Digging

Digging was everyone’s favorite task. The actual digging space was such a small area, and therefore we were not assigned our own units. Rather we all rotated between five units. Mariano directed the digging, and sometimes Antonio would join us. We had to go down the natural entrance of the shaft down a ladder and onto the scaffolding.

Inside the cave there were three jobs: digging, roper, and bucketeer. The roper would lower the matrix in the bucket down the pulley to the bucketeer who would bag and wheel them down to the van. Everyone along the way doubled check to make sure the labeling was correct as the bucket was passed down to be bagged.

The diggers, of course, dug. We used trowels to scrape the soil and recover artifacts. We would collect what was visible in our trays and bring them directly to the lab. We would then brush the rest of the soil into a tray, and put it in a bucket to be sifted. What was missed would be sifted though and collected in the quarry. We would also use small pick axes to smash the stone of the mountain. We had to take care to not smash through macro fauna.

We had a “wow” system just for fun. We were all trying to make Mariano do a triple wow! I, however, only ever found a one wow artifact. The sort of artifacts we found were faunal remains and lithics; we also found a few hammer stones. We found loads of micro fauna and some macro fauna. Much of the fauna was clearly burnt. Because we were digging meters below where the skeletons were found the most exciting things we found were litics.  A handful of lithics were found each a day. If one was especially impressive, Mariano would measure the coordinates and draw them into the graph.

 

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Introduction to Sima de las Palomas

I’m Polly Anna, one of the 2012 UMD Anthropology fieldschool scholarship recipients. I’m reporting on my field experience after returning home. I attended, with my friend and classmate, Shelby Holtzman. We attended the Field School for Quaternery Palaeoanthropology and Prehistory of Murcia S.E. Spain for the Sima de las Palomas site from July 24th from August 14th. It was a privilege and a delight to work on this important H. neanderthal site, and with such amazing people! It was an experience I will never forget, and I gain skills and knowledge that I will most certainly use on future sites I will dig. While attending this field school I learned skills in digging, sifting, and lab work. In future blogs I will discuss how each task was performed in more detail.

 

The Sima de las Palomas site dates to between 55,000-40,000 years ago. The field team has been digging on this site since 1990. This site is especially significant because they found, as I understand it, the only complete female H. neanderthal pelvis to date. The articulated skeleton of the female, a child, and parts of a male skeleton were found in 2005. Our team was digging several meters below where the skeletons were found. We found much micro and macro fauna and lithics, which may suggest an occupations. The skeletons found are believe to possibly have been placed in the cave deliberately for burial. They also could have died in the cave, but researchers are leaning towards a burial site.

 

The principal investigator was Dr. Micheal J. Walker. He has published many papers and articles on this site, and is a professor at the Universidad de Murcia. Mariano López Martinez led the digs, and was our lithics researcher and expert. Azucena Avils Fernádez is a biological anthropologist, but she taught us how to sift and how to do lab work. Antonio López Jiménez was our fauna analyst. There were other member of the research team, but these are the member who worked closely with us on a day to day basis. From them I learned the key facts about the site, how to identify lithics, and how to identify bone vs rock (much harder than it sounds). Aside from the actual digging and field work we also had great fun with them, and enjoyed the camaraderie that comes with living so closely to your fellow team member in the field.

 
Next to being in a neanderthal cave day in and day out, the best part was meeting fellow students passionate about archaeology and human origins. My fellow field school students came from all over the world. We had students from Tanzania, Indonesia, the UK, Canada, USA, and of course Spain. Working with fellow students in my field from around the world as well as having all European directors was very beneficial in broadening my exposure to the field of archaeology and anthropology. I was able to see how professionals from different backgrounds view our field. The discussions were very lively and we all gave each other advice and tips.
I feel like I can speak for everyone when I say we all left feeling like we had a larger network of allies and contacts and place to stay if we were travelling. Everyone was very forthcoming with tips and advice from navigating grad school and finding future sites and internships. Many of us plan to met up at The Society for American Archaeology conferences next year. The networking I did was priceless.

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Sifting

We spent most of our time sifting. The diggers moved at least 30 bags of matrix a day; which meant we had to sift minimum 30 bags a day. Dr. Walker believes that wet sifting was the best for digging prehistoric sites, and therefore we needed a work area that has access to water. They had made arrangements to sift in a local stone quarry which had hoses we could use. We set up shop in the quarry under a big stone cutting saw, and then proceed to dumped dirt everywhere. We used multilevel sifts that were stacked smallest screen to largest. We shook most all the lose dirt through and then used water to wash the rest through.

We had to be careful not to mix bags from different units. Once they were rinsed we would pick out anything we thought was bone or a lithic. The smallest screens could make you go crazy. We would use tweezers to pick up teeny tiny bone fragments. After we picked though every screen we would take them back to the lab to organize and label.

I really enjoyed screening at first, but after a while you go screen mad. We all went through periods of not being able to stand staring at screens full of tiny tiny pebbles and artifacts anymore. Luckily good company and a break for sandwiches kept us all sane. We also had quarry cats that would come and visit us each day. We would feed them our sandwiches and play with them on our breaks. We named the mother cat Sima after our site.

Azucena lead the sifting and lab work. We were taught how to identify bones and litics from her. Some tips I learns for determining between a rock and a bone were of course licking them (something I didn’t need to do often), taping the to listen for duller sound than a rock makes, and scratching them. We could tell by scratching because bones don’t scratch and rocks typically scratch white. We also learned the things to look for to identify a flakes from prehistoric flint knapping. When looking at a lithic we tried to identify the bulb of procession, the rays coming off the bulb from being struck, and the platform. We can also tell which side fell off of the core based on the smoothness or roughness of the sides.

At the end of the day we’d bag our findings to take back to the lab to be cleaned and labeled. Anything we thought might be an artifact was saved during sifting and then disregarded in lab if we determined it was just a rock after all. We’d also have to breakup and clean conglomerates. As the weeks went on we got better at not taking rocks back to the lab.

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A Day in the Life

I kept a log of our activities everyday, but I won’t write about everyday because honestly most of them looked the same. I will just give a short synopses of a typical day in the field at Sima de las Paloma.

Daily Schedule:

7:00am- wake up and get ready for breakfast (Many of us slept outside because it was so hot indoors.)

7:30am- breakfast at the Civic Center (We ate all our meals there. The people who ran it were fantastic and the Spanish food was great!)

8:30am- begin work (We split up into a digging group and a sifting group.)

11:00am- sandwich time (If we were sifting we’d play with the quarry cats).

11:30-1:45pm- work

2:50pm- shower (We needed it)!

3:15pm- lunch

4:00- 6:00pm- siesta (This was a scheduled nap time! It was glorious! It’s part of Spanish life to have a mid day nap. This was especially nice because the heat of the day and sleep deprivation from late night socializing made us all very sleepy. Many of us would take a short nap, or skip siesta all together to go swim in the local public pool).

6:00pm- lecture or lab (We mostly had lab time at 6pm, but some nights we would have a lecture about different aspects of the site and neanderthals).

8:00pm- free time

9:00pm- dinner (The Spanish eat late).

11:00pm- walk ( I would take walks in the village in the evening by myself each night). *

*(During the day we would hardly seen anyone out and about. The stores would close everyday for siesta from 2pm-5pm. But when I would go out for walks at night I would see many locals out in chairs outside their homes. The village came alive after dark. Many people would bring out tables and chairs to have their evening meal in the streets. There wasn’t much traffic to speak of. Many children were playing at .12am in the streets with their families near by socializing).

This was a very typical day for me in the field at Sima de las Palomas.

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Day One in the Field

I can not tell you how thrilling it was for me to enter the cave for the first time. It really was a dream come true! From the cave the view was breathtaking. We could see over the small village where we stayed all the way to an inland part of the Mediterranean sea. It was truly beautiful!

The first day, was of course, introductory. We were given a lecture at the natural opening of the cave about the history of the site, and the on going research being conducted there. Brief instructions were given and we opened the site for the season. The site is only dug at three weeks of the years. After each season it is weatherized before closing for the rest of the year; to open the site we must remove tarps and clear debris.

The site was a short car drive from where we were staying in a local elementary school in the small village of Delores de Pacheco. (This village was so small I walked the perimeters of it in 30 mins each evening after dinner). Once we made it to the cave we had a short hike up to the hole that was drilled by miners looking for water in the 1800s. From this entrance, scaffolding was built up to the natural entrance where the digging took place. We had to scale the side of the mountain to get to the natural entry. It wasn’t quite steep, and if you didn’t have sure footing you could take a tumble. Where the digging was conducted the local government and build a caged covering that could be locked to protect the site. The artificial tunnel was also locked. From the scaffolding the matrix or soil was lowered in buckets down a pulley system to the buckteer who then took the sacks in wheelbarrow down the hill to the car to be picked up and taken to be sifted at a local quarry.

After visiting the site we returned to the school for a lecture from Dr. Walker and got to know each other. Dr. Walker spoke about this site and neanderthals in general.

 

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‘Dem Bones by Elizabeth Bastian

 

Licking a bone is the only way to ensure that the mysterious fragment is not a pebble or a stone. (Elizabeth Bastian / MJ)

I licked a bone today.

It took up until now to work up my courage to do so, and to make sure that this wasn’t some kind of strange joke played on all the new diggers.

Licking a bone is the only way to ensure that the mysterious fragment is not a pebble or a stone. I simply did not believe it at first.

However, I was wrong.

The spongy material of the bone will stick to your tongue, unlike a rock or a sherd of pottery would. Strange but, as a I discovered for myself today, very true!

With all the knowledge I have acquired about different types of pottery and bones while at Gabii, identifying finds has become much easier. But, when in doubt, I feel secure knowing I have a ready back up plan.

And I have ingested so much ancient dust in the past two weeks during digging, I am sure a little dirt on my tongue isn’t going to do much damage.

 

Originally published in the Michigan Journal on July 11, 2012. To read more about Elizabeth’s travels in Rome visit http://michiganjournal.org/tag/elizabeth-bastian/

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Reflections of Malta by: Gina Damitio 26 July 2012

As my time on the island of Gozo is quickly coming to an end, I reflect on this enriching and insightful experience that will help me in all my future endeavors in Anthropology. There does not seem to be enough time to do all the work that I would like to explore more of. More time here would be very valuable to my research and I hope that I will have the opportunity to return in the future. I feel very lucky for all the enriching observations, conversations, interviews, and experiences I have had with people here on Gozo. I feel grateful and appreciative of this opportunity and the knowledge that I have gained through it.

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Anthropology of Tourism by: Gina Damitio 20 July 2012

Tourism is a topic that I have been exploring here on Gozo through the Anthropology of tourism course that I am participating in. There are many tourists to speak with here. The beeches and bus terminals are the best places to find a concentration of this group. My interactions with tourists are in effort to find out what draws them here as well as their expectations, experiences, and impressions of Gozo. I am examining the different types of tourists here, where they go, and what they do. The effort is to examine if Gozo needs more tourism and if so how certain places on the island could possibly become places of interest for tourists and how those efforts could be accomplished. Tourism makes up a large part of the economy here and many businesses depend on it. As we explore tourism, an interesting question was posed by my  instructor; Are anthropologists tourist? After coming up with definitions for tourism and examining the behaviors of tourists, my answer is definitely not. While many of our behaviors may be similar to tourists anthropologists spend much more effort to delve into a culture and seek out its defining elements. We also have ethical guidelines and put together academic reports to further research of a people. Anthropologists are also way more involved in connecting to and speaking with a population and exploring other aspects of research into a culture like archival research.

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Discovering the Culture by: Gina Damitio 19 July 2012

Fieldwork can sometimes be challenging and other times real fun. Gender differences here are observable but trying to get some people to talk about it started off as a bit more difficult. Fortunately I finally started to get somewhere with this by talking to the younger generation of people here.  Finding other ways to make connections of daily life and activities is another technique that I am learning here. Exploring education and other youth programs available have also been helpful. Although some topics like gender and immigration take more work to collect data on, it has revealed even more about the culture in Malta as well as broadened aspects and issues that are not so visible to a short time visitor. It has taught me to also take note of the things that are not left out of conversations or easily dismissed. An anthropologist must be constantly aware of the seen and unseen, the prevalence of one aspect and the concealing of another.

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Long days on Gozo by: Gina Damitio 16 July 2012

Since being here in Malta, on the island of Gozo, my main focus has been fieldwork. I start my day around 8:30am, heading into the towns to observe and meet with people, and arrive back to the school around 7pm or later. The goal is to explore every town on the island so that what factors connect and separate them become apparent, having interactions with people as possible and gathering informants along the way. Most people that I have encountered do not mind talking at length about their lives or about the Gozitan way. When I tell people that I am a student studying Anthropology they are happy to help out. Some people have been short with answers on more controversial topics and further investigation to why that is has to be made. As with any fieldwork there are many pieces that need to be connected in order to get a more wholalistic view of what is going on. The Maltese islands have been colonized and invaded many times throughout history. The Maltese culture reflects many of these influences to make up its own unique culture. Roman Catholicism is deeply embedded into the cultural identity here and it is reflected all around. There seem to be many things changing about the culture here in Gozo within the span of two generations. Although there are strong efforts from the church and the older generations to preserve a way of life, many of the youth are rapidly changing the traditional way things are done here.

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