For Indiana Jones it was snakes, but most archaeologists dread weather more intensely. There are a number of conditions that give us pause. This week we came face- to-face with two of the worst: rain and heat.
Issues with heat are likely self-explanatory, but our relationship with water is more complex. The same element that, in moderation, can make soil colors easier to distinguish and soils themselves softer to dig can, (if delivered too quickly) turn a site to soup. Instead of highlighting the edges of a trashpit or a posthole, a “gulley-washer” can erase a few weeks’ progress in 30 minutes. It is not surprising, then, that archaeologists take hurricanes very seriously.
This year, hurricane season arrived early with “Arthur”, the first named storm, predicted to roll through Williamsburg before dawn on Friday. While our sites are always “tarped” at night (to retain the moisture in the soil and prevent damage from overnight storms), hurricane preparation involves added effort. Tarps are nailed to the ground, equipment secured, and sandbags are used both as weights and dams to divert storm water.
Arthur, as it turned out, delivered more bluster than anything else. Less than 1.5” of rain fell on Williamsburg, and on our two active sites. But it fell quickly and angrily, causing more damage than the “metrics” would suggest. Monday was spent bailing rainwater, regretting photos not taken last week, and beginning the disheartening task of repairing those carefully-cut (and obsessively straight) side walls of which we are so proud. The images below capture some of Monday’s activity, as well as some images from past events of the same nature.
What does Mother Nature have in store for us this week? Heat. The weather forecast indicates temperatures close to 100, and as of Tuesday afternoon, that prediction seems spot on. But for heat we are prepared. The images below, captured yesterday, are just a few archaeological suggestions for surviving a Tidewater Virginia summer day. Enjoy!
Meredith Poole, Staff Archaeologist