Posted by: signalhillarchaeology | August 5, 2009

Profiling is fun… no, really.

Today was one of those days on the dig that really makes a person wonder why it is they’re doing archaeology anyway (the answer is because all archaeologists are little children at heart who just want to get really dirty, find treasure and wear cool hats). Today was a mapping day. Better than that, today was a profiling day.

From foreground to background, here we are drawing, mapping, and contemplating-- all important things to do when profiling.

From foreground to background, here we are measuring, drawing, and setting up a photo board for a photograph... all important jobs in recording stratigraphy. Missing from photo: students tearing out hair and cursing heartily (it did happen, trust me...)

Profiling is when one does a map of the wall of the trench, profiling all of the strata (soil layers). It’s incredibly important to know each strata’s position and relevance to other strata. This is because strata are one of the archaeologist’s best tools for relative dating (dating something in relation to something else). Barring disturbance, a strata at the bottom of the site is older than a strata at the top of the site. And one can assume that things found in the same layer are from roughly the same time period.

It’s also important to map the stratigraphy because excavation is a destructive process. We need records because as we dig the strata, we lose them. They’re just a jumble of dirt under the sifter. Anyway, so that’s Stratigraphy 101. Now for the nitty gritty (and boy, is it gritty).

You begin a profile map by stretching a level line across the wall you’re mapping, starting from datum (0). This is your 0 x-axis. Then you measure down from the line to various points on the wall you’re mapping. It’s a little tricky because the line has to be level and it tends to sag over time (especially when the annoying people in the other trench keep leaning on it and climbing over it).

We mapped the western wall of trenches B and D (they’re connected). Dominique did the drawing and I did the measuring. Both are, in their own way, a real pain in the various body parts you happen to be using.

The mapping... it never stops. Ever... or so it seems some days.

The mapping... it never stops. Ever... or so it seems some days.

The person doing the map is in charge. They tell the measurer where to measure and trust me, after hour 2 you stop saying please. Meanwhile, the measurer has to do the measuring (obviously). It was my job to actually find where each layer began and ended. Sometimes this is really easy. Strata are usually visually different. They’re a different colour and they sometimes have a different texture. However, there are degrees. Sometimes, we mapped a red layer under a black layer. That was easy enough.

Sometimes we mapped a brown layer over a lighter brown layer. That wasn’t quite as much fun. I spent a great deal of time flat on my stomach in our trench staring at the lower wall and trying to figure out where the black layer ended and the dark black charcoal layer began.

The trench itself, by the way, is not a terribly spacious area. It can be difficult to actually get down into it to inspect and measure. Being a girl, I spent a lot of time cursing my lovely, wide hips (I have no idea what the male equivalent is. “Curse my manly pelvis,” perhaps?).

All in all, if there’s one thing profiling is an exercise in, it’s PATIENCE. Dominique and I did manage to keep from killing each other but it was a near thing a couple of times (“Oops, I miscounted on the map, we have to re-measure the last five rocks.” “Oops, did I say the mortar was 14cm down? I meant 41. Or maybe 51, hang on. Have you seen my measuring tape?”). And yes, we snapped at each other a bit and yes, we got so crazed we named all our equipment (my trowel is named Ernestine). But, as the great Caesar himself might have said, Veni Vidi Profili (I came, I saw, I profiled).

Besides, at least we weren’t digging subsoil like the boys in the trench next to us (subsoil has no artefacts in it and has the approximate colour and consistency of concrete. Dry concrete). I learned some new words today and I had been doing my sailor grandfather proud.

—Rowena McGowan (Student)

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