This is a true story. About 24 years ago I was a fresh faced and rather wayward youth trying to figure out how to survive in University. I had been attending UWO for a combined Honours in Anthropology and Visual Arts with a specialization in Archaeology. One of my classes was with the extremely popular Dr. Michael Spence, who I credit today along with Dr. Corrine Mandel (Renaissance Art History) for kicking my ass into high gear.
Mike’s class was in Mesoamerican Archaeology. He’d regale us with stories about his adventures in Central America and one particular story caught my attention. As is the practice, Mike would cut the walls and floor of his excavation squares every night before he left the site. He’d make sure that it was as clean as possible and then trundle off for the nightly activities. In the morning he’d come back and there would be holes in the sides of the walls, up through the middle of the floor and generally a mess. The little culprit, or several, was a Zygotes trichopus or more commonly known in Mexico as a Tuza. Tuza’s are a Mexican pocket gopher and their nightly activities were the bane of Mike Spence’s nightly ritual.
If I remember correctly, Mike was looking for a burial of some sort and one morning, after a another night of Tuza excavation hole destruction, he found perched on top a human talus. The Tuza found and excavated what Mike couldn’t. His story inspired me to write my final undergraduate student paper on Faunalturbation; soil displacement due to animal interaction. I can’t remember the mark he gave me, but I know he was amused.
This was back in 1991 and my future wife and I had pooled our student loan money to buy an Apple Classic II and an Apple printer. Apple had a word processing software application and a very rudimentary pixel based drawing application which I put both to good use. The computer replaced an electric typewriter, which to my dismay was probably the worst piece of technology for someone like me to use. Let’s just say that this computer unleashed the ability to revise, edit and format in a way the typewriter couldn’t.
For the paper I drew my first computer image. I laugh at it now but I can remember the frustration I had trying to do fine detail in that clunky squarish mouse. The image below looks childish and amateurish now, but I do remember getting some kudos for applying it to some form of archaeological illustration.
As was student life, I worked manual labour in the summer in order to save money for the following school year. I had been working for a industrial laundry delivery service and one of my stops in North York Toronto was a greasy spoon beside the little offices of the Ontario Archaeological Society. I had totally by chance found the OAS and took a chance one day and walked up to the second floor offices to check the place out. Luckily Charles “Charlie” Garrad, who was president at the time was there and we hit it off immediately. During my weekly stops, I’d take the clock off the meter and spend twenty or thirty minutes every week talking with Charlie about archaeology, his passion (Petun) and how a young hopeful archaeologist can make it in the profession.
I can’t remember how it came about, but Charlie recommended that I could publish my Tuza paper in Arch Notes, which was/is the OAS’s community quasi-peer reviewed (Charlie at the time) publication. It was probably the nicest thing anybody in the industry had done for me and I was grateful to Charlie for it. Thus in August of 1992, I published my first paper (that you can download here); Digging without a Degree: Understanding the Nature of the Silent Mexican Archaeologist: Zygotes trichopus.
To my knowledge nobody has ever referenced it, but as an undergraduate student piece in 1991, I was darn proud of it. Later, I used that research to good use when we encountered the North American version in a site, but I think faunalturbation is an interesting topic that deserves a little more attention!