promoting cultural heritage and conservation

Life in the Trenches: Week 4, 11 Things I’ve learned on the Dig

Parco Ravennati

  1. Count the buckets: When brushing away a mound of dirt with the equivalent of a glorified toothbrush and an oversized spork, it can be discouraging to look at your area after several hours of work and feel you haven’t made a dint in it.  In order to prevent dismay, learn to count the buckets of dirt that you fill instead.  Nothing says progress more than being able to climb up a pile of dirt and say, “Look, Ma!  I spent 5 weeks moving all this dirt from over there to over here!”
  2.  Remember all your hard work will eventually pay off* : Excavation needs to be a slow process

    and takes a massive amount of patience.  After 4 weeks of diggin’, we found this medieval castle with beautiful frescoes inside, a labyrinth of passageways, and bathtub fit for the pope. *Subject to change depending on the site, length of excavation, and luck.

  3.  It’s important to learn to get comfortable in the dirt: Let’s face it.  You are going to be digging for several hours.  Discover your own digging style and assume a position that you can maintain for a lengthy period of time.  Kneepads are a great idea for those who like to do it on their knees.  A nearby bag of cookies can also come in handy.
  4.  Nothing beats the feeling of getting to be among the privileged few to see an artifact that has been buried for hundreds of years: Especially when you know that all the archaeological finds have to be censored from the public view until publishing, so you really are among a special group of people.   And especially when the find is unique – like that one time when Matt found the ****** in the ***** and it changed the entire way we viewed the ****** – especially due to the details of the ***************!!   I mean, **********  *********   and ******** ************   ************   *******  **  !!!!  Ya know??
  5.  Just because you’re doing manual labor, doesn’t mean you can’t look good: After all, there is a reason the classy brand “Anthropologie” chose a name related to our field.  I don’t know what that reason is, but if archaeologists pose just right, they sure can make those plaid shirts and SPF-proof cargo pants look like a Calvin Klein photo shoot.  A shopping spree at REI, Columbia Sportswear, or a good ol’ Indiana Jones hat can also help.
  6.  Tools can be used for much more than their intended purposes : Think outside the box when it comes to what you have around you.  Need something to wind the plumb line string around?  Use a twig.  For those that haven’t quite adjusted to the dirty aspects of archaeology (see #3), that wheelbarrow has abilities beyond barrowing wheels.  This is “survival archaeology” at its finest.
  7.  Documentation. Documentation.  Documentation: Half your time will be spent with paperwork, topography, and describing each stratigraphic unit (SU).  The other half will be spent trying to keep those pesky archaeology students from photobombing your official photos of the site.
  8. Math skills are a central part of documentation and triangulation is not as easy as it looks.
  9. Learn to ask meaningful questions about the artifacts that you find: For example, why did our ancestors, from Roman times and beyond, insist on using broken pottery?
  10.  Learn to make a logical hypothesis about the questions you may have: In regards to broken pottery, maybe it was a class thing – the more complete the bowl, the more food it can hold, thus it was intended for upper class whom could afford more food.  Considering that there were much more common folk, this also explains why we find so many tiny pottery shards!  Or maybe they were just lazy.  Even the Romans left their forum less than halfway constructed.
  11.  Accept the fact that there are simply some mysteries that archaeology will never be able to solve.

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 ~by Jamel Daugherty,Washington Latin Public Charter School

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