Posts by Tori Frecentese '13
I confess to not being a pottery person. What gets my neurons firing are human remains and the stories that these ancient remnants of life can tell about a persons life and environment. Earlier this year in Osteology, where we studied both human and comparative skeletal anatomy and pathologies, I mentally declared myself a bones person and scoffed at recovering something as menial and commonplace as pottery. But this class is giving me a new appreciation for pottery specifically and the material culture in general, without which bones would have no cultural context for interpretation.
The wealth of information that you can learn from a single pottery sherd (again, I am spelling this correctly, it is the proper term for a fragment of pottery), provided that it shows significant diagnostic traits, is quite remarkable. A single piece of pottery can help in determining chronology for a site or a stratigraphic layer, the trade routes that passed through a site, where the pots were made and how far they traveled, what technology was available in the production of those pots, which goods were used and in what quantity, which in turn can help determine the demographics of a population. All that from an old piece of clay! I am genuinely amazed by all the information that can be deduced from a piece of pottery that has been preserved since 4th century CE. Because of the wealth of information and the knowledge that is required to interpret it correctly, I have a new and well-deserved appreciation for the analysis of this aspect of material culture.
But I am not about to be the person that specializes in pottery. Part of what makes me hesitant is the “significant diagnostic traits” part. Such a trait could be a rim, a base or a handle, in descending order of importance. But the vast majority of pottery sherds that we encounter are pieces of the body that hold little diagnostic information. Excavating up in The Jungle, what we have termed the topsoil area that half of our class is working to excavate, yields pottery fragments that are rarely longer than my thumb and primarily pieces of the body. So though we are coming across a fair amount of pottery, it is rarely something that will add to the already extensive body of information provided by larger pottery sherds. Those pieces being excavated in the lower stratigraphic levels, where sherds are much larger and still contain distinct rims or whole bases. These are pieces to be excited about, not the little guys that frequent the baskets in The Jungle.
Only a week into the class and I already recognize the error of my initial perceptions of pottery and its importance to material culture. Still, if I continue on and specialize in anything, I can promise you that it will not be pottery. I’ll leave that to someone with the patience of a nun and the accuracy of a surgeon.
Find of the Day:
Tawny found and successfully excavated an intact base to a pot about 20 cm in diameter. The pot could be as old as 1500 years old and is a pretty unusual for two reasons: 1) because it is uncommon to find pieces this large and in this good of shape and 2) because it was found upside down. How the heck did that happen?
I would like to set one thing straight immediately: archaeology is nothing like what you have seen in the Indiana Jones movies. Though I would revel in the adventure of outmaneuvering an ancient set of booby traps to rescue a priceless artifact from the inevitable destruct of the temple, I would immediately have several Institutional Review Boards close on my heels ready to hound me with infractions of methodology.
In reality, excavation is an exceptionally slow process. Since work on this site began in 2008, 1300 m2 have been excavated. To put it in perspective: the entire site of the Roman city is projected to be 64,000 m2. One of our teachers here rightly pointed out that they could be excavating here for a 100 years (actually it would be 193 years, but who’s counting).
Apparently my group is just flying through excavations, removing up to 3 inches a day in our 1 x 2 meter plots. However, the more we learn about the Roman history of the site, pottery types, and proper methodology, the more our pace slows and our notes increase. Though this is more likely “proper archaeology,” it is definitely a constant test of patience. I would much prefer to be an Indiana Jones, digging and sifting constantly, with a Marcus Brody character around to do the recording. But in reality, we are the Brody’s while our advisors are the modern day Indy’s: reaping the benefits of our labor and notes to construct a more comprehensive history of the site.
All that being said, our group is on fire! We are rock stars and Iron men and women (puns intended) adding several coins, nails, and shoe tacks to the material record. Here are some of our most notable finds:
Henry was made honorary archaeologist as his finds keep accumulating in quantity and quality: three coins, a manufacturer stamp on a piece of pottery, and the fourth belt buckle recovered at this site since 2008.
With a little help from real life archaeologist Cristina, Katie found a bronze coin with a still visible embossed face. Looks to me like two people hanging out next to two obelisks, but I am sure there is a more academic interpretation in the work
Jess has found the clasp to a belt buckle similar to Henry’s and a 4th century bronze coin.
Emma represented Unit 1080 with a piece of indeterminate piece of bronze with some interesting decorative elements.
As usual with my first posts, I have been struggling to write the introduction post to the class portion of this blog. If I were to jump into all the thoughts and events without a background, I feel as though no one would be able to understand what the heck I am referring to, as it is impossible to have at least a similar framework without being in the same environment. This is probably why I give lengthy renditions of stories complete with full background and why the introduction to my thesis is about the length of a thesis itself. So before I can jump into the specifics of the class, I need to give an introduction so we are all on the same page.
Twenty-five Colorado College students representing all grades and a variety of majors are currently residing in Menorca, Spain and working daily on the active excavation of Sanisera. Occupied from the 1st to 9th centuries CE, Sanisera has seen Roman garrisons, basilicas and dormitories, Vandal occupation, Byzantine domination, a period of no occupation at all, and then British and Spanish control. The naturally still bay of Sanitja is a strategic port in the military and trade control of the island itself and the Mediterranean Sea. In this bay, Romans established the town of Sanisera in the 4th century CE which was occupied by several other cultural groups until the 9th century CE.
Phew! Now the fun part. We are excavating between two buildings, a basilica and a dormitory type building, in the hopes of uncovering exactly how/if the two buildings connect. We were split into 4 different groups on the first day and divided between two units on the ground. Excavating is kind of like peeling an onion: you go one layer at a time, slowly and with a ton of effort, and you try not to cry when there is very little visible progress. In two days I have cleared a 1 X 2 X .05 meter plot, sifting continuously to recover any material artifacts. 98% of all artifacts at the site are pottery sherds (and yes, I did spell that correctly) so, needless to say I have encountered a little pottery.
Brief overview, but now I feel more comfortable jumping in on the middle of one of my thought processes knowing that there now is a semi-comprehensive framework for reference along the way.
As expected, Barcelona was an experience filled with unplanned adventures, unanticipated detours, and the unwitting commitment of several cultural faux pas.
Like the time we thought we climbed Montjuic, but really I think we just climbed a small hill that is potentially specifically cordoned off for old men to play bocce ball. Or the time we went the wrong way down the boardwalk, all the way down, and were almost too hangry (hungry + angry) to make it back to the market in a civil manner. Oh, and we cant forget the time that Emily almost had a panic attack in the air taxi that she insisted we took across the bay. In addition, we stood out literally where ever we go. While everyone around us is in black or muted earth tones, Emily’s jacket is stoplight red and I am in tangerine orange. Together we looked like the start of a rainbow in search for our missing colors. Plus, we were convinced that it is considered rude to show your ankles at this point in the season, as we were both the only ones walking around in capris and flats.
But we embraced Barcelona to our fullest potential: we saw some of the coolest buildings, had some divine food, and thoroughly enjoyed the Spanish tradition of the siesta. We were awed by the Sangrada Familia, a behemouth of a Catholic church that commenced construction in 1882 but wont be completed until between 2020 and 2040 (quite a range if you ask me), with its extensive stained glass windows and natural windows. Personally I was most moved by the Casa Batllo, an Antoni Gaudi creation, a house constructed with few straight lines as possible, rife with colored glass and tile. Emily loved the Park Guell, another Gaudi brainchild with architecture that appears to spring from nature. We both fell in love with the bustle of the La Boqueria, not to mention the cheap and delicious food. Post-siesta hunger drove us to experiment with tapas and paella, which I am happy to report are delicious.
All in all, it was a great spring break and wonderful start to the adventure that will be 7th block abroad of our senior year.
I am a notorious planner, addicted to schedules and reliant on lists. Besides making the unpredictability of next year almost more than my slightly neurotic personality can handle, it makes the adventure that I am currently undertaking entirely uncharacteristic. I’m sitting in the Miami airport, 7 hours into a 5 hour layover, considering exactly what I have gotten myself into for the next four days.
Getting a little archaeological field experience by taking Archaeological Field Methods abroad in Spain 7th block is all part of the master plan: experimenting within the four sub-fields of Anthropology to make myself as marketable as possible post graduation. Even heading over a few days early to get a little spring break post-thesis and pre-class relaxation was planned. However that is exactly where the planning ends.
Usually by this point, I would have specific directions constructed, typed, and printed. Everything from transport between the airport and hostel to a complete itinerary of sites, museums, walking tours, and nap times. No joke. I’m telling you, I am a great planner. But not this time.
Probably a product of both a lack of time and an inability to comprehend that I would be international for 7th block, I could not find the time nor the urge to plan this trip to Barcelona. I think I managed to convince myself that it would plan itself. My planning started at the airport when I picked up a pocket guide to Barcelona, read two pages, and decided to look at the rest on the plane (probability this will actually happen: slim to none. I am exhausted from sitting in an airport all day).
By this point though the plane has taken off and there is literally nothing I can do to remedy the fact that I am woefully unprepared. Nothing for it but to surrender to the unknown and embrace the inevitable. Nothing like a little personal challenge before I get my academic challenge on.
So let the spontaneity begin and hilarity ensue.
Final night in Yellowknife. Best aurora yet. First night with camera problems. Obviously.
It was an early display last night, without the interim between the weak and strong displays that I had noticed two nights ago. My complimentary hot chocolate was interrupted by the announcement that the aurora was increasing in intensity, so I was already flustered as I tried to navigate the teepee flap with the tripod. Looking over the frozen lake in front of me I could see several distinct ribbons of light visibly dancing, where mere minutes before had only been a dull haze. Knowing that sometimes the lights can last as little as five minutes, I hustled over to the spot my dad secured on the lake and began setting up the tripod. I had been outside just a few minutes before, trying to photography the early aurora, so the metal was frozen and sticking. After struggling with the legs, I went to mount the camera, and the dang thing would not click into the base.
If I was flustered before I was basically frantic now. Around me I could hear the “Oww’s” and “Ahh’s” of the other guests at the Aurora Village whom I could not see, as night turned us all into black masses. Finally, I managed to get it secured, and with a sign of relief, I turned the lens to the tree line and composed a shot. By this point, the entire sky was ablaze with undulating green bands. Again, we had the privilege to be directly under a portion of the ribbon, but this time two ends flared out in either direction so you could trace the path of the lights from beginning to end. With all the settings adjusted, I pressed the shutter button halfway down and waited for the telltale hum of the auto-focus adjusting to the focal point.
Nothing. No movement. Frustration turned to desperation.
It was the coldest night that I had attempted to use the camera, and as I figured out later, the lens had stopped registering distances as the metal froze. Thinking that this may have been the problem, I dismantled the whole camera and stuck it beneath both of my jackets in an attempt to warm it before the lights faded away. The cold metal dropped my core temperature faster than I would have thought possible, so I quickly gave up that idea, and remounted the camera in a last ditch effort to get a few shots off before it was too late. For reasons still unknown to me, everything came together at that moment, and I took some pictures where the whole sky is full of clearly dynamic green ribbons.
All in all, I was able to get a few pictures that I would have been proud to share. Except, when I went to upload them to this post, I realized that they were all too big. I was experimenting with a higher ISO setting, and it made the images too large for this site to handle. What I could upload is actually a pretty neat picture of the Aurora Village backlit by the rising moon. Though it’s not the most breathtaking image of the night, it is a good representation of the beautiful landscape under which I experienced the aurora on my last night in Yellowknife.
Last night we took ski-doos (I tried calling it a snowmobile and was met with a blank stare until I amended my verbiage) 30 minutes outside of town to a quaint cabin tucked into a small bay on Great Slave Lake. We were paying for an “Aurora Viewing Tour” which made me cringe for several reasons:
1) I do not like paying for something that I can do for free. No one can charge to watch the display in the sky, but as I learned early on in this trip, you have to be patient and willing to wait. But waiting out in the cold and wind is not really an option up here, so in essence what we are paying for is a warm house with complimentary hot chocolate and muskox meatballs. The awesome mode of transport was just an added bonus.
2) I do not like being “the tourist”. That person who walks into a room and stares wide-eyed as they try to get their bearings, equipped with dangling camera and area map. On this trip more than any in my past I have embraced the inevitable and succumbed to the tourist image. Which actually served me well because in addition to finding a bunch of great eateries and good deals, I got a free pass to complain about the cold (just a little).
Regardless to my unfounded aversion to spending money and owning up to being a visitor, the viewing tour was great. We had a beautiful view with a great foreground for my pictures and very little light pollution.
Because we had a warm house to retreat to, we were able to stay up and watch the entire sequence of the aurora. I am beginning to notice a real pattern in the displays, and our guide for the night verified some of my observations.
At first it is just a whisper of light, a band that cuts across the sky devoid of color and movement. Initially I was mistaking the band for a stray cloud and almost missed the beginnings of the show because of it. Eventually, the colors will deepen just enough to give off a faint green hue, but the ribbons of color don’t change their shape very quickly. Last night, this stage lasted for about 45 minutes, but it was so faint at the end that you could only see the color with a long exposure picture, it was no longer visible to the naked eye.
I thought this was going to be it for the night as the aurora forecast for that evening was pretty calm. So when our guide called us to pack up around 12:30am, I was totally content with the images I had taken. Camera and tripod both safely secured to my dad’s back for travel, we waited outside for the ski-doos to warm up. I was the first to notice the indistinct cloud forming above our heads, and it was only a matter of seconds before it erupted into a flame of color. It stretched almost from horizon to horizon, east to west, and was nearly directly overhead so that we were looking up into the ribbons from below. Paralyzed by awe, I barely had time to get out my camera and snap a few hurried shots before it began to fade and we were herded on the ski-doos. I will confess that I was not a good driver on our way back, as I kept tilting my head back to see if it was still above us. As far as I could tell, it stayed with us until we reached the lights of the city, where it quietly faded away.
I think I let my descriptions get the better of me, so incase I was not clear, here is the pattern I have noticed thus far:
- The initial manifestation of the aurora is a stagnant “cloud,” perhaps with a slight greenish hue
- Early in the evening, an aurora with little movement, but a deeper color so as to clearly identify it as such, will appear slowly in the sky and last for around 45 minutes, the fade slowly back into the night
- Later in the evening, the same preceding cloud will appear, but quickly explode with color and movement, lasting for less time than the first, perhaps 15 minutes.
I am happy to give my insight, but please take into account that I am still exceptionally new to this. I have heard so many different accounts from residents of Yellowknife that I can already recognize there are no fast and true rules to the aurora. It does what it wants when it wishes, and you have to be ready to observe it, for it will not wait around for you.
After a day of fishing, checking traps, and collecting firewood, I asked a new friend to tell me a story about the northern lights. Over tea and ginger cookies, he told me about a hunting trip with this father many years ago when naka (the Dene word for the northern lights) had led them to caribou:
Neither man had seen any sign of caribou in several days. After building camp for the night, the father pointed off into the distance and said they would hunt in that direction tomorrow. He was indicating the direction underneath the northern lights which could be seen in the distance, but made no comment on this coincidence to his son. However, this was his way of teaching. The son had to observe and experience in order to learn. The following day, the father set out early on snowshoes, while the son harnessed their best team of dogs. The son caught up with his father and together they traveled in the direction of the naka the night before. At first they did not see anything, so they traveled farther. Then they saw some tracks, but they were old, so they traveled farther. The farther they traveled, the newer the tracks became, until they came upon a large, fresh path through the snow. The father signaled to pull the sled up a hill and out of the way. He sat and began to pack a pipe to wait. Before he could light the tobacco, a herd of caribou rounded the bend and walked toward the men. The father abandoned his pipe, took off his hat and poured his shells inside. They shot fifteen caribou that day. The son asked the father if caribou were attracted to naka. The father responded yes, because when their hooves click together naka dances for them across the sky.
I took as little artistic liberty with that story as I could, except to exclude names. It was a really profound experience to hear this story from the man who lived it. The imagery he created and the utility of a phenomenon that I had only attributed an aesthetic beauty was quite remarkable. Hearing the story just redoubled my determination to see what I came here for.
Last night it all finally paid off, but I am finding it incredibly hard to articulate the event. It is too simple to say that I saw the aurora, because it was more of an experience. At the time it did not seem so profound, but now as I try to write and describe what I saw I am becoming increasingly more blocked. For now, I will let the pictures tell the story of my first experience with naka.