Sunday, May 31, 2009

Back To The Boys

When I was really young, I wanted to be an archaeologist. I loved rocks and digging in dirt (even as a girl!). At one point, I even attempted to create and bury a "fossil" by taking a leaf from a mimosa tree, squeezing it between two rocks (it reminded me of those ancient fern fossils you always see pictured in books), digging a hole, and covering it up.

The reason I didn't pursue this dream became apparent on our return trip to Bingmayong. While the terra cotta warriors we still all in their places, line after line of distinct poses and faces, there was something a bit different in one of the pits. There was actually some excavation being done. While not as awe inspiring as viewing the already reconstructed and well placed warriors, it was perhaps more interesting to watch the process of uncovering this AAAAA national treasure.

Last time in Xi'an, we wondered if there was any work being done to uncover the rest of the predicted six thousand soldiers. While the ones that have been uncovered "blow you away" when you enter the pit, there are several sections where what you see is simply dirt. It seemed to us that the discovery of these guys had happened in 1974, and there was an immediate push to set up a tourist spot fairly quickly (in 1976). But had there been any observable works since?

As we headed around the observation pavilion, we noticed a few women (middle aged and dressed like any other ayi you'd see in Beijing) sitting and chatting within one of the pits. There was a man with them, who sat next to a wooden cart. They all seemed to be content, sitting and chatting (while we were all jealous that they were on that side of the wall...just feet from the warriors!). They were in no hurry to go anywhere, and we wondered what they were doing there.

Around an hour later, and close to closing time, we returned to Pit #1 (the main pit), and slowly made our way around, observing the section which contained what I would call the "terra cotta jigsaw puzzles"...Partially reconstructed warriors, whose numbers seem to be up a bit from our prior trip last September. While there were no archaeologists piecing them together (there never seems to be anyone but a guard in the pit...except for those other people I mentioned earlier), they're interesting to see. I can only imagine the painstaking work that must go into their reconstruction...Probably one of the reasons I didn't pursue this career!

As we walked a bit further, we noticed that same crew again, this time actually in one of the excavation sites. Were they archaeologists or a clean up crew, we may never know, but their job was to remove bags of dirt that had been loosened from atop one of the excavation sites. The women worked in teams of two to transport bags of dirt to the cart held by the man. Bag after bag, they lifted and carried. I was beginning to understand why the entire site has not been uncovered, albeit thirty-five years have gone by! No modern machinery here. Just as with most projects in China, people power.

At one point, I mentioned to Steve my prior career aspirations, and the fact that while it always sounded great, the idea of in fact using toothbrushes to excavate an area of so great a magnitude and sifting through each precious ounce of soil for clues to the past, would drive me crazy!

"You just like the idea of archeology. You're glad that there are other people who are archaeologists," is what his response was. At that point, I realized he was right, and that I should have no regrets for the other path I took! I payed mental homage to all the hands that went into unearthing the warriors, and decided that it is OK to live vicariously through other archaeologists' work, especially one who is our resident "Indiana Jones"...Yes, that's you, Robert!



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