Friday, August 28, 2009

Murphy's Law for Archaeologists...

...dictates that on your last day of excavation before an extended break, when you decide to go ahead and excavate just one more level, you will invariably find something that either a) completely changes your interpretation of the entire site, or b) will be impossible for you to excavate completely and properly in the time left to you.

Today was our last day of excavation for the next three weeks while the family and I return to the States for a visit. So of course we found another burial. This one seems to be largely intact and includes ribs and a pelvis! Unfortunately, the legs and head are going into two other units which would have to be excavated before this guy can be rem
oved. I'm sure you can understand my hesitation about leaving any bones lying around the site, but it can't be avoided. Hopefully our lids on the units will keep people away and this individual will still be waiting for my trowel when I get back!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

What I did this week....

This is the burial that we came across in one of our excavation units. Don't know if it's male or female because the pelvis is missing, and can't estimate age because the skull with teeth weren't intact. This poor person's been through a lot though. The entire lower half of the body is missing (possibly cut by a large pit that was dug later), and there was a lot of compaction and fracturing of the bones. All that remains is part of the skull, an arm and hand, and several fractured ribs. There is also an animal burrow that runs underneath the body, and in the wall of this burrow we found a femur and several finger or toe bones, which may belong to the same individual.

Early Valdivia burial with shell inside the skull cavity (upper left of photo).

One interesting thing to note is the shell located inside the cranium (or where the cranium would have been if not for the actions of our neighborhood looter). It's impossible to know for sure, due to the damage done to the skull, but it's possible that this shell was inserted into the individual's mouth prior to burial.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Family Feud!

So, I think I am officially feuding with one of the families here in Dos Mangas. The mother totally ripped us of to prepare food for us, the daughter stole my cell phone, and the grandfather tried to forcibly yank a skull out of the ground where we are excavating (all he managed to do was break it into a zillion pieces, which he left, and then grabbed some teeth).

Seriously, what is it with these people?!?!?! I would be so happy if I never had to deal with any of them again, but in a village of 1000 people related in all kinds of ways, that's not too likely. But if anyone else from this same family tries to pull any more stuff like this I'm going to completely flip out on them!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

I went to Ecuador and all I found was a lousy Valdivia village…

So the last few weeks have found your intrepid adventurer embroiled in a bit of personal turmoil. If you will remember, I came here to carry out research on frontier identities of the late pre-Hispanic Manteño culture (800-1532 AD). Despite some tantalizing surface evidence of a reasonable sized Manteño occupation in this valley, most of our excavations turned up very little sub-surface evidence of this habitation. It’s been quite demoralizing because what seemed so clear back home – both in terms of excavation locations and research questions – became a lot less so when I got here. I suppose it’s to be expected, but it’s disheartening nonetheless.

Salvation (and possibly damnation) came in the form of my field assistant, Luis, who was also my guide when I was here back in 2006 for the survey. My assistants were well aware of my increasing despondency and fear that I’d never make a dissertation out of what we’d been uncovering. He took me out to a field where we surveyed in 2006, but the vegetation is much less dense this year. Quite visible on the surface now, but hidden then, was a quantity of artifacts to die for. I seriously wanted to weep, and not only because here, at last, could be the kind of reasonably contained site that would be great for a project, but also because few of the ceramics I turned over with my toe were Manteño. Most were from the preceding Guangala culture, but others pre-dated even that.

I consulted the two most intellectually important women in my life – my current and former advisors – to ask their opinions of whether to pursue this new site. The answer was the same; go where the artifacts are, the significance will become clear. Part of me doesn’t like that, because I worked long and hard to come up with a research question that would get funded (the ultimate test, right?), but also because I sincerely am deeply interested in both the Manteño period and processes of identity formation and negotiation. But, as work was wrapping up in a third unproductive location, I decided to take their advice, and began work at the new site this past Monday.

From the start it’s been heady. We are uncovering so many remains it is ridiculous. In the week we’ve been there I think we’ve managed to match the quantity of artifacts that we recovered in the past month, if not the past two. In four randomly placed test pits we’ve got a trash pit, post holes of two different structures, and a human burial. And as fantastic as that is, it’s all Valdivia!!!!!! Now, I know some of you will say, so what? Well, Valdivia is the oldest ceramic culture in coastal Ecuador, dating as far back as 3500 BC. Yes, that’s right, I went out to dig Manteño and ended with something nearly 5000 years earlier. It’s like going out to buy a bicycle and coming home with a velocipede – cool, but not quite what you had in mind. I’ve just never really been that
in to Valdivia, what with it being so early, and so Valdivia-y. Also, the vast majority of my training in Ecuadorian archaeology has focused on the Manteño period, so I’m in uncharted territory here.

The new site, on a rain drenched day, in 360 view.

Looking on the bright side, though, it looks as if I might have a tidy little elliptical-shaped village on my hands, with several other similar sites in the region that I can compare it to (like Loma Alta – just 12km away – and Real Alto, for those of you in the know). Now, however, I’ve really got to dig in, figuratively and literally, so that I’m up on the scholarship and don’t miss anything, and also so I can start working out the good research questions. I just wish I’d seen the site three years ago. I don’t know if it would have completely changed my research question, or if I would have chosen another place to work. At the very least it would have given me a chance to get used to the idea. At the moment I’m really glad that my assistants’ knowledge of English is somewhat limited, because my vocabulary has gotten quite colorful over the last few days, and I wouldn’t want them to think any less of me.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Mound, a flood, and the Levantamiento (not necessarily in that order)

So, I’m realizing to my horror that it’s been nearly a month since I’ve updated the blog. A lot has been happening, not the least of which was Baby Girl baptizing my computer with a cup of tea. Between taking it apart to mop up the tea and let everything dry, and then waiting until I could get to Libertad to buy a new keyboard (the one casualty of the whole affair) I lost nearly two weeks of computer usage. But, we’re up and running again, so all is well in the world.

The community has been embroiled in a fairly interesting and lengthy political demonstration for the last few weeks to assert their control of community lands and access to different resources on community property. This has mainly consisted of blocking the main road going in and out of town, and setting up a 24 hour guard to monitor the traffic going in and out of town. It all started when someone who leases community lands decided that they’d go and fence off the road that the community uses to take tourists to some very pretty cascading pools of water, effectively declaring both that portion of the road and the pools to be private property. These same leasees also waved guns at community members as they went along this road, for trespassing on their “property”. The community set up the blockade to prevent these people from moving freely to and from the land that they are leasing.

As you might imagine, the police and local and provincial governments got involved in this dispute, which still does not have a resolution. The leasees claim that the community is trying to kick them off the land (and there is some claim on their part that they bought this land, though that is impossible because the whole territory belongs to the community), while the community contends that the leasees are trying to develop tourism privately and thus deprive the community of an important source of revenue. You might be able to guess where my sympathies lie. I got invited along by community members on one of the inspections by the provincial government because I could record video with my camera. The rhetoric each side was using was really interesting – “cultural patrimony” versus “my property” – and it was also pretty clear that the Inspector (the third one to check out the situation) was fairly well in the pocket of the leasees. There is certainly a lot at stake in the outcome of this dispute; not only the livelihood of community members but their physical safety as well. In the course of the dispute it was revealed that one of the leasees was released from jail just a few years ago after serving 13 years for robbery and double homicide. And most of the problems started after he arrived on the scene.

Last weekend Steve and I became godparents to a newly married couple in the village. It’s not the same as becoming godparents to an infant – more like a cross between being godparents and the best man/matron of honor – which made it all the odder that we didn’t really know these people that well. It was one of those things, though, where I felt like I couldn’t say no, like the act of asking obligated us. Steve was still sick, so put in a brief appearance with Baby Girl and then took her home to sleep. I on the other hand had to stay and drink until the wee hours of the morning, and even then I chickened out and headed home around 3. I just don’t have the stamina for it like I used to.

On Thursday we closed up excavations at the mound. I was actually quite disappointed in how things turned out. The mound appears to be a natural hill that was modified to have a platform on top. The surface is covered in artifacts, but we found virtually no sub-surface features. I was particularly keen to find a structure on the top of the mound, but alas, no joy. There was also very little evidence for use of the flat space around the mound. We did test pits every 5m to recover evidence of different use areas or house floors, but got very little for our efforts. It’s definitely made me question my interpretation a bit more, but I don’t have any new answers.

I feel like the community might be getting a bit disappointed, because they want me to find things that they can use to start a museum, but so far it’s just been the usual ceramic fragments (though my friend Alex reminded me that the spindle whorls, copper bell, and copper tweezers that we found up at the cistern are pretty good by coastal Ecuador standards). Hopefully they have patience with me, and all of our hard work will turn up something interesting and also let us tell the story of life at Dos Mangas back in the day.

The house situation is still at a standstill. We found another place in the community that is REALLY nice, even by general North American standards (hot water and a bathtub – HEAVEN!) but we just can’t afford what the owner wants for monthly rent (like, twice as much(. Right now it’s a bit of a poker game…do we come up a bit, spending money out of savings, and hope that he realizes that he can either rent to us at a lower price and make some money or have an empty house and make no money. We’ll keep you all up to date as thing progress.