Recipe for Surviving an Archaeological Excavation

By: Marielle Velander, 2013 Meyers Fellow

I’m already halfway through my three weeks as an archaeologist at Tel Kabri, a Middle Bronze Age palace in northwestern Israel, my participation made possible by the Meyers Fellowship through the American Schools for Oriental Research (ASOR). I’ve learned a lot already about what is necessary to get through hard physical labor while maintaining a passion for finding broken pottery sherds. In this post I will lay down four key ingredients for surviving an archaeological excavation:

1.     Smile – It is important to have a sense of humor on the dig, because it makes it so much more enjoyable to get up at 4:00 am, or at that horrible period when you are returning to the excavation site after lunch and your body feels extra slow after swinging pickaxes and carrying buckets of dirt all morning. Laughing with your companions easily replaces complaints and makes the day pass by faster and more pleasantly.


Hydrating with gatorade in an avocado grove

2.     Hydrate – it is hot, and already before the sun comes up you will break a sweat. I go through 2 liters of water by breakfast at 8:30. Unfortunately ants nearby also like to hydrate, so I’ve had to hang my water bottle on a tree twig to avoid them crawling into my precious water supply. Thank god we are excavating in an avocado grove!

3.     Teamwork – you are working closely with a relatively small number of people for an intense three weeks in which all of you will be pushed to your physical limits in extreme heat – and yet I have had some of the most fun in my life! There is such camaraderie among us, and we cheer on each other as we defeat the earthly cover of time and uncover the bronze age palace we are excavating. For the people I work with alone, I wake up at 4:00 am with a smile on my face.


The team forming a bucket line.

4.     Perseverance – excavating is physically exhausting, and if you add on a 30-minute workshop at 12:30, pottery-washing at 16:00, an hour-long lecture at 17:30, and another lecture at 20:00, both your body and mind are ready to crash by 22:00 maximum. However, with everything mentioned above and by keeping your focus on your goal, to find out more about the unwritten past, you can get through it and even have an amazing time doing it.

I didn’t really know what to expect from this excavation. However, I have had an unforgettable time with incredible people who inspire me. Perhaps I may not enter into the field of archaeology in the future (though it is too soon to say) but I feel that after this experience, I very likely want to participate in an archaeological excavation again, because there is nothing else like it.

It is ultimately extremely satisfying, combining physical energy I didn’t know I was capable of and solidarity with an inspirational group of people, who all seek to pursue new knowledge about our mysterious past. I recommend anyone who is thinking of joining an archaeological excavation to do it as soon as they get the chance!


Afternoon pottery washing


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