Most people think of archaeology as a rough-and-tumble, National Geographic discipline of men and women spending time in tents or in crappy locations in the middle of nowhere without running water and digging until extreme conditions.
While that may be true in some places (indeed, a lot of excavations), our place is a palace in comparison. We are staying at the Shaanxi Provincial Research Institute of Archaeology headquarters in Gaolin County thanks to some string-pulling and some guanxi. It’s a heavily guarded place, with a lawn out front, 24 hour security guards, cameras, and German Shepherd patrols (as with other industries, the antiquities black market in China is raging).
The main building is a dormitory of offices and living spaces of Chinese archaeologists and conservators doing research at the Institute. There is a picket fence cutting the property, beyond which is the actual research buildings which resemble warehouses. They are chalk full of artifacts in crates, in various stages of conservation, and are being researched in full by scientists and archaeologists. There are about 12 buildings overall. Behind those are a gorgeous small lake to sit next to in your break time from writing your dissertation or something, and a really amazing army of headless statues from various dynasties chilling in a corner like a forest. There is also a garden where they grow fresh veggies. PLUS— one of the guard dogs gave birth to a litter of 7 puppies three days ago and they are SO CUTE.
My room is austere, but I didn’t bring much with me in the first place. I share it with my roommate, Renee, a senior at BU studying archaeology and biology. My bed is actually pretty comfortable, and somewhat large. I wake up feeling refreshed anyway… A huge upgrade from where we were in Shanghai. I have little requirements for living, and consider myself pretty adaptable, and this far exceeds my expectations.
The showers are gender-communal. This morning I showered with a few older women, which is actually really funny to listen to them (you can totally tell they are talking about you— esp when they say “meiguoren” or American). The washing machines are also in the shower area. I did my laundry today, but ended up doing most of it by hand. We line-dry outside here, just as you would in most parts of Asia. I find doing laundry this way kind of therapeutic. It’s like I get to know my clothing a little bit better by having to examine it for soap suds or dirt I missed.
The bathrooms are split here as well. The showers are down the hall, but the toilets are basically across from my room. This isn’t as bad as it sounds. Usually Chinese bathrooms smell like hell has broken through the pipes, but the Institute keeps the “cesuo” (bathroom) smell to a minimum.
I am presenting my research proposal to the class. I am focusing on settlement archaeology and the layout of the site as a means of implicating labor organization, possible site uses, and illustration of the temporal variation in structures based on post-holes, hearths and ash pits. I’ll be sampling a lot of soil horizons, seriating pottery sherds found in ash pits and hearths, looking at the depth of each cultural feature in relation to the other, and possibly figuring out a rough sketch of the length of habitation at a given time before another level was put down. Settlement patterns are always interesting. In the Neolithic, there isnt much else to work with….
My glasses straight up split in half today. I was just pulling them off my face to wipe sweat off and they just snapped right in half as if the plastic were weak. I took them to the back conservation labs to a guy who was conserving a HUGE ass bronze transcription of Confucius’s Analects and he told me 24 hours to have the glue set. Woooot.