Monday, December 03, 2007

What lies beneath

I may be paraphrasing, but I think it was Indiana Jones who said, “To dig, or not to dig, that is the question.” To answer that question we dig shovel test pits (STP). This is where all the fun begins. A STP is a hole, 50 centimeters square, placed at regular intervals all around the dig site. They tell us where to open up a unit and perform a more precise excavation. That’s what a STP is for, but that’s not why I enjoy working on them so much. They are the barbarian cousins of the delicate units. A day in a shovel test pit leaves your hands pitted and bloody, which I much prefer to the squeaky clean feeling you have after an afternoon spent carefully scraping one millimeter of dust off of the top of a full blown unit.
I believe it was Calvin and Hobbs who said, “Shovel test pits are nasty, brutish, and short.” I concur. If I may, fair reader, I will walk you through the steps involved in the production of a STP and explain why I like them so much.
Step 1—Intense deliberation. There are about 52 thousand flags all over the Cheney’s former property. Each one of these marks the site of a future STP. Before any digging can begin there must be at least 6 separate rounds of discussion as to what corner of the STP these flags are demarcating. Should the flag be in the southeast corner or the northwest—who knows?
Step 2—Edging a.k.a. the last fun part. After I have used the most rudimentary tools in my possession to properly calculate the angle of the sun on the Campanile so that I might outline a perfect square on the ground with my flag in the corner, I begin to edge around the borders. It feels great to plunge the shovel into such forgiving soil. Once the topsoil has been cleared away and the trash has been bagged for analysis in the lab the real work begins.
Step 3—Pickaxe. This step entails hours of banging away at rocks and clay (which is just as hard as rocks) with a pickaxe until your arms can’t take it anymore. Luckily, I learned my technique from Yukon Cornelius so I can actually last quite a while.
Step 4—Tending to your wounds. The problem with STPs is that they aren’t quite as wide as the units. After you get down in past your elbows the shards of rocks sticking out of the sides start to wear on you—literally. But that’s what’s so great about the STP. When the day is done and everyone has left the dig site, your blood remains, smattered on the walls of the holes. To serve as a last reminder that good men stood against dirt, in the face of intense hardship and clay, and they emerged from battle victorious.

Mike McCarron


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