Most Canadian universities get four months off for summer and the common question many friends, family and people I meet ask is, what are you going to do? My response this summer is: I will be working on an archaeological dig in Greece. The common response I have gotten is: Wow that is so exciting opportunity! Now many of you might be wondering what is it like being on an archaeological dig and so this blog will help explain what it’s like.
EBAP is my first archaeological dig. I was very excited to start work, but at the same time I was not 100 percent sure what I was getting myself into. Now that I have had some experience on a dig I can describe what it is like and paint a clearer picture for the next person who asks me what I did during my summer.
The dig is for six weeks. We start work in the morning and stop in the early afternoon in order to avoid the heat of the day. On my first day of the dig we cleaned up the site and fixed up the trenches and got rid of the tarps that were placed overtop the trenches in order to protect them during the winter. After the clean-up was finished we opened up a new trench. In order to do so we got rid of the weeds/ the tall grass. The first couple of layers is a lot of dirt removal and once you get passed those layers you begin to find some interesting objects. We pick the dirt and then shovel it into a wheelbarrow. We take the dirt to the back of the site where we collect the dirt into a pile. As you can imagine that dirt pile grows over the weeks! Running the wheelbarrow up the dirt pile to the top is the best technique for getting the heavy wheelbarrow all the way up to the top to dump its contents. We count how many wheelbarrows of dirt that we have collected throughout the day. There is a lot of picking and shoveling in archaeology. Before I started on the dig I was honestly not that strong in my upper body, but after a week of piking and shoveling I now have super human strength. Before I started the dig I would ask friends to open up stiff water bottles and now I can open up every single water bottle. I find the best technique is to partner up and have one person pick and the other person shovel and to switch when one person gets tired.
Another important part of archaeology is scarping. My trench leader asked me to scarp and I gave her a funny look at first because I had no idea what she had just asked me to do! Scarping is when you take a trowel and scrape the tool on the dirt wall in order to make the wall straight. You want the trench walls to have good edges. In addition, after digging down another layer of dirt, we sweep afterwards everywhere. We do this in order to define what is underneath the dirt and to see the defining features and for archaeological photos.
During our digging we find a lot of pottery, roof tiles and bones. We separate the pottery, roof tiles and bones into different buckets. We find a lot of pottery shards that have paint on them. My favourite finds are of bones and miniature pottery. In the late afternoon we wash our finds of the day. It is interesting to see what has been discovered throughout the day and we get a close up look at the different types of pottery that were found. We wash the pottery to see the paint and other features more clearly.
I am studying Greek and Roman Studies at the University of Victoria. I am nearing the end of my degree and I am entering into my final year at university. It has been an amazing experience to have studied this ancient culture for the past three years and to be able to have the opportunity to participate in a dig in order to see first-hand the material that is coming out of the soil. A month ago I visited a museum in Nafplion, Greece and last weekend I went back to visit the same museum. It was a completely different experience for me. Even though I was seeing the same objects it felt like a more personal experience because I have been taking these similar objects out of the dirt and being able to hold them. I will never be able to think of pottery the same way again.
I hope my description has cleared up in the readers mind what it is actually like being on an archaeological dig and you can be the judge whether or not you believe I am still living the life of Indiana Jones.