Roundup: Weeks 3-5

Greetings gentle readers! It’s been a bit of time since my last post since field school was monopolizing ALL of my time. The San Bernardino mountains are responsible for monopolizing all of my internet and cellular access, which meant that during the week, I was essentially cut off from the modern world. This was not exactly a bad thing, but it was definitely different. A few lucky souls happened to have Verizon or Sprint, which meant that they were the lucky ones with reception! After 5 weeks in the field I have indeed learned that AT&T is not the chosen cell provider of archaeologists. But enough of this tech banter. Let’s get to weeks 3-5 of field school!

Week 3

This week was intense. Actually, it was more than intense but I think that’s the word that best sums it all up upon further reflection. My team was out surveying for the second week in a row but this time in a different area. We first noticed that since we weren’t down in the odd transitional valley (full of junipers and sagebrush…but with LOTS of Joshua trees and cacti) we weren’t dying from the heat nor were we being eaten alive by flies! It was a magical change. We traded weather and bugs for a dramatic increase in terrain covered and surveyed our collective butts off. I can’t even remember how many sites we found and recorded but there were many of them and they all had the respective paperwork to go with them. I took a lot of site pictures since it turns out it’s rather handy to have a camera on my person at all times. I even found a few things of my own, including (but not limited to) a yellow jasper desert side notch(ed?) point that was the teeniest tiniest point ever. Some highlights of this week included the time that I got a fragment of coyote tooth stuck in my eye, surveying the ENTIRE meadow area to the north of camp, and having to pull a full-on search and rescue survey for a missing group member who turned out to have been back at camp for various reasons that I won’t go into here. It was not a fun experience but I can look back on it now and shake my head and laugh. Positive notes from that fateful Thursday: I climbed a peak that was 7687(ish) ft., saw Broom Spring, and had an entire afternoon in camp to get caught up on my site paperwork AND shower! Lemons in to limoncello, folks. Oh, and I got to have rattlesnake for a snack on Thursday night. It tastes…interesting. It’s also full of teeny little ribs, which is all well and good if you happen to be a snake and use said ribs for movement purposes, but it isn’t the best for eating. 

Week 4

There’s not a whole lot on record for Week 4 as I spent the majority of it in a 1x2m pit covered in dirt. That’s right, Week 4 was excavation week for my team! Each of the excavation units had 2 people in it and with the exception of the lone middle unit was 1x2m. My unit was full of dirt with a consistency not unlike cement, large rocks and the southwestern corner happened to be an edge of a fire ant colony. To say these ants were angry is an understatement. If you overlook the angry fire ants and intense amounts of dirt, there were many bonuses to excavating! For example, since we were in camp, there was no need to go dashing off into the foliage to find a friendly tree because we could just walk up to the Port-o-Potties! Modern luxury indeed. We also had full use of the kitchen so there could be a 10am tea break…WITH TEA! and lunch was whatever we could whip up with leftovers from the previous night’s dinner and/or sandwiches. We also finished digging each day around 3pm so everyone had more than enough time to shower (oh, sweet Solar Camp Shower…) and catch up on any paperwork. I didn’t find much in my particular unit. I think the biggest finds were some pinkie fingernail-sized flakes in one level and then nothing for the next 2 levels of dirt. This was bad news for us, as finding things is fun, but good news for the Forest Service as they wanted to put in a new vault toilet for the campground in that spot. From what we excavated during our time there, it looks like they won’t have to worry about running into anything. 

Week 5

*sniff* The last week! It was really strange to realize that 5 weeks had gone by and that field school was over. Everyone was pretty bummed at the prospect of leaving but we had to keep it all in check because there was still work to do! Each of the 3 teams hit the field again for some final surveys of a couple areas so mighty Team B suited up and headed back down into the valley to explore the wilds of Round Valley. It was hot, it was full of Joshua trees but we definitely found some cool sites. Most of our sites were ones that had been reported (badly) but never properly recorded so it was up to us to try and find the sites and see what was actually going on there. We encountered many a lithic scatter and had one small site morph into a HUGE monster site that spanned a good chunk of the valley. There were more lithic bits than I knew what to do with and so much pottery I still wonder what was going on there. Pottery throwing competition perhaps? It’s just a theory 😛 We also helped out Team C with one of the most epic can/historical refuse scatters I’ve ever seen. I mean, the cans dated from the probably the very very late 1800s to about 1955 or so. There were SO MANY CANS. Big cans, small cans, smushed cans, cans stuck in cactus patches, weird cans, tuna cans…you get the idea. There was even a VW car, a spring mattress, a table and I think a chair or 2 to go with it. It was insanity in rust form. The amusing part was that by the time we got to this particular site on both Tuesday and Wednesday we were so hot and tired that everyone was pretty delirious. We started making up songs about cans to pass the time…S.A.F.E.T.Y. Safety CANS! (I was quite proud of that one…) Thursday was full of paperwork and sketch maps as everyone tried to get everything caught up and handed in. We also took down our large classroom tent AND backfilled the excavation units. Needless to say, everyone got real dirty. Thursday was completed with an epic dinner that was part awesome BBQ camp food and part Thanksgiving feast. My culinary achievement for the week was the creation and perfection of gourmet marshmallows with the help of Tim. I foresee a boutique s’more shop in the future…Friday was an early morning which was simplified by the fact that I had packed up all my stuff the day before and just slept in my car. We broke down and packed up all the kitchen stuff and remaining camp stuff and once we were all done, it was time for the final! It was a bit weird taking a written final exam for the first time in almost 3 years but I think I did pretty well. Once everyone was done, there were many group hugs and a few tears and that was it! We were done! I had plenty of time to reflect on my field school experience on my 2 hour drive home and I can definitely say that field school was one of the best experience I’ve had. Archaeology, cool people and delicious food out in the beautiful forest…what more could you want?

So there you have it! Thus concludes my 5 week intensive field school experience and I’m pretty sure I’ve come away a better archaeologist because of it. If you’re interested in attending the Applied Archaeology Field School next year, DO IT! The information for the 2011 isn’t up yet but here’s the link for the 2010 field school so you can get an idea of what to keep an eye out for in the coming months. Until next time, gentle readers!