Background Noise: A Double-Edged Sword

Most archaeologists working in the field know far too well of the bothers that can be caused by background noise when looking for artefacts at a site. This little trickster comes in a variety of forms, usually depending on what field you’re working in – e.g. for Indigenous archaeologists looking for stone artefacts background noise usually rears its ugly head in the form of stone fragments of the “non-artefactual” variety.

While investigating the site of the Seven Stars Hotel at Red Banks, SA, with a group of approximately 18 Flinders University students and staff, background noise proved to be a bit of a double edged sword, mischievously messing with not just the usual one, but two of the most important senses necessary to carry out a worthwhile investigation in such a setting.

The Seven Stars Hotel was a popular drinking hole for locals in the 1860s and 70s and got its name from its location at the time – at the intersection of (yes, you guessed it) seven roads. Today the pub is non-existent to the naked eye – the only remnants are thousands of artefact fragments (bottles, ceramics, bricks and more) scattered throughout a field and the surrounding area. As would be expected when working on a site that’s been cultivated and ploughed extensively, background noise played tricks on the visual senses of field workers in the form of artefact-resembling rocks, remnants of crops, clumps of soil, grass and snail shells (see image above).

Situated right on the roadside (and quite possibly underneath it), the fieldwork being done on the site was hindered even further at the hands of background noise from passing traffic – every time a vehicle drove past the site a deafening roar filled the air and rendered any communication being attempted at that moment pointless. Conversations and instructions had to be repeated regularly, and we found ourselves on more than one occasion having to wait patiently as a convoy of cars cleared the area. This proved to be quite infuriating, especially when trying to communicate GPS co-ordinates across an open field with the wind also blaring in the background.

On the upside, we managed to defeat background noise and make the project and field school a great success – more than a thousand artefacts were collected from the site!

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