Archaeology Isn't Always Pretty

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July 27th 2007
Published: August 5th 2007
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The OzarksThe OzarksThe Ozarks

The forest was pretty thick, and peaceful

Archaeology Isn't Always Pretty...

Success is going from failure to failure without a loss of enthusiam. --Winston Churchill

I debated about whether or not I would include this story, but it is a part of the learning experience of being a new field tech. One of the things that always bothered me about the faculty at my University is that they were not willing to talk about their difficulties as well as their successes in their pursuit of this field. My professors were always supportive, but I think it is important for young archaeologists to have mentors who are willing to share that information with them so that they feel that they are not failures or alone when they have difficulties. This is a tough profession, and it is very competitive.

My second job in CRM sent me outside of the Fort Smith, Arkansas area to the tiny town of Paris. Paris is about 10 miles south of Ozark right on the outskirts of the national forest, where we were supposed to do shovel tests along a proposed 15 mile oil pipeline. Shovel tests with CRM firms are a lot different than digging test pits for academic research, as I quickly discovered. The field supervisor flagged the areas he wanted
The OzarksThe OzarksThe Ozarks

It was challenging to dig on the steeper slopes
to test, usually at 30 meter intervals. We would locate a flag, measure out a 40 cm radius around it, and dig a hole 30 cm deep. This wasn't always possible because sometimes rocks are in the test area and you have to stop. As you are digging, you look for possible artifacts and screen the dirt you dug out of hole. After the pit is at its final depth, the dirt goes back in the hole. You then record the characteristics of the soil and describe the pit (whether there were rocks, what artifacts you found, if any) and move on to the next one. In field school we worked in groups of two. In CRM, you work alone and carry 30-40 lbs of equipment from pit to pit, often over rough terrain.


Now, I have to be honest. I have never been particularly fond of Arkansas. To me, Arkansas feels like being in a bad B-movie where everyone around has been abducted by aliens and they've been replaced by pod people. But that's just me. I really need field experience, however, and Arkansas is only half a day's drive, so I went ahead and accepted the job. The company was responsible for choosing our hotel room, and I assumed it would be a Motel 6 type of place. Paris, Arkansas is a tiny town, however, and does not even have a Motel 6, so the company booked our rooms at the Paris Inn. It was a standard, early 70's style motel, with adjoining doors to the next room, strange little walkways between the walls of the rooms (for storage I guess), and leaking window unit air conditioners. The first room I was given did not have a working lock on the door, so I asked for another room with a working lock and preferably not in the back corner of the motel property where I was isolated. The motel owner looked at me like I was crazy, but he offered to give me what he said was the only other room available, and it was right next to the office. This one had a little kitchenette. "That was nice of him," I thought. He proceeded to tell me about how he had to make a copy of my room key (even though he had three other keys on the hook for my room) and that he would stop by later that evening to collect it. "Strange," I thought.

Unfortunately the room was very dirty, and there were huge black flies flying everywhere. Most of the furniture was broken, the door that connected to the next room was very rickety, and there were stains all over the carpet, walls, and bedspread. Big stains, and huge black cigarette burns on the carpet and bed. To make the situation worse, I turned on the bathroom light and roaches of all sizes (tiny ones as well as the big german cockroaches) just scattered. I sensed I was not going to be getting a good night sleep that night. I picked up my laptop and left the hotel to find dinner and place that offered a WiFi connection in order to gain some sense of normalcy. As I was leaving, the motel owner popped up around the corrider and said "don't be alarmed, I frequently walk up and down the breezeway and keep an eye on things." I thought that was strange, but I thanked him for the heads up and started to walk off. He then said "Hey, is the adjoining door in your room locked?" I said "I checked it and it seemed to be okay." He said "Well, I just wanted to check. I probably won't rent that room out anyway but I wanted to make sure." At this point I was suspicious because he had just finished telling me that the second room he gave me was the last room available. Visions of the movie "Psycho" started to run through my head. Sure, he seemed harmless enough, but so did Ted Bundy. I made a beeline for the nearest Walmart and bought a 4 inch hunting knife to put under my pillow. Between the roaches, the flies constantly landing on my face, and the creepy motel manager, I did not sleep a wink that night.

The Site

The next day, I met up with the rest of the field crew and we left for the site. I have never done shovel tests with CRM, so I was not sure what to expect. I was a bit alarmed when we did not go over any safety precautions before we were given our 40 lbs of equipment and told to get to work. With URS, my field supervisor was really careful to let us know what potential dangers were out there and what to do if we got hurt. Not this guy. We had to go over several barbed wire fences to get to the site, and instead of spotting each other and holding the wires for the person coming over, they stood and watched while everyone was struggling to get over. On the last fence I attempted, the barbed wire snapped when I put my weight on it. It coiled back, and smacked me in the face. I have a big bruise on my lip, and several cuts on my arms. Good thing I have my tetnus shot up to date! The field supervisor just looked at me like "so?"

The site was in the Ozarks, so it was deeply forested and, because we were working alone and the next person was 30 meters away, you would have to yell pretty loud for someone else to hear you. So I was sitting there, working on one of my test pits, and I heard a noise. About two feet away from me, I spotted a black snake. I am not afraid of snakes, but it suddenly hit me that I have no idea what type of snakes are in the area, whether they are venomous or non-venomous, and what to do if I got bit. I don't even know if my field supervisor had a first-aid or snake bite kit. To cap it off, the field supervisor didn't even let us know that he had extra water until I was about to walk a mile back to the car for more. This was my first shovel test, so there were a lot of things I didn't know, like how much water to bring, or what to expect. After I got home, I noticed that I had ticks all over my ankles and legs. I would have rather dealt with the snakes! 😊

So What Now?

I decided to leave at the end of the day. The lack of participation and information from the supervisor really bothered me. I need field experience, but not to the point to where I am ready to put myself in a situation that didn't feel safe and I didn't feel prepared for.

If I only had to deal with one of the issues I had I could have probably toughed it out, but with all of the safety issues and the problems with the motel, I did not feel it was worth it. So, it was disheartening to have to quit. I am not a quitter by nature. I toughed out 20 hours of classes while I worked 35 hours a week, I slept in a tent in the desert for three weeks straight, and I continued to survey even though I had strep and a 101 degree fever in the Carrizo Plain. Ultimately, however, I don't think that one hiddeous CRM job is going to hurt me.


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