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Typical Day

Mark wakes to a scorpion scurrying over his sleeping bag. He yawns and casually brushes the creature off. A few feet away, he hears Russell stir in his sleep. He and Russell have been friends since college. Both of them earned their master’s degrees in archaeology together. Because he knows Russell is deathly afraid of scorpions, he keeps quiet about the two that are sleeping silently on his head.

Mark specializes in stone tool analysis and Russell is a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) mapping expert. They work for a scientific consulting firm out of Nevada, but neither one of them spends much time at home.

Just before he drifts back to sleep, Mark hears Russell shout and jump so fast he shakes the tent.

“Man, you make the worst alarm clock,” Mark says.

“Why don’t you ever tell me when we pitch the tent on top of a nest of scorpions?”

“What would be the fun in that? By the way, where are we? I tend to lose track.” Mark says while wriggling out of his bag.

“I’m not going to tell you. You’ll have to look like an idiot in front of the shovel bums,” Russell says.

Mark thinks they’re in Idaho or maybe Utah. They move around so much that it’s hard to say. He opens up his laptop and sees the file name—Mendocino, California.

“Wow. I was way off,” Mark thinks.

Mark uses his computer to keep a database of the artifacts that they’ve unearthed. The GIS database will allow Russell to create a 3D map of the excavation site. In the distance, he can hear the graders rev up for another day of moving dirt.

Their job is to map and remove any Native American artifacts that are found during excavation so that a construction company can come in and lay the foundation for a strip mall. Mark isn’t keen about strip malls, but he is keen on making sure that any buried sites are located before they’re buried forever beneath a Starbucks. By using ground penetrating radar, they were able to locate a buried feature in one small area. The job was supposed to take a couple of days, but it has gotten extended due to bad weather.

“Hey, John. Looks like it’s going to be a nice day,” Mark says to an archaeological field tech.

“Yeah, it’s a good thing because I need the money today,’ John grumbles.

“Why do you and Russell sleep outside at night when the company pays for you to sleep at that fleabag motel?” he asks.

“Good question. I guess I love sleeping under the stars and Russell loves bugs,” Mark replies.

Mark spends his morning recording the broken arrowhead they found in that buried feature, which turned out to be a trash midden. He plots exactly where it was found on the site map. Each arrowhead is unique and tells its own story. Mark likes to create little storylines for each. He envisions the person making it and the adventures they had here before strip malls ever existed. This one had been snapped at the tip, probably when pulled out of an animal that had been shot with it. He measures and weighs it, identifies the rock it was made from as obsidian, and notes notches in the corner of its base for hafting onto an arrow shaft. According to his classification book, it’s a match for a type that was made between AD 500 and 1500. Pleased, he walks over to tell the crew he has a rough date for the site.

When he walks over, he sees Russell on top of a grader. The field crew is standing around laughing.

“What’s going on?” Mark asks.

“Oh man, Russell just stepped on a snake and jumped up on the grader while it was moving,” a field tech says.

“Russell, stop being a wimp,” Mark demands.

“I will when you tell me that there aren’t any more snakes down there,” Russell says.

Mark has an idea. He holds up his clipboard.

“I have the identification of that fancy pottery sherd we found when you thought a bee was attacking your foot.” Mark says.

Russell hurries down from the grader and pulls out his glasses, “Of course, we knew it had to be associated with that tribe.”

“Yeah, it changes everything. Who would ever guess that they would pass through California? Or do you think it was traded?” Mark says.

They give each other high fives and get busy writing reports. That night under the stars they talk about the find.

“So are you going to write a paper about it? I mean you found the pottery,” Russell asks.

“How about we co-author a paper? You were the one who thought it was from that tribe.” Mark grins in the dark.

“Sounds good. Hey I think I there might be a scorpion on my sleeping bag again,” Russell winces.

“Just relax. Trust me - that thing is more scared of you than you think it is,” Mark laughs.