Archaeology, Much More Than Just Digging


By: Amanda Gaggioli Member Supported Fellowship Recipient

I owe a huge thanks to the ASOR fellowship donors for providing the assistance I needed to participate on the Kalavasos and Ayios Demetrios Built Environment (KAMBE) project this summer in Cyprus. The donors helped me move towards my ambitions as a young archaeologist as I spent four weeks working with a team of individuals from University of British Columbia and Cornell University. We spent grueling hours working under the hot Mediterranean sun during a heat wave that left us worn out to the point of complete exhaustion each day. Overall, the hard work proved to be rewarding, enlightening, and also a lot of fun!

I was initially drawn to this project in Cyprus because my professor at Cornell is one of the directors, and the project involves many types of work that include archaeological excavation, survey, and also dendrochronology. Cyprus has played an important role in social and political relations in the eastern Mediterranean throughout the past, especially during the Bronze Age when humans inhabited the sites Kalavasos-Ayios Demetrios and Maroni-Vournes. During my four weeks, I excavated at both sites, helped survey areas in the region with potential archaeological sites, and traveled to the Troodos Mountains to take dendrochronological samples from the forests.


I spent the first two weeks excavating at the site Kalavasos-Ayios Demetrios where we uncovered a section of a Bronze Age street. We excavated test pits at the site Maroni-Vournes for the last two weeks in locations where GPR (ground penetrating radar) results showed signs of potential walls beneath the soil. The digging was exhausting and seemed endless, since we spent days digging deeper and deeper without finding any ancient remains or soil change. We dug ourselves into a hole that was too tall to get out of without a ladder! As a result, we started losing hope of finding the walls from the GPR results. However in the last week, we began to uncover the tops of stone walls about 5 meters beneath the surface. With the finds of architecture and pottery from this summer’s season, the dig directors can begin to excavate a larger area beyond the test pits at Maroni in future field seasons.


When picturing the work of an archaeologist, one does not often imagine an individual dragging a machine back and forth across a farm field that has been recently harvested. Usually one imagines a person dusting off rocks, skeletons, or other relics with small tools and brushes. However, archaeology often requires technology, such as ground penetrating radar (GPR) or a magnetometer, in order to determine the location of a site beneath the surface. In fact, Archaeology often involves unexpected work and the need to problem solve when things do not go as planned. My experience with survey this summer involved cooperating with local Cypriot farmers who sometimes showed up angry in their pickup trucks during our sessions of surveying, because the work of the archaeologists and Cyprus’ Department of Antiquities was not clearly communicated to the farmers being protective of their fields. I realized the importance of being respectful and making clear to the locals of the archaeological work going on in the area.


One of my favorite days on the KAMBE project was spent traveling with other team members to the Troodos Mountains to take tree ring samples from one of the highest peaks. We took cores from the trees using increment borers, while standing on steep slopes overlooking the foothills and the Mediterranean Sea further in the distance. The borer tools allow researchers to take samples with complete ring records of trees without permanently harming them. The samples were sent to be analyzed in Cornell’s Dendrochronology Laboratory, which will contribute to existing chronologies as part of Cornell’s Aegean and Near Eastern Dendrochronology Project. The patterns of the tree rings will not only provide dates but also important information about climate change in the eastern Mediterranean region.

Despite the exhausting days of digging without uncovering anything during excavations, the hard work finally paid off at the end when we began to uncover architecture 5 meters deep beneath the surface. With my experiences surveying this summer, I realized the careful work that must be done to ensure that the surveying instrument picks up signals from every section of a predetermined area. The adventure to the Troodos Mountains provided a break from all of the relentless digging and also some of the best views of the island. Overall, my summer was filled with both difficult and rewarding physical and mental work, clothes permanently discolored with dirt, and fun memories that will last a lifetime.


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