Archaeology, or, Digging Holes in the Ground and Finding Stuff

By Lawrence “Mack in Texas” Hall (rated G)

Long, long ago in a land far, far away I took several courses in historic sites archaeology with Professor James R. Moriarty, historian, archaeologist, raconteur, and veteran of the Pacific campaign during the Second World War.

Dr. Moriarty and his merry band enjoyed access to Mission San Diego de Alcala and to San Diego’s Old Town, where we learned from him the discipline of the dig – excavating with soft brushes more often than with small trowels, and mapping everything, recording everything, labelling everything, photographing. With one slow, brief pass with a small blade one could find a Chinese coin, a fragment of a Spanish stirrup, human finger bones, and a good-sized chunk of glass from the headlight of a 1948 Hudson, all jumbled up by the accidents of history, gardening, and the busy actions of gophers.

This season’s gardening at my rural estate along Jasper County Beer Can & Garbage Dump Road 400 has been similarly rewarding in matters of archaeology, only without any human remains.

In tilling a little plot for the sunflowers I have so far found:

1. A Sylvania Blue Dot ™ flashbulb for photography, never fired. I don’t know how it got there. I don’t know how it survived heat and rain and frost for years. I don’t know how it survived the tines of the mechanical tiller two weeks ago.

2. A small hatchet head, possibly meant for camping, with part of the top deliberately curled by the owner for purposes unknown to me. Someone suggested a specialty modification by a roofer. An InterGossip search of Boy Scout hatches, box hatchets, roofing hatchets, and so on revealed nothing similar.

3. A fine collection of broken glass.

4. A finer collection of screws and nails of various sizes. Old people (cough) are given to saying, “They don’t make ‘em like they used to,” but it is true. Modern nails and screws are often degraded pot metal poured into molds in Shanghai. Old nails and screws are made of extruded steel wire, and even after decades in the earth are often more durable than the modern ****.  I have a big magnet on a rope for searching for nails and other ferrous objects. Even if the found objects are not useful, I’ve saved the lawnmower blades.  Several years ago I came up with a pocketknife, a good old Schrade-Walden rusted beyond use. I imagine its owner looked for it a long time before giving it up and going to Mixson’s Hardware or Sharbutt’s Feed Store to buy a new one, bemoaning the old one as better.

This summer I should, barring adventures with the weather and incursions by varmints, have a modest stand of sunflowers.  Agricultural supply houses sell neat little gadgets for hulling them, and I might try that someday, but for now I harvest the heads, store them in that famous cool dry place, and put them out for the birds and squirrels in the winter.

As they grow, sunflowers are beautiful, which is its own reward. As heliotropes they follow the sun.  Scientists and other Dr. Grundy types assure us that heliotropes don’t really follow the sun, that the sun’s rays stimulate cells that blah, blah, blah.

Any small child knows better – sunflowers follow the sun because they want to.

So there.

Life is good.

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