Monday, July 8, 2013

Day in the life....part deux....or dos, or dva, or two....

This is Zortman's backyard.  Sometimes archaeology takes you to freaking beautiful places. This one happens to be in The-Middle-of-Nowhere, Montana.  

Today marked the official start of Historic Ranger House Foundation Restoration!  That isn't really the project name...I'm not sure what the official name is.  But it doesn't matter.  This post is going to be kind of a "day in the life" meets "the things they never told you."
This is how our day started.  With rain.

This building, which could double as a house, was built in 1908 by some random Forest Service firefighter guy.  He was essentially told, "Go to Zortman, where there is nothing, and build an office."  So he did.  I have to say that for someone who was not technically a house builder guy, he did a freaking fantastic job.

Here's the front of the building....complete with newly placed Backhoe trenches.

Here's a view of the town of Zortman from the front yard of the Ranger Station.
This house is located on a sloping hill at the base of mountains.  This is important in that, as evidenced by every single day we've gone out there, it rains.  A lot.  The rain run-off comes down the hill (right side of the picture above) and runs through the foundation.  This is important because foundations can only take that running water for so long, as evidenced by this:

Foundations and the houses sitting on them, should be even with each other.  
This poor building has a 4 inch difference in height from one side to the other.  This makes for a strange feeling when one stands in the house.  As a matter of fact, knowing that the house leans so much gives me the impression that it sways, so I can't stand in it for more than 5 minutes without freaking out ever so slightly.  I keep getting these images that the house is going to just slip on down the hill....taking me for the ride I've never wanted.  

Luckily for this building, and my sanity, the age alone gets it into the National Register of Historic Places.  And because of that little status, the BLM is charged with maintaining the house, which is what we are going out there to accomplish.  And thus, I start my day believing we will be transporting mortar and cement from Malta to the house.  

Just like this.  3,000 pounds.  I felt bad for the truck.
Now, I could've sworn my supervisor said we'd be going back and forth.  He didn't say squat about doing any actual work.  Pfft.  What the heck was I thinking.....I should've known he'd be like, "yeah, we have time!  Grab a shovel!"  I was seriously underprepared with drinking water.  But that is okay, because I survived.  

I wrote in a previous post that in college courses they teach that archaeology is a gentle and slow process of digging.  Then I laughed at that preposterous idea and said that sometimes you are handed a pick-axe and told to get 4 feet down in a 1x1m unit in 4 hours....including time for screening.  Well, today we not only had shovels, but also these beauties:

To the left, we have Mr. Backhoe and just behind the ginormous dirt pile we have Mrs. CAT-Skidder Thing....and my boss....doing something....
Oh yeah!  Pretty archaeology!  Not.  But it was the backhoe in a day, or 6 people with shovels in 3 days.
So, between the backhoe and the CAT-Skidder Thing, that entire left side of the house foundation was cleared about 2 feet down.  You see, though archaeologists prefer to NOT use backhoes and such, they do, in fact, come in handy.  The land came up to the base of the house on that side, and none of the foundation was exposed.  To top it off, the land needs to be leveled out to prevent future water run-off issues.  So, we plowed through that crap!  Wait.  Was that un-archaeological of me?  Oh well.  I'm glad I didn't have to dig it all by hand, because instead we got clean the dirt off the dirt and make the newly exposed foundation wall as pretty as possible.  

I love making mud pretty!  
Okay now, let's all "ooh" and "aahh" at the beautiful stratigraphy!  Archaeologists love it.  So now you all know that in addition to staring at stones on the prairie, I also stare at dirt.  And I get paid to do this. The dark soil on the top is a feature called a "Builder's Trench,"  and it is noticeably different from the undisturbed subsoil beneath it.  The great thing about this is that we can see where they dug when they laid the foundation in 1908.  

Wall collapse!  Oops.
In clearing the remaining mud/dirt off the foundation, we stumbled upon a small section of foundation that had collapsed.  This was not the result of the backhoe or my wall cleaning, rather it happened sometime after the building was completed.  We stood around this for a good 5 minutes discussing it while ooh'ing and aah'ing...because that is what archaeologists do.  I don't think I was ever warned in any college course that I would find something like this fascinating.  Though, if they had tried to tell me that staring at a crumble of stones in mud would lead me to ooh'ing at it, I probably wouldn't have believed them.

You know what else they don't warn you about?  That one day you'll play "What Munsell Color is this Soil?"  

So many colors, so little time! Fun-sell Munsell book, so oh well.
So, the restoration process has officially begun.  We'll have a mason from the Forest Service with us to tear out the old foundation and build a new one.  "Build it with what?" you ask?  Why, with a ton of stones from the nearby mountains!  

Specifically, that pile of stones.
I can officially say that I now know what types of stones are good for building a house foundation.  I never thought I would be able to claim that!  I can barely hang a picture on the wall and get it centered without fixing it 4-5 times.  This is something I am not sure many people know:  archaeology needs people who can learn a variety of skills.  Not only must you be able to distinguish human-made objects from naturally-made, but you may also need to be able to tear down and rebuild a wall.  And even if you don't have a hand in actually rebuilding anything, you need to at least understand what it takes to build it.  If you don't understand what goes in to building a house, how can you hope to truly understand the house?  So, archaeology kind of requires you to be open to learning new skills.  I have no idea if I will be of any use in setting the new foundation, but I'm glad I'll understand the process! grasshopper friend!  He has nothing to do with anything else, except that he's adorable!!
You also need to be able to work in crappy conditions and in horrible weather.  It rained on and off all day.  It hailed, though thankfully that happened when we were on our way back.  Did I mention it was an 11 hour day?  No?  Well, now I did.  And we're going back tomorrow, and the next day, and probably everyday this week through the weekend.  But we'll see if the government will let us little seasonal employees work on the weekend.

We work in this...
...and sometimes this...archaeology is such a clean profession.
So at the end of the day, we had dug out the entire foundation area (yay!), and nicely excavated a side of the foundation.  We were rained on, had to dig in slimy clay mud, and in general, had a typical day of archaeology.  As a word of warning for anyone who decides to go do archaeology, you should know this one last thing:  it is dirty play in the dirt and mud.  It gets everywhere, just like the bugs.  Don't be fooled by the pretty women out digging in the dirt.  They may have nicely painted nails, and they may be sad if they chip a nail, but I promise you that won't stop them from being awesome.  But you should know that when you get home at the end of a dig day, do NOT sit down until after you have showered, gotten out and started drying off, climbed back in the shower because you found more dirt, climbed back out of the shower because at that point you just gave up and thought "meh, close enough," gotten your lunch and coffee ready because you won't want to do it in the morning, and gotten dinner in your hands.  Then, and only then, may you sit down, because I guarantee that the second you sit down, you will stop functioning.  Well, you'll probably function enough to shovel food in your mouth, but that's about all you'll want to do.

"Gore-Tex is waterproof," they said.  Tell that to my socks and feet.  By the way, this is after 15 minutes of me slamming my shoes on the ground to get the mud off.  This is just after I gave up.
And this is how clean I stayed while playing in the mud.

No comments:

Post a Comment