The Not Quite Adventures of a Professional Archaeologist and Aspiring Curmudgeon

Friday, May 4, 2012

Manzanita Madness

Normally I would post a standard-length post on Friday, but this week is a bit chaotic (again).  First off, I am in the field, fighting my way through poison oak as this post drops.  Secondly, I have been preparing a talk for the Fresno County Archaeological Society (meeting at CSU Fresno on Monday, come by to hear the talk if you'd like), which has been eating up much of my time.  Third, as you can probably guess from Wednesday's post, family stuff has been eating up alot of my time (family gatherings have been taking me out of town, and Kaylia's doctor appointments require me to juggle my work schedule around a bit).  So, I've not had much time to write.

However, as I am writing this, I do have a little something to talk about: my fieldwork today.

I spent the day moving through dense manzanita.  For those who are unfamiliar with this foul plant, it's a small shrub-like tree that grows in dense patches.  The branches grow low to the ground and interlock with the branches of the neighboring trees, resulting in a dense, nearly impassable mess.  The branches can sometimes be broken, but more often you have to either just push through it, getting thwacked, cut, and jabbed by branches as you go, or you get down on your hands and knees and crawl through the small 2 foot area where the branches are not quite as thick.  It's miserable.

Today, my crew and I spent the entire day fighting our way through this crap.  My clothes are destroyed, my equipment is a bit damaged, and I am covered in cuts and bruises, as are my crew.  It was bad enough that a crew that can normally cover 10 to twelve linear miles a day spent most of the day fighting its way through a half mile of linear.  When we finished, we found ourselves facing oak woodland covered in a sea of poison oak, and we were, honestly, relieved by this site.

It was terrible.

So why were we doing it?  Well, there may very well have been sites in the area, but a combination of the dense manzanita and the duff (layer of dead leaves and small plants covering the surface) prevented us from being able to actually see the ground most of the time, and the dense manzanita also would have prevented any exploration with a shovel (there would, quite literally, have been no room to move the shovel or screen).  So, there was no good technical reason for doing it.

The reason was regulatory.  In order to get and keep the permits that they need for construction, our client has to be able to demonstrate that they made a good-faith effort to identify archaeological sites that might be impacted by construction.  To this end, we, as the cultural resources contractor, have to actually make the good-faith effort, which often means that we go into places where there is little visibility and little reason to anticipate that our efforts will be rewarded in order to ensure that our client gets what they need.

Add to that the fact that, at this location, we have to deal with a particular office of a particular government agency where little things such as "there's no reasonable way to expect us to see anything" are not taken as an excuse for not looking, and you have the conditions under which I, an usually sane and reasonable man, will not only push myself through manzanita, but will push others through it as well.

Ahh, the glorious and exciting life of the archaeologist.


Weatherwax said...

You neglected to mention that manzanita is also one of the hardest woods you'll ever encounter.

Anthroslug said...

I'm trying not to think about that.