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The Animals Behind the Xplorations

Archaeologists and Historians, Writers and Mappers, Principal Investigators and Field Crew — although each and every one of our team members is important, they would more than likely be overworked zombies without their furry, feathery, and/or scaly friends. In fact, as this is being written, a very spoiled but very cuddly, miniature dachshund is curled up under this blogger’s arm with no remorse for, just yesterday, spilling coffee all over the computer (but that’s neither here nor there).

Our pets are our saving grace, and they will be our undoing, but throughout history they have enriched our communities and continue to do so in modern times. For that reason, we thought they deserved a shout out. So come, meet the canines, felines, and even reptiles behind the team!

Meet the Animalia Team!

TerraX Historian and PI Emma Pepperman says, “My animals are very important to my work day.” Our regular nine-to-five jobs can keep us stagnant, and deadlines keep us pigeonholed for long hours at a time. Emma says her two cats and golden lab “bring me a lot of joy and keep me moving. Grapefruit (the golden eyed white, black-and-blonde feline) is my working buddy. She sits in my lap most of the day, and Bootsie (the dopey blonde lab under the desk), reminds me to get up every hour.”

Whether you’re digging holes in a field or sitting at a desk all day, it is not uncommon for our furry friends to remind us to do something just for ourselves every once and awhile. “I like to walk Bootsie on my lunch break,” Emma says, “which I often use to clear my head and think through any problems I am trying to solve.” (A healthy body is a healthy mind!)

Heather Draskovich, TerraX GIS Specialist, says that her dog, JoJo (the eager australian shepherd with the frisbee), “makes sure I take lots of stretching breaks away from the computer. He lays his head in my lap to get me to take him outside to play frisbee,” (Let’s say it together, everybody: Awwww!) adding, “My back thanks him!”

Archaeologist and TerraX writer Alexis Muschal even attempted to get her tricera-tabby (Get it? From the photo.) in on the job by asking her cat to help the team dig shovel tests. “He just pretended to be asleep,” Alexis jokes, adding, “Even though his mom is an Archaeologist, Oliver wants to be a paleontologist, so he dressed up like a dinosaur for halloween.”

Rachel Smith, GIS Specialist, prefaces — “I have way too many photos of my pets.” These include her dog, Duchess, the black furry rug sprawled out on the floor, and her cat, Ned, the siamese beauty. “Ned has a habit of making himself at home wherever he feels like it, which includes my workstation,” Rachel says, “and Duchess has a new favorite spot to chill when I'm working” — right under her feet.

New writer and Archeologist Heather Lash says that her cat by the name of Indiana Jones (the brown and black striped stud of a cat just “hanging in there”) is (in Heather’s own words) a “heartthrob.” “Sometimes he lives up to his name,” Heather says, “He's got a very curious nature, and I often find him in places he shouldn't be. But how can you not let that face get away with anything!”

However, despite their big puppy eyes and cuddly bellies, these guys aren't always so adorable. In fact, they can be quite mischevious.

While You Were Working

Have you ever seen an orange and white tail flicked in the face of your coworker, a curious smudgy snout looking down the barrel of a webcam, or maybe even been casually mooned by the butt of a cat? I’ll bet you a thousand chert flakes each person on the TerraX team has experienced at least one of these things. We are no stranger to the subtle and not so subtle misbehaviors of “man’s best friend.”

Probably the most peculiar pet on the team is our Lead Writer Sharlene O’Donnell’s pet snake. “I have a southwestern hognose snake named Snake.” (Genius.) “I’ve had him for 15 years, so he’s at least that old. I used to let him crawl around on me while working,” she says, “until one day I forgot about him. I couldn’t find him, and I looked everywhere.” (Nope!) “I finally found him inside the printer, and I had to take the printer apart to get him out. He was so mad at me! He kept hissing and trying to bite me but I finally got him out,” Sharlene says. Now, she is sure to keep him safely locked up while she works. (Would recommend.)

On another occasion, not two minutes into a training call, Sharlene had to politely excuse herself to chase after her dog, Angus, who had escaped into the front yard. “They would usually be delivering his dog food, and he totally realized that,” Sharlene says. All anyone could hear from the small rectangular webcam window was the distant barking of a fairly large dog, the subtle apologies of Sharlene, and the patient voice of a very understanding mailwoman. “He got in the back of the Fedex truck with the Fedex lady!” Sharlene emphasizes. It definitely made for a much more interesting call and was quite the ice breaker for the remainder of the meeting!

Despite his break out, Sharlene says “Angus is always with me. It’s nice to have him around working from home. He reminds me every couple of hours when it’s time to get up and go outside for a break. And when it’s quitting time, he lets me know so we can leave the house and go for a walk. He’s just as reliable as setting a reminder on my phone.”

On another call with Sharlene (yes, another one), Sam Stanford, TerraX Geologist and Technical Writer, said, out of a total of nine pets, (Count em, nine! Including one river cooter turtle and a hamster) her little cat, appropriately named Nubs (top left of seven), “knocked a potted plant off my window, shattering it whilst I was on a call.” (With nine total pets, what can you expect? This writer can hardly handle one.)

Despite their mischievous tendencies, we bring our animal friends along everywhere we go. Bio-archaeologist, Osteologist, and TerraX Technical Writer Alexis Muschal, said, “When TerraX needed me to come to Atlanta on short notice, I couldn't find a petsitter, so they let me take Oliver, my cat, with me. He lived with me in the hotel for a few weeks and completely owned the place, usually running around the room and hopping onto the fridge.” (Just about exactly what is to be expected.) “His favorite spot was sitting on the AC in the warm sunlight.” He looks pretty comfortable, doesn’t he?

Pets of our Past

Y’all these adorable misbehaviors of our pets are nothing new, we know this. Our domesticated animals have been “misbehaving” since the dark ages! Our team of history and bone buffs at TerraX gave us a lot of interesting examples to dig up for you here.

TerraX excavates all over the southeast, and on occasion we do discover artifacts, architectural resources, and even soil features that indicate the presence of these domesticated animals in communities throughout history.

“One of the more peculiar things I found,” says historical archaeologist and geophysicist Steve Filoromo, was at “a property we conducted several Phase III projects on'' where we found records that suggested one of the plantation owners once hosted jousting competitions on the land back in the 1850s! If you are unfamiliar with the game, this was a tournament in which two men on horseback would charge at each other wielding long pointed sticks hoping to knock down — or worse, impale — their opponent. (Can we call the 1850s the dark ages?) At TerraX, we think it's fascinating to learn about how humans have interacted with animals in the past.

Steve continues saying, “Working in the back swamps and bayous of southern Louisiana, there are many interesting artifacts and features related to the antebellum and postbellum sugar plantation. One of the more peculiar artifacts I found while mapping a ca.1880 tenant cabin in Ascension Parish was a porcelain dog doll fragment alongside other porcelain doll fragments.”

Steve suspected this kind of artifact was possibly a child’s possession, either a toy or for decorative purposes. “Oftentimes, those artifacts associated with the lives of children with domestic spaces are seldom!” Steve adds. At TerraX, we find these kinds of artifacts to be unique material representations of typical domesticated households since at least the nineteenth century, which of course, includes the family dog.

“Moreover,” Steve says sugarhouse smokestacks were often located near the main structure, “leading your eyes to the remaining houses and structures associated with various plantations where I saw pigeonniers (AKA pigeon houses) by the former big houses and garconnieres” (bachelor's pads). We know what you’re thinking — although pigeons were once used as messengers from around the middle ages to the 1800s (How you train a pigeon to carry a note across the U.S., let alone the world, we will never fully know.), these pigeons were most likely used as a kind of livestock for especially cold winters, and sometimes they were simply domesticated as pets. In fact, birds seemed to be a common theme throughout our past communities and civilizations.

When Rachel Smith was working on a site made up of several temples in Northern Belize, her team discovered the remains of a bird inside a temple. “We did some research and found that birds are commonly found in temples through the Maya region, and it is believed that they were used as a sacrifice.” If we (Yes, the collective TerraX team) could be any animal in the world, we no longer think we’d want to be a bird. Instead, we’d probably want to be an elephant! Let us explain…

Miss Fancy news clipping

Margaret Shultz (one of our very favorite historian dorks) did some research on Birmingham history just for fun (Yes, for fun), and came across the story of Miss Fancy, the elephant who was queen of the streets known to free-roam Avondale Park in Birmingham. “This story specifically is pretty funny,” she says, because “It is about a local elephant that was perhaps the most famous anti-prohibitionist in Birmingham.” In short, during the great depression, Miss Fancy became an excuse for her owner to get illegal liquor from city officials by pretending the alcohol was needed to sedate his 1000-pound elephant. (Oh, how clever.)

“There's also a beer named after her now,” Margaret added, with a side interjection from Steve, (a previous Birmingham local) who asks “Do you remember Fancy’s on Fifth, the restaurant under the speakeasy across from Munchies?” Clearly this elephant was quite the legend in Avondale.

Outside of TerraX's personal inventory of findings, Heather Draskovich was sure to let us know about an excavation in Pompeii that unearthed various pets and animal casts including a turtle, a dog from the House of Vesonius Primus, a pig from Boscoreale, and a horse from Civita Giuliana. “While I obviously didn't excavate there, the dog and turtle ones are extra neat!” Heather D. says.

Similarly, when Heather Lash was completing a zooarchaeological analysis, she found several instances where pets were evident within the assemblages. “We call these ‘incidental’ finds as they are typically animals that would not be consumed,” Heather says. When she worked for the James Madison’s Montpelier Archaeology Department in the enslaved complex and other similar projects, Heather also uncovered the presence of cats and horses and even skull fragments from kittens and teeth from dogs. (How lovely!) “It’s pretty cool trying to interpret the relationship between these animals and the communities they are found within!” Heather adds. (We agree!)

Pets are Historic Treasures

Animals and pets are a huge part of our job at TerraX. They affect our environment, they appear in our research, and they simply enrich our nine-to-fives. Our furry and not so furry friends are a big part of our day-to-day lives! The project results are clear. No matter what color, shape, or size they come in, as a community, I don't think we will ever live without them.

Now that we have introduced you to some of the best and more frustrating parts of our behind the scene friends, we encourage all our Xplorers to listen to your pets when they tell you to take a break and even ask that you embrace their mischievous behaviors. These little guys have been by our sides throughout our history, and we have the evidence to prove it. So, don’t forget to thank them for all that they do.

Coming soon, see some of our most beloved pets and their worst behaviors to be seen on our socials at Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn.We can’t tell you how much our team loves the ridiculously chaotic but all-around loving furry and not-so-furry friends.

Pet friendly Tip: If you’re in the Alabama area and are looking for a cool and historic place to take the pup or just to get out of the house, we always recommend the Moundville Archaeological Park.We love sharing in the beautiful history of community (As we made clear in last weeks post on Our Day at the Moundville Archaeological Park Native American Festival), especially when it’s pet friendly!

Keep purring, barking, and whatever else Xplorers! We’ll see you next time!

— The TerraX Team


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