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The People from the Top of the Land

Armando Abeyta, Allison Ara and Moira Noiseaux. Archy Camp members Armando Abeyta, Allison Ara and Moira Noiseaux.
Mapping the site and documenting artifacts as the wind blows and blows

FORT ROSS, CA — I am jarred awake by the yells of one of our cruel graduate student instructors, the only person awake and alert at 6:30 a.m. Fighting my urge to go back to sleep, I leave the warm domain of my bed to face the unsympathetic morning weather that I normally try to avoid. After I eventually pull myself together, my group receives its daily assignment - mapping at our site (SU4-1). This sounds reasonable enough.

We get driven to Fort Ross State Historic Park to meet the blasting morning wind and fog. My team's task for the day is to map a previously unstudied archaeological site we discovered within a broader area of the coastline. We are excited to finally be working on our site after being forced to neglect it last week. The wind is cold and fierce, but morale is still high. We break the site up into four sections, and each group member looks for artifacts in one section. Our site is a lithic scatter (a place where stone tools were produced), so we are chiefly looking for chipped stone fragments. Fortunately, this site is filled to the brim with artifacts.

After cursorily examining the area and flagging the numerous artifacts, my group and I start to map the site. This means that two team members walk across the site in two-meter intervals noting any artifacts, outcropping rock, or disturbances in the soil caused by gophers or other such animals and put the information on a grid. My job is to take and record what artifacts are found, note the compass readings for their locations, assign each artifact a number, and record that number on the grid my group has made.

Reading the compass on a gusty day such as today is no easy task. The wind caused my eyes to tear, making it exceptionally hard to use the compass accurately. Along with the working undergrads, our group leader makes precise drawings of all the sizable and significant artifacts we have found. We are all impressed with his drawing abilities. In the end we documented 40 artifacts of obsidian, historic glass, and chert (which overwhelmingly dominated our site). The map we completed today will be used with a general site map we made using a high-tech computer during the third week. With these different maps, we will be able to compile a great set of archaeological site forms.

After a hard day of battling the wind on our different sites, all four crews reconvene for a dinner of chicken stew back at the campsite. The rest of the night is spent shooting the breeze around the campfire, then we go to sleep, eagerly looking forward to another windy day struggling to make our contribution to archaeology at Fort Ross.


Allison Ara is a third-year Anthropology major.