Saturday, June 19, 2010

TAS Field School, Day 6; and Happy Juneteenth!

First of all - if you don't know what Juneteenth is, stop a minute and feel happy anyway. June 19 is the day Federal troops arrived at Galveston and said "Yes, we will enforce the Emancipation Proclamation so let those people go already."

They then proceeded to muck things up in various ways, but at least the black population of the south wasn't stuck in neutral anymore. It was seriously argued right up to this day that the Federal government couldn't possibly, really, truly, no way, end slavery; they'd just curtail it or confine it or or or something that keeps our poor delicate white backs out of the cotton patch. A year later it was still being argued that "free" didn't have to mean "full citizen," either, and of course it didn't - "free" white women couldn't vote in most US elections, and though most pre-war feminists were also more or less abolitionist, the decision to extend the franchise to black men and not to women of any description split the cause of civil rights in ways it still hasn't recovered from.

But anyway. For some reason I had my dates out of step all week. I kept thinking that the last day of the field school was the 17th and that was good because my husband Damon needed the car on the 18th, when I should have been thinking the 18th and 19th respectively. It turned out to be just as well, though, because yesterday I had vertigo something awful and would have wrecked Moby on the way to the Castroville. So I can't report yet (I hope to hear) what turned up on the last day. On the next to the last day my balance was already going off, so rather than getting to dig up the unit I'd been sitting on - and which turned up lots of metal, bottles, leather, and a big batch of bone (causing us all to picture the 8th Infantry having a barbeque as they dumped their gear) - I started on a unit up top with Claire. My balance was already going off, so I screened a lot more than I dug. People with inner ear problems shouldn't have their heads lower than their butts.

The Civil War era stuff was all deep, of course. Our surface-level unit was a bit of a formality. Pits have to be wider at the top than at the bottom for safety's sake, and the only directly relevant information we were going to get from the surface would be a sense of just how disturbed this trash pit was, how big it was at different times, and what different uses might have gone into it. If we find Civil War stuff at level 3, for example, when the main bulk is at level 8, we know that either there were two episodes of deposition of Civil War material or somebody before us has disturbed the Civil War strata, either shoving some of the artifacts down or bringing some of them up.

But the question you're asking of a site right now isn't the only question that could be asked of it - that's why "irrelevant" material is still curated, waiting for someone to come along asking other questions. And one of the satisfactions of archeology is to dig up artifacts that make you feel close to the inhabitants. Clair uncovered a button, a barrel hoop, hundreds of nails both round (modern) and square (19th-century), and a curling iron.

The curling iron illustrated one of the great truths of archeology - one person's mystery is another person's familiar household implement. Jesi, the crew chief who dug with Claire while I was screening, turned up what he at first thought was a burst metal pipe, but it had something riveted to it and, on examination, the apparent bursting was two pieces that fit together, a round pipe fitting into a half-pipe and rusted together. Claire knew it immediately for a curling iron, and when I saw it end-on I recognized it, too - as did every other woman on the site that day. The men didn't even know what a curling iron is.

This, as well as the need for man-hours of labor, is why archeology is done in teams. Nobody can know everything (though an experienced person can know a hell of a lot within his area of expertise). I knew enough to recognize herbivore molars attached to a jaw when they turned up in the screen, but Jesi, whose folks are from cow country, recognized them as calf. One person can identify spent .22 cartridges, another knows the difference between a steelie marble and round shot, somebody knows blackletter German or the proper terms for buttons or the difference between a horseshoe and a muleshoe or the dates of local flood events and how far they extended. Yes, you can look things up, but that takes awhile. Lynn had a lot of hard copy data on US Army equipment and insignia, but at the time I left the dig no one had identified the wing brooch, which looked like insignia to us.

I'm still tired, so tune in tomorrow (or Monday if I crash again) to find out what this dig was all about and get the lowdown on the ghost.

Meanwhile, here's a picture of the crew that was still here when the picture was taken on - Thursday? Friday? It all runs together in my head. Some faces are missing because the participants fluctuated from day to day. By missing Friday I probably got left out of a picture and missed the lunch the owners of the Old Alsatian were talking about hosting for us (and it would have been wonderful, too).

Lynn Yakubik, primary investigator, is center front. I'm at the right at the end with my water bottle, and Claire Younkin is standing behind me. I hope I'm still doing this stuff when I'm 84 like her! Jesi is the young guy behind her on the end of the last row, and I'm already beginning to forget the names of everybody else.

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