Survey: A Tale of Ferns, Wasps, and a Machete

By Jeremy,

Survey is a key aspect of beginning any archaeological project. Like any task, it’s important to fully understand what the parameters are and what the nature of the task is. Survey does this by allowing archaeologists to find sites, features, and artifacts visible on the surface of the landscape without extensive excavations. This is not only time and cost efficient, it is also the least invasive or destructive method of conducting field work; allowing us to record information about our focus without destroying it. Most material of historical or archaeological importance in the field is not found at the surface level, however surveying is a good preliminary step for conducting work over a very large area.

Photo: T. Clark Erina searching for features.

Photo: T. Clark
Erina searching for features.

Survey can be conducted in a variety of ways, from the simplest, such as informally walking around a location, to the more complex, such as systematically dividing the area into a grid and walking straight lines across it, all the way to high tech survey methods, like using a plane with specialized remote sensing equipment. Any serious archaeological work done today tends towards the more structured methods, with the systematization of our methods, lessening the effect of human error in our work.

Photo: E. Baci Jeremy fighting through the dense brush with a machete.

Photo: E. Baci
Jeremy fighting through the dense brush with a machete.

For our work this year in the shíshálh territory we’ve begun with both simple and systematic survey. The site has proven incredibly dense with features. From the very first day on site, members of the team and the shíshálh band have been finding more and more previously undiscovered features of the site. With a group of six to seven people covering a width of around thirty metres, we marched at least a hundred metres in every direction.

Photo: T. Clark Jeremy and Erina discussing the survey tactic.

Photo: T. Clark
Jeremy and Erina discussing the survey tactic.

Having only conducted fieldwork for five days, we have identified near on two hundred locations of possible historical human activity, and have confirmed the presence of about two-dozen in the centre of the site, showing an intense human presence in the site, which has been roughly estimated to be two thousand years old.

The work has not been without its difficulties. This part of the world can be incredibly wooded with large swaths untouched by humans for decades, leading to less than favourable conditions for ground survey.

Photo: A. Holland One of the multiple wasp stings we endured during survey.

Photo: A. Holland
One of the multiple wasp stings we endured during survey.

We’ve trekked through large groups of sword ferns and dense trees, which have made it hard to even see the ground, let alone try and find things. We’ve endured multiple wasp stings, falls, and cuts, but marched on never the less, knowing that what we were doing was in the pursuit of bettering the understanding of an incredibly important aspect of the local cultural history, and with the knowledge that no matter how difficult the work may seem, this is an incredibly rare and special opportunity that we’ve been afforded here by the shíshálh people, and that we therefore owe it to them to make sure this work is done properly and with its due respect.

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