Learning to Excavate

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This is my first excavation and I have never been on a dig site before ASLAP, so I’ll share some of the things I’ve learned while here. Firstly, there is a sort of Murphy’s Law about dig locations. We dug our first 2 meter by 5 meter trench by the second day, carefully scraping away hard clay inch by inch. The metal detector arrived a few days later and promptly beeped everywhere except the trench. Of course, it hadn’t been calibrated for those readings anyway, but it can be discouraging to hear a “prophetic” machine be so passive aggressive about your hard work. Still, things like pottery shards won’t give off a metal reading and vases are just as nice to dig up. There’s hope for cool discoveries in any spot, regardless of what the detector (or the Nimbus 6000, as Phil has dubbed it) says. In fact, I found a piece of pottery at the end of the second week, which bolstered my ego immensely.

On a practical level, there are some concrete realities to working outside in the dirt all day: taking care of your own physical well-being is crucial. If I don’t take the time to stretch my knuckles out, I start to develop “trowel claw.” The peculiar demands of digging carefully (squatting like a frog, or doing strange yoga poses to avoid stepping on the scarp line) result in shinsplints, throbbing hamstrings, and stiff ankles. After several years working desk jobs in the publishing industry, the demands of good old-fashioned manual labor were a welcome reality check. During my first week here, I would wince picking up a fallen sock, or cringe when I grabbed my phone. Don’t get me started on stairs. Despite the aches, it feels good to be doing something tactile, and the prospect of finding something fascinating in the next strata keeps us all going. I’ve learned how to make a scarp, and that’s all a girl can really ask for—besides, the food here is excellent.

Archaeological excavation is about having patience and positivity in the face of unanswered questions. Ultimately, the time and effort you gamble is worth it if you can uncover just one more clue about the people who lived before us.

Isabelle Prince

July 22, 2018