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 (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Bryan Burns (email@example.com). 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.
What was I expecting when I decided to join the EBAP team? Not much really. Only during my second term of my second year at University did I really decide on anthropology being my major. It all started with a presentation at the beginning of my Greek and Roman 200 class that I learned about this program and what would result in one of my best summers so far. Previous to this experience I have only had one second year archaeology class which taught me the basics of archaeological research as well as problems that are faced within the field. While it was very informative and provided me with an idea of what I was getting myself into, it didn’t prepare me for what an amazing journey this experience would be.
Being immersed in a site and working right in the trenches can not be replaced by any lecture. Swinging a pickaxe into the soil and scraping the bulk wall with a triangle trowel is so satisfying. After these six weeks I have learned how to use these tools, along with many others, to the fullest in terms of technique and efficiency. Even something as simple as a dustpan or a broom will never be looked at the same without thinking of how much soil I swept up every day and wheelbarrowed to the mountain we call the spoil heap. Unfortunately, I have not had the joy of experiencing troweling in my sleep which people have warned me about. What I have experienced is every part of my body being sore at one time or another.
One obstacle that worried me was whether I would get along with the people that I would be working with for half the summer. This is something you do not necessary need to worry about in a lecture. I was very lucky to have a fantastic group of people to work with and get to know. Relationships formed here can happen as easily as having a pottery washing buddy or with the roommates you are assigned with. In a classroom setting, it can be more awkward and less organic. Being able to see and work with the same people every day can create stronger bonds and lifelong friendships even after they go back to their respective homes. This is easily one of this most important aspect of the program for me.
Another aspect of this experience I enjoyed is being able to work and interact with professionals and students in my field of study as well as a variety of others. It is great how archaeology can utilize a number of different skills people have and combine them together, no matter if it is to do with technology, art, or sheer power. While being here I have also figured out a clearer idea of what career I would like to pursue after obtaining my degree. This is mainly because of my interactions with people here and being able to share ideas and learn from others. This has put my life on a new trajectory that I am thankful for.
Coming to Greece has always been a dream of mine, but I never expected to come here for an excavation. This experience has taught me many skills that will transfer to my future pursuits no matter what they are. Who knows if I will end up in archaeology as my future profession. What I do know is that I will never regret my discussion on whether I should have come here. I think this is a fantastic program to be involved in whether you are in the field or not and recommend it to everyone.
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.
This summer is the last before I graduate as a Greek and Roman Studies Major before applying to Law School, and I can’t think of a better way to have spent it than here in Greece working on the ancient Eleon site. Initially a little nervous about going to the field school on account of my terrible inability to cope with very hot climates, as well as not knowing anyone else going amongst a group of students (graduate, and otherwise) who are already very close friends, I am so happy I decided to go, because it has been an absolutely amazing experience.
Though I study Greek and Roman culture at university, I have never done practical work in the field before. This dig has been very good at teaching me hands on archaeological skills that I couldn’t learn in a classroom. The field school thus far has been very rewarding to me both personally and professionally as a student. Working mainly in trenches at the site, with occasional time spent working at the Apothiki and offices in our apartment building, I am getting a thorough look at the different necessary processes of hosting an archaeological dig. With conservators, pottery experts, anthropologists and a variety of other academics on site, there is so much to be learned across a variety of backgrounds, which makes the field school very attractive for people looking to gain interdisciplinary experience. It is important, in my opinion, to vary working on different aspects of the dig, because it helps one’s understanding of the material being excavated. Understanding how the excavated material is dealt with across different related processes is important because it results in more careful excavation and a better consolidated recording process. For example, at the site, I was initially shown simply how to recognize bone and pottery from rocks and dirt in the trenches, but not until I worked on pottery sorting and entering the notes of the pottery specialists into the database did I fully understand the specific nuance qualities of different kinds of pottery that need to be taken into account in order to identify the significance of the sherds excavated. Further to that, I didn’t realize just how important every sherd of pottery excavated is until I saw the conservators mend a vessel out of hundreds of tiny pieces.
Though I have learned about Greek pottery in courses back at UVic, not until I worked with the pottery in person did I feel that I truly had the ability to recognize and categorize the material myself. This experience has shown me the true importance of applying learned information in more than just a textual format. I can say without a doubt that I won’t forget how to perform the practical skills I am learning here, whereas I would very likely have forgotten how to do them after a while if I had merely looked at a slide or a textbook which told me how to do it for the purpose of being tested for a grade. Here, knowing how to identify and sort pottery, how to properly handle excavation is crucial to continuing a successful dig, and having my learning be motivated by a goal other than receiving a grade is both very refreshing, and makes the information sink in so much more than it otherwise would.
On a personal level, the EBAP field school has also presented me with many rewarding experiences. It has taught me how to deal with interpersonal difficulties in a way that doesn’t impact my working ability, and has given me the opportunity to make great new friends who I hope to keep in touch with long after our time here in Greece is over. It is fantastic that I have had the chance to meet friends here who are in different positions in their lives than I am, because without our common interest in archaeology here at Eleon, I likely would not ever have had a chance to get to know them. It has been so nice to spend time with classics professionals, graduate students and professors in a more casual environment that doesn’t feel so segregated by hierarchy the way university settings often do. By not feeling intimidated by my academic superiors, it is much easier to ask questions that help my education and to see how wonderful they are as people. Also on a personal note, I have to mention, being the animal lover that I am, that a huge bonus to being here in Dilesi this summer are the adorable stray puppies that live around our apartments. I have named our batch Leto, Apollo, Artemis and Zeus, because the female hangs out with the twin puppies, and this one male dog keeps trying to pull a typical Zeus move on Leto (if you know what I mean). In addition to exponentially augmenting my archaeological technical skills, I have become far too fascinated by the politics of stray dog life here at EBAP. As far as the human cultural climate of Greece, I have fallen in love with Greece and its people and I greatly respect their kind nature and strong work ethic.
Overall, to any aspiring field students, I would highly recommend applying to this project. It is truly very interesting work across a variety of archeology-related fields, it takes you to a beautiful and historically rich part of the world, brings you in touch with brilliant individuals eager to impart their knowledge unto you, it offers a unique opportunity to get university credit in a hands-on way that is (in my humble opinion) far more effective at teaching than an average classroom setting, and it also allows you to see cute puppies and the most magnificent sunrises you can imagine. What more could you want from a dig? 10/10 would recommend.