As Promised….Parc Safari Pet Cemetery

October 27, 2009

As I left things hanging a bit in my last post I guess it is only fair to fill in the missing pieces before moving on to something else. This requires me to back track a bit first….

In September of 2007 I moved my life to Montreal to start graduate school. On my very first day, literally the morning after I moved into my tiny apartment, I strolled into campus to meet my MA supervisor, the same individual that is now one of my PhD co-supervisors. I barely made it through the door of his office before he asks me to take a look at this amazing e-mail he just received. It was from the director of zoology at Parc Safari, an African animal park south of Montreal in Hemmingford, Quebec. The park had decided they needed an educational display in their entrance building and the perfect complement would be some articulated skeletons of African wildlife. Logically this meant they should contact the McGill archaeology department and ask them to dig up the park’s cemetery and then articulate the skeletons they found, particularly hoping for an elephant or rhinoceros. This is exactly what was in the e-mail my new supervisor read to me, only to follow it with his plan to turn it into an undergraduate field methods and zooarchaeology course. All this before I even got a chance to introduce myself. Regardless, I was sold and so began the first year, we’re now in the third year, of the Parc Safari field methods class.

If you want to get caught up to date on the past two seasons you should swing by the McGiil Zooarchaeological Field School blog that is put together by the students each year. This year’s group is ironing out some details and will be posting updates really soon, so keep an eye on it. As a taste I will tell you that last Friday we mapped and removed approximately 75% of a large male watusi. We know it is large and male because we excavated and re-articulated a complete female watusi during the first season.

Parc Safari 2009

Don't be fooled by the scenery...under this surface lies a cemetery for African wildlife

Although it may sound like just fun and games there is in fact a lot research going on at the site in addition to those fun and games. We are looking at the taphonomic impact of decomposing cadavers, vegetation reflectance signatures that can help in the identification of clandestine mass graves, 3-dimensional reconstructions of excavation pits, and more. Don’t take my word for it though, go see what the students think about it all.

Windy Azraq

May 19, 2009

Another few days have passed and the field work is now in full swing. We’ve got a number of test pits and some survey going in the Azraq area of eastern Jordan. Nothing too exciting yet as we’ve mostly been making our way through the upper disturbed portions and will only be coming down on any cultural material in the next day or two. Based on last years test pits we can expect Kebaran, possibly Upper Paleolithic, Middle Paleolithic, and even Lower Paleolithic. In addition to the rich paleolithic history in Azraq there is also a significant Roman, Byzantine, Islamic, and Crusader marker on the landscape. Azraq is home to the famous Azraq castle that was built by the Romans, occupied by various groups over time, and used by Lawrence of Arabia. A castle in the distance makes for nice scenery while working in the excavation units!


To help ourselves out a bit this year we have rented a local wedding tent to provide some shade over the excavation units. The tent is basically a six legged frame with three cross-beams (all of substantial size and weight) that support very nicely decorated canvas segments (two on the roof and three sides). Unfortunately I don’t have a picture yet but the outsides are plain beige and when you step inside you get confronted by vibrant colours and memsmerizing geometric patterns. As a shade it has been working great, making the days a bit less draining by keeping the sun of our backs. However, in the afternoon today the winds really picked up from the west-southwest almost lifting the tent like a kite. It took five of our crew members plus one friendly and incredibly helpful local to keep the thing from taking off. We tied every possible piece of rope we had to rocks, trees, and fences plus we anchored the leg posts with the biggest boulders I could carry. After about an hour we felt confident it would make it through the storm. Now, as I sit here in the lodge, I am question whether it will be there in the morning. The wind is howling and whipping things around as though they were wieghtless. All of the trees in the area are being held at a significant angle and before the sun went down the skies looked particularly daunting. I guess we’ll have to wait and see what the night brings and then assess the damage in the morning. Reconstrcuting the tent is a setback we would all really like to avoid!

First Full Day of Work

May 16, 2009

Just finished up the first full day of work here in eastern Jordan. The temperature wasn’t too bad today, in the low 30s probably. It was pretty dusty but that is to be expected in a windy desert. It’s not your stereotypical desert in this part of Jordan, that is to the south in the Wadi Rum area and is also the location where Lawrence of Arabia was filmed. We are working near the town of Azraq and the desert has a darker colour. There is a lot of basalt, as you will hear about shortly, some scrubby plants, and a lot of flint on the surface that takes on a desert varnish which gives it a blue-ish colour. There is a lot of sand but not the fine grained dunes that immediately pop into everyone’s head. This what the landscape looks like in our area around the town (North is roughly straight up and thanks Google Earth!).


We spent this morning getting our site area ready for excavation. This involved tying our survey equipment back into last years grid, finding the trenches from last year, cleaning them off and starting to remove the backfill. We were a bit concerned about how much disturbance the past year of construction had below the surface so we also put in a small test pit to determine the stratigraphic integrity. This testpit was finished up by lunch (good news!) and we had made good progress on identifying the perimeter of the pit from last year.

After a short break for lunch and a few minutes rest at the lodge we split into two crews and headed back out. One crew of 4 to the morning’s site to finish clearing off the perimeter. Myself and two others headed a bit further north to follow up on a project started last year, as well as survey the upland basalt for more evidence of the prehistoric lake shore. The project we started last year looks at the natural patterns of desert weathering on bone and it involved quickly locating and mapping some bone we documented last year. After that was done I headed up slope into the basalt areas and found a few more blocks with eroded shorelines in them. I am specifically looking for an eroded bench with the right types of sediment attached that I can use to get a reasonable date for the shoreline. Although we don’t have a date yet, based on some sedimentary analysis that myself and Carlos Cordova presented at the Association of American Geographer’s annual meeting this year, we think the shoreline fits into the Marine Isotope Stage 5e interglacial (or roughly 110,000-130,000 years  ago). So, no dateable sample yet, it just  means I get to keep looking. I have to do more survey regardless if I am going to get a reasonable map of the shorleine perimeter and an accurate elevation anyway. Unfortunately nothing knock your socks of exciting to report yet but spending the day hiking through the desert isn’t that bad. Here’s a picture of one upland bench to give you an idea of what I have been and am looking for.


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