We’ve Got the Moves Like Quixote: Tilting at a (Acadian) Windmill

Just then they came in sight of thirty or forty windmills that rise from that plain. And no sooner did Don Quixote see them that he said to his squire, “Fortune is guiding our affairs better than we ourselves could have wished. Do you see over yonder, friend Sancho, thirty or forty hulking giants? I intend to do battle with them and slay them. With their spoils we shall begin to be rich for this is a righteous war and the removal of so foul a brood from off the face of the earth is a service God will bless.”

“What giants?” asked Sancho Panza.

“Those you see over there,” replied his master, “with their long arms. Some of them have arms well nigh two leagues in length.”

“Take care, sir,” cried Sancho. “Those over there are not giants but windmills. Those things that seem to be their arms are sails which, when they are whirled around by the wind, turn the millstone.”

The 17th century work Don Quixote by Cervantes is a literary classic.  But what the heck does Don Quixote have to do with PEI archaeology?  Well, it was in the dog days of August last year when we decided to go looking for an Acadian windmill not that far removed from our site at Pointe-aux-Vieux.  It was noted on period maps of the area, and the landowner was more than willing to have us take a look.  Although we did not have any previous experience with windmills in an archaeological context, we thought that finding evidence of such an important community structure would be a nice addition to our work at PAV.

On a Wednesday (15th), we piled into our rental, along with all our field gear, and hit the road for the Low Point region.  After being shown to the site by the landowner, we set up a base line, after which we marked off two areas, a 5m x 1m trench parallel to the line, and a 5m x 3m grid (broken up into ten 1m x 1.5m units) perpendicular to the line.  We decided to begin with the 5m x 3m area, and after struggling to remove the sod, we struggled even more to trowel.  PEI had been experiencing a bit of a heat wave at that time, and as a result, the soil was baked almost to the point of impenetrability.  Even when it was decided to bring out the shovels to move past this baked layer, we quickly discovered that 1) the going was not much faster, and 2) that the stratigraphy of the soil was showing it to be completely sterile, reflected also by the lack of artefacts uncovered.  By the end of that first day, we were dirty, sunburned, and completely worn out.

The next day (16th), we were back at it with more shovel testing, but the situation had not improved, and with essentially nothing to show for our work (aside from blisters), it was decided to wrap up the project until a later date, when conditions might be more conducive to excavation.  We took records of our work, packed up the gear, and set our sights on the Gold Cup Day long weekend.

It might seem strange to write about a project that was less than successful, but in archaeology, as in life, you just can’t win them all.  We went looking for a windmill and came up empty (although the futile shoveling was pretty dang character-building, in my opinion).  In the end, you simply have to take an experience like this and learn from it, put it behind you, and move on to the next project.  But now I’m just rambling, so here are a few pictures to put a stop to that.

P.S. – In case you’re wondering about the title, it’s a take on the song title “Moves Like Jagger” by Maroon 5.

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