Monday, August 3, 2009

Tedious, Dirty, Buggy, Muggy, More

Field work is tiring stuff. Sweat pours down your body and face--I actually took the design off one of my shirts by sheer force of body fluid. The bugs are maniacal--after a rain, the swarms of mosquitoes whir in your ear. If you dare to take down your pants and relieve yourself, they sense your vulnerability and you emerge with dozens of horribly inappropriate bites. A roommate had a bottom full of bites that got so infected, they had to be lanced and drained and soaked with boiling hot towels. Luckily, a jungle outhouse was built for us so we don't have to be so vulnerable in the future. There is a system: you pull your pants down half way, and quickly spray your backside with Deet before it's too late. A demonstration:

The work itself is also strenuous. In excavation, you sit down in a plot of mud and scrape up buckets of muck. The muck has to be sifted through screens and scanned for tiny artifacts. There is enough tedium to satisfy any datahead--you plot grids, and check grids, plot grids, and check them three more times. You draw map after map of your unit and its features. You grab clumps of dirt, spit on them, and roll them in the palm of your hand to determine the soil type. Then you hold the dirt under a chart to determine its exact, scientific color. Then there's the Ground Penetrating Radar. You drag a large apparatus in straight lines back and forth through the uncooperative jungle brush. All of this, excavation and survey, you record, record, record. There are matrixes and proveniences and datum points and scans per minute and more, more, more that must be described in perfect detail.

Now, I realize all that sounds terrible. But here's the catch: When you scrape your trowel over the soil and see something made by human hands so many years ago, unseen for so long, there is no greater feeling. Or when you realize that the large object you've been dragging across the ground has discovered a temple before so much as a trowel has been moved, or when the howler monkeys bellow overhead, or when you realize that the pile of rocks you've been staring at is a centuries old staircase leading to a room where kings were crowned and gods were made, you know you are exactly where you want to be, doing exactly what you want to do.