A rather unusual field site

imgp28841Time for a little more from the dig in Henan to give a bit more of a feel for the place. It’s an interesting and relatively little known place but also little researched and combined with my general ignorance of geology there is sadly not too many more details I can give of the various beds we were working in.

As mentioned before one big problem was that the whole area was largely farmland and the bones were either therefore inaccessibly buried under topsoil or prospective areas for looking for bones in the rocks were few and far between the cultivated fields. Another aspect was the fact that the whole place is made of great rolling hills and valleys, and least in part due to the terrifically sharp angles many rocky formations took in plunging into the ground. The upshot of this of course is that when you do have a productive layer of rock it often disappears straight down into the ground rather than being spread out over a nice flat area. When the layers are also thin as well this means you do have to do quite a lot of digging to potentially expose a small area of rock. We dig hire some local help for digging but its tricky work, not least as the rocks were tough and largely required a hammer and chisel to make a significant dent in them – not of the soft sandstones of Inner Mongolia here (sadly).

Many bones and eggs are found by farmers when they plough their fields and the earth is turned over to reveal pieces that have weathered out of the rocks below and become trapped in the topsoil. In productive areas you can find bone on the surface of two or three feet of soil which is pretty unusual. Digging here is of course nice and quick when compared to the bedrock below and elsewhere and it’s worth clearing a large area quickly to get to the bones that reside close to the surface.

surroundedBeing a foreigner in provincial China, especially one digging for ‘Dragon Bones’ makes for an exciting local drama and we were quickly joined by quite a contingent of villagers. At one point I counted over 150 people, as well as children and even pet dogs who had come to watch the lao-wai scrabble in the mud. While I don’t have much field experience I’ve never seen anything quite like it and I’m not sure I will again.

That really does pretty much wrap it up for the actual fieldwork as a whole, we were only there for two weeks and various things got in the way of excavations and prospecting so we probably only had eight days actually working properly and thus there’s not much more to add. I do however have a few more posts ready on making field jackets for specimens, finding bones and fieldwork in general born out of this trip.

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