Thursday, August 11, 2005
This trip was not anything like I expected it to be. The experiences I had and the people I had them with will stay with me for a long time. The group of volunteers was great to work with, and I would like to think that I made several new friends along the way.
Special thanks also go out to Jose, Luis, and Alfredo for their patience, knowledge, and hospitality. I learned more from them than they will ever know, and I look forward to coming back to Spain to help them with their work. Of course, I would also like to thank the Alcoa Corporate EHS group for giving me this opportunity, Denise and Nicole at Earthwatch for answering my questions, and my HR managers Bob Day and Dana Kessler for supporting me in this experience.
Wednesday, August 10, 2005Last Hurrah! We pack up and drive back to Granada. Everyone thanks Luis and Antonia for their hospitality over the last two weeks. The food they made was incredibly good, and I’ll have to work hard to find a replacement for it when I get back to the States.
We stay at a hotel across from the Alhambra, and we are lucky enough to have a view of it from our window. I spend the afternoon touring the local shopping areas as well as local points of interest. Luckily, I am able to find gifts for everyone that I had promised something to (with a little help from one of my fellow volunteers)!
After a final dinner together, we head out for some local flamenco music, which was unbelievably good. This is definitely not the tourist stuff—this is the local flamenco.
A quick round of goodbyes to everyone, and then it’s back to the airport for a flight to Madrid.
Tuesday, August 9, 2005
Well, I thought yesterday was my last day in the cave, but Brianna and I convince Luis that today is the day we are going to find him a human skull! Unfortunately, we don’t find any human remains, but we do find more horse bones. I guess they were the item of choice on the prehistoric menu.
After we finish digging, we clean up the site, removing all our equipment and any trash that was dropped along the way. We say our goodbyes to the Cueva Victoria site and head back to the house. I look forward to helping Jose, Luis, and Alfredo in the future at either Cueva Victoria or Orce.
After we leave the cave, we stop to visit the recently opened miner museum not too far from Cueva Victoria. There is a lot of interesting history on the mining in the area. The conditions that the miners worked under, especially in the early 1900’s, were brutal. A lot of the local flamenco music is based on the harsh life of a miner, and after visiting the museum, I can see why.
Tomorrow we’re packing up and heading to Granada.
Monday, August 8, 2005Last Day in the Cave Brianna and I volunteer to dig in a lower chamber today. We are able to avoid some minor (at least in my view) rockslides, which try to slow us down. We find a lot of large bones (mostly horse) and possibly one monkey tooth. That tooth is significant in that it supports the theory that animals were able to travel from Africa to Spain during the Pleistocene Age. Exciting stuff. We also pick up some fossils at a home that the “Early Man in Spain” expeditions have stayed at in the past. It is located next to Cueva Victoria and is built in the style of the classic Spanish hacienda. There’s beautiful tile work and landscaping everywhere.
We have another fine meal cooked by Jose and Antonia—chicken paella. I will definitely miss the food in Spain when I return to WashingtonState. After dinner, we hook up everyone’s digital camera to the projector and look at pictures from the last week and a half. I think we have a couple of professional photographers in the making on our hands.
Sunday, August 7, 2005Hot and Bothered It’s sizing up to be a hot day. The rising sun is an angry red and promises to punish those who have forgotten their sunscreen and hat.
We eat a quick breakfast and head out to the site. Today, I dig outside, and we call it quits around . It is amazing how fast the temperature increases here. I do find quite a few large pieces of flint, and I also find a shell that Alfredo is excited about. We spend a lot of time coordinating the different artifacts and cleaning up the site.
We head out to a flea market to do some shopping. There is a lot to buy, but I don’t find anything that I like. I guess I’ll wait until I get back to Granada for souvenirs.
After dinner, Jose gives us a presentation covering human evolution and the advantages/disadvantages of bipedalism—a large brain in relation to body size—and the other factors that make us different. He also covers human expansion into Spain via North Africa and the development of tools and social structure. I did pick up a copy of his book, “El Hombre de Orce,” and got it signed by him as well as Luis and Alfredo.
Saturday, August 6, 2005Day Off We take a free day today and drive to the Orce site to learn more about it. We originally were going to dig there, but some political issues prevented the permitting necessary to start digging. It’s a shame that politics have prevented the Gilberts and Alfredo from continuing their work at this site, but I guess there are some things that don’t change no matter where you are in this world. We were glad to visit all the same.
It’s about a 2.5 hour drive to Orce, and it is hot! The site is on a plateau inland, so the daily temperature is well over 43° Celsius (110° Fahrenheit). Maybe digging at Cueva Victoria was a good second choice….
We are able to visit the cave houses that volunteers stay in while at Orce, and they are interesting—very cool in the heat of the day and not cramped at all. There’s lots of headroom for us six-footers (people above 182 centimeters)!
We also tour the Orce Museum of Paleontology. It contains many fossils found at both the Orce and Cueva Victoria sites and wraps up the whole expedition in one presentation. A lot of my questions are answered about the site and the age of the fossils that were found there. We also visit a local swimming hole, which is formed from underground springs that provide cool water all summer long. There are a lot of fish in the water, which makes for interesting swimming, as they are tame and not at all shy about swimming up to you.
On our way back to Cueva Victoria, we tour a medieval Moorish castle (with Spanish add-ons and improvements) called Castille de Velez Blanco. Awesome! This is a true castle, with ramparts, arches, gargoyles, arrow holes, etc. The castle sits on top of a rock outcropping over the village, so you definitely can tell that whomever controlled the castle ruled supreme in the area.
We have to detour on the way back home, as the town we are driving through has the main road shut down due to a festival. The road system is much different than in the U.S., where we have the luxury of having 20 different ways to get somewhere.The detour does allow us to see a pretty good fireworks show, so I don’t mind waiting to get home. We barely make it home in time for dinner. Luis informs me that tomorrow they are expecting a heat wave out of the Sahara, with temperatures reaching 49° to 52° Celsius (120° to 125° Fahrenheit). As they say in Spain—hace calor!
Friday, August 5, 2005Cave Digging Everybody seems a little tired this morning. I haven’t been getting a lot of sleep myself, which I think is mainly due to the excitement around the dig and, of course, the heat. Luckily, we have siesta in the afternoons to rest up and refresh.
We are definitely getting more efficient with setting up at Cueva Victoria every day. People know what needs to be done and are in the routine enough to do it without supervision.
We find several promising teeth, as well as many other smaller fossils. I am able to contribute more than usual to the cause, as Luis has several large rocks he needs moved to continue digging in a certain area.
I’d like to take a moment to thank my high school weightlifting coach, Mr. Ames, for keeping me honest in the weight room. I never thought I would be using those skills to move rocks in a paleontological dig in Spain, but I’m sure glad I’m able to help out where needed.
I’m definitely starting to feel a sense of ownership in the cave as we continue to find more fossils and explore more areas.
After lunch, we head into Cartagena to visit the museum. This is one of the highlights for me on this trip. Not only do we see fossils from Cueva Victoria, but I am also able to see many Carthaginian, Roman, Byzantine, and Moorish artifacts from more than 2,200 years of habitation.
The museum itself is built on top of a Roman necropolis (graveyard), which you can see in the center of the museum as you tour it. There are a lot of imperial Roman artifacts (weapons, armor, pottery, jewelry, gravestones, pillars, statues, etc) that I find particularly interesting. Most of the larger artifacts aren’t behind glass, so you are able to get up close and personal.
Working for the Primary Metals division of Alcoa, I could appreciate more than some of my fellow volunteers the lead pigs on display from the Romans all the way up to the last lead pig processed from the mines before they were shut down in 1999. This definitely reinforces the importance of mining in the area throughout recorded history. I especially enjoy the solid lead basket that was used by Roman slaves to carry water in the mines. It didn’t hold much more than four liters (almost one gallon) of water and probably weighed 23 kilograms (50 pounds)!
Thursday, August 4, 2005
I spend the morning looking for flint at the outside site with Alfredo’s presentation from the night before running through my head. Maybe it is just luck, but I start to find many pieces of flint—so many that Alfredo has to start the coordination process to record exactly where pieces are located. We have some equipment problems to deal with, but overall it is a very successful morning.
An archaeologist from another local site stops by to see how we are coming along. After we pack up, we stop at the Internet café to check e-mails and get something cold to drink. Before dinner, we are heading down to the beach for an evening swim when we take a detour to visit a Moorish castle/fort that sits on the edge of the cliff that forms the harbor. There are incredible views of the Mediterranean from the top of the tower.
Wednesday, August 3, 2005Back to Cueva We spend the morning at Cueva Victoria and find what may be more elephant bones. Luis takes Brianna and me exploring some of the deeper caves, and we find several more rooms with high ceilings and what looks like evidence of some fairly recent cave-ins. We also “discover” that daddy long legs like to hang out in large numbers on the ceilings of caves…not a good place to explore if you have arachnophobia.
After lunch, we spend a couple of hours sifting thru sediment from another site, looking for micro mammal teeth that would indicate the species and age of the animals alive during the time the sediment was formed. Alfredo gives a presentation that evening on the outside site. We learn the history of the dig there, as well as the types of flint found and the humans (age and type) present. We also learn about the stages of evolution (bipedalism, brain size, tool making, fire, etc.) that are identified as the great leaps forward. It’s early to bed in anticipation of another day working at the outside site.
Tuesday, August 2, 2005Rain in Spain Unusual rain showers for this time of year puts both groups in the cave today. Double the people means double the digging, and we find large numbers of bones, including an almost intact prehistoric horse skull and what may be elephant bones. We also find what has a possibility of being a human bone, but positive identification will require lab work. Luis and Alfredo are definitely excited about what we’ve found today.
After we finish digging, Luis and Alfredo lead most of us on a tour of the lower caverns in the Cueva Victoria complex. We see many spectacular geological formations and even shafts dug by miners (including children) in years past. We also are able to see a lot of the cave formation processes that we learned about the night before. We take a lot of pictures and then head back home for a lamb lunch (delicious, as always—thank you Luis and Antonia).
After siesta, we drive to Cartagena for a tour of the harbor area. Alfredo is a fountain of information on the importance of the city due to its harbor and the natural resources (primarily manganese, silver, lead, and tin). Knowing my interest in the subject, Luis and Alfredo (muchas gracias, hombres) allow me to explain to the group the importance of New Carthage (Cartagena) in the Punic Wars, which were fought between Rome and Carthage from 264 to 146 B.C. Classical history is a hobby of mine, and it meant a lot that Luis and Alfredo allowed me to speak on a subject that is near and dear to me.
Being in Cartagena, where Hannibal, Scipio, and Julius Caesar once ruled, is quite the experience. I feel a real call to the past standing in this city.
We see a bullfighting ring that was rebuilt from the stone used in the Roman coliseum that once stood in the same spot. We also are able to see the Roman amphitheater that was discovered five years ago in the middle of the city. It is being restored to its former glory and is situated right next to a modern amphitheater! You really get a sense of the old and new coming together when you see things like this.
Monday, August 1, 2005Shale Site Today, my group works at the shale site, where there was a human camp used to make flint tools. This is a much different process than the cave dig, as the location of the flint flakes is very important to record for study.
Digging here is what most people think of when they see an archaeological site—lots of brushes, small picks, and other tools used for careful excavation of artifacts. I find several flint flakes in my square meter area, including one rare pink flake. There are enough flakes in my area that Alfredo marks it off as a potential archaeological site that will require careful excavation and record keeping.
I am able to help another volunteer excavate her site until Alfredo is able to determine if I could continue to dig where I had started. While very different from digging in the cave, this site is as rewarding. I’m glad that we are able to participate in so many different parts of the overall process, from excavation to recording finds to cleaning fossils and sieving sediment for micro mammals. It gives you a sense of the bigger picture and an appreciation of the work that is involved in this type of research project.
After dinner, Jose, Luis, and Alfredo give a slide presentation on the Orce site and the history, geology, and stratigraphy of the Cueva Victoria site. It’s very interesting background on how Cueva Victoria was formed.
Sunday, July 31, 2005First Dig We start digging at Cueva Victoria today. Half of us works in the cave, and the other half works outside at the other site. I dig in the cave and am surprised by how many fossils we are finding. I expected to find a few during the entire trip, but we are digging up numerous fossils every time we stick a pick in the ground. Horse, micro mammals, and even fish vertebrae are coming up. My digging partner and I even find a baby saber-toothed tiger canine! This beats finding leaf imprints in a rock any day. We’ll be cleaning the fossils we find today at the house after siesta.
Saturday, July 30, 2005First Visit After breakfast, we drive to Cueva Victoria to visit the site. The cave is incredible and not like I imagined at all. The caverns are quite large, and the entire complex goes for three or four kilometers (1.8 or 2.5 miles) underground. You can actually see fossils embedded in the walls! This is going to definitely be more “hands on” than I thought, which is good.
After we finish touring the site, we stop in town at the mining museum. It’s incredible how many different minerals are in this area, and the mining history dates all the way back to the Carthaginians more than 2,300 years ago. Because I’m an ancient history nut, being in Cartagena is definitely right up my alley.
After lunch and siesta, Alfredo and Luiz teach us how to sift for micro mammal remains in sediment. It’s careful work, sifting through piles of sand looking for tiny teeth and jaw fragments. This trip is starting off on the right foot for me, as I immediately find a tooth without a root, which Luis is very excited about. He explains that teeth without roots indicate a higher level of evolution, which supports the dating of other animal remains that have been found. Finding something like this and seeing the reaction from the leaders of the expedition really makes you feel like you are helping them in their research.
After that, we go to the beach for an evening swim in the Mediterranean. The harbor we are in has a Moorish fort on an overlooking cliff. This makes for a very scenic view of the Mediterranean, looking south to Africa.
After dinner, Alfredo makes a traditional Galician drink that’s part of a ritual for best wishes, good luck, and a successful journey. I’m sure that it will help.
Friday, July 29, 2005The Flight In This is one long flight from Bellingham to Seattle to New York to Barcelona to Granada. Luckily, I don’t have any luggage issues. I meet Terrence Trasatti at JFKAirport in New York as we are on the same flight into Barcelona. We are both excited about the trip but a little anxious as well. Up until now, it’s always been “when I go to Spain in a couple of months.” Now, we are here.
The seven Earthwatch volunteers are picked up at the Granada airport by Luis Gilbert (geologist) and Alfredo Iglesias Dieguez (archaeologist). Introductions all around, and then we hit the road.
There are farmers all along the freeway to Cartegena protesting the lack of water. They have parked their tractors across the off-ramps so that no one can exit. It is quite the show, but it does slow our drive down. We get to the house around and get settled in. The second group of volunteers arrives later in the night, and we are able to meet everyone we will be spending the next two weeks with.
Monday, April 4, 2005
I’ve started reading up on traveling in Spain, and I’ve finished reading the expedition briefing for the Early Man in Spain project. The next step is to get hold of the books off of the reading list so that I’m more familiar with the background of this specific project.
Monday, March 7, 2005
This is the first journal entry I’ve been able to make since finding out I was picked for the Earthwatch program back in February. I had assumed that I hadn’t been selected, as the deadline had passed and I hadn’t heard anything yet. Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised!
I am excited to be involved in the Early Man in Spain project, as I am involved in some local research into early Spanish explorations in the northwest United States. I have friends who have recently traveled to Spain (Granada and Nerja), and they have been providing me with a lot of information for my upcoming trip.