January 21, 2010

Somehow, the ride back from Tham Luong Kwai did not seem as treacherous as the ride in. The loud metallic banging as we bottomed out every few feet did not trigger the same death siren in my head as it had before. I wonder if this is how these brave archaeologists, geologists and adventurers do it. Every time you get closer to fear, you build your resistance up an inch (or rather, 2.5 centimeters.) But I’m sure, just like working on your glutes, it’s something that has to be maintained and exercised. I will probably revert right back to my withering damsel-in-distress disposition minutes after hitting american soil, or I’ll hear a little ping like a turkey timer go off in the middle of watching the Food Network. Ping! Wimp meter recalculating…

Joyce WhiteEveryone is back at the MMAP office in Luang Prabang and the pot from Trench B sits in the corner of the office as unassuming as a copy machine. Joyce and Phong were kind enough to unwrap the rice bag rigging they’d used to transport it down the mountain so I could take some photos. This was a tricky feat because the pot has no bottom, so they used extra care to keep the soil and bones from falling out.

The office was buzzing with activity as Kathleen and Mick’s stalagmites dried on the tarp drawing much attention from the local government officials next door, and the MMAP team laid out Jillian’s soil samples on sieves.


Jillian put several soil samples through a process called flotation. The soil is placed in a large drum of water, and the material that floats to the surface is skimmed off the top and dried in hanging bags. So far, Jill has identified a good amount of shell, bone, and seeds that she will later analyze in depth. The results of this study will hopefully tell us more about the agricultural life of the people of this region.

As it turns out, the past month was, as Joyce put it, “the fun part.” And I have 10 hours of footage to prove it. It was amazing to see how fluidly the team weaved around each other without falling into the trenches up at Tham An Mah, how they were all so willing to smile and laugh as they worked from sun up to sun down. Apparently, now comes the hard part. After weeks of digging in the dirt, collecting samples, living off the generosity and goodwill of the local villagers, squeezing through caves, and brave feats of botany, the busy work begins. But after getting to know the team, I am certain they will continue their work with the same levity and good humor as they did during the “fun part.”

I was hoping Joyce or Korokot could tell me something spectacular about the bones in the pot, but they are loathe to speculate. That will come with careful analysis. Apparently you can’t rush archaeology for the sake of a sexy sound byte (please excuse my use of that horrible marketing term. I’m still looking for a viable synonym.)