24 July 2017
So, when Deano and Azraa (an honours student specialising in calcrete formations) returned from their search, they informed us that they had found two different spots where we would be digging standard test pits (STP). Both of the sites were right next to, what most people would call, rocks. The calcrete rock next to which we had to dig had swirly lines on, a bit like Van Gogh’s Starry Night.
Azraa informed us that these swirly lines indicated that it was an alluvial formation. We marked off our 1x1m square and started digging (We later decided to enlarge it to 2x1m). The top layer was dry, white dune sands. After about 30cm of white dune sand we reached an orange layer. This next stratum was more orange in colour and was the layer at which we would be looking. The colour is the product of an iron rich water-table of earlier times. It was interesting that, just like the landscape, where we were digging, was sloping downwards, so was the orange layer in our STP.
When we reached the orange level we had to start sifting the soil to prevent missing some smaller bones and lithic pieces. Thinking this can’t be too difficult, we walked over to the sieve, set it up and proceeded to sift the bucketloads of orange coloured soil that arrived. The sieves came with two foldable stands and a round stick. We presumed that the stick might be used to run through the sand in the sieve to help with the sifting, but it was a bit strange that it couldn’t fit into the sieve. It was easier to just use our hands to help the wet sand to move through the sieve. After doing two bucket loads in this manner, the lecturer came over to examine some of our finds. So far it consisted of very little, just a couple of bone fragments and a possible stone tool.
He then left to go help the other group who were doing the same activity, just on the other side of the sand dune on our eastern side. Halfway through our third bucket, the tutors informed us that we had been using the sieve incorrectly. The round stick that we had presumed was for stirring the sand, was in reality used to roll the sieve across the two stands, causing the sand to move from one side to the other and thereby moving through the sieve. This movement also caused some of the larger sand balls to break apart. The sand was, however, too wet, so we decided to sift by hand.
In this final stage, we found a part of a mandible with three intact molars (probably bovid class 3, but don’t quote me on that). We also found, what appeared to be an extremely large frog toe bone, but the person who ID’ed it said that it might have been a misclassification. (If it is a frog toe bone, then I would not like to see the actual size of the frog. I’d imagine it to be the size of a rugby ball, and the size of a such a large amphibian makes me slightly uneasy).
We also found some pieces of possible tortoise shell, which is quite dense and therefore has a long lasting impression in the archaeological record.
The lithics we uncovered were few and far between. In total it was around 3 pieces of which one was a core or a potential biface (I know it seems impossible that this could fit both categories, but it did). Our final, and weirdly, most exhilarating find was hyena coprolites. In basic terms, that means we were very excited that we found some fossilised hyena dung. Now, you might be wondering how this could possibly help us in any imaginable way.
Well, it can be analysed for photolytic evidence which could help reconstruct past environments. The coprolites would consist of what the hyena had eaten, and would, therefore, contain whatever the hyena’s prey (Most probably a herbivore) had consumed- never had the saying, you are what you eat, proven quite so true.
While this was going on on our side, the other group had been more successful in the lithics department. The had found various flakes and flake fragments, another core and loads of quartz. The reason why the quartz is important is that it is not a local raw material, meaning that the stone tool producers had to purposefully fetch it somewhere else and were carrying it around for a specific reason (this reason might be just to appear cool to their fellow tool makers, but it seems quite excessive, but if you want to be a cool toolmaker you have to make a statement).
They also found some tortoise bone and shell fragments. All in all, I’d say it was a fairly eventful first day. I must add that this was some our first times out in the field and it might seem like a really quiet and boring day to other archaeologists, but we, without any frame of reference, were still keen to return and to continue our investigation into the past.
At the end of the day, Deano decided that the pit on the Western side (our pit) would be the one that receives further investigation because it had better stratigraphy. We packed up, and homewards we went, looking forward to a day in the lab, where we *read I* could recover from a mild sunburn.
Alluvial: alluvial soil – a fine-grained fertile soil deposited by water flowing over flood plains or in river beds. alluvial deposit, alluvial sediment, alluvium, alluvion – clay or silt or gravel carried by rushing streams and deposited where the stream slows down.
Bovid: any of a family (Bovidae) of ruminants that have hollow unbranched permanently attached horns present in usually both sexes and that include antelopes, oxen, sheep, and goats. Bovids are divided into size classes with class 1 being the smallest and class 5 being the largest
Core: a lithic core is a distinctive artifact that results from the practice of lithic reduction. It is the part from which the stone flakes are taken off of.
Phytoliths: a minute mineral particle formed inside a plant; a fossilised particle of plant tissue.
Stratum: a layer in which archaeological material (such as artifacts, skeletons, and dwelling remains) is found on excavation