December 31, 2015

COMMENTARY: A few thoughts as the year ends and some suggesions for next year.

DECISIONS: There are no decisions from the Third Department this week but seven new cases have been added to the Third Department's January hearing calendar.



Contact The Insider at:    TheInsider@InsideWorkersCompNY.com                                                                         212-734-9450

Why I Dig

I have added this page to the website, to explain why it is that each summer, there are a few weeks in which I do not regularly post to this website, as often as not because on some of my vacations as an amateur archaeologist, I have very limited access to the internet. As to why I spend several weeks digging in either the Peruvian Andes at 13,000 feet or most recently in the rather hot and humid rain forest of Belize, the best answer I can give, aside from intellectual curiosity, is best summarized by the lyrics of a Guy Lombardo song noted at the bottom of this page. That song also explains my 18 seasons performing on stage at the New York Metropolitan Opera (at Lincoln Center).

July 21, 2015 Back From Digging: It was an interesting two weeks in Belize again. This time I spent most of my time at Xunantunich, with my first title - Lab Director - setting up that national park’s first lab for analyzing artifacts found at the site: ceramics, jade, obsidian, and all sorts of other artifacts..Currently, material is stored in what we call the bat cave: a 15' x 30' concrete, windowless (and no electricity) storage shed with small opening under the roof for air circulation and access for about 50 small bats. But I set the lab up outside under a sheet metal awning so we could work in the fresh, albeit hot and humid air, where we had the daily visit of a troop of 5 spider monkeys in the trees right next to us - they are cute as long as you are no directly beneath them. Among other visitors to my lab were a howler monkey and a 2 foot iguana. We also had the company of armed soldiers - we are a few miles from the Guatemalan border and looters, some armed, are a real threat.

 I did have the chance to dig at Barton Creek, a new site in the open, unshaded fields, found by LIDAR (Light Detect
ion and Ranging, done from the air which penetrates forest and vegetation to show terrain and possible structures). While there were mounds that appeared to be the remains of buildings, excavation down to the bed rock (one to two meters) found nothing significant. Like all searches, radar only tells you that there is something there. You still have to cut your way through the brush to get to the site, carry in all your equipment, and dig to see if what LIDAR and other radar systems shows was worthwhile to excavate.

At Xunantunich, caches/deposits were found at several sites and included some exquisitely carved pieces. But despite the size of the site and its extremely large palace complex, El Castillo, this was the first major Mayan site that had no actual burials uncovered to date. At a height of 165 feet, El Castillo, unlike the pyramids in Egypt, is covered with intricate carvings, staircases, and dozens of rooms all around its upper regions, apparently the private residence of the ruling kings.


July 5 to July 19, 2015: I am off to Belize, again, for only two weeks and I will explain that in a moment. I was just told I will be the assistant project manager, excavating a 1500-year old pyramid at Xunantunich, seeking royal burials.

I am going for only two week as I have been helping my wife care for her 105-year-old mother who, since a fall last year, has begun to show her age and needs a lot more attention then is available from insurance. I note this, not because of the two weeks, but because I like to remind you what my accountant used to say:

When I am old and tired and sitting in my rocking chair, I want to know that I am tired, not because I am old, but because I had a good time when I was young.

The school I attend has 2-week, 4-week, and 8-week sessions and always has one or two non-students who have never done anything like this before including one returnee, older than me, who is making his second trip; this is my ninth.

Digging under the hot sun in humid air with logs of bugs around may not be for you.

But for those of you who need a warm-up or have a spouse who would call you crazy, you can work on some major projects from the safety of your desk chair. www.zooniverse.org has a number of projects in which volunteers, like you, help scientists review photos and/or written records to help scientific research classify data from thousands of record; a recent survey “Snapshot Serengeti” with help of volunteers on their desktop classified in three days data which would have taken the researchers years to complete.

June 1 to June 14, 2014

Another great two weeks digging in the Belizean rain forest, finding all sort of unique architecture and artifacts and working with a lot of kids (18-35, male and female) who are not afraid of a little (or a lot) of dirt, sweat, and hard work. This year there were a few older people there, who wanted to see what it was like being on a dig; they were referred to as the ‘elderly’ - in their 40's and 50'. What does that make me? An antique only a few years away from being an ‘artifact?

We are usually in the field by 7:45am and work until 4:00 with one hour for lunch. Dinner at 6:30 and then usually another hour ro so for homework (we must write a detailed journal every day and the students have tests every Friday based on the work they do, the two lectures a week, and the 100+ pages they have been assigned to read.

The weather is hot and humid all the time, even at 2:00am in the morning. Very little rain and very few mosquitoes. But, then again, that 2-foot long iguana running around our dining hall along with dozens of smaller geckos and frogs and baby tarantulas (about 3" across) do  keep the bug population down.

During this two week trip, I was assigned to excavate an alley between a large temple/pyramid and what are administrative buildings in the royal plaza., an alley that had been filled in by collapsed rocks, trees and dirt from the east side of the temple. Unfortunately, it took two weeks to get off all the rubble down to the basic floor and walls of the structure with any interesting finds, if they exist, to be uncovered after I have left. Some items found by a colleague of mine (who used her excavation for her Masters degree) in a larger temple about 100 yards away are now in a collection touring museums in major cities through the US.  We did find some interesting items at our site but the rule is that no specifics are published for months after the initial discovery lest we go to the site in the morning and find that looters have destroyed everything looking for buried treasure. The rule is that if someone asks what you found, the answer is “a lot of dirt, broken ceramics, and some very interesting architecture.”

The teams at the three sites we are excavating in the region continue to reveal the size of these communities and prove that their trade pattern extended well over 1,000 miles in range. The city at which I am excavating was  was occupied from 1200 BC to 900AD: 2,100 years of nearly continuous occupation.

From the artifacts that have been uncovered it is fascinating to see how a great culture, with a major bureaucracy, grew from nothing into an empire with over 1,000,000 in population and then fell into disrepair and anarchy, split up into dozens of smaller city/empires with little power and a return to subsistence farming.

I am reminded of George Santayana who wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Perhaps government officials, like some of those at the Board, should be required to come here for a week or two to understand how any great organization can plummet from its zenith, Cahal Pech in 500AD and the WCB in  the early 2000's, into chaos, no longer able to perform its duties to its constituents.

The study of archaeology, like politics, is the study of the rise and fall of civilizations. The main difference is that a shower washes the dirt off the archaeologist.

Plaza F StartJune 28, 2012: Yes, the weather was hot and humid at the site in the Belizean jungle in which my team - the Lower Dover 13 - worked the first two weeks: 90°F to 105°F in the shade and, despite the humidity, the constant threat of dehydration from sweating: try drinking 6-7 liters of any liquid a day. And trying to rehydrate with Pediolite shots with a watermelon juice chaser.  As for AC, there was none. Fans did help at night when the temperature plummeted to the low 80’s. And yes, we did have to stop for about 30 minutes when a wave of army ants swarmed over a corner of our work site; fortunately they did clear out the scorpions, fire ants, and small tarantulas that lived in our work area.

But, we did uncover what appears to be an important burial about 1500-2000 years old. A few days before I left Belize, evidence was found in a nearby site for the first time ever proving without any doubt that not only were there hunters living in the area about 12,000 years ago but they hunted animals thought to have become extinct before the last ice age and the area was not even a jungle back then.

One of the sites I worked on, after my two week stints in the jungle in 2011 and 2009, was a national park and tourist attraction, a Mayan town/city dating back to before Rome was founded: Cahal Pech. This site was continuously occupied from about 1200 BC to about 900 AD.  That is 2100 years - the U.S. is 236 years old so this site was occupied nearly 9 times longer than the U.S. has been a country. Now that is HISTORY.

Our finds like the two shown here, those of the team on which I worked and others on the same projects, are helping prove how such ‘primitive’ civilizations were able to build, in the jungle, large cities (100,000 people, buildings more than 200 feet tall and Dr Bob Small Potsome larger in volume than the Pyramids, cities more than 50 square miles in size, etc) and develop the most accurate calendar the world has ever seen until the late 1700’s in Europe. And build hundreds of miles of roads up to 50 yards wide through the jungle, parts of which still exist.

For me, it is the opportunity to be on the cutting edge of making history, to hold in my hand a piece of pottery or a stone tool that has not been touched by a human for 1000, 2000, or even 3000 years. And, maybe a find that will help rewrite history. And it is also the opportunity to work with people, mostly students working on BA’s, MA’s, and PhD’s who are a lot of fun to be with. After a hard day in the jungle, the local rum and stories flow freely, hmm… that may explain some of the dehydration.

So, when I look at the Discovery channel and others like it, I know that I am one of the people actively contributing to the knowledge they are imparting and the stories they are telling, actively participating in uncovering the history of mankind and civilization.

Crazy maybe but a hell of a lot of fun and that is why I dig.

The following lyrics were included in my posting a few days before I left on my dig. Heard in the closing seconds of the TV series ‘HOUSE” finale this week, these lyrics by Guy Lombardo’s song “Enjoy Yourself (It’s Later Than You Think)” should explain it all:

You work and work for years and years, you’re always on the go
You never take a minute off, too busy makin’ dough
Someday you say, you’ll have your fun, when you’re a millionaire
Imagine all the fun you’ll have in your old rockin’ chair.

Enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think
Enjoy yourself, while you’re still in the pink
The years go by, as quickly as a wink
Enjoy yourself, enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think.

You’re gonna take that ocean trip, no matter come what may
You’ve got your reservations made, but you just can’t get away
Next year for sure, you’ll see the world, you’ll really get around
But how far can you travel when you’re six feet underground?

¹ The five regions of the world where seperate and unrelated civilizations have developed are:  Mesopotamia (Middle East), China, the Indian subcontinent, Mesoamerica (Central America), and South America (Peru, Ecudaor, Boliva, Chile)