Friday, June 25, 2010

Fun at Sliding Rock

I’ll be heading off to Ta’u then to Ofu Island tomorrow at noon. After turning in my rental car in the morning I’ll walk over to the airport and pay for the flight. Inter-island travel is a little odd. Since the airport never really knows when the planes will be running correctly they just have you reserve a flight, then they call the day before to tell you it’s all good to show up and roll out. I ve taken a boat, the M/V Sili, over to Ofu but I really wanted to see the Islands from the air during the daytime.

Today I went to Sliding Rock, it’s a favorite spot of mine to pass the time, watch some waves and go for a swim in the rock pools. There are also a few cool archaeological things to check out while swimming around. Today’s blog will be short, nothing much to report. I’ll make sure to take plenty of pictures from Ofu and Ta’u.

Here's the spot I like

Six post holes pecked into the basalt flow

The water in the swimming hole is overflow from the blowhole

The hole

Resting on the horizon

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Location, location...location?

I solidified my connections to access the Lauli’i drainage basin over the last few days out here. I went to my friend Siapai out at Aoa who is good friends with a guy named Imo Tipula. I knew to contact Imo through another friend at Alega village who saw my obsidian artifacts and remembered a previous conversation with Imo about some shiny black stones up in his hills.

This type of lead would usually be nothing to get excited about, except for the fact that Samoan volcanic glass is a trachyte glass and Mt. Pioa is a giant trachyte plug. Basically it’s the hard guts of the extinct volcano at the edge of the Pago crater. It took a little time to track down names and locations, about four years, but in a couple weeks I’ll be on the ground cranking up the 2010 version of the Tutuila Island Obsidian Source Relocation Project. So here’s to finding new shiny things in the jungle!

Rain has been ever-present, actually feels like a rainy season. Luckily I don’t have too much outdoor work to do this time. Most of my time has been spent driving around the island calling folks, going to meetings, searching for new contact to get me into the back valley and maintaining old connections at fun sites that I've worked at. On Friday I’ll be flying to Ta’u and then hopping an aluminum rust bucket to Ofu. Apparently the airstrip isn’t broken on Ofu, it’s just too cramped to get a plane in. non-usable and broken is similar enough to me when discussing air travel.

The daytime temperatures feel really good, about 88 degrees or so. Strong winds usually push the rain around so I get a get a bit of sun at some point during the day. Nights are quiet, interrupted here and there by distant dog fights and the snap, drop and thump of falling coconuts. FYI to those planning to frequent any coconut-bearing lands in the future...keep an eye out for coconut trees. They don't give any shade and will lend you a good sized dent in your dome if you get clipped by a delicious 5 lb object falling at 9.8 meters/sec. Leave it to our good friend gravity to make these little fellas hard to reach and deadly to unsuspecting tourists.

Here's my new best friend Toa. He's 9 month-old funky nugget of awesome and gives a mean high five

Saturday, June 19, 2010

I am the Key Master...Are you the Gate Keeper?

I spent this week at the village of Alega making connections to get into the valley behind Mount Pioa. Things are going well as far as the first week on the ground usually goes. I have a car, have money, no injuries and plenty of other words no complaints.

I’m having a little trouble finding a resident of Lauli’i named Imo Tipula, he’s the guy that can tell me the exact spot that I have been hearing about. Next week I’ll be living with my friends in Aoa and they have another contact that will hopefully get me in and working on the western ridge area.

Village boundaries, at least on this part of the Island are defined by drainage basins that go from 3 miles to sea all the way up the the mountain top. As soon as naturally flowing water changes direction on the other side of a ridge you can bet you’re on someone else’s land and better get new permission. Hidden boundary lines are a part of work here and getting full permission when in doubt is the only way to maintain sustainable archaeology on this island. Even when I think I’m playing within the rules, a social boundary left over from twenty or thirty years of inter-family bickering will shut me down. If all else fails, offering a big smile accompanied by a case of canned fish,

a bag of Doritos and a pack of menthol cigarettes will get me almost anything I can think of. Maybe I’ll pull that trick next week, and I still think it’s all in the nacho Doritos. At the moment I’m hopeful and excited about the coming week of survey under the dense canopy of the upland forest.

My place at alega

During the last week my GPS unit has had a difficult time picking up enough signal under the thick over story of old-growth forest. My old school Garmin GPS unit can’t pull the 5 or 6 satellites needed for accurate measurements under heavy cover. So...and this is really fun, I keep a map in a bag and shoot in landmarks with my compass to find my location and then plot my next path of travel. Batteries always tend to fail, vegetation will always become too thick at important locations and satellites, well...they don’t seem to enjoy archaeology. A topo map, grease pencil and a global compass have become my posse, let’s hope they stay loyal to the cause.

The first leg of the obsidian source survey

Here's my next survey route

more to come...

Monday, June 14, 2010

Octopus feast!

Yesterday I spent the day setting up my living spot for the coming week. I’ll be living in the village of Alega. It’s near my search area for the obsidian source and has been a favorite place of mine since 2005. The benefit of living at this particular place is that my hut will be at the base of the Mt. Pioa ridge system. I call it a ridge system because the area behind the main peak contains several drainage basins and highland flats surrounded by intersecting ridges that funnel water down towards the beach.

Oral traditions indicate that the upland flat spots were rally points for warriors that waited above the Aua battle field during times of inter-district warfare. When given a signal to attack, the ridges that lead down to the coast served as express lanes for the warriors who had been observing the battle from above. On one occasion, after killing the invading enemy from the western district, the victors created a mound of decapitated heads at Aua. The flat area at the base of Mount Pioa is still called Paepaeulupo’o or field of stacked skulls.

I get a kick out of archaeomorbidity, that’s my word and you can use it, thank me later some time.

Today (Sunday) I spent the day with my amigo Wilson and his sons. We cooked a Sunday morning umu, or earth oven that uses captured steam from heated stones under a covering of banana and taro leaves. On the menu today was malau fish, pork, octopus in ink, shark, pork belly strips (not exactly bacon but close enough), banana, taro, palusami and shrimp. The artery clogging event was celebrated in force and it was delicious.

Wiz and the Umu heating up

Mamma hen and the chicks next to the coconut husker pick

Green Light Means Go

And so another field season begins. It hasn’t been too longs since I was on Island during Christmas to run the small-scale excavations at the coastal village of ‘Aoa. Lab analysis of the excavated materials is coming along well and will provide helpful information about early ceramic technology, stone tool use, and should help with a revised reinterpretation of the timeline of ceramic production on Tutuila. So that’s going well, I usually find that one month of field work turns into a year of lab work (cleaning, cataloguing, analysis, writing etc). Aoa is a fun and necessary project and I’m glad to be a part of it.

The two main objectives of this field season are to:

1). locate the the spot where ceramic-period inhabitants collected obsidian nodules for the production of sharp flakes about 3,000-2000 years ago.

2). Conduct a survey on Ofu Island to collect clays. When we analyze the samples it will create a geochemical library of clays that folks used 3000-2000 years ago.

This projects includes all the fun parts that I like about field archaeology, besides digging. I get to make new friends across new islands and villages, hike to places white people don’t go (ever really), climb mountains and find shiny things in a jungle with a machete! I’ll have the help of my Aoa friends while relocating the Tutuila obsidian source. Their help as translator and as a family connection to get into the village at the base of the mountain makes them a major help. It’s important for folks reading this to realize how much recognition local helpers deserve. Their excitement towards Samoan prehistory, their dedication to hard work and light hearted attitudes during hard days makes working in remote locations much more approachable.

Here’s to another productive and safe season

good to have you all along again!

PS to read the blog from the 2009 season you can go here: