An Unexpected Burial

Today I arrived at Ferry Farm and said to my digging partners “are you excited to get this unit done today?”  All we had to do was level out the ground, cut out the tarp, do one last scrape and finish the paperwork.  Each of our supervisors came out and told us the unit was looking great, and everyone was happy that we were about to be done, as we are the only group that is still working on our first unit.  We quickly finished the leveling, but realized that the piece of plastic we had uncovered last week was still fairly deep in the ground.  We were told that it was left at the bottom of a shovel test pit that the infamous Shuster had dug around the same time as the trench, so we needed to excavate that separately before moving on.  It was really frustrating because we had to start a new context for it, which meant more time and paperwork, but it was a small area so we figured we could easily get through it before lunch and then get back to completing the unit.

Victoria quickly scooped all of the dirt out of the circular area inside the plastic until it was cleared off enough to remove, and with one firm tug she pulled it out.  “Well that was unexpected” someone said.  Below the plastic and within the small circular area was a complete, contorted skeleton of an animal.

I could not believe my eyes.  Of all the interesting surprises this unit has held thus far, this was by far the craziest.  Our field director, Laura Galke, was standing with us at the time and called over the site’s faunal expert, Katie.  She ran over and identified the animal as a groundhog, and told us that it was intentionally buried there.  We all shared a moment of confusion, disbelief, amazement, and hysterical laughter, as this was the last thing any of us ever expected to find under that plastic.  It also guaranteed that we would not be finishing our unit today.

After lunch we went back to the unit and started the tedious process of excavating the burial.  I had the honor of removing the first part, which I was ridiculously happy about.  We had to pick out each bone very carefully with tweezers, and remove the dirt around it with small wooden dowels.  There was a lot of fur with the bones, which conveniently held everything in place while we were excavating.  We found every single piece, including the hyoid bone, which is very rarely ever found as it breaks and decays rather easily.  It took over two hours to completely remove the skeleton, but it was an amazing experience!

By the time we collected every part, bagged it, and cleaned up the unit, it was time to go.  We didn’t finish the unit like we had planned to, but I really loved how today played out.  I am very much interested in biological anthropology, so this was the most exciting find in the world for me!  Based on the evidence we concluded that Shuster must have happened upon the decaying animal during his excavations, threw it into the bottom of the test pit, covered it with plastic, and then proceeded to fill it in.  We don’t think there was any foul play though, as his bones were all in tact, so that’s good!  Tomorrow we will complete the paperwork for this section and then remove the tarp.  After that we should be able to finish everything, but who knows what other surprises this unit may hold!

On a side note, I’m adding more pictures from last week and today, so check those out in the galleries listed under the “Photos” link above!

(Me holding the animal’s skull! For more pictures, check out the photo gallery under Photos- Week Three!)

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4 thoughts on “An Unexpected Burial

  1. Pingback: Old Friends and Familiar Faces « Digging Anthropology

  2. Pingback: Memorial Day at Ferry Farm | Digging Anthropology

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