Monday, August 16, 2010

Digging into History

Sunday was my first opportunity to participate in an archaeological excavation. It's one thing to study and read about the material remains left behind by cultures of the past, but in order to be a good archaeologist one has to get out of the library at some point. The net effect was a magical connection with the process that is earned only by digging, sweating and laboring. There is a certain "electricity" that comes with a tactile engagement with the material one studies. Scraping the dirt or holding a piece of glass extracted from the ground builds a sense of "touching history." We're physical beings, and we like to physically interact with the things that fascinate us. For this reason, I could not wait to go to the Bernardo Plantation site, grab a trowel, kneel down and dig into history.

The dig was conducted for both days of last weekend, but I was only able to be present for one of them. Nevertheless, in that one hot August Sunday I most certainly "caught the bug" - as though I hadn't already. No significant finds were extracted from the pit I was working in, and thus invited an apology from the site manager. "I'm sorry your first time out did not produce anything spectacular," was her sympathetic offering. Was she not aware how elated I was to merely be present at the dig site?! What a privilege I found it to actually kneel down and dig our pit to the necessary depth regardless of the finds? I understand the scientific process enough to know that it was helpful to the excavation that our unit was able to identify where things were not. Knowing that no artifacts and structures were evident in our grid helps the site supervisor to better triangulate where things are. Like playing a game of "Battleship," a 'miss' helps the player know better where the ships are, increasing the chances of a 'hit' later on. No 'pegs,' or digging is wasted.

But the site supervisor, well meaning though she might have been, had no idea the number of dreams (since childhood!) that were being fulfilled in the midst of the heat exhaustion, sore muscles and dust. More digging is expected at this site later in the fall. I plan to be there again as much as I can be. Do they all need to know how fulfilled I am to be there? Probably not. I'll just keep it to myself that digging into history in the manner 'feels' like touching destiny in some way (I know that sounds corny, and I don't care).

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