Okay, so you’re thinking about becoming an archaeologist. You decide to take a field school class on your summer break in order to gain some hands-on experience. What should you expect? What should (and shouldn’t) you do?
I’ve been on archaeological sites since I was 8 days old, and assisting as a field hand since I was about 7. Last summer, I participated as a volunteer at the University of South Carolina’s field school. I am currently working as an intern with the City of St. Augustine (FL) Archaeology Program.
Alright, now onto the actual substance of this post:
1. Listen to your instructors.
This rule applies to everyone, regardless of how much you know or how much experience you have. Different sites and organizations have different procedures for collecting data, and it is vital that you follow directions to ensure continuity. If you have a question, ask!
2. Make friends with your crewmates.
Field school isn’t a popularity contest, but everything goes more smoothly at work and in the fieldhouse if you are on friendly terms with your fellow students. The best ways to do this: follow instructions, don’t act like a know-it-all, if you have kitchen duty (or bathroom duty or whatever), do it, and don’t complain.
3. Don’t complain, but if something is genuinely bothering you, speak up.
Everyone knows it’s hot—you don’t have to moan about it every ten minutes. If you do, people will get annoyed. That being said, if you feel like you’re getting overheated, tell someone (preferably an instructor) and sit in the shade for 20 minutes or until you feel better. General safety tips: drink water. Drink twice as much water as you think you need to drink. Your body will thank you.
Other general tips (not getting into excavation techniques here, because it’s easier to learn those when someone is actually showing you)
- If you like gatorade, I recommend diluting it with water (3:1 ratio is what I use—lemon/lime flavor). That way you can get some of the benefits of the gatorade but without all of the extra sugar.
- I always wear boots and long pants for fieldwork, but I have seen people work in shorts, tennis shoes, or even barefoot. I definitely do not recommend going barefoot. Tennis shoes may work, but if you’re working in an area with tough soil or lots of roots, it is possible to bruise your feet. I don’t wear shorts because it makes for less sunscreen to put on.
- Speaking of sunscreen—wear it! It’s easy to forget when you’re working, but you don’t want to be digging with a bad sunburn. Put some on in the morning before you leave the fieldhouse, and reapply it at lunch.
- Take a handkerchief. It comes in useful for a lot of things (towel, bandana, dew-rag, whatever). One of the best things you can do with it is wet it down, then tie it around your neck. It will cool you down!
- Hats, hats, hats! Wear one. You’re not there to look fashionable, so make it a ridiculous hat. Hell, make it an Indiana Jones hat (although that may violate #2). Just wear something on your head. I recommend a full-brim hat, although anything that shades your eyes will work.
- Leave your cell phone at the house, or put it in a ziplock. Dirt, sweat and electronics do not mix. You may want to do the same with your wallet.
- I know I said I wouldn’t talk about technique, but this is important: you can always take out more dirt, but you can never put it back. When in doubt, be conservative!
- Learn to throw dirt properly. It’s fine if you over- or under-throw the first day, but after that your screeners will be getting seriously annoyed. No one likes taking dirt showers, and there is a chance of losing artifacts as well.
- Have fun! Although you may doubt it when it’s 3 in the afternoon, 97 degrees, and 80% humidity, field school should be a good experience overall. You will get valuable experience, make friends, and crack jokes that you’ll still be chuckling at a year later.