Humble Beginnings as Spoil from a Nearby Ditch

Artist Statement

The purpose of the assignment that this poetry collection was created for was to engage the general public with environmental archaeology. However, who counts as the general public changes depending on who we are talking about. Poetry like environmental archaeology can be something that is hard for the “general public” to engage with. However, in Poetry’s case, environmental archaeologists become a part of the general public, equally confused by poetic verse as people in other professions. This is because the general public is a relational term used to mean people who don’t belong to a certain group. This, of course, ignores the fact that the general public is a large and diverse group of people with their own specialties. The art world becomes part of the general public when we talk about environmental archaeology and it is the art part of the general public I wanted to engage with this project.

Science and art are often thought of separate things, but through these series of poems, I want to explore where they can overlap and I think environmental archaeology is a great place to do it. Art and science are often based on, and commenting on very similar things. Poetry often draws its inspiration from nature and human’s interactions and understanding of it. It is this very thing that environmental archaeology wants to investigate. In this vein, the poetry in this collection feature the cut up and rearranged words and phrases of articles and other literature from environmental archaeologists. Environmental archaeology is also a great place to bridge this gap because it is already to interdisciplinary drawing from other sciences, social sciences, and even sometimes the humanities. Most of the poems in this series are Pantoums, a structured form of poetry characterized by repeating lines. I think this is important as science is supposed to be repeatable and it looks for structures and patterns in the world.

The title of this poetry series is taken from the last line of an environmental archaeology case study written by Sylvia J. Scudder called “Anatomy of a Southwest Florida San Burial Mound: Smith Mound at the Pineland Site Complex.” Surprisingly poetic, the phrase “Humble beginnings as Spoil from a Nearby Ditch” inspired me to explore how science can be beautiful, artistic, and poetic. The phrase also, I think, describes the poetry in this project. I have no training what so ever in poetry and none of the poems here qualify as “good poetry.” However, I think the first step to bridging this gap between science and art is to not be afraid of being bad at it and I encourage others to find ways to bridge this disciplinary gap without getting too caught up in being bad at it.

-G.O.A


 

Humble Beginnings as Spoils from a Nearby Ditch

Building materials for honoring the dead
the focused intent and labor of the population
provides a cautionary tale
roughly parallel and angled upward

the focused intent and labor of the population
an intrusive human burial
roughly parallel and angled upward
the dominance of fine sand

an intrusive human burial
capped by a dark gray horizon
the dominance of fine sand
had humble beginnings as spoil from a nearby ditch

capped by a dark gray horizon
the scope and complexity of human modification
had humble beginnings as spoil from a nearby ditch
building materials for honoring the dead

 

Scudder, Sylvia J. “Anatomy of a Southwest Florida San Burial Mound: Smith Mound at the PineLand Site Complex.” In Case Studies in Environmental Archaeology, Edited by Elizabeth J Reitz, C Margaret Scarry and Sylvia J. Scudder, 81-94. New York: Springer, 2008.

Scudder is interested in the construction history of a Sand Burial Mound in Southwest Florida. In this article, she confirms that the builders used local sands when constructing the mound and that the burial that goes with the mound was buried several years before the mound was made. She uses physical and chemical characteristics of the soil in and around the mound to draw these conclusions.

 


 

Wooden Structures in the Intertidal 

wooden structures in the intertidal
gravelly sand at the mouth
shapes, adaptability and utility
continuity of technique and design

gravelly sand at the mouth
in a range of environments
continuity of technique and design
revealed a significant density

in a range of environments
130 m deep and orientated north–south
revealed a significant density
predominantly medieval in date

130 m deep and orientated north–south
others were simply punctured
predominantly medieval in date
wooden structures in the intertidal

 

Montgomery, P., Forsythe, W. & Breen, C. J Mari Arch. 2015. “Intertidal Fish Traps from Ireland: Some Recent Discoveries in Lough Swilly, Co. Donegal.” Journal of Maritime Archaeology 10 (2): 117-139. doi:10.1007/s11457-015-9146-z

The authors of this article are interested in Irish fish traps and fisheries. The write that they find 2 forms of wooden fish traps, as well as stone traps dated to post-medieval times. The first intertidal fisheries start appearing in Ireland around 1727. The authors write that in Ireland fisheries become important food sources in medieval and post-medieval times because farming and land management were more subject to change.

 


 

(Dama dama dama)

European fallow deer
(Dama dama dama)
live or dead animals
therapies, rites, and rituals

(Dama dama dama)
protective, preventative, diagnostic
therapies, rites, and rituals
interwoven into every aspect of life

protective, preventative, diagnostic
objects in their own right
interwoven into every aspect of life
sustainable, repeatable, and portable

objects in their own right
hot/cold and wet/dry
sustainable, repeatable, and portable
taken for pains of the leg

hot/cold and wet/dry
animal-based medicine
taken for pains of the leg
disease, illness, and other misfortune

animal-based medicine
blood, fat, marrow, and organs
disease, illness, and other misfortune
(Dama dama dama)

 

Miller, Holly, and Naomi Sykes. 2016. “Zootherapy in Archaeology: The Case of the Fallow Deer (Dama Dama Dama).” Journal of Ethnobiology 36 (2): 257-276. doi:10.2993/0278-0771-36.2.257.

Holly Miller and Naomi Sykes explore animal-based medicine also called zootherapy and how they show up in the archaeological record. They argue that the lack of archaeological evidence for zootherapy might be due to how the evidence is interpreted. They look specifically at the use of the European fallow deer (Dama dama dama) which they argue might have been traded across Europe for its perceived medicinal value.

 


 

Season Eatings

For consumption in other seasons
from April through September
fruits that are all out of season
a brief characterization of the overall

from April through September
the spring pits of fruit seeds
a brief characterization of the overall
gathered or grown in one season

the spring pits of fruit seeds
visible in above-ground structures
gathered or grown in one season
provision the remnant population

visible in above-ground structures
while the base remains
provision the remnant population
for consumption in other seasons

 

Wagner, Gail E. “What Seasonal Diet at a Fort Ancient Community Reveals about Coping Mechanisms.” In Case Studies in Environmental Archaeology, Edited by Elizabeth J Reitz, C Margaret Scarry and Sylvia J. Scudder, 277-296. New York: Springer, 2008.

Wagner is interested in how a community from 1250 AD dealt with the threat of potential food shortages. The people in this community, called Fort Ancient, preferred a diet based on a small variety of food. They also lived in different places during different seasons. Through her research, Wagner finds that the people of fort Wagner make use of storage systems to save food and seeds as well as to hide them while they were at their other place of living.

 


 

Firewood

wrapped tightly in aluminium foil
with a burn time of 45 minutes
two stratified charcoal features
split by hand with aid of a scalpel

with a burn time of 45 minutes
distances and considerations
split by hand with aid of scalpel
and represented by small fragments

distances and considerations
the three most common taxa
and represented by small fragments
consistency over nearly 4000 years

the three most common taxa
the integration of firewood collection
consistency over nearly 4000 years
known to be a long-burning fuel

the integration of firewood collection
of riverine or creek-line vegetation communities
known to be a long-burning fuel
wrapped tightly in aluminium foil

 

Bryne, Chae. Emilie Dotte-Sarout and Vicky Winton. “Charcoals as Indicators of Ancient Tree and Fuel Strategies: an Application of Anthracology in the Australian Midwest.” Australian Archaeology no. 77 (2013): 94-106.

The authors are interested in understanding what kinds of plants the people living in Wilgie Range, in Australia, were using to make fire. They identified the plant species from samples of charcoal they found at the site. They burned several samples of plants they thought they would find and compared them to the charcoal they found. By identifying plant species from pieces of charcoal they were able to determine the people preferred fire fuel from plants that grow near water sources.

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