Saturday, February 16, 2013

Prompt: Digging up a different kind of island treasure

Micah walked in measured steps along the empty corn row. He swept his gaze left and right, trying not to focus on every lump of dirt, every rock—

There. He bent down and picked up a spear point, half buried in the dirt. It was a good one, over two inches long, serrated on both sides, with a broad base that would have been wrapped against a strong pole. For a moment he wondered what it might have been like to live with only that for hunting food, for protection against the wilderness. He brushed it off and tucked it in his collection bag to show Walker later.

Micah shook his head, struck once again with amazement at how a stone carved 10,000 years ago could simply be lying there on the surface for him to find today. The island had people living on it ever since, and the farmer who owned it now plowed this field two or three times a year. Walker said field archaeology would make anyone a believer, although everyone might believe in something different. He called it zen, being one with the island, the field, the objects ready to be found. Micah called it serendipity, or damn good luck.

When he reached the corner, Micah looked up to find Walker sitting in the shade, waiting for him as usual. They hiked across the island to their favorite lunch spot, collecting ripe berries as they pushed through the thorny blackberry bushes to the fallen trees on the shore. There was enough shade overhead and cool breeze coming off the water to make the afternoon heat almost bearable as they ate. Walker leaned back along his tree trunk for a siesta. Micah watched a great blue heron fishing in along the far bank. He heard a splash and slowly turned his head to the left. A young river otter climbed out of the river and shook off water like a dog. It nosed along the bank a few feet away from them. Micah watched the otter pluck a fat blackberry from the bush and nibble it on the bank. He sat quiet and still as it ambled right in front of them, then slid with a careless splash back into the water. He looked back and saw Walker watching it, too. Walker said it was good luck.

They packed up and hiked over to the far end of the island, where the brush was long since cleared out from under the trees. The ground was pocketed with holes, from both “potters” who came looking for finds, and legitimate archaeologists, though Micah sometimes wondered how they were that much better than the potters. 

Walker had been irritated when he voiced this opinion. “Because they’re stealing this stuff for their own personal gain. We use it for academic research, share our results with the public, so we can better understand the history of the people who’ve lived here for over 10,000 years.”

Oh. Micah nodded, and wondered what the people who had lived here would think of the distinction, as they dug up their arrow and spear points, chipped plates, painted pots—all that was left of their lives here.

The shell middens were messy piles of broken shells and clay pieces, sort of the kitchen dump of people who had lived on the island, or visited it during good fishing times, when they set up campfires and gorged on the river's bounty. Walker and Micah had staked out three plots and methodically searched two of them already. The third was ready for them, with strings stretched in a grid across a four-foot square frame. They would carefully lift everything within each small square and record the contents, collecting any items of interest for further study back in the lab. Sitting on opposite sides, they got to work.

Micah was on his third square in when he brushed something solid. He gave it a light tug, and it didn’t pull out. Leaning down close, he brushed the dirt away and saw a small bone. He brushed a little more and saw it was connected to another. And another.

“Walker, check this out.”

Walker moved next to him and they carefully uncovered the small bones of an infant’s hand. They kept up the delicate work of uncovering the bones without disturbing them. Using paint brushes and ice picks, they pulled away the surface and exposed the secrets buried beneath.

When they had exposed the whole thing, they sat back and stared at it, silently. It was an infant’s body, once carefully laid on its back, with its hands close by its side. Any clothing or wrapping had long since disintegrated. A large, flat, white shell covered its chest, painted in delicate detail. A ceremonial burial.

“Shee-it,” sighed Walker. “Paperwork.”

Micah stared at him in disbelief.

Dogs in house:
Houdini, Eggs, Bacon, Brindle

Saint-Saƫns: Carnival Of The Animals

February word count:

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