Archeologists – The Real Deal

Betsy Carlson, author of Talking Taino.

I can’t get over my Indiana Jones archeologist fever. Who do you know that has met real life archeologists?! I feel so privileged! But I also think I’m driving the team mad.

Unlike the guys, who participated in the reality of digging 1 foot holes straight down for 7 hours a day and craning over screens trying to distinguish dirt and rocks from artifacts the same color as dirt and rocks, I get to just sit back and watch the magic happen.

So the group comes back from the day, covered in dirt, and set about cataloging and note taking, and then have to deal with me sticking my nose over their shoulders asking what they’re doing and demanding that tomorrow they find an effigy. 3.5mm beads just weren’t exciting enough for me.

“Always so unsatisfied! People always want more!” they told me.

“That’s what keep you digging,” I countered.

It’s like a librarian/archivists/nerdy person’s dream to live with walking encyclopedias. I made the DECR (Department of Environment and Coastal Resources) volunteer name all the shells I pick up off the beach. I’d never seen an Atlantic wood-louse shell before and he was able to anme it in the common name AND Latin. Crazy.

I also learned that for native peoples conch was the hardest material. So to release the conch meat from it’s shell, they would use the pointed cone from a small conch to break the foot of the animal. They knew exactly where to hit it to release the conch meat. The one pictured here with the hole is a 1,000 year old conch shell.

The fun didn’t stop there. You should have seen my eyes bug out when I saw the two toned 1,000 year old pottery. “But it’s glazed! And colored! They could do that?”

I was given the “of course these people had a highly developed culture” look.

Yes, of course, I should know better. I’ve visited some of the best museums in the world, but I still find it difficult to imagine the lives of pre-historic people. Most of the artifacts we found were dirt colored. This particular piece of pottery was large and beautiful, and indicative of a higher quality of life than the contrasting worn down shells and fish bones. Changes your whole thought process of these people’s lives.

Also on this site were artifacts from mid 1700 to the mid 1800’s. This was much more familiar territory. Still, I learned a lot about the construction of bottles and platters – ginger bottles, blown glass bottles, different china patterns – the familiar white and blue patterns of the 1770’s and more colorful, but also more drab, brown and yellow of the 1800’s.

Essentially, we were looking at the results of various kitchen accidents. You can imagine the cook: “Oops, broke the plate/bottle/vase, mistress is not going to be pleased.” And throw it on the trash pile.

Going through these people’s trash is really just a diagnostic measure. No longer useless, these items have been waiting around all this time just to tell us when their owners lived here.

Since we are just doing a survey of the site, we’ll be putting the objects back where we dug them up, keeping only the information and some select pieces. This way the historians get the history, but the context stays intact for the next archeology team who enter the site. They’ll also be able to take our notes and identify areas already investigated by the bits on the ground. Or they’ll know that the site has been tampered with if things aren’t where we left them.

It’s really interesting to get an overview of the whole archeological process. You should hear my tours these days! I don’t have a problem keeping people’s attention since now I have all these great stories – governor’s visits, Fort George stories, Lucayan artifacts, new research on shipwrecks, and now a possible location of the fabled Cork Tree Plantation. I’m loving how all these projects we do point to the rich histories of the islands. The locals who attended our event last night were astounded that just a few feet under their feet are all this evidence of the people before us. I guess that’s the magic of archeology.

Neal and I talk a lot about the next generation of museums. My vote is for replicating this type of hands on learning. It’s infectious!

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