Mapping: An artistic Science?

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Did you ever think that science and art could be synonymous? I sure didn’t. I’ve always despised the subjects of math and science. My passions are history, music, and art. Little did I know that archaeology is not limited to only history. It’s a science—science of the most meticulous yet artistic quality I’ve experienced in my 21 years of existence.

Since I’m an artist, I naturally fostered a natural attraction to mapping. I love to draw and paint medieval castles and dragons. In fact, I am currently drawing a dragon for every member of our team. I also have a dragon tattoo. Can you tell I like dragons yet? Mapping, in case you are as clueless as I was, is the scaled and measured drawing of archaeological features, structures, and sometimes artifacts present in a section(s) of a site. Sounds easy, right?

One day, my mapping teachers bestowed upon me the essential weapons for this endeavor: a mighty pencil and a lofty eraser. I was ready to go! I thought to myself, “Show me what part of the castle to draw, and it shall be done!” Then, the truth hit me like a blast of freezing Belgian rain when my supervisor handed me my decrepit arch-nemesis: graphing paper. I stared in disbelief.  I had not seen graphing paper since my high school pre-calculus class. My eyebrows furrowed as the little squares on the graphing paper mocked me mercilessly and an invisible shroud of doubt covered my psyche. How on earth could this be artistically pleasing, interesting, and fun?

I struggled to count the tiny, deviant squares that only measured two centimeters each. It felt like war: an artist craving freedom of expression confronted by the devilishly confining grid. The first day was extremely difficult because I had to reacquaint myself with measuring tools, learn new techniques of measurement, and learn how to swiftly count and record the points I was given by my fellow gladiator mappers. After the first day, I was certain that I would never want to map again.

Then, I saw it. The heavens must have sensed my distress. To console me, they sent to my hands a finished map of a previous site dug up in years past. It was mathematically correct yet exceedingly beautiful. The map radiated vibrant colors, all of which whispered to the viewer of the soil content, the stone composition, and sections of the castle itself.

From that point onwards, I wanted to replicate these wonderful maps, maps that reminded me so much of treasure maps, yet better than treasure maps. Treasure maps don’t tell the viewer what is found in the soil, the exact rock formations of the castle, and the locations of artifacts, all of which enlighten archaeologists about how past humans lived. By mapping an archaeological area, I would be the first person to really garner an understanding of how these people truly lived and what they liked, disliked, and used day to day. The shroud of doubt lifted and was replaced by an aura of excitement. From that moment forward, I have mapped almost every day and enjoy the challenge, eagerly awaiting the beautiful end product.

To conclude, mapping is a science but a creative one. The numbers involved tell secrets and are tangible—unlike the numbers that seemed so abstract and distant to me in high school math class.  It is hard work of the most rewarding kind. I recommend diving right into it head first if you are curious about archaeology. Don’t be scared, it takes a long time, and mistakes will be made; however, the journey teaches you more about the excavation than you could ever imagine and the end result is a beautiful, artistic, colorful, and informational map. It’s worth the patience.

Who knows, maybe your map one day will be a source of inspiration to a student just like it was to me.

Rebecca Bartels (’14)

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