BY MARK MUNIZ
Often the very end product of thousands of hours of research, excavation and analysis is a two column article in a newspaper (or if you're lucky, a sensationalized episode of ARCHAEOLOGY with John Reece Davies). What the multitudes who read or see these reports cannot appreciate are the people behind the scenes: the fear less undergraduates who volunteer hundreds of hours in a lab, procrastinating on their regular coursework because archaeology is "way cooler"; the lab technicians who pick through a bone/clay matrix trapped in a plaster jacket, using only a fluorescent light and a dental pick; or even the zooarchaeologists that sort through .5mm screen samples looking for the remains of shrimp mandibles.
Of all the people involved in the Aucilla River Prehistory Project, I would like to raise a toast to those who work the screendeck. In archaeology the two most important people in the field are the person doing the actual digging, and the person working the screendeck. Often times, especially in an underwater environment, the excavator can become distracted from their usual keen observational skills. Many times there is such concentration on not missing a stratigraphic change, or not dig ging too deep, or remembering to breathe through your mouth, that one may miss something important going up the dredge. The person on the screen is like a back up set of eyes to the excavator. Especially in dark water situations, the person on the screen is usually the first one to notice a sediment change-either in color, texture or inclusions within the material discharging from the dredge. The screen person also has the power to stop the excavation (and should) if an artifact is inadvertently removed from the bottom. In essence, the screen person should be as observant as the excavator-and in fact even more so due to the non-archaeological distractions that the divers must sometimes deal with.
Beyond all this is stamina. The screen person must be able to withstand a barrage of smoking, rattling, white noise horsepower from an internal combustion engine only a few feet away. Not to mention the harsh midday Florida sun. While the divers may complain about a chilly first dive, once the sun clears the trees (and the divers retreat to the shade), the screen person must catch a second wind, and settle in for a long hot day.
Since the Aucilla River Prehistory Project deals with underwater archaeology, there is obviously a need for more diving than nondiving personnel at any one time. Among the divers there is Instructor, Dive Master, Research Diver and Diver in Training status. Any of these qualified individuals may be excavating during a dive, balanced with an equally competent person on the screen deck. In the quest for rank and order, long-standing hallmarks of the human species, let us not subjugate our topside brethren, for digging alone does not archaeology make.
Dawn Pinder standing solitary screendeck watch on a less-than-sunny day. (CLICK ON IMAGES FOR FULL SIZE) Tom Kelley working the screendeck on a sunny day.