Digging into Life on My Summer Vocation
(Part 3 of 4)

by FishKitten

 

Previous articles
in this series:
Part 1
Part 2

Having arrived at First Island in the northern Pacific as part of an archaeological quest in search of the settlements of the first people to arrive in the Americas from Siberia many thousands of years ago, the author pinpointed a digging spot that called to her through her feeling of communication with “the old ones” and also by creatures of nature leading her there. Her fellow archaeologists had reason to pay attention to her intuitive way of finding important sites on a dig. She had proved her abilities as a human dowsing rod on a previous adventure with “Hayduke.”


I must tell you now about Hayduke. Like the other archaeologists I’ve mentioned, he has his nickname, and I’ll refer to him that way. I want to say upfront that Hayduke is my hero and I wouldn’t be half the archaeologist I am today without him. He makes Indiana Jones look like an amateur.

I went with Hayduke on the last excavation he ever ran. He was set to retire not too long after it was over. That is actually the reason I went on that particular dig. I had planned to spend my summer searching for the first Polynesian sites in Fiji or perhaps the ones in Tonga. But once I found out that there was a space open on Hayduke’s last adventure, I was determined to go.

Hayduke is a quiet-spoken man. His wiry, lean frame stands about 6-foot-1. His legendary skinniness was the topic of many jokes. Skinny as a whip and twice as tough. He looks like an old cowboy … and that is exactly what he is, in a sense. Not that he has ever worked on a ranch. Hayduke has been an archaeologist since God was a baby. But he has explored and excavated in deserts, jungles, islands, fjords, and above the artic circle. His face is deeply lined and permanently tanned. It also has a very stubborn set to the chin and clear blue eyes that show an obvious sharp intelligence.

He spent many years working in the American Southwest in his younger days, and he really knows his stuff about the cultures there. Hayduke was one of the first people called when the Aswan Dam was scheduled to be built in Egypt. He and his team did two years of emergency archaeology, trying to find and save as many treasures from the past as possible before the waters rose to cover them forever.

When I met Hayduke, he had been a professor at a highly acclaimed university for about 25 years. He and a few other archaeologists had helped form the idea that the old ones of the Americas had been near-coast mariners. He was still hoping to find the proof. I was hoping to be there when he did. So that adventure was similar to the one I was on now.

We spent a month getting ready to go on the Hayduke expedition. It was to be a remote camp, so we had to lay-in huge supplies of food and gear, including chainsaws and other equipment to build the camp itself. I was part of the crew that went with Hayduke to buy the groceries. Four archaeologists in a food warehouse with a university credit card … pinch me, mama. We had so much fun telling stories and sitting in the lawn furniture displays and generally acting goofy, like a bunch of people will when they are about to leave everything but each other behind for an extended period. It started everything off on the right foot and our relationship grew from there.

There were 24 of us on that dig … a fairly typical number on remote digs. Hayduke’s wife is an archaeologist and she came along and did a ton of artifact cataloguing. There were a large number of women on that dig for some reason, and only six men. One of them laughingly said it was like an estrogen tsunami. We all became very close. Many life-long friendships began on that excavation. We were a laughing little group of people living in a deep forest and sharing a common fascination for the job we were there to do.

Our transportation consisted of two large 12-passenger Suburbans and an old pickup truck. Of necessity, when we did go into the small town of about 300 people that was closest to our camp, we went everywhere in a mob. We were rather conspicuous, to put it mildly. Hayduke was the heart and soul of our group. He told the stories of the beginnings of modern archaeology. He was a riot.

Hayduke and his wife bought a wonderful little cabin on 20 acres in the area where we were digging. As I mentioned, he was about to retire. His idea of a dream retirement was to live on top of a sweet little hill at the edge of the forest where he believed the old ones first walked. He planned to spend his summer days doing what he loves most … walking along the Pleistocene sea terraces and looking for the elusive traces of the first people. In the winter, he and the wife would snuggle in front of the fire and maybe write up some of his adventures.

We did find a really cool site. It wasn’t a camp of the first people from 12,000 years ago, but it was a village from over 6,000 years ago. Before the pyramids, before Stonehenge, these people lived there and left their traces for us to find.

That is where I got the reputation, as Hayduke put it, as a “dowsing rod” for the ancients. Archaeology requires a lot of different kinds of knowledge. One thing any decent archaeologist knows is how to survey with a variety of instruments, including Theodolites and total stations. We surveyed out an area that was 10 units, with each unit being 10 meters square. The next usual thing to do is draw a map of your whole area and plot a number of test pits. Obviously, if something turns up in the test pit, you dig there first when excavation begins. If nothing turns up in any test pits, you have a variety of other choices, but we don’t want to go into all that.

Feeling My Way

Hayduke showed me my 10-meter square. I looked at it and I looked at him.

“Could I start somewhere else?” I asked.

“What?”

“I’d like to dig over there,” I pointed to a spot about two squares over.

“Why there?” he asked, a little annoyed.

“I like the way it feels over there,” I said.

“Archaeology is science. It is about using scientific methods to test rational theories,” he said, and glared at me a little. This was during the first week we were there, so he and I didn’t know each other very well yet.

“Of course it is,” I said. “So does that mean I can dig over there?”

He heaved a big sigh. “All right.”

Hayduke consulted his map and said, “The test pit goes in the 1-by-1 extreme southwest corner of that unit.” (He meant one meter by one meter. I was supposed to dig a hole about one foot in diameter and about a foot deep within that one-meter square.)

“Ummm…”

“What now?” He had the look of one resigned to any insane possibility.

“Could I dig one meter to the east?”

“One meter to the east? You want to dig one meter to the east.” He rolled his eyes.“OK, dig wherever you want. I’m too busy to argue this with you right now.” And he stomped off through the forest to deal with one of the million things he had to manage during a typical day.

Of course, you must know where this is going. I probably wouldn’t be telling this story if I would have come out looking like a dweeb. (Although I do have lots of stories like that and I’m not ashamed to tell some of them as well.) I started finding exquisite artifacts right away. I had discovered a ceremonial spot. Hayduke declared he’d never doubt me again and asked for suggestions on some other hot spots. I picked a few and the digging commenced in earnest. We found so much stuff on that dig. After it was over, I worked in the lab with Hayduke for six months sorting and examining the artifacts and creating a database. Then there was the big retirement party, and he went off to live in his little slice of heaven with the woman he adored, still strong and active enough to follow his dreams.

Hayduke told that story about me and “I’d like to dig over there” to everyone he knew. For one thing, he thought it was funny and for another, we had become good friends by then and he wanted to give me a bit of good publicity with the other archaeologists. If Hayduke says you’re good, your future is assured with a lot of people in this business.

That is why when I said I wanted to dig in the unit right next to the one Two Eyes was in, Al just shrugged and said, “Have at it.”

That moment is when it struck Al.

“Hey you were on Hayduke’s last dig, weren’t you?”

“Yeah,” I said, putting my dig kit next to my unit, “It was the best time I ever had in my life.”

A head popped up from a nearby unit. “You were on the Dream Team? I heard about that dig. You guys are a legend.”

“We did have fun.” I smiled as the warm memories rushed over me.

“Well, have you heard about Hayduke?” Al asked.

Something about the way he asked made my skin run cold. I sat down on a root.

“What about him?”

“He’s sick. Really sick.”

And I sat on the floor of the forest and cried and cried as I heard how Hayduke is dying. He has lung cancer, but worse than that. It has spread to virtually every organ and system in his body. He isn’t at his cabin with his laughing wife or walking in the woods looking for the old ones. He is in Vancouver. He spends his days near the hospital. He won’t take the vile drugs they want to give him. He doesn’t see the point if he is going to die in a few months anyway.

Two Eyes gave me a big hug. Apparently, he had known for some time. The Leo Lady who I’ve mentioned as the love of Two Eyes’ life was with me on Hayduke’s last dig. We met there and ended up being roommates when we got back to civilization. She had run into Hayduke’s son and found out the whole thing. Hayduke asked her not to tell me. He said he would rather I thought of him like he was when I saw him last, not like he is now. He wanted me to laugh when I thought about him, not cry.

But here I am, tears coursing down my cheeks. I can’t help it. He never smoked a day in his life. He is one of the most physically fit people I ever saw. I can walk most people under the table, both men and women, but I had to haul to keep up with Hayduke on a hike. Since hearing of his illness, I have talked to his wife, but I haven’t spoken with Hayduke yet. They did spend a few years at the cabin. It is their home. She and I agreed that he needs to go home. I have the feeling she should take him soon. I’d like to go there to see him and walk the path of the old ones with him one last time before he goes to meet them in person.

Hayduke, you old swashbuckler, you have to beat everyone to the next adventure. May it be as wonderful as this one has been. Save me a seat in the Suburban, my friend.

A Sacred Place

My two-meter by two-meter unit was marked off. I stepped into it like walking into a house I had lived in many years ago. I knew it somehow, but things had changed. I felt an ancient kinship with those who once dwelled here.

Please understand that I knew for sure that I was inside, or near the inside, of an ancient dwelling. I could see it, as could any archaeologist trained as I have been. To the average untrained observer, it would only look like a rain forest, with a few hills and a few flat spots among a canopy of huge towering trees. To me, I could see the city.

About 400 people once lived along this ancient shoreline, now buried about 300 yards into the forest. The beach, as it stands today, is a fairly new beach. The whole area around First Island is an active seismic zone. It is very near where two tectonic plates meet in a subduction zone. Beaches in this area rise and fall in a way that is currently unknown to Atlantic coast beaches. Then there is sea level change and isotonic rebound to consider. All this means that the perimeter of the island has been continuously changing. Since the ancient mariners who lived among these islands almost always built their houses and villages adjacent to the beach, the location of the ancient shorelines has become a subject of great interest to northwest-coast archaeologists. I could see the prehistoric shore.

I grabbed my Marshalltown trowel and dug in. As soon as I dug past the top layers of forest duff, I began to find artifacts. I dig pretty fast, and the first morning I found exactly the sort of thing we were looking for … the vertebral column of a young adult porpoise, perfectly articulated, beside a chunk of solid charcoal. That might not sound like much to those expecting to hear that we found the King’s Chamber in a pyramid, but actually, it was a very similar discovery.

The longhouse I was excavating measured about 35 feet wide by 50 feet long when it was build hundreds of years ago. Long cedar planks wove between carved posts to form walls and roof. This was an early site, so the floors were dirt with fire pits dug right into the packed earth. Thirty or so people lived in the house, with nuclear families congregating in small areas. Certain spots were set aside as cooking and work areas. The chief and his mate and children had a large, well-placed location. Then there was the shaman’s niche.

Soft light peeked through the slats of the longhouses, bringing bits of illumination into the dim interior during the day. Salmon and other meats dried and hung in the rafters, which, along with the ever-present small fires, gave a distinctly smoky smell to the house. Daylight hours were usually spent outside, even on rainy days, but in the long dark winter, when the rains fall and fall as if the sky has melted, the people spent many happy times inside the relative comfort of the longhouse. Even as far north as these islands were, the ocean kept the snows that paralyse the interior lands at bay. The grocery store that was the beach was always only steps away in all seasons.

The shaman’s corner was in a quiet, out-of-the-way location. He would be near the chief’s spot, but further back in the shadows. Although many, if not most, of his spells and ecstatic experiences would take place outside or in a special lodge, he needed a sacred spot to which to retreat at all times. That is where the porpoise vertebrae comes in.

There are many animals considered sacred by the nations of the northwest. The porpoise and dolphin are included in that list. That doesn’t mean they were never eaten; quite the opposite. They just were not eaten casually or profanely. There had to be a reason. Plus, just think about the logistics of it all. Slow moving seals, stationary shellfish, and salmon so plentiful that you can almost walk ashore on their backs present a much more lucrative target for hunters interested in feeding their communities on a daily basis than do swift-moving, deep-diving porpoises that leap up to look into the hunter’s eyes with the intelligent gleam of a kindred soul. Like the raven and the eagle, they were rarely killed, and when they were, it usually had to do with some ceremony. The upshot of the whole thing being, this was no casual fisherman’s fire I had found. It said high status all over it, and it was associated with a piece of charcoal that we could radiocarbon date. Good stuff, scientifically.

After the charcoal was safely collected, I took off my glove and rested my fingertips on the backbone of the porpoise as it still lay in its place of burial. The Feeling shot through me as sharply as a bolt of lightening. I saw the canoe chasing the porpoise through the crashing waves. I saw the shaman urging the oarsmen onward. I smelled the salt spray mixed with rolling sweat, felt their fear and confusion. They needed this kill. They thought their lives depended on it.

“Lunch!” someone yelled.

What? Lunch? I came back to the excavation.

“Let’s get some lunch,” Al said, appearing next to Two Eyes’ unit.

“There is no way in hell you are getting me out of this pit, food or no food,” I replied, looking up at them with a decided air of determination. “I just want to be alone with my porpoise for a while.”

They looked at each other and then back at me. Our faces dissolved into laughter.

“God, we are all such total geeks,” Two Eyes chortled. After a while, Al and I mopped our faces and subsided into snickers.

“I’m still not leaving,” I said as the moment came back to normal.

Al waved one hand in the air above his head. “By all means, spend some quality time with your porpoise!” he offered as he walked off through the woods smiling. “Geeks unite.”

Last Night’s Dream Come True

I’m no dream interpreter, but I know the symbols that have recurred in my own life. The dream from the night before, when I slept comfortably in my familiar old tent with Sky Woman’s rock beside my pillow, was not a complete mystery to me. I suppose I should address the dolphin issue first, since I have already told of the finding of the porpoise.

Many years ago I had the opportunity to make friends with a small pod of wild dolphins. I was staying for a while on a quiet, secluded beach on the Gulf Coast. The dolphins and I ran into each other one morning at dawn and ended up swimming together on several occasions. They taught me to understand communication in a whole different manner. In some important ways, it was the lessons I learned at that time that showed me the methods to tune in to the vibrations of other cultures, past and present.

More background … obviously, I love archaeology. Frequently, I say things like, “It’s as much fun as a grown-up Easter Egg hunt!” when talking about the experiences I have had. Thus the Faberge egg of the dream stands for the ultimate Easter Egg for which I seek … the treasure of the knowledge of the old ones hidden somewhere along the sea-tossed shores of the ancient worlds.

So I deciphered my dream from the night before in the light of having found the porpoise:

The beginning of the dream told me to think about their hearts, not their feet … to think more about why they traveled than how. OK. I was prepared to keep that in mind.

Then there was the whole thing with Flipper … obviously this was a friendly dolphin in my mind … one who helps people … one who threw me a ball (gave me a gift). The ball had turned into a cedar basket such as were made and used in this very longhouse, meaning what? The dolphin was giving me a gift from its residents?

The Faberge egg (that which I seek) came out of the gift from the people of the house. It showed me the hunt for the porpoise, which I had just so vividly visited again. It also seemed to turn, sort of, into a clock. (A reference to a different time? Who knows?) I do know something about the hunt, however. It was an emergency activity. For some reason, they thought that if they succeeded on that particular hunt, it would save their people from destruction.

The shaman turning into the dolphin woman … was that about me finding the porpoise? I could be the dolphin woman to them. I was once given a secret name by a hereditary chief of a tribe to the north of this one by about 1,000 miles. It had specifically to do with my understanding of dolphins and an old tale of a woman who talked dolphins into breaking through an ice dam that had stopped the salmon people from finding their homes upriver. (Clearly a tale left over from when the glaciers melted in that area.) And why was the perfect spinal column on top of everything else at the shaman’s, as if placed there purposely? How did that complete some kind of circle?

I touched the cervical vertebra … the one just at the base of the skull. The skull was missing. I sat quietly in the floor of the square excavation pit. The smell of the sea and freshly dug earth permeated the rich, damp air. My focus began to shift. I saw the white-haired one. And this was the strangest thing that has happened to me in a long, long time … she saw me.

As surely as I was sitting there in a hole in a forest looking at that woman in my mind, she was sitting across an ancient fire from me looking back. The impression was so sudden and so strong, my hand jerked back automatically. With that, the moment was gone and so was the white-haired one.

I heard the other archaeologists returning through the forest, with the young chiefs of the local tribe boisterously bouncing each other against the massive tree trunks. Enough time travel for now. If I wanted to talk to the white-haired one, I would need privacy.

The adventure concludes in the December issue of metamorphosis.