Have you ever wondered what a day in the life of an archaeologist is like? Well, in today’s post, I’m answering (hopefully) some of your questions.
A quick caveat: although some aspects of my days are things everyone experiences, in general, my days will probably look pretty different from what you expect. This is because I don’t dig in the trenches. I am a member of the project’s pottery team. We are responsible for cataloguing and analyzing the ceramic finds that everyone else digs up!
A Little Background
Okay, but where the heck do I work?
From 2017 to 2019, I worked on the Olynthos Project. We worked at the site of ancient Olynthos in the Chalkidiki peninsula in northern Greece. The site is best known for its relatively well preserved housing blocks which were built and occupied in the late 5th and early 4th centuries BCE.
In 2022, I joined the Pella Urban Dynamics Project (or Pella Project, for short). Like the Olynthos Project, the excavation is based at the site of ancient Pella, one hour west of the modern city of Thessaloniki. Pella was the capital of ancient Macedon from the 4th century until the 2nd century BCE and especially flourished under Alexander III, a.k.a “Alexander the Great.”
The primary goals of the project include 1) making “a methodological contribution to the study of the social dynamics of Hellenistic kingdoms;” and 2) examining “some of the economic, social and cultural continuities and discontinuities in urban life between the Classical and Hellenistic periods.”
Our team is made up largely of graduate and undergraduate students from the University of Michigan and students from Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. There are also students from the International Hellenic University in Thessaloniki, students from other schools across the United States, and other professionals who are involved.
A Day in the Life of an Archaeologist
Everyday I wake up at around 5:30am. Even writing that hurts my soul, but for me, it’s a necessary evil.
When I have multiple roommates – as most people do on field projects! – I find it easiest to wake up before everyone else and take my time waking up.
Once I finish my morning routine, I begin the walk to site between 6:30 and 6:45am. It takes only about 15 minutes to get there, since it’s a straight shot from my accommodation to site and all downhill.
On the flip side – the walk home in the heat of the day can be especially brutal.
My workday as an archaeologist
Once everyone has arrived at site, we walk to the apotheke, or area where we store our supplies and finds.
The pottery team starts the workday by picking up pottery that was washed the day before and was left to dry on screens overnight. I love this part of the day because I get to see for the first time what was found during the excavations the previous day.
We then sort the pottery we collected between 7:30am and 1:00pm.
The excavating happens each day during this time. Although I can’t show you exactly what we’ve found this year, here’s a look at the most important tools of the trade: an iPad for collecting data; a shape sheet for reference; and a juice box to get me through the most grueling bags of pottery.
Not every bag is full of fun things, like decorated pottery or whole vessels, especially at the beginning of a new season.
At around 1:00pm we break for lunch, which lasts between 30 minutes and an hour.
At Pella, we have a lunch of a selection of pastries, fruits, vegetables, breads, cheeses, and spreads.
Sometimes we have “trench talks” during the lunch hour. This is where everyone shares what they’ve been working on that week.
After lunch, we either work on special projects (such as cataloguing special finds) or wash pottery.
Although tedious, you can get a good look at what was dug up during the day while washing pottery! When there are many people working together – and there usually are at this point – it goes by fairly quickly.
After the workday
At 3pm, we’re free to head home for the day.
Every day my Greek colleagues on the pottery team ask me what I did the previous afternoon. My answer almost always disappoints them. I usually spend my afternoons working on non-fieldwork projects and/or taking a nap.
I may not be doing physical labor out under the hot sun, but the mental effort of sorting, counting, and weighing pottery can also be extremely exhausting!
We reconvene as a group at 8pm for dinner, where some friendly feline faces greet us.
Finally, after dinner, at between 9:00 and 9:30pm, we head back home to get ready for bed and mentally prepare to do it all again the next day!