There’s nothing like a six-mile, human-powered ride over mud-soaked tracks to remind us of all those years of driving in our cars, all those times of self-appointed indolence, and for some, all those extra helpings we shouldn’t have taken. In the morning we drive to the trailhead, where our past choices are met by the blinded lady justice. Her sword does not at first seem so swift or sharp. It is, after all, merely a bicycle. The Whitewater site is off limits to motorized vehicles, so we mountain bike in. We pedal over land textured like a ruffled blanket, sometimes making good speed but more often pushing hard through soft, gooey places that bog us down. With a heavy shower last night the tracks are particularly mushy today. The ride takes a full hour. We arrive for our work tired, caked with mud, and reminded of our own finitude. I’ve decided, and will stand firm on it, that archaeology is really not for the faint of heart.
Morgan and Jerram spend the entire day mapping. Adrian, myself and newcomer Caroline Loewen do a walking survey of the site. However, “walking” is something of a kindly term. More exactly, we kneel and crawl, or walk bended over, as though in obeisance to a mysterious Other: fragments of glass, asphalt roofing, ceramic, metal, concrete, anything of human origin. Adrian has a special fondness for the mole hills, telling us that they provide a little window on what lies underneath. A mole hill thus becomes a place to gaze intently, to scour, and finally to raze. We lay hundreds upon hundreds of pin flags identifying architecture (green flags) and artifacts (pink flags). By day’s end we have nearly completed the whole site, which looks now like a field of iridescent blossoms, enough to rival Avatar.
And intermittently throughout the day we all dance for that “unsexy” part of the discipline I mentioned a few days ago. Flicking off the single-minded ticks and savaging mosquitoes, we leap and howl, doing the archaeologist’s dervish. But the implacable gods are deaf to our cries: we are bitten clean through.
With the site nearly completed for observation of surface material, and with Morgan and Jerram registering almost a thousand “points” today (readings on the total station mapping), we call it a day.
But there is still the ride home. So, in the evening we cycle all the way back, more slowly for our tiredness, and we see the landscape in reverse. Near the end of our ride we stop to admire a Great Grey owl perched on a stump. The owl calls us to silence. Then we hand over our day to the owl, and to the evening, to their waking even while we are fading.
Paul Myers, Project Volunteer