The Not Quite Adventures of a Professional Archaeologist and Aspiring Curmudgeon

Monday, March 17, 2008

Working With a Few of My Favorite Things

I was assigned to a boundary-testing project in Carmel. The client was building a house in the middle of a nature preserve (no, I don't know how what legal wrangling he had to go through, either). The wastewater pipeline from the house to the septic tank was drafted in such a way that it would require digging next to an archaeological site. So, it was necessary to know how large the site is in order to figure out whether the site would be damaged by the construction of the septic line.

So, that's how I ended up doing boundary testing in Carmel. The site was on land that had been gated off from the rest of Carmel (no doubt to keep out the rough, urban, street element that plagues the neighboring golf courses and country clubs), and the land on which the site sat was a good twenty minute drive through the hills away from the main gate. I arrived at the site, located the center of the surface extent of the site, laid out transects (straight lines going away from the central point), figured out where to put my units (the small holes I was going to dig to look for archaeological material), and set to work digging.

Now, the way that I had worked this out, I would dig holes at 10-meter intervals along the transects (yeah, that's right, I use meters, not feet - and it doesn't mean I'm a commie, it means I'm using a superior system of measurement that is both more precise and compatible with the system used by my colleagues the world over - START USING METRIC, PEOPLE, FREE YOURSELVES FROM THE USELESS "ENGLISH STANDARD" METHOD THAT THE ENGLISH DON'T EVEN USE ANYMORE!). I would dig, place the dirt into a wire-mesh screen, sift out the dirt, chuck out the rocks, and if there was any archaeological materials in the screen (stone tools, shell, fire-cracked rock from a hearth, etc.), then I knew that I was still in the site. If not, I knew that I was out of the site.

Well, I was on my second hole when I felt a pain in my ankle. At first I thought that I had gotten stinging nettle or some such thing into my sock. I bent over to pick it out, and I felt another sharp pain on my belly, then another on my other ankle, then one on my wrist. I then noticed a buzzing - bees were flying up out of the hole that I had been digging - I had hit a nest, and I was now surrounded and being attacked by a swarm of yellow-colored malice. I dropped my backpack, screen, shovel, and ran for my car, more hornets landing on me and stinging me the entire way.

Sitting in the car, I took off my gloves, and noticed that my skin had turned yellow (I later found out that this was due to a yellow dye in my new gloves, but at the time I thought it might be a reaction to the stings). Not knowing whether or not I was allergic to bee stings (it had been over twenty years since the last time I was stung), I started the car and headed for the hospital.

Once I arrived at the hospital, finding a parking space became difficult. I sought a parking lot, constantly being slowed by idiots in huge SUV's that had clearly never been off of a paved surface who kept stopping to look around in the parking lot or bringing traffic to a screeching halt as the attempted to fit their over-sized penis extension vehicles into spaces built for cars and not tanks. Needless to say, this did not improve my mood.

Once I got into the emergency room, I realized that my workers comp insurance paperwork was in my backpack, which I had dropped in the field. So, I walked up to the main desk, checked in, and got the fax number. I then proceeded to call my office and have my co-worker fax the worker's comp information to the hospital.

This being done, I went to have a seat, and two bees flew out of my shirt and began wandering the emergency room. At this moment, a nurse walked out, saw the bees (she was probably cued off by the small and subtle way in which people were screaming and running about the emergency room), and proceeded to catch them and kill them by hand, leaving them sufficiently in tact to place in a plastic bag and hand to the doctor when he finally saw me.

After a few hours, I finally saw the doctor (by this point I was pretty sure I was, in fact, not allergic to bees, but for workers comp reason, I had to go through with the rest of the visit. I had also washed the dye off of my hands and realized that I was not experiencing skin discoloration). He looked me over, checked my lungs, checked by throat, and checked my eyes, and then sent me on my way.

I walked back to my car, got in, and noticed a red folder on the passenger seat. The red folder is what my company keeps all emergency information in. In other words, I had the workers comp info. with me the entire time.

I went back to the site, and worked until sunset. The next morning, I returned to the site again to finish the job.

At around 10:30 AM, I was digging a unit in what looked like a really nice spot. I was in the shade of an oak tree, on the toe of a slope where a breeze whipped by. All in all, a nice spot to work. I was screening dirt when I noticed movement in the screen. Looking down, I saw several large ants int he screen, and right about then, I began to feel stings on my arms. Yep, biting ants, and they had climbed right up my sleeves and into my gloves. As obnoxious as these little beasties are, I had been bitten by them enough times to know that, pain aside, they posed no danger. So, I continued working, the ants climbing into my sleeves, onto my torso, and eventually up my pant legs (I had welts from bites in places that you probably don't want to know about).

I finished that unit, and then moved on to the next one - which was in the middle of poison oak. Now, I don't get the whole "open sores leaking puss" reaction to poison oak, which is a good thing. However, I do get a bad, extremely itchy, extremely red rash - and I get systemic contamination, where I will have a rash for several weeks (sometimes over a month), an then get rid of it only to have it re-appear in exactly the same place a few weeks later. I hate poison oak.
But, I had to dig the unit. So, I buttoned my sleeve cuffs around my gloves, tucked my pants into the tops of my boots, and went to work. I found myself digging through poison oak roots, where the dark, tar-like, toxin-laden sap is at it's runny nastiest. Surprisingly, a week later, I still don't have a rash. My precautions apparently paid off, and I did manage to avoid contact with the evil weed.

So, there's a story of life in the field. If nothing else, I hope that this story has taught you to love your office job. And if it has failed at that, perhaps it will at least give you the chance to laugh at a yutz who earned a masters degree so that he could be a target to insects.

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