Digging. And digging. Then digging a bit more.

Saturday 27 and Sunday 28 July. First day on the dig. The first three words of my scribbled down notes are: ‘Fuck I’m tired’, written in handwriting which has deteriorated considerably since I turned 40. Arrived at the dig house in Dhali last night…eventually.

It was a revisitation of the challenges getting to the Pella dig in Jordan in late January 2009. I arrived in Amman, Jordan after being in Syria for a week. I had loved it, but I was nervously hoping the Gaza conflict, which was at that time unfolding a short distance away, wouldn’t escalate….and, well, very slightly culture shocked because it was my first time in the Middle East and I was travelling alone. I stayed overnight at the ‘Palace Hotel’ in Amman the night before (why are the names of so many hotels a direct contradiction in terms? Do they do it on purpose?) and a Palestinian guy tried to hit on me. The next day was the date of our rendesvous at the British Institute for Archaeological Research in the Levant before travelling to Pella. It took about three Jordanian taxi drivers, a petulant, stressed, and slightly culture-shocked loss of temper on my part, and some phone calls by the staff of a hotel just around the corner from the Institute where a taxi driver had unceremoniously dumped me, before I got there. After my adventures, the kindly wife of the Dig Director then proceeded to served me real tea, with real milk, which improved my mood considerably. Never had a cup of tea tasted so, so good.

This time, despite some fears that I would take the wrong bus and instead of the dig, I would end up in the middle of a demilitarized zone patrolled by the UN, I actually got to Dhali itself (the local town adjacent to the dig) and waited at a cafe. BUT. I was then unable to place a call to the Dig Director to let her know that I arrived. Neither could the owner of the cafe. And I had no idea where I was supposed to be staying. Turned out that Pam’s phone had been stolen about an hour before. There was, apparently, no hotel accommodation in the town, and it was looking increasingly like I was going to be perched atop my luggage by the side of the road…….all night. Eventually, after a stressed few hours ‘There’s a big group of Americans staying somewhere around here! Someone must know where! They can’t just slip off the radar!’ the owner of the cafe phoned one of his friends who confirmed that they had rented a local high school. I had found my dig. No-one had died. And I slept pretty well that night. Doesn’t sound like much in the retelling, but it did my head in at the time. Ahh, these things are sent to try us, and a big thank you to the cafe owner who drove me around the Dhali burbs, and eventually to the school.

The next day (Sunday 28 July) I was hard at it. I’m glad I was a volunteer at Pella before coming here as it had helped prepare me for dig life. Dig life here has a lot of similarities with Pella. The main difference is cultural, and NOT related to the fact that the Pella one is directed by Australians and this one by Americans. It’s to do with the fact that the majority of fee payers on the Pella dig are volunteers (working to experienced archaeologists) with perhaps a couple of people being trained as archaeologists by the Dig Director.

Here, it’s the exact opposite. It’s an archaeological field school with a smattering of volunteers. The majority of fee payers are students – and very young ones, in their undergraduate years at Lycoming College in Pennsylvania – being trained as archaeologists.

They work hard, in temperatures which range from around 32 to 40 degrees. You start at 6.00am, after a ten minute walk from the school where we are staying to the dig site. (At the school, we’re sleeping on camp beds donated by the British Army). Breakfast is from 8.30 to 9.00am. You work until 11.00am. Then it’s back to the dig house, then pottery washing to enable the Dig Director to correctly identify the pieces, then lunch and a siesta. Then back again from 4.00pm to 7.00pm. Then chores around the Dig House – sweeping, cleaning etc.

That’s been MY daily routine, and it’s been enough to have me tucked up in bed at around 9.30pm and snoring loudly….but on top of all of that, the students also study and attend to their study commitments and paperwork relating to the Dig – mapping, reports etc.

And what did I do on my first day? First I levelled and cleaned up a surface. Every trench (or square, as they call them here) surface has to be perfectly straight to you can take measurements that make some sort of sense. So I chipped away at the lumps and bumps. Then scraped it flat. Then brushed all the dirt away. Then carted the dirt away.

After that I assisted with some of the jobs associated with closing a square down – taking measurements of rocks in the trench so they could be mapped and taking elevation readings so that all the information about the square would be available should anyone else want to reopen it.

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~ by margoforte12 on August 3, 2013.

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