In the hustle and bustle of setting into a new location and temporary occupation, it is easy to forget the simple things. Where archaeology is a lot of meticulous cataloguing and careful excavation, there is more personal element that can have a critical impact not only on your own performance, but the performance of the section that you are involved with. Whether you are an analyst, a trench supervisor, a drone pilot, or simply setting to work with a trusty shovel in one of the many trenches, the following posts talks about the personal side of archaeology and the effect it can have.
When in your home environment, habits have been built over a long period of time that keep you happy and healthy without having to think much about it: drinking just enough water, getting just enough sleep, taking just enough time to yourself; all basics in self-maintenance that can contribute quite a bit to your mental state and physical ability. A transition to an environment that is quite a bit different from your home environment can bring a host of new challenges that require careful consideration to be the best archaeologist you can be. It comes down to you to make those check-ins, however, and that is a skill that is cultivated only when you’re exposed to these new conditions and can sometimes be overlooked to disastrous result.
De-hydration, over-exertion, sickness, injury, all of these are carried risks that can come and impede work and seriously ruin what otherwise would have been a wonderful – if intense – experience. There are multiple key components to this, and self-awareness is only the first step. Second is being honest with yourself and your limitations when you start feeling physical discomfort because of your new conditions. Sometimes it is difficult to know what real dehydration feels like if you come from a temperate part of the world. Sometimes overexerting is within your physical ability, but now paired with this new heat, this has the potential to create a situation that could put your health at risk. Be honest with yourself and do regular check-ins with your mind and body to make sure you’re giving them the care they need to function for the trials ahead.
There is no shame in taking a break when the sun is beating down particularly heavy, or if you’ve been exerting yourself during a particularly busy trench. Some may have the tendency to push through their exhaustion and physical discomfort because they do not want to let their trench-mates down or feel like they’re not pulling their weight. This is a natural feeling that is understandable and common, but a detrimental belief, not only to an excavator’s personal health, but to the overall efficiency of a project. If you become unwell because of that overexertion, the labour that you might have been able to continue doing is lost altogether for very little gain. Feel confident to take a quick break. underneath a tree or go take a swig from your water bottle while you catch your breath after a particularly intense portion of the digging – your health is important not only to maintain efficiency within the project, but to stay happy and be able to enjoy this unique and profound experience properly.
While maintaining a healthy physical disposition is critical part of being able to operate at full steam, maintaining a healthy mental state can contribute in just as important if not more subtle ways. Personal space isn’t something we think about too much in our non-excavation lives, where we’re able to decide the terms of our own bubbles in most cases. The nature of the work precludes being able to set those conditions ourselves and that can sometimes cause a personal tension that is bourne of not being able to satisfy those mental needs that come along with having a health balance in our day-to-day. When you’re feeling like you need time away from others – take it. Don’t feel embarrassed if you need to put your headphones in and lose yourself in your favourite band’s new album or pick up the next chapter of your favourite audiobook and escape for a little while. Go and explore the area on your own or take personal days on weekends during the excavations to keep your mental health as good as possible so you not only have the physical fortitude to perform, but the mental fortitude as well. It is not a weakness to crave the things that you left behind when you came here, and having little tastes of home, taking the time to talk with loved ones, all these things help keep you happy and engaged with the tasks and rigours of archaeology. Buy yourself that bag of chips that is close to your favourite flavour, spend a little extra on your favourite type of coffee, go and snap some pictures places around your temporary home and send them to all the people rooting for you; respect your need for mental rest and allow yourself the time to decompress from the challenging work of the site. Although alone time is important to have on a regular basis, don’t forget to learn on the people who are there with you. Strong bonds are built in shared experiences, and the people around you understand the physical, emotional and mental requirements of this occupation. If you are feeling the pressure, lean on your friends – don’t be afraid to ask for help.
There is an onslaught of new things to learn and see when setting out into the world of archaeology. The transition from textbook to trench can be a jarring one, but if you check in with yourself regularly, respect your needs – physical and mental – you will avoid some of the most common pitfalls and set the foundation for an experience you’ll never forget.
Thank you to the leadership and personnel of EBAP 2018 for making this a summer that I’ll remember for the rest of my life. The support and guidance I’ve received from friends and colleagues has been overwhelming, even when I tumbled into the pitfalls that I illustrated above. Thank you for your care and support. Thank you for the electrolyte tablets and jam. Goodbye, EBAP 2018.