Saturday, September 01, 2007


It’s perhaps not something that we always like to talk about or even think about, but all of us are vulnerable in varying degrees. There are of course those major life threatening events, but those are a universal in every walk of life. This week has brought attention to a particular vulnerability in my life, or perhaps you could say a lesson that I should have already learned.

In order to carry out the mapping at Xtobo I am making use of an instrument known as a Total Station. A Total Station is a fancy electronic distance measuring device. Basically it shoots a smaller laser beam out to a mirrored prism. That beam is then reflected back to the machine and the distance between the two is measured. Also measured are the horizontal angle (or compass bearing) and the vertical angle (i.e. whether the instrument is level with the horizon, or looking up or down). Using those three numbers and some fancy trigonometry three dimensional coordinates can be computed and then turned into a topographic map of the site. This piece of machinery is, to put it mildly, vital to the mapping efforts at the site. Therefore, it is a point of vulnerability.

The topographic map of the site was actually begun in 2005. During that season I brought a total station down from Tulane to be used at the site, only to discover upon setting it up in the field that it was broken. This was a crisis moment. As I looked into the possibilities of getting it fixed I discovered that would take approximately four weeks, when I only had five remaining weeks in country. I was lucky that year, and a magnanimous Bruce Dahlin, a neighboring archaeologist, offered a similar machine for my use. I will point out that I did learn at least a bit of a lesson from this experience. Earlier this year when I picked up the total station at Tulane I made sure to set it up and test that it was working. From what I could tell that day it was entirely functional, but as a vital piece of equipment the vulnerability remains.

Although this vulnerability was first tested earlier in the season by a malfunctioning data recorder, we were not shut down, as the tried and true pencil and paper data recording method shall not fail. However, this week further assailments have been made at the shaking fortifications. On Monday this week the total station refused to stay powered up. A call into a repair center brought about what was a very simple answer; just clean the battery contacts with a pencil eraser. Well that worked for a couple of days, but now the batteries are boarder line again. A call has been made to find a replacement battery, and it is hopefully on the way.

Perhaps I can never do away with all vulnerabilities, but I hope with each passing year I can gain the wisdom to avoid a few more of them.


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