A Day On An Archaeological Dig: Part I

2 May

For anyone interested in archaeology or volunteering abroad, I’m going to give you an example of what to expect during a day as a volunteer archaeologist.

I’m studying anthropology and archaeology in university so naturally I knew that volunteering for something related, like an archaeological dig, would be a great opportunity for me.

I was nervous because I just assumed that everyone would already know what they were doing while I had ZERO experience with any hands-on work in archaeology.

However, to my surprise, while half of the people volunteering were involved in archaeology before, the other half had no previous experience.

I think it’s a great idea to volunteer on an archaeological dig. Not only do you get to meet a lot of people, but you also get to immerse yourself in a culture and find actual artifacts yourself! You get to learn different techniques, like how to use a trowel and how to clean artifacts properly. You get to learn so much about the past of the people who the artifacts once belonged to.

A friend and I posing with our archaeology tools

Something like this is also really great for your resume/CV. I recently got a job at a garden centre partly because  of this unique experience I had (and partly because of my irresistible charm).

AND you get to discover some very, very weird objects.

Like a fully preserved llama leg (with hair, nails and everything!)

…or a broken off piece of pottery of a PENIS! No joke.

Yes, it's small, but it is a penis

Well, maybe you won’t find the latter, but I guarantee there will be some artifacts found that will be bizarre. Side note: The Moche civilization (who the artifacts once belonged to) are known for having very erotic pottery, ceramics, etc. Hence, the tiny penis.

No doubt, volunteering on a dig will make for some interesting stories and great conversation with friends and people you meet, maybe even on a first date ;). No doubt that you’ll make memories to last a lifetime.

However, it is a good idea to look into what you should expect and I am here to help!

Here is the basic schedule that I was to follow daily:

6:00 a.m. – Wake up and get ready. I would usually have just enough time to change and pack a lunch.

6:30 a.m. – Breakfast with the group. We were to meet at the “restaurant” at 6:30 every morning if we wanted free breakfast. It consisted of scrambled eggs and crappy coffee that I learned to eventually love.

7:00 a.m. – Car ride to Pañamarca. Pañamarca was as close as we could get to the site. We had to walk the remaining twenty minutes or so. Also, the car could only fit a small group of people so the first group would leave at 7 and the second group would leave at around 7:30. Consequently, the first group would get to come home first at the end of the work day and the second group had to wait.

I would love to do a post on Pañamarca, which is the ruins of a huaca (a.k.a temple), but it’s very isolated so I’m sure no one would ever go here. Here’s a picture of a section of the huaca to give you an idea of what it looked like.

More pictures can be seen here on my Flickr account.

Anyway, assuming I went with the first group…

7:15 a.m. – Walk from Pañamarca to the dig site in Nepeña Valley. This took about 20 to 30 minutes depending on what we had to carry. We had to take turns carrying the wheelbarrows which may seem easy but they were filled with equipment and we had to push them on upward slants which was a killer workout (and a sure way to accumulate blisters all over our fingers)!

This was taken on the walk to the dig site

8:00 a.m. – This is usually around the time when we started digging. Our director would assign us to work in a specific area.

10:30 a.m. – We would dig straight until 10:30 and then we would have a half hour break, which I would usually use to take a nap with the sand as my bed and a rock as my pillow.

11:00 a.m. – We would start digging again. Sometimes we would be moved to a new section.

1:00 p.m. – Break #2. It was also a half hour. Most of us would usually eat lunch or nap. The sun was very hot at around this time which was pretty draining.

1:30 p.m. – The digging resumed.

2:30 p.m. – We would start labelling, categorizing, and bagging all our artifacts.

Bags of artifacts!

3:00 p.m. – Clean up, pack up, and start walking back to Pañamarca.

3:30 p.m. – First group would be taken back to our house and we would arrive close to 4 p.m.

And that’s it! It might totally suck getting up early at first, but once you’re used to it you’ll be happy that you’re done work earlier because that leaves you with a lot of free time.

You’ll also likely get the weekends off! Nepeña was about an hour drive to Chimbote and from there another 2 hours to Trujillo, a fairly big city, and I went there almost every weekend.

I should also mention that archaeological digs involve lab work, which you might have to do. This could include cleaning artifacts, labelling artifacts, etc, and it really isn’t as boring as it sounds. Sometimes it was actually a really nice break to work in the lab for the day. My personal favourite thing to do was working with the textiles, which involved carefully cleaning them, drawing them, and writing a description for them.

Cleaning textiles

Am I glad that I went? Absolutely. It was a great experience. I learned so much that will help with my studies. I learned so much about myself. I learned to adapt to a lifestyle that I wasn’t used to. I went out of my comfort zone. I found artifacts. I worked hard and it paid off.

But it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows so stay tuned for Part II which will include a list of what you should consider before committing to volunteer on an archaeological dig.


6 Responses to “A Day On An Archaeological Dig: Part I”

  1. Mica May 3, 2011 at 5:28 pm #

    Very cool! You should write about Pañamarca. That way, others that don’t know about it might someday want to head over there!

    • Kristy May 8, 2011 at 5:07 pm #

      You’re right! I think I will. It was so beautiful and interesting.

      Thanks Mica! Hope you’re having a great time in the jungle!

  2. Elle May 8, 2011 at 10:04 am #

    Wow what an awesome experience! What company did you use to find this project?

    • Kristy May 8, 2011 at 5:05 pm #

      Hey Elle!

      Thank you! It was truly amazing. I went to the Archaeological Institute of America’s website (www.archaeological.org) and in their section on fieldwork I searched until I found a volunteering position. I do warn you though, it isn’t free to volunteer. I paid about $1000 for 4 weeks, which included my accommodations. I got pretty lucky with the cost because most of them were a lot more expensive. There are some really cool ones though so check it out if you’re ever interested!

  3. Seattle Dredge June 21, 2011 at 6:41 pm #

    Great photos, again. Sounds like a long day, but a lot of fun. I’d love to try something like this out. That’s a pretty hilarious find too, haha.

    • Kristy June 24, 2011 at 12:53 pm #

      Thanks Seattle! Yeah, they definitely were long days, but they were rewarding 🙂

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