Tag Archives: Texas

Bug Stories.


After all of the horrible, dense, theoretical verbiage I’ve had to toss at the screen today, I got in the mood for a little storytelling, inspired by an exchange on twitter. Every archaeologist has their own bug stories, so I’ll share a few of mine. I’ve worked in a few places in the world, and each has their own array of flora and fauna. I run a strict no-kill policy in my trenches. Spiders, snakes, lizards, worms, we get it all, and I do my best to carefully move them to another place. I’ve also had goats, puppies, cows, raccoons, cats, and mice in my trenches, but we’ll stay away from the mammals for now. (Also a rather creepy set of barefoot human footprints on a restricted site that did not appear at all outside the trench…yeah.)

I did my first field work in Texas, where there are an uncommon quantity and quality of bugs. There are the generalized menace bugs, such as horseflies, ticks, centipedes, chiggers, and fire ants and these are pretty much a fact of life. Add that to poison oak, poison ivy, heat stroke, and the fact that every single goddamn plant south of Austin is sharp, it can make survey pretty miserable. There’s a plant called crucifixion thorn that doesn’t even have leaves, only thorns…and the horse cripplers and the bull nettles. But again, I’m not here to talk about plants.

I was working with John Lowe (was it the Siren site?) when I got a mean set of chiggers. Chiggers aren’t well known to the rest of the world, but they’re mean little mites that like to burrow through your socks and give you a terribly itchy bite. They burrow into your skin, eat a little bit of you, and then fall back out again. They tend to leave horrible mountains of puss on me…not so pleasant. The next day me and my co-worker Tina stumbled into a seed tick nest, which makes you look like a poppy seed bagel, all covered in tiny little black spots that are biting you. When I got back to my hotel room I picked them off. I stopped counting at 70. Finally, I got bitten by a spider while riding in the site vehicle back to the office, which left an egg-sized welt on my inner wrist.

A few days later, big lumps started forming all along my shins and upper arms. I ignored it until my joints started seizing up and I couldn’t walk anymore.  I went to the doctor and it was one of those things where they started calling in more and more people to check me out. Turns out I got Erythema nodosum, an autoimmune response, in my case, to “excessive envenomation.”

One more story, and I’ll call it a night. I have to get back to the ol’ dissertation. There’s a lot of spiders around, including the pregnant camel spider I have pictured above (it’s actually a bit small for a camel spider), the bright green spiders that come out alongside your trench when it’s over 100F, and the baby tarantulas that are in tunnels they burrow in the ground and flop out wetly into your trench when you accidentally expose them. I was at another site in South Texas, lovely site, basically a riverbed with lovely cherty gravels and some questionable paleoindian artifacts mixed in. I’m afraid that my employer didn’t get their full day of work from me, as I spent at least a solid hour watching a tarantula fight a tarantula hawk. Tarantula hawks are large wasps that like to find tarantulas and paralyze them, drag them back into their nest, and lay their eggs in their still-living bodies. Pretty cool stuff.

This dance lasted a long time, the tarantula waving its front legs around, trying to run away, the gorgeous black and russet wasp diving in again and again. Finally, the wasp got behind it and I could see the tarantula twitching as it was stung with the long stinger. The wasp dragged the tarantula for what seemed like ages. I’d go and sort rocks and then come back and the thing was still dragging the big hairy spider around. Finally it disappeared somewhere, I’m assuming the burrow, and all was peaceful again.

A lot of people will kill bugs first thing when they see them, and I slap mosquitos and fire ants like anyone else. But checking out a preying mantis, or those ridiculous big black beetles as big as your thumb that would turn over on their backs and just helplessly twitch at Catalhoyuk, finding a ridiculous looking caterpillar, being tasted by butterflies…it’s just another reason I love archaeology. Bitey, evil bugs and all.

Efes Mastery

I’ve been working on the OKAPI island in Second Life pretty hard recently, with the addition of Sadrettin’s cafe, the water tower complete with little owl, and some cosmetic fixes that I’ve been meaning to do for a while now.  I’m also happy to report that Karl Harrison will be helping us BURN Çatalhöyük DOWN at the end of the semester.  Good stuff.

More to the point though, is that there needs to be Efes in Second Life, as it is an integral part of the Çatalhöyük experience (for better or worse!).  I was looking around for good photos of the beer labels and found these masterful constructions:

There’s a deep and obvious kinship here, one that hits me right at home:

Because Art is a cowboy hat, made out of a beer carton, according to the headline of the Austin American-Statesman, flagship newspaper of the capital of Texas.

(this image is downright stolen from my brilliant friend Joolie, who has much more to say on the topic)

Juliette Street, 2002

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Trav mentioned in the comments for the last post that the excavation was done during a field school. While I was looking for something else, I happened upon the photos I took during my first field school in Dallas. That’s when I actually started my first blog (“Things to do in Dallas When You’re Dead,” now defunct) so I could keep in touch with my friends while I was away for the summer.

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Our pits weren’t particularly straight and were pretty unproductive, until we stopped digging under the house (to find the foundations?) and started digging behind where the house once was.

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I still remember walking up to Jamie, our TA, and asking him straight-up if I could actually be an archaeologist. He said Yes! See, until that point, it hadn’t occurred to me–I was a socio-cultural anthro major (explains a lot, right!) and was just taking the class for my field credit. I wanted to go to Greece, but was broke, so I ended up digging for Maria Franklin in Dallas. And, eventually, I made it to Berkeley. Not too shabby, really. And ever since that summer I knew that I wanted to dig for the rest of my life.

Anyway, it looks like the Juliette Street project has a lovely website where you can learn more about the history of the site and of the amazing church located right next door. I have a few more photos of the site and the participants in the dig on flickr.

Texas, Home

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Pamuk, when asked about the allegations of “insulting Turkishness” brought against him, quoted Adorno: “It is part of morality not to be at home in one’s home”. It is necessary to critique the culture in which you are the most comfortable–it’s a fairly basic lesson in reflexivity, but one that can make you an absolute bore at parties. Striking a balance between the voracious intellectual appetite for incisive commentary and telling good stories over beer can be tough, and I’ve seen a lot of people fail miserably at it.

And, sometimes, it feels pretty damn amazing to let go and love home. I don’t quite have the gall to count myself as one of Said’s ‘exiles’, able to look at home with detachment, especially as my ‘exile’ has been self-imposed and has only served to make me appreciate Texas all the more. Now I have a more certain metric to measure this love-of-place.

All the intellectualizing aside, it was amazing to be with my adopted ‘family’ again, eating funnel cakes, drinking beer, and listening to a bunch of bands in the big yellow Texas sunshine. I borrowed a big cadillac from an old lady and had to clean out the guns and prescription pills before driving it around. Out of all the bands I saw (New Pornographers, Okkervil River, White Denim, Explosions in the Sky, Of Montreal, Final Fantasy, The Sword, Sick of it All, Madball, Neurosis, Angry Samoans, Battalion of Saints, Witchcraft, Girl Talk, Battles, Mates of State, Ted Leo & the Pharmacists, I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness, Against Me, Riverboat Gamblers, Youth Brigade, Murder City Devils, Poison Idea, The Saints, Diplo, MC Chris, Clap! Clap!, Ocote Soul Sound) the two bands from Texas were the best, and I stood to watch them with my fellow Austinites–scruffy, black-clad, tattooed compatriots, holding cans of Tecate in beer koozies–and I found myself wondering, for the millionth time, if that was enough.

Nope. Not yet. But it’s still home.