30 August 2009

Continuing Campana.

Sunday seems to be my update day. Well, this week was tame and a short work week. Only worked Monday, Tuesday, and Friday, continuing our shovel test pits on Campana Pucará. The workers are good and friendly and the work is going well. This particular fortress is owned by two communities, though, so each transect we do has to stop at the property line between the Pambamarca Community, with which we're working, and Pitaná Alto. Hopefully someday soon we'll get in contact with, and permission from, Pitaná to finish our work on their side of the fortress.

Other than that I've just been doing work that can be done at home, artifact cleaning, trying to make some maps of what we've been doing. The program we have to do the image work, though, is in Spanish... so everything takes quite a bit longer than it normally would. Hell, I don't know what half of the functions in programs mean in English, let alone Spanish... but it'll all work out in the end and we will have some beautiful products.

We had a visitor here last week, so Saturday we went to Otavalo again, the market town to the north. Walked around and got some things I needed, like a new pair of gloves and a new winter hat, also a soccer jersey I'd been wanting... these things sure are comfortable. I've never worn one before, and I'm considering making my entire wardrobe of t-shirts into soccer jerseys. If I get one every couple weeks, I'll be set. Hmmmm.

Anyway, that's about all I have to say. Continue this week with a full work week, probably/hopefully finishing the test pits and moving on to excavation units.

Hope all's well homeside, talk to you folks later.

27 August 2009

Address update

I went to the post office today which is in the next town over... my suspicions were correct, there is no sort of mail service to Cangahua where I live. Instead, the lady working told me the following is the best way to address any mail to me, and I'll go into town to pick it up when it comes:

Micah Smith
Correo Central
Cayambe Ecuador

So if you're planning on sending me something, do it that way and then let me know that you've done it so I know to go to the post office sometime a couple weeks later.

That's all for now, will post again soon.

23 August 2009

Done with Quitoloma!!

We are officially done with Quitoloma, and the units we put it may be the last ever to be placed there by the Pambamarca Project. We finished our shovel test pits last week and there were only a couple that had artifacts outside of the parts of the fortress that had been excavated before, so we made an agreement with the community president to open two 2x3 meter units at those locations to investigate further. He agreed, and Monday we showed up to work to find his wife waiting for us with a problem. She said the president hadn't properly understood what we had wanted to do, and two units of this size that go down 80 cm (the limit he had imposed that was okay with us... all of the artifacts found on the site had been found between about 30 and 60 cm) was "too much work" for 8 people to do in 5 days. We did not understand. What did she think we were doing, breaking through concrete? She wouldn't budge, though, forcing us to reduce them to 2x2 meters, even when we told her there was no possible way for us to extend this work into 5 days and we would have to end before the term of the contract was up. We finished the units in just over two days, finishing mapping and backfilling halfway through Wednesday. We called the president to ask about opening some more, and he and some dirigentes from the community came along to talk with us about what we were permitted to do. We agreed on opening two more 1x2 meter units near the others to help further our understanding of these areas, and when we'd thought all was arranged and dandy they demanded $300 more to dig these units. $300 to give the community members more work and more pay? We refused outright; we have 12 more fortresses to try to excavate and simply don't have the funds to spend another $300 on this one that has already been extensively excavated. As we started to walk away they relinquished their demand and agreed to let us continue work at the same rate as we had been up until then. We completed those units in a day and a half, and Friday we closed our work at Quitoloma. I could not be happier.

There is one interesting thing about the units we completed there before we left. The first two both turned up the regular materials, broken pottery, obsidian, sling stones. But my first and second units also had something different. The first, in an area of the fortress without structures that had never been excavated before, had a layer of a material we still can not define; its something sort of like cangahua (a compressed volcanic ash naturally occurring in the area and used by some groups of people for construction) but softer... it was in chunks, some of which had no interesting shape to them, but others which appeared deliberately molded. This material was burned all around the outside, and there were some pieces of carbon on top of them. The same material was found in my second unit as well, 1.5 meters to the north. One of my workers said that this material was cangahua, which says something about the site: The Inca, who as far as we know were the constructors and sole occupiers of the site, were known for their stone work, and I do not know of evidence of them building with cangahua (this is also a question at another site, Pukarito, full of Inca pottery but with cangahua defensive walls enclosing the site). Another aspect of this find is that cangahua does not occur naturally on this hilltop, only down below, so this means that it must have been brought up on purpose. Was there an earlier occupation of the site than the Inca fortress of Quitoloma? Is this material really cangahua? Are we reaching in the dark for something that isn't really there? Only time and diligent lab work will tell.

Other than that, not much of interest happened this week. We're pretty settled, enjoying our apartment and the town. OH! We finally got a kitchen sink this week! Previously, we'd had to go to the roof to wash our clothes and our dishes, at a large sink outside the bathroom. This week, however, the Males family, who rents us our apartment, came up with a metal sink and hooked it up in the room that had been our lab, moving the kitchen in there and giving us a much easier time with our domestic chores. We have also discovered that our stomachs have toughened up since our arrival in this country. Chifa, the word for Chinese food, is notorious in Cayambe for being a guaranteed stomach-turner and generally results in at least one day of being unable to go to work. We had the Great Chifa Challenge 2009 on Tuesday and, sure enough, we emerged victorious. Not so much as a twinge of ache in our stomachs, and we kept on working. Our second stomach-related milestone was when we decided to see what would happen if we stopped sterilizing our dishes after washing them. The water here is not drinkable, even the locals don't try that. During the project and up until Wednesday, we had been boiling our dishes after washing them in this diseased water. Mostly out of laziness, but also related to our thirst for adventure and and our quest for Ecuadorianness, we played a little game of See What Happens. And you know what? No issues. Our dish cleaning time became significantly shorter (it takes quite a while to boil water at this altitude) and we feel stronger, more badass.

Tomorrow I start work at Campana Pucará, where I worked for a few days back in 2007. Same deal as Quitoloma: Shovel test pits followed by targeted excavation. Matt will be touring the country with a friend of his until Friday or so, so I will be running both teams and doing a damn fine job of it. I'll write again later about how it goes.

Hope all is well back at home, keep me updated with the goings-on and all that. Hope to hear from you soon.

Oh, also, a reporter from the Los Altos Town Crier came by the project when it was still the field school and wrote up an article on it for the paper. I'm not quoted or anything, so you may not care about it, but here it is anyway: http://www.losaltosonline.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=18628&Itemid=56

16 August 2009

Nearly finishing Quitoloma, new negotiations.

Hello, all. First big news is that we got the internet at our apartment. It's a modem that uses cell phone signal, so it costs less, I think, than bringing an internet line into this town. Anyway, it's convenient, and that's what counts. We can bring this with us anywhere in the country and have internet, it's nice.

Next is that we're almost done with Quitoloma. We've completed our shovel test pits (basically, small pits at regular intervals that are roughly the size of a shovel that are meant to see where-ish artifacts are) and for the most part found what we expected: artifacts can be found where excavations have been done there in the past. However, there were 2 test pits that had artifacts in them in areas where there has been no excavation, so we are taking the next 5 days to put units in at these points and find out if there is anything of interest. We'll be done with our first fortress Friday.

Yesterday, we met with the Pambamarca Community to try to get access to their three sites, Campana Pucará, Censo Pucará, and Pinan. Campana has been excavated before by the project, I worked there a bit in 2007 and I believe they excavated at least once before then... Censo and Pinan have only been surveyed and mapped, no ground has been broken. Our friend Milton, one of the taxi drivers here in Cangahua, knows the president of the Pambamarca Community and mentioned to us that they had spoken, and the president wants us to work there. Easy, right?

We drive on up the mountain to the community and call the president, and he tells us he is in the communal house and we can meet him there. Matt, Ave and I expect this to be like the meeting we had with Chumillos, where we spoke with the president and a few community higher-ups. We walk into the house to find the entire adult population of the community there having a meeting. A bit spooked, we waited for our turn to speak.

Ave, being Ecuadorian, did the talking for us. She explained what we wanted to do, digging shovel test pits on the 3 fortresses that they own and then doing targeted excavation based on these pits, and that we would like to hire community members to help us with the work. The first few questions from the community were simple to answer, and things seemed to be going fine. Then one man piped up who was very against us working in the community; he asked why we needed to take the artifacts away to a lab, what we could be doing with them instead of leaving them there where they belong; he said that taking these artifacts, "the riches of our ancestors," out of the ground kept the crops from growing, and made the rains stop. He was starting to rally supporters, raising all kinds of questions of why a huge group of folks from the US would care at all about their ancestors, and that we must be here to make money. Luckily the president was on our side, explained that we are not keeping the crops from growing, and the change in rain patterns is a result of climate change, not archaeology. Ave explained that there are just two of us here to work, and that after everything is analyzed and recorded they are not brought back to the US, but are the property of Ecuador. The president of the community brought up the idea to the people gathered that once they know more about the sites, which we could do for them, they could be made into tourist destinations like Quitoloma has been for Chumillos. This could obviously bring in some money for the community, plus they would know more about the sites in their own backyards. The community liked this, and when it was put to a vote, the decision was made to allow us access to all three sites, procided we hire 6 workers per day and give the community $500 to build facilities for tourists, such as a kiosk/ticket booth and the like. We happily agreed, shook hands, and wrote down our phone numbers.

The night before, Matt and I had been discussing a book we have called Culture Shock! Ecuador. It's a book that tells about cultural behaviors and such to help folks fit in to Ecuador better, and also to understand the people. This series has books about other countries as well, and even some cities (such as Chicago). At one point in the book, the author tells about trying to leave the country after his visa had expired and having trouble with customs at the airport. Eventually, the security guard asked him for some money for a cola, as a way of asking for a bribe. $20 later, the author was allowed to board the plane and leave the country. Matt and I were talking about how we had never heard anything like that and this must be a coastal thing (the author was in Guayaquil), and had satisfied ourselves with this conclusion. Sure enough, though, as we concluded negotiations with Pambamarca and were readying ourselves to leave, we were asked for some money for some cola. Amazed at the timing and elated to have gotten these negotiations done in one hour (Chumillos had taken 3 meetings over 2 weeks), we happily contributed to their soft drink fund. Everything was taken care of, and we walked out of the house with smiles across our faces.

As we walked toward the truck, though, we were hailed by the dissenters, the folks who didn't want us to work and had walked out after the vote went in our favor. The five of them were standing in a circle around the side of the building, talking amongst themselves and awaiting our departure. They had a few more requests of us in order to be happy with us working there. They wanted a couple of English textbooks so that they could learn some, which we readily agreed to. They also wanted paint for their cistern up the hill, which we also agreed to. Next they wanted us to buy a fence to enclose said cistern, and money to buy a water purification system in order to have potable water. As these were much more money-intensive, we told them we'd consider and tell them for sure when we come back to start work on the 24th. We'll crunch some numbers and see what we can do.

Afterwards we came back to Cangahua and had to backfill a unit on Pukarito, down the hill, that had been left open from the field school. I made dinner, spaghetti with mushroom sauce and garlic bread, and it was fantastic and we went to bed satisfied after watching The 13th Warrior. All in all a good weekend.

I've also put up as many pictures as I think I will until I take more, so go ahead and follow that link from the last post and take a gander. Hope all is well where you are, I'll talk to you soon.

10 August 2009


Nothing to say for right now since we're about to head back to Cangahua, I just wanted to pass on the link to the pictures I've managed to upload so far. The progress is slow-going, but we are soon going to have internet in our apartment and I will then be able to upload away and you'll get to see more than you've ever hoped for.

Here it is:

Enjoy, hope all is well, talk to you later.

04 August 2009

Quitoloma begins

Is it Tuesday? I've lost track. Anyway, today we started work at Quitoloma. Negotiations with Chumillos went very well once we gave them the definite amount we have to spend to work in their community, a lot of their demands vanished and now all we have to do is pay the workers and give a slight amount of extra money for upkeep around the site. I don't know if I've mentioned before, but Chumillos is trying to turn Quitoloma into a tourist destination, but that's going to be a hell of a challenge. First of all, the road from El Quinche (between their community and Quito) is so bumpy it'd make a mountain goat sick. Second, the site isn't something that most people would be excited about. When general tourists go to an archaeological site, they're expecting the pyramids or Chichén Itzá or Macchu Picchu. Something big with impressive buildings and an exciting story. While the story of Quitoloma and the whole Pambamarca region is interesting to many people, the site itself does not exactly inspire awe in the hearts of those pining for a Pompeii. Further, it's a bitch of a hike. Although today it didn't seem so bad, probably because I've been down here for a while... when we take the students to Quitoloma in the beginning of the field school, it usually takes a half hour or 45 minutes for everyone to make it... all of us made it up today in 13 minutes. We're beasts, I know. The point is, though, most of the people interested in hiking up to a site like that are backpackers or Swiss, and those may not always coincide with folks whose interests fit with the site.

Anyway, moving on. Work today was the most fun windy day of work I've had in a very, very long time. Sometimes I could not walk forward if my destination was upwind from where I was, and if I jumped straight up I would land in a different spot. We are digging shovel test pits in and around the fortress to try to get an idea of occupation density. Excavations have already been conducted there for at least a couple field seasons, so we won't open any units unless we find something unexpected and spectacular, so this will probably be the easiest work we do down here. We have 100 test pits to do, and today we completed 16 after starting late in the morning. We should finish pretty expeditiously, I believe.

Lastly, my Quichua studies are going well. The advantage of living out in the country is that everybody speaks at least a bit of Quichua and they are eager to help someone who wants to learn it. This language is ridiculous, there are things you do with prefixes and suffixes that I have been unable to get any sort of explanation for so far, everyone just gets a blank look on their face and says "that's just the way it is." But the family who owns our apartment also runs a store downstairs, and they teach me bits of Quichua every evening and I repay them by teaching them the English equivalent. One strange thing that has been happening sometimes, though, is that when I try to remember a Quichua word I think of the Hebrew word first... I can speak one about as well as the other right now, which is sad (for my Hebrew skills). But the fellas I was working with today were extremely helpful once they realized I wasn't just blowing smoke about wanting to learn Quichua. When I first asked them to teach me something, they tried to find an equivalent for my name (failing) and then gave up until I let some phrases slip at appropriate times. The rest of the day was spent joking and learning... along with working, of course.

But hey, I think that's about all I have to say for now. I'm still having a great time, enjoying this country and these people, and definitely keeping myself occupied. Sunday night is the Independence Day celebration (Independence Day is 10 August), and it also happens to be the bicentennial of Ecuador's independence, so this should be a hell of a fiesta. We're going to Quito to celebrate with some of our local friends for whom this holiday means more than an excuse to go back to the city and not work on a Monday.

This time for real, I'm outta here. Talk to you all later.