An Incident in the Pits: Chinese Mining Camp Excavation
Payette National Forest, Idaho, 1998
by Kolleen Bean, Assistant Forest Archaeologist
It was a dark and stormy night in the pits . . . Well, OK, it was actually daytime, but it was overcast and threatening to rain. Things were getting heated between two of the pit partners (OK, actually they were good friends on vacation at their first PIT project). Anyway, things had been rather slow for the last day or so, and no one had been finding any artifacts at the dig, and as one would expect, when artifacts did show up, there was cause for quite a commotion. As luck would have it, Jane had been finding what few artifacts had been coming up. Cheri, on the other hand, covered with dust and sweat, had been stuck hauling rocks and buckets of sterile dirt out of the unit. (Pete, the other unit member, had wisely resigned himself to sifting the sterile soil, thus staying out of the following incident.) By 2:00 p.m., or 1400 as Pete would relate in his version of the incident, thunderclouds had moved in, and rain was threatening. Normally that would not have worried the fearless PIT leader (a veteran of getting caught in afternoon rainstorms). However, just the day before, she had pushed their luck a little too far and got the crew caught in a vicious hailstorm—the entire crew getting pelted by one-quarter-inch hail as they hightailed it along the trail back to the vehicles (a quarter-mile hike through an open field, which felt more like a two-mile hike by the end . . . but that’s an entirely different story). Anyway, the sky was threatening, and the fearless PIT leader had told the crew to start gathering stuff together, preparing for another possible exodus from the site.
All of a sudden, there was a commotion in the pits. It seems that, out of the kindness of her heart, Jane had offered to let Cheri trowel in the only area that had been producing artifacts. Cheri, innocently moving dirt, had uncovered a rare piece of celadon (a Chinese ceramic type), but, as luck would have it, didn’t notice it. Jane, on the other hand, using her incredible radar, saw the unique artifact from halfway across the site. Forgetting her gesture of kindness, she leaped across the site, climbed up and over Cheri’s back (leaving deep heel marks that were still apparent days after the incident) and grabbed the artifact out of the dirt before Cheri knew what hit her. Leaping with joy, Jane shouted, “Look what I found!” Well, as you can imagine, there was Cheri with a look of disbelief and, well, one could only call it loathing, in her eyes. Seeing the potential for bloodshed, the fearless PIT leader broke the tension by shouting, “Here comes another hailstorm; grab your stuff and head for the trucks!”
Well, as one may suspect, the “tall tale” actually has many different versions. The above version was related to a number of bystanders by Cheri, with embellishments at appropriate junctures . . . all, of course, in good fun. In fact, I’ve heard that Cheri and Jane are actually still friends and planning another PIT adventure for next year.