The Artifact (Book 2, Time Trilogy)

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Chapter Forty-Two: Archaeology 101

July 2023
The Billings Farm
Redwater, Virginia

}}}-----> MORGAN <-----{{{

As they round the trees lining the road leading into the Billings Farm and turn into the open dirt road along the field, the three see the cliff in the distance, and silence envelopes the small SUV - imaginings of Wahya’s time warp experience filling each of their minds. Morgan feels a stab of dread in her spine as she drives them closer. The atmosphere is then amplified as the bright summer sun suddenly disappears behind a cloud, making the visage ahead seem even more grim. She glances back at Wahya in the rear view mirror, as he nervously clutches at the gorget, his brow creased, and eyes trained on the horizon at the top of the cliff. When the sun reappears from behind the clouds only seconds later, the trio breathe easier.

Samantha notices a large, gray pickup truck kicking up dirt as it comes from across the field towards the trees as well. “I’ll bet that’s Ned.”

The farmer pulls up beside them at the treeline in his decked-out crew cab, all smiles. They each shake hands with the amenable older man who sorrowfully tells them that he can’t stay for long, having wanted to see some archaeology in action. In short conversation, the group discovers that while Ned’s retired, he still dabbles in real estate and stocks and bonds, of which his wealth had come after a decades-long career as a businessman in the trade. But having grown up on farming, he found he missed the land and upon retirement, purchased this large chunk of land as a retirement hobby. While doing some of the farming himself, he mostly hires help with the intention of leasing the land for crops.

Samantha mentions the research she’s done on his property as a whole, and Ned’s eyes light up at the possibility of something historic happening on his land, and she promises to forward him the data she’s already composed when she gets back to the office. As he leaves, Morgan can’t help but laugh, “You look like you’ve got dollar signs in your eyes!”

“As an archaeologist, dear Morgan, you have to always be on the lookout for your next project. Sure, that’s money for the university, but it’s something new to dig up for me! And with Melia being so young, I don’t think James and I are going back to England any time in the near future. I have to get what I can, and Ned just might have both the interest and funds to make a lucrative project happen.”

The three begin unloading Morgan’s SUV, taking the shovels, screens, and their field bags over to the tree in the copse where Ned had found Wahya’s gorget. Following the girls’ lead, Wahya carries the larger, heavier screen, helping Morgan set it up nearby on top of a large blue tarp, so they can easily move the dirt they’ll later sift through the screen and fill the hole back in when they’re done.

In the meantime, Samantha uses the GPS to map out the coordinates of the area, so they can have exact locations to record. Morgan and Wahya leave the large screen behind, and trail behind Samantha as she marks points on her graph paper in which she’s mapping out the land.

“Okay Morgan, you remember how to do shovel tests, right?” Samantha asks in a non-condescending tone, knowing Morgan hasn’t been in the field for a while.

“Yep, just dig down to subsoil and collect all the artifacts in one bag. I’ve got my Munsell and forms, so I’m good to go!” Morgan replies with more confidence than she feels, hoping it won’t be difficult to determine just where the subsoil begins. The layers of soil aren’t always easily discernible to her as they are to a lot of other people, often seeming to blend into one another.

“Great!” Samantha remarks. “So, I’ll mark out a few Shovel Test pits around where our Test Unit is going to be there by the tree, and I want you both to start on those. They shouldn’t take long, and we can start the Test Unit before lunch.”

She looks around the area before continuing, “I honestly don’t expect a lot of artifacts here. From what Wahya’s told us about the site in his time, there’s probably been trees growing in this spot for centuries. And severe water drainage from over the cliff probably wouldn’t provide the best place for people to build shelter or plant anything. Hence, why Ned has left the trees here and doesn’t plant his field right up under the rockface. I am willing to bet, though, that Ned has some good sites down by the river and possibly on top of the cliff. But we need to check this out regardless. Maybe we’ll have a little more than the gorget to pique his interest, and we can talk him into having the University students come out next semester and do more testing elsewhere.”

Morgan nods, taking in Samantha’s insight and filing it away for future reference. Then, turning to Wahya expectantly, she asks with motivation, “Ready to become an archaeologist?!”

}}}-----> WAHYA <-----{{{

“I think we are getting the hang of this communicating with pictures,” Wahya thinks as he easily deciphers Morgan’s stick-figure drawings in the notepad to represent the three of them here in the trees.

“I believe I understand,” he tells her, as it seems they’re going to dig holes in search for anything that might have been dropped so long ago that it would have been buried over time - things like his gorget. Did Morgan and Samantha think he lost his knife here as well? He couldn’t remember if he told them about it, or if he even had it before he jumped over the cliff, but if so, it should be somewhere nearby. Yet, this seemed like a lot of work to find a simple knife that he could easily remake given the proper tools. It wasn’t special like his gorget - now that, he would’ve went to all the trouble to find. Regardless, he’s happy to be outdoors again, and though all three of them had felt hesitant about the possibility of a reoccurring ‘time warp’ when they arrived, he’s forgotten all about it now.

Starting with the location closest to where Ned had found the gorget that Samantha had stuck a bright orange pin flag, Morgan takes the unique digging implement she had called a “shovel,” and begins to dig a round hole about the diameter of the large cooking pot his grandmother would use to cook stews in. Morgan carefully puts the dirt in a much smaller screen she’d laid on the ground close by, while Wahya watches curiously.

Morgan grumbles something as she haphazardly stands on the edge of the shovel blade, trying to use her weight to break through the small roots in the topsoil, and Wahya smiles internally thinking that his Hummingbird is trying to do a job more suited for an eagle, for her light weight is barely enough to get the job done.

“No complaining!” Samantha calls out from several feet away, her line of sight unwavering from her task.

“Aye aye, ma’am!” Morgan replies with a smirk.

About a foot into the ground, Morgan stops, sweat already on her brow from the exertion, but mostly due to the humid, unmoving air here in the trees, as the stifling temperature rises already. Putting the shovel aside, she hands Wahya the larger pair of work gloves they’d brought from the supply shed and waits while he puts them on. His eyes spark with interest, happy to be doing something useful and he allows a broad smile to spread across his face. She catches him watching her, and they both end up grinning at one another, losing themselves in their emotions over each other momentarily.

Morgan glances over at Samantha and clears her throat, bringing them both back to the present. Bending down beside the screen, she talks through the next task, showing Wahya what to do. Grabbing the small screen on either side, she shakes it back and forth to get the loose dirt to fall through the quarter-inch wire mesh. Then, setting one edge of the wooden frame on the ground, propping it upright at an angle, she picks out obvious leaves and sticks, then pushes the larger clumps of dirt apart and through the screen. Pushing the remaining dirt through the screen, and throwing out the odd pebble and undergrowth, Morgan stands, picking up the shovel and deepens the hole, while filling the screen with more dirt again.

While she digs, Wahya’s mind flits in interest from watching her, his eyes trained on her lean body in motion, to the hole she digs, wondering why Samantha had chosen this spot to dig in particular. It hadn’t been random at all. Meanwhile, Morgan talks between shovelfuls, seeming to be talking to him - if only he understood her.

“The subsoil is the layer from before people were around, so unless something was intentionally buried, you won’t find artifacts below that - prehistoric fossils, yeah, but not people artifacts. But even if something were buried, the subsoil would be disturbed because someone had dug that dirt up historically, and the color would be all different from the surrounding subsoil that had never been dug up before.”

From across the way, Samantha hollers in an authoritative, yet kind tone, “Less talking and more digging over there! And while you’re correct, you know he doesn’t understand a word you’re saying, right?”

Morgan begrudgingly shrugs, then puts another shovelful of dirt in the screen, this time with less debris, as she’s past the upper layer of dirt. Before she begins to dig away at the walls of her small hole again, she motions to Wahya. “Okay, now you screen the dirt.”

Being much larger and stronger in muscle, Wahya easily and quickly sifts the screen. Then, kneeling on the ground, he adeptly pushes through the remaining clumps of dirt, leaving only debris too large to fit through the wire mesh. Something suddenly shines in the sunlight, catching Wahya’s eye. He fishes out the small, clear, slightly curved object from the remaining dirt. Holding it out in the palm of his gloved hand, he searches for the right word in Morgan’s language.

“Win... Window?”

Excitedly, Morgan stoops down to see, taking off her own glove, and picking it up carefully for examination. She smiles down at him.

“Your first artifact! Congratulations!” Straightening again, she continues, “It is glass, but not window glass.”

She repeats the word, ‘glass,’ for him, which he repeats, reminding himself that ‘glass’ is the material and ‘window’ is the object made of glass that they use for seeing out of buildings and cars. This piece of glass isn’t nearly as flat as the windows he’s seen, so must have been used for something else.

Rubbing the dirt off the outer surface, she points out an embossed “MA” on the convex side of the sherd and nods her head, “Yep, it’s part of a Mason jar. Jar,” she repeats for him. “Not ancient by any means, but still an artifact! Good for you, Wahya!”

She grabs a clear plastic bag and a permanent marker from her backpack and writes the same symbols Samantha had written on the tiny orange flag. It must be a way to note exactly where they found the piece of glass jar, Wahya determines. Once Morgan reaches the subsoil, she stops digging, allowing Wahya to screen on his own now, while she takes up her clipboard and begins to draw a sketch of the hole’s profile. He’s surprised at how much information she seems to be recording. As they did not find his knife, or something more exciting than broken glass and a rusty bit of metal she called a “nail,” he wonders why they are going to all the trouble. But what perplexes him the most is that once she’s finished, she proceeds to fill the hole back in with the dirt he had just screened.

Stomping the replaced dirt into the hole, Morgan looks at her partner, and wipes her brow with the back of her hand. “Alright, one pit down, and three more to go!”

Wahya’s eyes roam over to the three other spots Samantha had marked, wishing he understood the means to the madness, for it seems to be a waste of time.

“I could have a new knife made by the time we are done digging holes in the ground. Should I try to tell her?” He thinks about how he would go about drawing it, and decides against it, “I might be wrong about what they are looking for. And it is just good to be outdoors and moving my body again. And any time spent with Morgan is fine. I will let it be.”

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