“No Guts, No glory” –that’s the title this morning of an amusing and wonderfully written post by University of Victoria archaeologist Quentin Mackie over at Northwest Coast Archaeology. The post takes an affectionate look at the stubbornly determined trials and tribulations that Newfoundland archaeologist Tim Rast and his exceptionally loyal band of friends and inlaws are currently undergoing as they experimentally carve up a seal and explore in detail its inner workings–from seal guts to rotting hide–all in the name of science.
Over the past few weeks, Rast and colleagues have experimented with scraping the hide, festooning Rast’s clothesline with seal gut, drying the bladder by inflating it with a bicycle pump (it ends up looking like a miniature pinkish Goodyear blimp), and freezing seal blood in ice-cube trays (for later experiments with seal-blood glue), etc, etc.
Rast relates these backyard adventures at some length in his superb blog Elfshot (which I’ve written about before), and despite all the gore (or perhaps, more honestly, because of the gore and yuck factor) I’m fascinated. Rast obviously knows his stuff cold, fearlessly wades in, and isn’t afraid to mix in a little modern technology (ie. the bicycle pump) when necessary. And he’s oh so Canadian, dryly describing all this effort as “last week’s seal excitement,” and worrying about what he has been putting the neighbors through.
Rast’s blog is great fun. But then read Quentin Mackie’s take on it all. Mackie is quick to pick up on the scientific value of Rast’s experimental archaeology, but he does so with a wonderful sense of humor, and a great eye for detail. Here’s one example of what I mean:
“My favourite in the series deals with drying some of the parts, including inflating the intestines and the bladder: he wimps out and uses a bicycle pump, not his lips. His volunteers are conspicuously absent from this part of the narrative, despite the chance to redefine the word ‘blowhole’. “
Clearly these are two archaeologists having a lot of fun in the blogosphere, and, like many other readers, I’m riveted. It’s a little like sitting around the campfire or the camp kitchen with them and listening to the cool stuff they learned that day, all salted with some good-natured kidding. I’m learning a lot and having a few very good laughs.
I really wish more archaeologists would join Mackie and Rast and venture out into the blogosphere in this very personal way. I really want to hear their voices online, and I know I am not alone.
Photos: Above, Tim Rast and his merry band. Below: What a clothesline looks like when you are using it to dry seal guts. Both photos are from Elfshot.