the naming of things

I’ve been thinking about archaeological vernacular these days: slowly learning my way around a new vocabulary that seems as poetic (plumb bobs, lithic scatter) as it is prosaic. I love this aspect of fieldwork, even if means that when someone gives me an instruction, half the time I have to ask for a definition as well. The technical terminology of excavation and survey mingles with the slang: we gather sherds (not shards); someone is assigned the role of rod bitch, the person who carries the reflector for the total station; the total station produces coordinates called out as northings and eastings: direction as motion, in the present continuous tense.

A pleasurable part of our work here is the (re)naming of things: the two-meter-square patch of dirt that I’ve been helping excavate in the northwest corner of the pit house is officially Area One, Unit Two, but we’ve also dubbed it Earth Mother, and its neighbor Unit One is Heart Fire. Unit Three, which is gridded but not yet groundbroken, will be called Hummingbird. Our seven-thousand-dollar Leica total station is the Beast, and the impossibly giant tarp from Ace Hardware, the largest tarp any of us has ever seen, is named Bertha.

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One thought on “the naming of things

  1. “plumb bobs” sounds delightful, even if I don’t have any idea what they are (weights?). “rod bitch” is, in comparison to it (or to the capricious-sounding “lithic scatter”), somewhat impoverished…

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