At 5:56 am the door opens. Light streams into the room as a brown Columbia hat with a Wintersport T-shirt shuffles into the room and begins packing up the total-station batteries charging peacefully on the table to my left. Soon after, a man with an Adidas hat and a green T-shirt enters the room and grabs one of my straps, startling me. This is how a day as the first-aid kit generally begins.
I am carried outside to see a mob of people adorned with T-shirts, hats and cargo pants all patiently waiting to load into large metal transport vessels. After a few moments of waiting I am carelessly tossed into the rear of one such vessel. We depart and I suffer half-an-hour of bumps, twists, turns and lurches. Afterwards, I am carried up a steep hill with a gorgeous view of the surrounding farmland. Shockingly, my escorts hardly consider their surroundings but merely trudge up the hill with their heads down. I get placed casually in the shade up against a large tree, and there I wait patiently until needed.
My first patient calls around 7:30 am. A man with a large sun hat, a white (??) T-shirt and slightly too much sunscreen on his face unzips me and pulls out a pack of Almora. My next call comes at 9:12 am as a slightly sun-baked female with a blister on her left thumb rummages through me in search of polysporin and a band-aid. I try to recommend the anti-septic spray, since the polysporin expired in 2011, but my suggestions fall on deaf ears (expired polysporin is better than nothing I suppose).
At 9:45 am the humans congregate around the tree in a daily ritual, and I generally provide a few band-aids at this time. Near the end of the congregation a tall man in a blue shirt with bloodshot eyes opens my small pouch and removes eye drops. One of his contact lenses has collected some dust, and I supervise as his fellow human helps administer the drops into his irritated eye.
My next patient comes much later at 11:08 am. By now the humans are slightly heat-exhausted, as evidenced by the quality of the jokes I overhear, making careless injuries more likely. Someone accidentally struck the ring finger of their nearby colleague while pick-axing dirt, so I provide acetaminophen, soothing cream and bandage-wrap to a woman grimacing in pain; fortunately the injury seems nothing more than a bad bruise.
The humans have another congregation around 11:30 am, although everyone is considerably less exuberant by now and I generally remain untouched during this process. Only as the gathering ends do I provide some Almora packs to people who need a boost to get through the rest of the day.
As 1:00 pm arrives, the man in the green shirt and Adidas hat (which has now been replaced by a much larger garment described as the “Sun Protection Zone”) examines my contents to ensure I am still packed appropriately. We begin the descent down the hill followed by the usual jarring ride home. At last I am removed from the transport vessel and returned to my usual home in the Office, knowing that tomorrow the entire process will begin anew.
Our 2017 season is well underway. Today we began week five of our six week season. The team is made up of about 30 colleagues and students from Canada, the US, Greece, Italy, and Poland. In the early weeks we had quite a bit of rain but now the rain is gone and the heat has arrived: 35 (95 F) today! Everyone is working extremely hard and the work is going well. We are extremely grateful to our colleagues at the Thebes Museum and the Ephoreia of the Antiquities of Boeotia who help us so much in our work.
What follows will be student blogs which are part of our field school course through the University of Victoria. Students are asked to write in an interesting way some aspect of the excavation, to provide the reader with a sense of what it is like to be on an excavation in Greece.
Upcoming Season: May 28 – July 8, 2017
This project investigates an unexplored settlement in central Greece (Boeotia), dating primarily to the Mycenaean (ca. 1700-1150 BC) and Classical (6-4th c. BC) periods. Ancient Eleon operated within the orbit of the major Greek city of Thebes throughout its history.
Volunteer Program: Student volunteers will participate in all aspects of fieldwork, learning stratigraphic excavation techniques, recording methods, and artifact analysis. The program offers experiential learning and is physically strenuous.
All student volunteers must be in good physical condition and able to participate in all aspects of the fieldwork.
Upon acceptance to the program, participants can enroll in GRS 495 Practicum in Archaeology (3.0 Units) for university credit from the University of Victoria. Qualified non-UVic students can get UVic transfer credit to their home institution. The course will include training sessions in field techniques, topical lectures, and optional field trips. It is possible to participate as a volunteer in the excavation without enrolling in GRS 495 for credit.
All participants, whether enrolled in GRS 495 or not, will be required to pay a $3000 program fee which will go toward room and board for six weeks. UVic tuition for GRS 495 is separate, as is transatlantic airfare. The excavation team lives in modest, shared apartments in the nearby town of Dilesi, which offers swimming in the Euboean Gulf, internet access, and public transportation to Athens, approximately 1 hour away.
After six hard weeks of work (from May 30-July 9) we can report that 2016 was a great a success at ancient Eleon. We had a very good team of dedicated students and scholars often working 14 hour days in the field and apotheke. A preliminary report of our results will be forthcoming, first to our Greek colleagues in the Ephorate of Boeotian Antiquities and to the Canadian Institute in Greece. We will also present our work at the Annual Meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America in January 2017, this year in Toronto.
The site in Arma is now thoroughly covered and protected for the winter. We are already making preparations to return in May 2017 to continue this important research. In 2016 we made some very exciting discoveries and were able to answer some significant questions, but, as often happens with research projects like ours, the work has resulted in new, intriguing questions.
Our project is highly dependent on external funding. We welcome donations from individuals and institutions who are interested in supporting our research of the Greek past. Donations also go a long way toward supporting dedicated students from Canada and the US who gain valuable work experience with us, excavating, cataloguing, and studying newly uncovered artifacts. Our project provides transferable skills and prepares people for a whole range of careers. If you are interested in making a contribution, please contact Brendan Burke (email@example.com) or Bryan Burns (firstname.lastname@example.org). Thanks for reading – see you in 2017!
Survey vs. Excavation: During my time as an undergraduate in Classical Archaeology, I’ve had the opportunity to participate in both a survey with the Western Argolid Regional Project (WARP) and an excavation with the Eastern Boeotia Archaeological Project (EBAP). While at EBAP, I’ve been asked many questions about which I like better and what the differences are between them. Both are important archaeological processes but are very different, especially as a student out in the field. This post will highlight the characteristics of survey and excavation in general and will also discuss differences and similarities in procedures and technique.
Main Goals: When one embarks on a survey, the goal of the project is to obtain an all-encompassing archaeological view of a large region. Generally work is done in square kilometres rather than square meters, which allows for a big picture view. Survey is used to identify potential sites (areas with high densities of material) and is commonly used to select promising areas for future excavation.
In contrast, excavation is a very detailed picture of a small area. It commonly occurs after a survey has taken place, like here at EBAP, but also occurs when features or artifacts of interest are found. Excavation usually includes uncovering architecture or artifacts below the ground surface in a systematic way.
In the Field: I generally like to relate survey to cardio and excavation to strength training. While participating in survey I spent my days hiking around the Greek countryside, through well-tended agricultural fields or jungles of prickly maquis. Every day I got to experience a different view, and by the end I had seen a significant portion of the Argolid plain. I also had the opportunity to meet a variety of people, especially the farmers who seemed not to care that a group of archaeology students were walking through their fields.
Excavation, in comparison, requires a lot less walking and a lot more lifting. From big picking to wheel-barrowing, the entire six weeks are spent moving as much dirt as possible. The season is spent at a single site, which allows me to really understand the history of Eleon and the archaeological processes taking place. Even though I walk up the same hill every day, I always looked forward to understanding more about the site and finding something which has remained in the ground since the Mycenaean period. I also find that working on a project as multi-disciplinary as EBAP has allowed me to get a glimpse of many of the facets of archaeology that I may otherwise had not been able to explore such as osteology or conservation.
Overall, both surveying and excavating are important pieces to the archaeological process, but are very different when compared to each other. I truly do not prefer one over the other because I have been able to have such interesting experiences in both. I hope to participate in more surveys or excavations because they really are two pieces to one puzzle.
Like any due date for a report or an exam, the end of our excavation period crept up on me, as I’m sure it did for most. You can tell by the piling pottery sherds, the larger-than-normal circles under everyone’s eyes, the frantic looks while sorting flotation (no doubt recalling how many crates are on the porches), and the decreasing number of social people at ouzo hour.
Of course, everything exciting happens at the end. Which is great, really, but generally results in more last-minute work, including returning to site after lunch for a few lucky volunteers. Enthusiasm has to run high for these returnees, because pulling a 12-13 hour day in 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit) takes a special kind of crazy… and they must be ready to bring that same energy back at 6 am the next morning.
If you are one of the crazies, you are left both incredibly excited and incredibly drained. A few things to know before venturing to skip your day-off and tag on an extra 6 hours to your work day:
A) Brains begin to melt. Once upon a time, you had a name all to yourself. Then suddenly, you become Jess, Steph, Austen, or all of the above and begin to respond to any name besides your own–since “Emily” becomes synonymous with “blonde girl” and surely cannot be referring to you.
B) Laughter attacks (a side-effect of the melting brains). You think I mean laugh-attacks, but that would be misleading; I mean that laughter literally attacks the trench in an unstoppable way. It appears out of nowhere. Be prepared to annoy everyone around you to the point of getting kicked out of the trench, especially when sharing a precariously placed board that bounces when sitting and laughing (this was the instance when I first saw Steph’s death glare, which I had wrongly assumed was not possible).
C) Great surprises are assumed to be dreaded chores. Example: Brendan announces that he has such a surprise for you in the afternoon. You immediately assume he intends to send you, during the hottest part of the day, to clean the massive polygonal wall that radiates heat and blocks any wind. In fact, he plans to bring everyone iced coffee. (… However, this may be something that naturally happens when you’ve been surprised by Brendan too many times.)
D) Dinner does not wait for you. While obvious, this one cannot be missed. If you expect to come home and casually clean up in an attempt to look nice for our 8 o’clock dinner, you’ll be sorely disappointed. Tops, you will have 20 minutes between exiting the car and forking the Greek salad, which is generally gone within 5 minutes, because, well, everyone’s last meal was at 2 pm.
E) Good memories accumulate. Despite the tough work, the reward is enormous. Not only are you shell-shocked with the realization of what you’ve uncovered and what it means for the rest of the project, you are also strangely reluctant to head home, though your body has come to the end of its rope. And with so many fun new friendships, built on the back of shared-struggle and excitement, the only way to say goodbye is to say, “See you soon!”
This beautiful country has a truly wealthy culture despite its economic situation. The kindness of its people, the impact of its history, and even its sweltering heat will be missed by this first-time excavationner.