(July 2, 2021)—If I had to describe myself, I’d say that I am a chronic overthinker. My brain tends to fire off thousands of thoughts a minute, anxious about the small and large alike. Before I even arrived at the Preservation Archaeology Field School, I was worrying about how I might mess up in excavation.
My chronic anxiety didn’t just go away when I started working in my unit. No matter how many times my crew leader, Lauren Bridgeman, reminded me that we were excavating for the first time in our lives, and that as students, we were expected to make the mistakes that would help us learn and grow, I was still scared. On my first week of excavating, I worked myself up into a panic attack in fear that I would dig through the wall I was meant to be clearing up. I was unable to trust that I’d see the difference between dirt and wall. But despite my fears, I knew that excavation was something I didn’t want to run away from. I showed up every day and gave it my all.
A day after my panic attack, we began excavating the second layer in our unit. Deciding to take it down 15 centimeters in the southeast corner next to a known wall, Sam and I went to work with pickaxes and shovels. At exactly the depth we were trying to achieve, we were seeing some uniform stones and some compact gray material. It quickly became apparent that we had dug through a back wall we didn’t know was there!
What had been my worst nightmare had come true, and yet…all we could do was laugh. There was no way of knowing there would be a wall there, and it really was no big deal. Throughout that layer, we ended up finding several artifacts—multiple projectile points, a large Cliff polychrome sherd, a spindle whorl. It was an amazing layer, and our mistake paled in comparison to the great work we did excavating.
We kept working. In our unit, we had the fortune of knowing roughly where the floor would be due to a trench that had been dug in the previous field season. Roughly 5 centimeters above that depth, we realized that the whole unit had a layer of adobe melt resting directly on top of the floor. We had the unenviable job of trying to discern this layer of gray adobe from the nearly identical compacted floor. If I had begun excavating at this point, I would’ve had another panic attack.
But that didn’t happen at all. Instead, I took my time with my trowel and asked my teammates and Lauren questions often. Soon I was able to feel the difference between floor and melt with my trowel—the melted adobe was a lot softer than the floor, and it had a mottled appearance. We worked diligently to pull back the adobe in search of the floor.
After uncovering a hearth feature in our unit, I started working on clearing around some rock features and clearing up the northeast corner. I felt that the melt was very soft in that area and confidently kept pulling away dirt with my trowel. After a few minutes, I revealed the top rim of a piece of pottery. I stopped, with bated breath, and called to Lauren and Rebecca. Carefully pulling back with my trowel, I revealed more and more of that rim. We realized I had uncovered a mealing feature, a bowl set into the floor to collect the contents of one’s metate.
At this point, we decided that it would be best to leave this feature to be excavated separately, and I started working in a different area to keep bringing the layer down to the floor. In one spot, I felt that same very soft adobe melt and kept troweling…and once again, the adobe gave way to reveal the rim of another large bowl set into the floor. Another mealing feature! For a second, I couldn’t believe it.
In just a couple of weeks, I have grown so much. I have learned to ask questions when I need to and to trust what I am seeing. Most importantly, I know that even if I do make mistakes, it won’t be the end of the world. I am very grateful to the Preservation Archaeology Field School for helping me gain confidence in my abilities and for setting me up for success in my future archaeological endeavors.