Archaeology is hard

Today is day 3 of the 2018 WARP study season. My main observation so far is: archaeology is hard. OK, that’s something that I obviously know, but doing archaeology – especially after you haven’t been doing it for 10 months or so – makes it clear how hard it really is.

Most non-archaeologists don’t know this, and in part it’s our fault. After all, this is the kind of thing that we tend to post on social media:

Sunset, Nafplio

But pictures like these don’t really capture the flavor of what it’s like to work on a project, even on a study season, which to my mind at least is supposed to be more relaxed.

So far our study season has involved a lot of tasks, big and small, that occupy our time and attention. There is equipment (new and old) to prepare and computers to get up and running; there is a lab to clean (again), meetings for planning the season , and queries to run. Bill always needs to get a new Greek SIM card and we’re constantly running little errands. But besides all the little things that are required when you move into a new place, there’s effectively an infinite amount of work to do in a relatively short time. We’ll be here working on our material from now until July 11th, and our to do list looks pretty serious to me:

  1. Run a series of queries in GIS to analyze our data in a way that consonant with our siteless methodology;
  2. Make sure that we have adequate documentation of all of our “sites” that we explored from 2014-2017;
  3. Analyze the extensive materials from the modern abandoned villages in our survey area;
  4. Begin working on our publications, a preliminary report in addition to our final publication, focusing especially on a description of our survey area;
  5. Making sure that our data are clean and consistent;
  6. Continue work in the lab to (re-)analyze important materials, and
  7. Continue to get high-quality photographs and illustrations of important artifacts.

This isn’t an exhaustive list – there’s lots more – but even so these seven items are plenty. We already have a long list of tasks that require our immediate attention that need to be done by Monday, so there are effectively no “days off,” even with a team full of talented and hard-working colleagues who know the drill. When we’re not working on the project, we’re sleeping, eating, and attending to other responsibilities.

Of course, once we get into a groove, things will seem more normal. It’s just always jarring to me at the beginning of a new season how all-consuming an archaeological project is. It’s actually a big part of its appeal, I think… that, and beautiful sunrises and sunsets, and generally the beauty of the Greek landscape, and of course all of the joy from just being in Greece.

Spring cleaning!

You know you’re gearing up for a new season in the field when you’re cleaning up a winter’s worth of dust, cobwebs, etc. in your storage and study facility. This is really sensitive work that only people with highly specialized degrees and extensive archaeological experience are capable of doing:

Scott sweeping
Scott sweeping
Dimitri vacuuming
Dimitri vacuuming

My camera lens isn’t dirty; that’s the distinctive blur from fine dust agitated by sweeping and suspended in the air…

The apotheke

We have an apotheke now. Apotheke (αποθήκη) is Greek for storage facility, but for most archaeologists working in Greece, it means a place where you store and study the artifacts that you collect from the field.

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Up until today, we were getting the apotheke ready. That meant renting the space, having security measures installed, getting electricity, water, and a phone line installed, and so on. That sounds relatively straightforward, but owing to the fact that we’re not Greeks and that the apotheke had been “off the grid” (no electricity, etc.) for some time now, this took quite a bit of work. It involved two accountants, two lawyers, three iron smiths, two glass specialists, two engineers, two guards, a security company, and three major utility companies (electricity, water, phone).

That also meant that until today we were taking our pottery to the Argos museum. So first thing this morning, we loaded up our friend Andreas’ pick-up truck with 44 crates of pottery and drove it from the museum to the apotheke.

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These crates were organized by the date that we collected the pottery and tile and handed it over to the museum guards, but that’s obviously not super useful, since each of our survey units is assigned a number, sequentially by team. So in terms of finding specific bags, it’s much easier to organize the material by unit number. That means taking all of the pottery bags out of their crates and reorganizing them:

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It’s kind of a hassle to reorganize 1,527 bags, but with the help of Stephanie’s team (Team 5) we were able to finish the job in a morning:

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And that left time for Sarah to do some pottery reading in front of an audience composed of Team 5:

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Now that we have the apotheke up and running, we can begin the study of the enormous back-log of pottery that we haven’t had access to while it was being stored for us in the Museum. Sarah and Scott will spend the next couple of weeks reading the pottery and tile as quickly as they can!

Sweeping

Sweeping is a big part of archaeology. Some would say that 90% of archaeology is sweeping. In an excavation, it’s really important to keep your trench clean. In a survey, it’s important to keep your apotheke (storage space) clean. We’re hoping that our apotheke will be approved for use soon, so we took the opportunity to clean it up a bit:

Scott sweeping
Scott sweeping
Dimitri sweeping
Dimitri sweeping

Scott and I weren’t the only ones; Melanie and Adrian also pitched in and helped.

Cleaning the apotheke felt like a Sisyphean task: there was always more dust to sweep up. But after a couple of hours we were pretty satisfied that it was mostly clean. It would be cool to have a pressure washer or a really powerful vacuum cleaner, but alas those are pretty expensive compared to a broom. (And, as Bill would be quick to point out, it is very important that you buy the brush separately from the handle. All proper tools are sold that way in Greece. Don’t ask why: there is no why).

In other news, our survey area is really stunning:

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And here’s Bill writing in his Rite in the Rain™ notebook with his Zebra pen:2014-06-15 10.57.21