woensdag 30 mei 2012

What the hell am I thinking!?!

Spring over here has been pretty mediocre so far, with warm weather only prevailing the past week or so. The cloudy, rainy spring shows on the people, as they have a hard time adjusting to the 20-plus temperatures. Many complain about how warm it is and even more get careless, ending up sunburnt as a result.
It is therefore a pretty sweet feeling to be able to boast that you`ll be spending four weeks working outside in temperatures that are easily 10˚C higher, eliciting reactions like: “You actually pay for that!?!” It makes you sound like a badass, but at the same time you can`t help but think to yourself that you have to be crazy to do this job. It might be a good moment to take a look at just how much crazy it takes to get by working in field archaeology.
This is how early you have to get up. Most sane adolescents would be going to bed

Every morning at Karei Deshe starts early. Consider yourself lucky if you get up at 7 a.m., because that means it`s weekend. Weekdays start between 4 and 4:15 in the morning. There`s no point in showering yet, so you collect your things and go down to the foyer for what is known as ’sugar breakfast’. This consists of a cup of tea or coffee and one or two slices of sweet cake. If you`re really lucky, you have to fill the water canisters too. After breakfast the crew gathers outside to be shuttled to the dig site. One of the drivers has a style that comes close to rally driving, so the light breakfast is perhaps a good thing.
Around 5 a.m. everyone is ready to go to work. This part of the day is probably the best since temperatures aren`t as high yet and you get to see the sun rise over the Golan Heights in the distance. Yet the digging still is demanding physical labour that requires a lot of bending, lifting and scraping your knees over rocky tumble. Little wonder then that around 8 o`clock everyone anxiously monitors the director`s movements for the ´breakfast phone call´. Breakfast is served on-site from 8 a.m. until 8:45, after which the crew goes back to work for three more hours of digging: this time in the scorching heat. Although tents are set up against the sun, the temperature can`t be helped much and some jobs have to be done outside of the tents. The least favoured among those (for reasons that should appear obvious to everyone) is keeping the spoil heap in a usable state.
Three hours of work before you can shove something substantial in your stomach

Around noon every member of the crew is sweaty, dirty, dusty and exhausted enough to want to go back to Karei Deshe, so everyone is shuttled back for a well-earned shower and lunch. Afterwards, you`re given an hour of siesta time between 2 and 3 o`clock to catch some shuteye or relax and check your e-mail. The real fanatics however, can already be found in the lab.
From 3 until 4 o`clock there`s pottery washing. The job is shift-based so everyone is screwed at least twice a week. Brushing dirt off bits of pottery is not the most enthralling job in the world, but at least you can sit outside in the shade of the trees and have a chat with your colleagues. Once pottery washing is over, there are three routes open to you:
1.      You`re scheduled for pottery reading: you sit in the air-con`d lab and spend half an hour or so by weeding out the useless stones from the pottery shards and identifying what kind of shards there are. After that you`re free to go and amuse yourself in whatever depraved way you see fit.
2.      You`re not scheduled for pottery reading, which means you`re free until dinner. This time can be used to wash some of your clothes. There are occasional trips to Tiberias where you can sit on the boulevard and enjoy a drink or get some personal supplies like detergent, deodorant or sunblock.
3.      You volunteer to help out in the lab. The staff always enjoy it when you offer to help them out. There`s a variety of menial tasks that need to be done, from helping with prepping and packaging finds for storage to hand-counting the tesserae. Obviously not every job is equally desirable, but the help is always greatly appreciated and can even help getting jobs done before they`re due, which means that the research can go ahead faster and further. Helping out in the lab is advisable for those studying archaeology: after all, the directors are the ones who grade your performance…
Counting tesserae changes a man... photo courtesy of Tine Rassalle

Dinner is served from 6 to 7 and usually marks the end of the workday, unless there are lectures scheduled, which is about twice a week. Lectures usually run from 7 until 8:30. Once the lectures are over, you can enjoy the remainder of the evening, which is until 10 p.m. Turning in early is strongly advised, because between the rowdy type of teenagers that make all sorts of racket and the uneasy dreams about whether or not you`ve finally found the east wall of the synagogue, a good night`s sleep is a valuable commodity. At least you have to suffer such days for only four weeks, because KRP has one of the shorter excavation seasons.

It is therefore not surprising that people think you have to be absolutely stark raving bonkers to do fieldwork. There is even a famous quote about it; the kind that is ascribed to various great names. It`s difficult to be sure who was the first to come up with this wisdom. It is sometimes ascribed to Avraham Biran, but it could also be by the late Moshe Kochavi. The words themselves are clear as glass: “You don`t have to be crazy to be an archaeologist, but it helps…”. It is as the Italians say: “Si non e vero, e ben trovato”, because seldom have truer words been spoken about a profession.
No average person is able to find joy in long days of hard physical labour in nature`s extremes to chase down wisps of clues, for the sole purpose of being able to constantly readjust your hypotheses about what life in ancient times may have possibly been like. It requires a great deal of passion and determination. A little bit of extra crazy to help deal with all the little hardships and Tantalus torments you suffer might be just what the doctor ordered.

Let’s be honest: archaeology wouldn`t be half as much fun without it.

Signing off

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