Home is where the hearth is

I’ve been in the field now for a week…

We start pretty late for an excavation. We get to the site at 7, work until 11:30, break until 3:30 or 4 depending on the heat, and then come back until 7.

I have a 5x5m quadrant of a larger 10×10 square. I have a partner named Jiajun who is a graduate student at Peking University. In my quadrant, we have excavated a few pottery sherds of varying styles, shells, a hearth and a post hole. Today I spent all my time shaving off centimeters at a time from the hearth about 10cm down. I take extensive notes about everything— soil color, sherds, limestone deposits, fired earth, and hardened dung beetle balls/any other disturbances. We measure everything, of course, and draw/photograph all features/finds in situ. I talk with Jiajun about Chinese, and she teaches me useful phrases. Most of the time we’re pretty quiet, however, and I have a lot of time to contemplate random things. Every time someone passes me I am asked if I find this interesting. I can’t say the troweling itself is interesting, but I do a pretty good job at self-entertainment and musing. We have a research presentation due on Friday about something related to the site/Yangshao culture, and I’ve been thinking about that a lot.

I am intrigued by the workers at the site, who are all old men and women who do the digging and stuff. I want to ask them their life stories and talk to them, but alas, I dont speak Mandarin. They are intrigued by us, of course, and when they sit down for breaks are constantly staring.

After hours, I usually read a chapter or two of the books I brought along, or of the assigned readings. At night we generally get a few bottles of cold Tsingtao, sit on the stoop out front, and sharpen our trowels while talking after a long day. We talk about archaeology stuff a lot, about where we’re going in life, and of course whatever is on our minds.

I have a lot of bug bites…  A lot. More than reasonable. I’m also getting tan, which is an odd miracle.

The interesting culture clash here is Chinese vs. American archaeology. We both kind of hate the other’s methods. Chinese archaeologists don’t care about details and small things, but we bag everything. Americans take everything slowly— mapping, measuring, and noting everything in their pit. Chinese just do it. They just dig, and when they find something, they take it out and note where its from. None of the in situ business. I know my partner is getting frustrated and irritated by how slow our process is, and I find myself getting frustrated with her frustration. She doesn’t realize how important the context is. I don’t realize how slow we are… Or something. I don’t want to sound self-righteous, but I am struggling to put myself in their shoes. All I can think of is that they have so much pottery, so much of archaeology in general in China that the smallest sherds mean nothing to them, and it’s impossible to consider everything. That doesn’t really fly either, because the entire Mediterranean is a goldmine that is very carefully recorded. We dug down to 20cm to find the floor last week before starting on some floatation samples, so today we just worked on cleaning up the profiles, exposing the rest of the floor and bagging shell/pottery samples. I cant wait until we’re done— it’s taken us about a week to bring up the floor after intensive troweling and drawing and stuff. I am a little tired of listening to my partner complain about how we aren’t finished yet, but this is just an illustration of our differing views on how long something should take. We have 3 more weeks here! I’ll take 3 weeks to excavate something properly if I have to!

Maybe this is more a reflection on our cultures rather than on our archaeology. Perhaps it’s money, perhaps its the desire to get the past into the public eye… I don’t know. I am wondering about the split between academic archaeology and museums now. If there is any…

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One thought on “Home is where the hearth is

  1. You’re in the field! Yay

    About the cultural differences – At my field school we had one Jingtao grad from China who was also constantly surprised, if not frustrated, at our nitpicky methods. He said in his undergrad fieldwork they always used a bulldozer to “take care of” the first few hundred years. The best understanding I could come up with is that archaeology is still somewhat considered a leisure activity in China, and they don’t get a lot of funding for library science people like Ashley to systematically organize everything, which is kind of an incentive _not_ to record all that information. The ethical qualms we would feel discarding stuff from Greek sites don’t apply because Chinese archaeologists still mainly work in China, where everything they find is presumably a birthright.

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