Thursday, September 11, 2008


More than a month at the dig site and the question persists – Is it worth it? The piddling trench that represents the entirety of three seasons' labor has grown by a mere three or four feet in either direction. Dozens of little nooks protrude into the soil on either side of the main trench – mere shelves for what trinkets and bricks found fit to reveal themselves in the coarsely dug ditch. But that's relative progress, for the excavated area is now twice as long as it was in the Autumn.

The potential for boredom is yet vast. "Autumn" and "Spring" are almost meaningless here: the Sindh is not beholden to the temperate, regular seasons of Western Europe and the Isles. Even the fabled Monsoons are shy of this great dusty expanse and fail to train the year into any sensibly punctuated passage of time. There are cold months and there are hot months; April has been one of the hot ones. There are no rains and only the flooding of the Indus – swollen, one might imagine, somewhere among the peaks of Kashmir – offers any indication that precipitation falls anywhere in the subcontinent. Indeed, the thought may cross one's mind that what gods lie buried here beside the river are taunting you. The rains never come, but in the wake of every flood – there have been three since March – the groundwater seeps into the trench and fills it like a trough. This is how the Sindh maintains its fertility.

"Heaven for the climate, hell for the company," Twain said. This place must be somewhere in between – perhaps a Limbo or one of the sundry transitional heavens of which the occasional Buddhist pilgrim traveling through Ihsaan Waahaan speaks. There are the workmen; rough sorts who speak no English and very little Urdu. When not occupied with bucketfuls of dirt and stone, they rest behind a tarp and drink thinly flavored tea, which they seem to relish. Five times a day these men face Mecca and bow, and three times a day they goad their camels into hauling earth from the slowly growing piles at each end of the trench.

Then there are the other archaeologists. Jim Humphries is a quiet, unobtrusive man in his mid-thirties from McGill University in Montreal. Perpetually clothed in khakis, he has been at the dig only since the 10th of April. Though he socializes very little and complains even less, it is clear that he is not at home in the heat. He refrains from speaking to anyone except McCormick and John Daniel, and then only when he must – this may very well be because of his apparently limited linguistic capabilities.

On the other hand, the Bombay-born John Daniel, who has been at work at the site since Pete and Irene's arrival, has tried his very best to befriend every person and beast at the camp. He is fluent in several languages, apparently including Sindhi and the Punjabi spoken by McCormick's men. He is an admirer of Gandhi-ji, and is always quick to espouse the merits of Swaraj – self-rule, independence – but he is not without respect for the British in India. "Well," he jokes, "they do make the trains run on time!" He views the dig as more than an exploration into one of the oldest cities known to science; for him, it is an opportunity to confirm the antiquity and achievements of Indian culture.

The sepoys and their officer are another matter. The soldiers – mostly Sikhs, it seems – mix with neither the workers nor the scientists, though they seem to enjoy many of the same pastimes as the former. McCormick is chatty and eternally jovial – a good match for Daniel, with whom he has had countless heated, though courteous, exchanges. Despite his many years in the subcontinent, McCormick seems to have less command of Urdu than even Humphries – whether by attitude or training, the only verb tense he ever seems to use is that of the diminutive command.

The most common artifacts found thus far are bricks, which are striking in that they are of uniform size, indicating some degree of standardization in design. About twenty-five of these have been found. Besides these a number of amulets have been uncovered. Most depict animals such as bulls and rhinoceroses, but one includes a seated man. His adornments seem to indicate some status or wealth, and the long, antelope-like horns protruding from his head could be a priestly headdress. Daniel immediately suggests a connection with Rudra, the terrible form of Lord Shiva, and suggests that the horns represent virility, fertility, or . . .
The interpretations could go on and on.

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