Take a walk on the wildside

Archaeological fieldwork, like any job, has its routines.

The morning routine begins the night before with planning the lunch for the day to come, charging the many batteries of the digital world (even for Damien – see earlier blog) and writing up fieldnotes to devise a strategy to follow.

Morning comes which means making sure everyone’s up, having breakfast, taking antimalarials, packing the day’s kit, and then waiting.  We wait for lunch to be made and packed, wait for our vehicle, and then we’re off to pick up an armed scout for protection in the national park where there’s plenty of wildlife.

The routine sounds simple enough, but only twice in the past four weeks have we left on time.  Delays plague each step.  Frustration builds and then passes as at last we’re on our way.

We drive into the park, heading for one of three locations along the sand scarp.  The vehicle is left in the shade of a tree and any unneeded kit is locked inside.  Baboons  abound, and they’ll take anything that catches their eye.

We unpack and share equipment, food, and water between us for the trek to come. The scout leads us single file towards the sands some 500 metres away.  And that’s when the routine ends.

Walking and working in the ‘bush’ brings surprises, large and small, throughout the day.  A momma rhino and her baby take on a different perspective when you’re on foot. She’s very, very large and her little one is more than a bit curious.

On foot with rhino

Jessie and young’un on their way to say hello

Fortunately, our scout Simms knows all the rhinos in the park and their temperaments.  Should “Jessie” head towards us, he cautions, then move behind a fallen tree.  She does, and we do.  Adrenalin flows.  And still 300 metres to go.

We met Jessie and her kin more than once, and not always with a tree for cover.

A ‘tower of giraffes’* offers a more relaxing experience; they have a pale sandy hue echoing the dry season vegetation.

Tower of giraffes1

Passing a ‘tower of giraffes’

On site, dung beetles emerge in the excavation pits from nowhere; sprites of the sands.  One unusual beetle catches the eye, crawling on a newly scraped surface.  Camouflaged by a crust of ubiquitous red sand.

Sand beetle

Weathered finger and crusty beetle sharing the red sands

Baboons join us at lunch time, watching for an opportunity for snatching food and just maybe, enjoying the company of a fellow primate.

Lunch3

Lunch time visitors

August brings warmer days as summer approaches in the southern hemisphere.  With the heat comes snakes and flies.  Our survey team has a close encounter with a green mamba in a gorge near Victoria Falls [no time for photos!].  But everyone endures the nuisance of sweat bees.  They hover in sparse clouds around eyes, ears, nose, and mouth.  Any source of moisture will do including sweat.  By mid-afternoon they’re almost unbearable.

I’ve never quite believed tales that these miniscule ‘bees’ actually make honey. If they do it’s not on my shopping list.  Simms showed me a hive in a tree at waist height, complete with wax and a stickysubstance. ‘It’s sweet’ he says.  Temptation resisted.

Taste of honey2

The little tormentors at home. The white rim is wax and the honey is in the middle of the hive

Fieldwork is now over as of yesterday.   End of season routines hove into sight. A temporary family disbands.  Sad and happy goodbyes all ‘round among those who shared a unique experience.

DSCN5013

Setting off for a walk on the wild side

Then,  the artefacts need cataloguing and bagging.  Samples of sand and  rock for dating are also catalogued.  Export permits sought. Shipping crates to be made; a price agreed first with local joiners.  A shipping agent then contacted, the weight and contents assessed.  A price agreed, forms completed, and the precious objects handed over in the hope they will appear in Liverpool soon, intact.  Especially the tubes of sand that cannot be exposed to light otherwise they cannot be dated. More on that next time.

Routines govern the project from start to finish.  They give a necessary air of structure and purpose to each day.  Thin constructs, easily torn and easily remade.

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*A tower of giraffes describes a standing group.  When moving together they are a ‘journey of giraffes’ – thank you Simms for sharing these poetic labels

6 thoughts on “Take a walk on the wildside

    1. Hello ‘Bandit’ – the sands are missing you and so are all of us here. Will put a few sweat bees in the post…

      Professor L Barham Department of Archaeology, Classics and Egyptology University of Liverpool 14 Abercromby Square Liverpool L69 3ZX UK

      PI on the AHRC funded ‘Deep Roots’ project – http://www.liverpool.ac.uk/archaeology-classics-and-egyptology/research/projects/deep-roots/ Follow my blog from the field: http://www.deeprootsafrica.blog/

      Author of From Hand to Handle: The First Industrial Revolution, Oxford University Press, 2013 Oxford University Press

      ________________________________________

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  1. Great! You’ve managed to convey pretty much what it’s like so successfully I’m glad I’m not there this time I must admit. Hope immigration gets sorted and you can leave the country next week!

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    1. Aw, thank you. And there is still the adventure to come with Immigration which is a walk on the wildside for sure.x

      Professor L Barham Department of Archaeology, Classics and Egyptology University of Liverpool 14 Abercromby Square Liverpool L69 3ZX UK

      PI on the AHRC funded ‘Deep Roots’ project – http://www.liverpool.ac.uk/archaeology-classics-and-egyptology/research/projects/deep-roots/ Follow my blog from the field: http://www.deeprootsafrica.blog/

      Author of From Hand to Handle: The First Industrial Revolution, Oxford University Press, 2013 Oxford University Press

      ________________________________________

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About Larry Barham

My name is Larry (Lawrence if I’m feeling formal) Barham and I'm a Professor of African Archaeology at the University of Liverpool, England, teaching evolutionary anthropology at undergraduate and postgraduate level.