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The People from the Top of the Land

Erin Prado and team Erin at the optical transit with Professor Kent Lightfoot (the tall guy) and fellow students (Darren Modzelewski photo)
Getting oriented, learning to pace, and finding a flake

FORT ROSS, CA – After a relaxing weekend in Berkeley, consisting of many showers and going out to eat twice, I rejoined the crew at Archy Camp in Ft. Ross State Park. Last week, we heard lectures on the Kashaya and learned to orient ourselves using a compass and a USGS map (which, when you're thrown into a field and told to find a mysterious path down a hill of thistle, proved to be more difficult than expected). Now it's time for hands-on learning: intensive, actual fieldwork.

Today we began putting into practice techniques we learned in our lectures, such as reading maps, finding GPS coordinates, filling out site forms, and simply learning how to pace ourselves at a consistent rate (FYI, I'm 29 steps per minute). It's amazing how much time and attention is necessary to do an accurate and successful survey. I'm still having trouble distinguishing a cortical flake from an interior flake, and finding what the heck a fire-cracked rock actually looks like in the field. I have, however, picked up some impressive technical terms like bioturbation (that would be the disturbance of sediment layers by biological activity). Maybe not so impressive, but I am beginning to catch onto this archaeology business.

For today's work, we were split into teams and each assigned a unit of the proposed interpretive trail to survey. This was to make sure there weren't sites that were missed in previous surveys and to get us thinking about what areas would be good to incorporate into the trail. My crew, led by graduate student Sara Gonzalez, was assigned to Sample Unit One, located east of the old Highway 1 on both sides of a dry spring, and right in the middle of grazing land for a bunch of cows. While keeping track of every 20 meters along a 320-meter transect, it turned out to be hard to flag the boundaries and look for significant artifacts at the same time. However, our crew was able to mark sites and found isolated lithic scatters of chert and obsidian from old stone tools, as well as a few glass bottles and the light from the top of a lamppost. I only found one chert flake myself, but let me tell you, it was exciting enough that I am willing to brave the gusty winds for another six hours of surveying tomorrow.

Aside from the tedious but rewarding field work, the night lectures have been my favorite activity. One local couple gets dressed up and shows up at every lecture at the Visitors' Center with questions in hand. Tomorrow, we begin leading tours of the sites along the proposed interpretive trail. Many people in the local community are really enthused about learning the history of the Kashaya and their interaction with the groups that came with the Russian-American Company. I have to admit I am worried about being able to answer all the questions about to come my way.

In other news, camp life is swell and everyone is enjoying the field school as much as I am, though we've all had to adapt to the fickle weather. Despite the mighty winds, the food is great, the wild turkeys we've encountered are a source of regular entertainment, and I can't think of a better way to spend my summer.

– Erin

Erin is a third-year Anthropology and Integrative Biology major.