Sunday, July 18, 2010

Monday, July 12, DURHAM

In the morning the little light is out. I try turning it on. Nothing. I plug it back in and wait a minute. I try turning it on. It springs back to life. Oh joy! Apparently it locked up and the only way to clear it was to allow the battery to run down to empty. When power was reapplied it forced the machine to do a hard boot and now it is working.
The bad news comes when I check my email. A message from Alex says she is sick, feeling similar to how I did right before I left. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. Another message says that one of our traveling companions in France this May hasn’t been feeling well and has gone to the doctor. They have diagnosed stage 4 cancer and she is rapidly dying. It is hard to believe she was so full of life and having a great time in France and will be dead in a matter of weeks.
I sit thru breakfast too shell-shocked to notice if I’m eating. This is way too much of an emotional rollercoaster for the first half hour of the day.
On site, it is much cooler, completely overcast with a possibility of rain. The Texas Tech people have gone home and most of the local volunteers of last week have been replaced by new ones.
The area we were digging in on Friday needs to have yet another layer removed. I pass. I have proved to myself that I can keep up that kind of work with folks half my age. I don’t need to prove it again. I go back to troweling. Over the last 4 days we have cleared a huge area and are now close to joining up with the guys who have been fruitlessly search for rocks behind us. A good days work and we will likely have closed the gap.
We seem to have worked our way clear of the in-fill that so frustrated us last week and are back into moderate sized rocks. These are much easier to work around. We start finding the usual stuff right away – small bits of pottery, animal bones, and nails. After a little while I find a small piece of a jawbone – with teeth still in it. The teeth are much smaller than the ones we have found previously and I am a little freaked until one of the supervisors takes a look and decides its not human. Whew!
A little later I find a piece of pottery different than those I have found before. Its big (and getting bigger), black in color and has a clear curved shape to it. About 45 minutes of work leaves a four inch long by two inch deep piece exposed. Matt comes to take a look and likes what he sees. We both think it is still buried too deep to remove (we can’t violate the layer we are working just for an interesting find. They have to wait until we get to that layer before we can remove them). Still he says to clear the surrounding material a little deeper and see if that gives us better access to it. It doesn’t and we break for lunch with it still firmly embedded in the ground.
Just before lunch comes the moment we have all been dreading – it starts to rain. Its only a light rain but it has been made clear to us we don’t stop working because of the rain. (As this is England, if we did, we would never get anything done!)
After lunch I get some training on how to use the surveying equipment. Everything is measured to depth and for a while we take depth measurements. (For the last couple of days some folks have been recording the location of all the rocks we have exposed. Every single rock must be hand drawn for location and size. I have passed on this work, as I have no drawing skills at all.) Now we take measurements to tell us at what height relative to sea level the rocks are located.

Finishing that, its back to troweling. Shortly after restarting I expose a small piece of orange pottery. We have found lots of small fragments of this high quality pottery over the last week. I keep working it and it keeps getting bigger. I am on to something. My neighbors notice and begin to watch. The supervisors notice and stop to watch. It is clearly the bottom of a bowl, mostly intact. Folks are getting excited.
After 20 minutes of work I have cleared all around it. I give it a few gentle nudges with my trowel and feel it move. It is not buried too deep and I’m going to get to remove it. Very carefully I pull it out and take a look. And there is the one thing that turns it into gold – the maker’s stamp; nearly as legible as the day it was stamped into it. Everyone gets very excited. A maker’s stamp means that we can identify where it was made, when it was made and develop ideas about how it got here. Pure archeological gold. Matt tells me this is the best find we have had in several weeks’ worth of work in the fort. (Despite the two coins that were pulled out a hour or so ago. They are the first coins we have gotten out of the fort. So far, all the others have come from the vicus.) I take my precious find to Janet, an expert in things pottery. I get to wash it, bringing the stamp out a little more clearly. I have to stop right away though as I realize that the act of washing it is beginning to rub away the stamp. Later it will be scanned by a laser so we can be sure we are reading it correctly. In the meantime, I write down what I can read – VICTORINV (?) (the last character is not completely clear.)
We process the paperwork to record the find and put it in a special place and then it is back to work. I simply float back to the trench. This is one of the cool things about archeology – how 20 minutes of work can wash away a weeks frustration. The day ends shortly thereafter.
At dinner tonight I notice we have some newbie’s. I laugh to myself thinking about how one week’s work has made us such seasoned veterans.

About the images:
1. A close up of my pottery find. The makers stamp is a little hard to read in this photo.

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