This post will be a sort of review of my experience and the ups and downs I faced during my six weeks participating in excavation during the EBAP 2016 season. The first week of my on site experience was filled with a variety of learning opportunities. After an initial few days of site tours and cleaning of the trenches, the excavation finally began in earnest. During this first week I learned many of the basic procedures and techniques involved in excavating an archaeological site. These included but were certainly not limited to how to properly use a pickaxe or hand pick in an archaeological context, how the actual procedure of excavating a trench worked (for example, when it is or isn’t appropriate to change locus or how to identify soil changes and why that may or may not be important). Now, most of what I encountered during the first week of excavation I had been introduced to previously in my studies, however, I quickly discovered that there is a massive difference in learning how something works in theory in a classroom and actually being there and doing it for yourself. Because of this, the first week was perhaps the most beneficial to me personally in my time at ancient Eleon.
Week two brought about a somewhat welcome change of scenery as I was re-assigned to work in a new trench. While week one had certainly been beneficial in the sense that I learned a plethora of beneficial skills that I will carry with me into any future archaeological endeavours, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a tad disappointed with the lack of excitement in that initial week of digging. This new trench had, at the time at least, appeared to have more potential for exciting finds and was definitely the place to be in my mind. This new trench, at the time, was the only one with what appeared to be the tops of walls, or any actual architecture for that matter. I was disappointed, then, to find that even though we knew (or in some cases, thought we knew) that there should be walls and other interesting things in the trench; it would take us many days of painstaking work to be able to uncover them. Again, I knew that archaeology was a slow process going into the dig but the excitement of actually being there myself and being the one actually doing the excavating made everything seem to go by 10 times slower.
A couple weeks into the season, it was decided that we would open another new trench beside the one that I was working in. During the first day or two of digging in this new trench we came across many, many fist sized stones. In order to better see what was going on, we were instructed to leave them in and clean around them and brush them off as best we could. I was, for whatever reason apparently quite good at this, so good, in fact, that my trench supervisor Uwe jokingly called me the “Stone Pope”. This ended up being quite an appropriate nickname because, even as many of my trench mates were switched in and out to do various other things both on site and at the apotheke (our pottery analysis building) I stayed in this particular, stone filled trench for the majority of the season.
As the season went on, I slowly grew more and more frustrated with our seemingly empty trench. Whenever we would find something that we thought could be important or interesting it just turned out to be more useless stones. In fact, I was beginning to lose all of the initial optimism I had had and was beginning to think we were just digging up what was essentially a trash heap of stones.
But then it happened. Finally, after weeks of nothing, we found our first blue stone! It may seem insignificant but this one find really turned my entire EBAP experience around from one of frustration and disappointment into one of excitement and optimism. It is one thing to read in a textbook or hear in a lecture about some exciting find that an archaeologist of their team made during an excavation, but it is another thing entirely to be there and experience it firsthand. In fact, I would go so far as to say that, even if we found literally nothing at all for the remainder of the excavation (which we certainly did), this single find would have made this entire experience worthwhile. It was an extremely satisfying feeling to finally find what we were looking for after weeks of hard work and I couldn’t have asked for a better team of people to do it with.