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