Rocks In My Garden

I got my first comment!!  A happy welcome to Mo, of A Small Holding, a gardener in South Yorkshire – a part of England I would LOVE to visit one day – I have already had the opportunity of visiting England back in 2009.  Unfortunately, it was only for a week and had to spend one day of it laid out sick in the flat we rented because of a disastrous experience in Bath the day before.  (It started out well enough, but went south very quickly on the trip home, to the point where I found myself stretched out on the bathroom floor of the Paddington Station Hyatt, singing praises to a cool, STILL marble floor and my traveling partner calling for a taxi because I knew there’d be no way I would make it through the tubes without disgracing myself again).  All in all, I did get to see some lovely parts of London and England, and am already planning a return trip for 2014. Anyway, I digress.

Thank you, Mo, for dropping by!

Actual gardening has come to a bit of a halt for the moment, as the focus this week has been on homeschooling and house-cleaning, plus a trip to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, always a huge event in these parts this time of the year.  Fortunately the weather has been extremely nice and I’ve been able to go out and muddle around a bit.   What I really should be doing is finishing the weeding, but I’m so pleased with myself for finally finishing up the section for my lettuce garden, I want to bask in the accomplishment a bit before I confront the trouble spots once more.

My lettuce patch

Lettuces can be tricky here.  Typically, the best time is to grow the lettuces in the fall, as our heat can cause the lettuces to harden and bolt.  I was very careful to research the kinds of lettuces for a summer, kinds that don’t mind the heat.  If worse comes to worse, I can just dig out the ones that don’t do well, and wait until the fall to plant differently.  This section used to be my ‘tea garden’ but I never really did use any of the herbs to make actual teas, with the exception of anise hyssop, which I love in a tall glass of iced tea (house wine of the South.)  I had bee balm, which was more a novelty because of its association with the American Revolution and that it might attract hummingbirds.  Unfortunately, the bee balm would perversely bloom AFTER the hummingbirds left for the winter.  I do still have a couple of bee balm plants in a small corner, but more out of a need to fill some space and add a bit of variety.  No, this year, I’m hoping the fact that this side garden is on the east of my house, with morning sun, and that will give the lettuces a better edge for a Texas summer.

Did I mention I was an erstwhile unrequited archaeologist…? Okay…shhhh, you didnt hear this from me, because an archaeologist is not supposed to scavage for artifacts like this, but I justify my acquisitions as having been removed from out of context anyway. One such item was truly waaaaaay out of context: I found it sitting atop a pile of rocks at a local soil farm.  Whilst mooning over a large pile of river pebbles and dreaming of long windy stream beds in my backyard lined with this rock, my eye fell upon a shape that looked all too familiar.

mano from garden center

Where did it come from?

How many times had I attempted to draw stone tools in my archaeology class and studied the shape of a stone for indications of human retouch? Sure enough, when I picked it up, it fit in the palm of my hand as though it were made for it.  The right side was sloped just so that it did not wear on the outside edge of my palm and my fingers fell just in line where a human grasp could hold onto it and grind away without losing control.  The whole rock itself had the tell-tale sign of the triangular shape of a mano (“hand.”)

mano in hand

Fits like a mano made just for me...

There’s no telling where it came from, or how far it came, but when I turned it over to examine the rest of it, one side gave final confirmation of my find: a flat surface that showed signs of having been rubbed vigorously against a flat surface (metate).

mano for grinding

Confirmation: a flat surface for grinding.

I had to refrain from giving into the desire to start flinging more rocks aside to see what else I could find. I know I would have been asked to leave if I had! As it was, I made it a point to go in and ask if I could at least have that one rock – I’d even pay for it, if they wanted me to!  But they said that wasn’t necessary and I walked away feeling like I’d found a treasure.

I found yet two other grinding stones in the dry creek bed on the property of my husband’s uncle’s place around Kingsbury (near Seguin, west of San Antonio).  We had his permission – indeed, he was proud to show off his own ‘arrow-head’ collection.  As an archaeologist, I need not mention its bad for the science of archaeology to walk a place and take whatever you find on the ground.  What you find on the surface is a clear marker of a site to be examined and removing the artifact(s) erases any chance of determining a future excavation.  The more that is taken away from a site, the less chance you have of gaining an understanding of what that site was used for.   I always tell people its the same mantra in archaeology as in real estate: location, location, location.  The only difference between a pot hunter and an archaeologist is the respect the latter uses in employing the scientific method.  The real treasure of archaeology means nothing if you deliberately remove the item from its context without cataloguing it.

Stream-beds, however, have material that has washed down from some place else and hence, you know that there had been activity along the way somewhere; but without geographic references, a stone tool becomes just a stone tool and an interesting item to talk about.

The second mano is the white stone holding up the biface – it had the very familiar triangular shape of the first one.  The biface always makes me smile because of the way I found it.  Crawling around in the bottom of a creek bed is not easy and as I’ve never been in the best of shape, it wore me out pretty quickly.  So I chose to plop myself in the middle of one particular pile, thinking I’d just sit and look at what I could pick up around me.  Lo and behold, as I moved the rocks around, I found that I was sitting on that biface! It’s not extremely fine work as bifaces go, but it was by far the best piece I’d found.  (Note – I use the term biface because it is flaked on both sides from a larger flake of chert and shows signs of having been used either as a knife or a chopping tool.  The genius of many of these stone tools is that they were often fashioned to serve more than one purpose, if it could be helped.)

two stone tools

Two manos and a biface

Now, I was familiar with the shape of manos from my time as an anthro student in college, but the next one really surprised me in its shape. It was probably more a mortar than a mano – it has the flat surface for grinding, but the little depression at the other end of it shows that it was probably hafted onto a large stick or branch and used to pound as well as grind.  I found this in the creek bed as well and couldnt resist it.  It was too unusual.

mortar/pestle stone

Possible mortar - note the depression at the top

Grinding surface on bottom, slightly slanted

The final bit was a rock that I had picked up and played with for many a year whenever I visited my grandparents in Seguin.  Grandma had a ‘rock garden’ in her backyard, essentially a collection of all the rocks that had caught her eye in her travels, and for many years, I had been more attracted to the striations of color and hints of crystalline chambers (aka geode) in the piece.

Geode or flaked tool?

Grandma said she didnt remember where she got it, but apparently she had been drawn to it as well, and so it sat there in her garden for the duration of my childhood.  It wasnt until after I had gone through my courses in college that I was able to look at the shape of it and see that it was actually a rejected piece of flint that someone had flaked to see if there was any potential for tool-making.  When my grandparents passed away, this rock was one particular item I requested to have to take away for my own memories of them.  I have other reminders of them in my garden, but this was a particular treasure as well.

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3 Responses to Rocks In My Garden

  1. Denise says:

    Oh I say – what an entertaining and enthusiastic blog – love it. Wish some of your enthusiasm wcould be sold by the bottle! lol! I come from a slightly northern yorkshire location – weather today? Cold and wet! Yuck! How typical!

  2. Jackie says:

    Love your blog Sharon – want me to look for some North Sea shells for your garden when we’re off to the island again? If I happen to find Jack there I’ll stick a stamp on him immediately and send him your way 🙂
    xxx as always!

  3. Mo says:

    Thank you for the mention, and the link 🙂
    This is really fascinating stuff about rocks, you don’t make it sound boring at all 😉
    I had never thought about taking stuff from where it is found but it makes perfect sense.
    I love the story of the rock from your Grandma, what a lovely thing to have as a reminder of someone you loved.

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