Sunday, July 12, 2009

Wednesday-Saturday a.m.

When we last spoke (which is funny because so far I have no evidence that anyone but my father is actually reading this [thanks, I feel loved]), I was looking forward to Bone Day. Bones are not as glamorous as I’d hoped. It turns out that most of what you find in the field doesn’t look like what they show us in anthropology lab. Especially in Central America (fun fact: NO skeletal remains have been found in C.A. that are in good enough condition to collect DNA from them). What a surprise, I know.

But glamorous or not, bones are still pretty fantastic. I and two other girls named Kathryn and Leslie cleaned bones all day. I worked on a tibia, a mandible, a scapula, and some assorted unidentified bone fragments. I also worked on the contents of a bag that was labeled “Left Fibula” that actually contained clearly identifiable pieces of a femur and a humorus, not to mention a complete finger bone. Way to go whoever dug those up. I’ll be the first to admit I don’t know much about anatomy either, but I really don’t understand how you can misidentify a FEMUR. And even if you’re not sure what a phalange is, it definitely doesn’t look like it belongs in your leg. Especially since it was obviously intact and could in no way be misconstrued as a piece of something else. Leslie and Kathryn cleaned another piece of a mandible, a femur, and a humorus, among other things. We were all working on parts of the same skeleton, so we decided to give he/she a name. Since it hadn’t been sexed yet, we had to decide on a unisex name. We chose Pat.

It’s worth noting that the reason I like working with bones is that it’s real and abstract at the same time. As opposed to tissue, which is a little too real for me. (As cool as mummies and bog bodies and Otzi are, I couldn’t handle being in a lab with them.) I like bones because it’s easier to distance myself from thinking about the fact that they used to be a person. But for some reason giving the skeleton a name doesn’t bother me, which I found interesting.

While we cleaned Pat, Jenn (a.k.a. The Bone Lady) worked on analyzing some other parts and showing us when she found something interesting. So we saw a dental hypoplasia, which I’d only seen in textbooks, and a healed fracture, which I’d seen for real, and arthritis damage to pelvis and vertebrae, and she showed us a pelvis and explained how she could tell that the person it belonged to was male and fifty-ish and probably an elite. She also showed us how people in the field sometimes fuck things up for the bone people by attempting to consolidate during excavation. I say attempting because as we have already seen, the people in the field usually have varying levels of knowledge about anatomy. And sometimes they glue things together that shouldn’t be glued together, or they glue them wrong, or they glue them in such a way that we cannot see a vital part of the bone, such as a pelvis Jenn held up that had been wrongly attached to another bone so that one of the best spots for aging is now lost forever.

It was a long day, and it got kind of boring and tedious at some points, but it was well worth it. And I very much enjoyed spending the day with Kathryn and Leslie, although we decided not to go to Happy Hour because it was threatening to storm when we left for the day. So instead I made a quick trip into town by myself to buy graph paper and a package of cookies, I didn’t know what kind they were because the package was in Spanish. I thought the picture looked like cinnamon. They tasted spicy. I also considered the wine selection, hoping for banana or something else exotic and tasty, but the only unusual options were pineapple, blackberry, cashew, and “tropical”, none of which but the last sounded appealing and the last of which I avoided on the basis that it might be made partly from oranges.

That night we had a long boring lecture about settlement archaeology, and specifically about settlement archaeology in the Belize Valley.

On Thursday I had to go back to excavation, but we had changed rotation and I was away from the pit. Thank god. Instead I had two trenches, in one of which a worker had found an allegedly awesome biface the previous day, in a mound where excavations last year turned up four burials. We found some miniscule pottery sherds and a couple of chunks of chert. Holly, digging in the trench I wasn’t in (naturally) found an amazing flaked spear(?) point about which our supervisor was depressingly unenthusiastic. I’d say the best parts of that day were talking to Mario, one of the hired workers, who’s about our age and very flirtatious, and the fact that it was overcast and windy and cool so that it was pleasant to be outside. It was less pleasant that when it rained, the tarp over my trench did not completely cover it and we had a sea of mud at one end.

On Friday I was assigned to work with Jill, whose excavation in June turned up literally nothing.* This time we are finding walls, at least. And part of a floor. And lots of pottery sherds. I found a great big one that still has part of the base of a plate visible on the bottom. Other highlights of work that day included being with Alex(andra) and Esteban, who are Australian and Costa Rican respectively, burritos for lunch (which was fantastic considering that up to that point, all of our lunches and three out of five dinners had been baked or fried chicken), and Jill’s somewhat entertaining fear of horses. Plus the fact that there were several horses in our field at all, which for me is much more distracting than cattle even though they don’t cause us any trouble. Non-highlights were mostly all related to the part of the day where I fell into the trench and twisted my ankle and bruised my butt.

That night we had more not-chicken for dinner (Spaghetti! With ground beef! And garlic bread!), after which most everyone hung around Hode’s drinking beer and wine (the two Brits and I had rum and cokes) and playing a giant game of taboo. I went home early to pack for the weekend trip to Guatemala and deal with my sore ankle.

Holly and I were the only ones who slept in our room that night, since Suzan was traveling on her own over the weekend and had already left and Tori is the kind of person who sometimes does not come home until morning. We both got up at six to join the group of people going to the market for breakfast before leaving for Guatemala. At said market, I bought breakfast, two bananas, a starfruit, three cupcakes (which turned out to be less exciting than I’d originally thought), a bag of granola (from a Mennonite lady with a British accent), and a big glass bottle of Coke, all for the equivalent of $3.25 U.S. I heart Central America.

Later tonight or tomorrow I'll catch up on the weekend and sundry other things.

*Apparently in the last week or so when students get to choose where they work, no one signed up for her mound, and someone actually cried when they were assigned to it anyway.


  1. Erica:

    I'm reading so you can add me to your dad as your fan base. I'm jealous, of course. I would love to be in Central America doing archaeology stuff. I've never done anything archaeological due to my arachnophobia so there is that.

    Stay safe and don't fall anymore. That could be bad.

    Stacey (Alderfer, that is)

  2. I'm a little too tired to put together a coherent comment right now, but I wanted to let you know I enjoyed reading your blog. I'll be interested to hear how Guatemala is.