Thursday, March 13, 2014

Left Shoes Left Behind

A foot-long left foot's boot.

Among archaeologists, there is a tribe that will test the make-up of an artifact by tapping it against their teeth. Wood or bone or shell? Bark or rust or stone? Tap-tap-tap, and the sound will tell,...even for us older and deafer archaeologists, the difference in the vibration traveling up our teeth and into the maxilla and other cranial members yields a sense of what the material may be. Others are disgusted or afraid (and let's be honest, don't try this on a privy dig), but it can be effective.

Most of the time, the harder object, the sharper the sound, the better. Few objects of archaeological interest thump dully against enamel, because normally all that soft stuff rots away long before we arrive on the scene. The plink or ceramic or click of a lithic is welcome. Among the thunkier objects encountered by archaeologists are: deer poop, roots, rodent poop, crappy stone, goat poop, and wooden artifacts that once were beautiful, but are now just shapeless lumps.

At Mission Creek, though, and at many other places along the Salish Sea and its rivers, conditions conspire to preserve organics. Cool subterranean water flow keeps the ravages of oxidation at bay, and everything from pith to bark and bone to leather can remain fairly intact.

A "fairly intact" insole, once worn by a smaller left foot.

At the bottom of the dig at Mission Spit, we hit a layer of fart-smelling black goop, anaerobic and rich in organics. There were some pieces of cedar and cherry bark, as well as some worked timbers and bits of boots or shoes. As with the harder artifacts: a mix of native and foreign materials, a record of newcomers and persistence.

Interestingly, once into the layer of muck and organics, the ceramics and glass so common in the sandier sediment above disappeared. Shoes and axe-cut wood chips were plentiful enough to show that the Euro-American contingent had arrived, but as yet there were insufficient bottles and plates to become a noticable part of the archaeological record. On the other hand, shoes were dropping left and right (but mostly left, in this limited sample).

Other aspects of the site suggest that it dates to the Catholic Mission era, but may be the refuse of the associated Native community (not the Missionaries' house), and it's tempting to a curmudgeon like me to think that the wealth of shoes in the earliest level of the site signals a local rejection of introduced footwear. Were I a more political, post-modernist archaeologist, I might spin a tale of resistance from this trail of soles. But I am a simple man, who has noticed that shoes and boots tend to come loose in tidal mud, and it seems entirely likely that any number of shoes may have been lost by multiple nationalities stepping into or out of canoes and long boats at the spit where people landed when visiting the mission.

People never change

As if to prove that simple answers are best, on my last inspection of the Mission Creek outflow, I saw this Adidas sneaker, lost in a channel just a few months old.

No comments:

Post a Comment