Monday, August 2, 2010

Excavations at Mlambalasi Rockshelter: Week 2

We’ve been back excavating for about a week now so it is time for an update. We opened another three 1m x 1m units bringing our grand total of excavation units to six. We now have a 2m x 3m excavation trench, which takes up a good portion of the open floor space of the shelter. These three new units have been critical in establishing the location and boundaries of the 1m x 2m test unit excavated by Msemwa in 2002, and our Test Pit #1 excavated in 2006. Unfortunately we are recovering a lot of artifacts in the backfill of these previous test units. As I know there is no way we missed out on collecting these artifacts when we excavated, and doubt Msemwa would have too, this means that there are some post-depositional processes that are affecting the distribution of artifacts at the site. Most likely the artifacts, many of which are small in size and light, were transported into the backfilled units by water or by gravity. We re-fill the units with the sediment and non-artifact rocks (i.e. backfill) when we are done excavating. This means that there can be empty spaces between the backfilled rocks and sediment that could act as artifact traps. Understanding the post-depositional processes at the site is now more important than ever.

The artifacts we are finding, both in context and in the disturbed/backfilled units, are still mostly from the Iron Age. However, we are seeing a decrease in the number of pottery fragments, iron pieces, slag, and furnace fragments with an increase in the number of quartzite lithic artifacts which means we are just at the transition to the Later Stone Age.
With reaching the Later Stone Age we expect the recovery of additional human remains. In anticipation of this, we have discussed with our two local workers, Suleman and Thomas, that we will likely find human remains, if we do they are of significant age (could be 12,000 years old), and if they are uncomfortable with this we are more than willing to release them from work with the full payment of earned wages. Both were completely fine with this so excavations will continue.

The sheer number of artifacts we are recovering has meant that we’ve had to decrease the number of days we spend doing fieldwork. We are obligated to wash, sort, and count all of our finds before we can request an export permit and permission to study them back in Canada. This “lab work” is a very time consuming process but very necessary as we would never have enough time to complete our fieldwork and study the artifacts here. It took over a year to analyze the artifacts recovered from our two 2006 test excavation units. Analyzing everything from six units is going to be quite the task!

As it is we are quickly running out of time. We are hoping to squeeze at least another ten full days of fieldwork (with ten days of lab work intermixed) before we have to head back to Dar and begin the export process. Personally this time crunch has me fairly stressed. It has been extremely difficult to get much work done on my dissertation after working all day, preparing for the next day’s work, and dealing with other business – like getting everything ready to teach an Introduction to Archaeology course. I am still hoping to have a full draft of my dissertation completed around the end of September. I have three and a half chapters to go plus references and an appendix. Some downtime after returning from almost three months in the field would have been nice, but such is the life of a grad student and archaeologist!

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