Digging In

Digging In: Trojan Archaeology Takes to the Ground for Field-Walking & Surface Collection of Project Site X

This blog entry was originally posted on the page dedicated to the Trojan Archaeology class. You can view this post and other posts like it here.

USC’s newest Thematic Option class — Trojan Archaeology — is introducing students like me to the archaeological process. After weeks spent researching the history of USC and the broader Southern California area, our class was finally ready to experience the outset of a real-life archaeological investigation. We grabbed our field equipment and set off to our project area, mysteriously labeled “Site X.”

Site X is tucked away in a secluded, borderline-forgotten part of campus. It lays behind the massive Hancock Foundation Building, dotted with patchy grass and littered with carelessly tossed remains from decades of festive campus celebrations (think: bottle caps, cigarettes, etc.). To kick off our investigation and collection of archival relics, our class divided Site X into a grid formation. Using extended measuring tapes, we carefully constructed 2X2 squares to form our survey grid. My team was charged with completing a linear sample survey, so we were focused on analyzing the even-numbered lines along the grid.

As we walked, we collected various artifacts strewn across the ground, ranging from tarnished nails to metal stakes cemented in the ground. We even came across what appeared to be an old fire pit covered with crusty charcoal and a canopy of mildly burnt leaves. To my genuine surprise, these and the other materials we recovered along our journey painted quite an intriguing picture about the history of our forgotten patch of land. To fully piece together this picture, our team joined forces with the rest of the class to compare findings from the field. Suddenly, our old rusty nails became a part of a much larger story.

It turns out that each of the other teams also found artifacts in the area of our nails and stakes. These findings ranged from nuts and bolts to pieces of glass to mysterious plaster-like foam. Perhaps then, if we take into account the fact that USC’s grounds were once home to hundreds of Angelenos, we can draw an educated guess about what brought our artifacts to rest at Site X.

Maybe, for instance, our stakes were once part of a home’s foundation. And maybe the fire pit was used for neighborhood barbecues in the backyard. And maybe the pieces of foam were remnants left behind when the little house was finally torn down. And maybe the nuts and bolts, nails, and glass were used as building blocks to create the looming structure that stands there now.

… But then again, maybe not.

As Archaeologist David Hurst Thomas notes, “Archaeology is not what you find, it’s what you find out.” One thing’s for certain — we still have plenty to find out about our puzzling and provocative Project Site X.

Molly Bamberger, February 12, 2018

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