A Day of Excavation

(by Meaghan)
Friday July 29th 2016
4 am – Up packed and ready to jump in the car to drive the 300+ kilometers to the site. A historical dig in the city. This will be my first ever dig experience so I’m more than a little nervous. Its dark when we pull out of the driveway and partner suggests I go back to sleep while he drives. I try closing my eyes, but don’t sleep. We stop at a roadhouse on the way for a quite coffee and an egg and bacon sandwich. I feel a little more relaxed after that.
8:15 am– We didn’t get lost or stuck in traffic so I arrive at the site earlier than requested. It’s a rare empty space between city buildings. Walking in I find myself behind a tall fence looking at a graded dirt lot which a number of people in florescent work jackets are already shoveling loads of earth into wheelbarrows and cleaning sieves. Outside the fence you can hear all the typical noises a city makes, but the site itself is like a quiet oasis.There are three shipping containers at the back of the lot, I ask which direction to the office to sign in and two women cleaning sieves point towards them. The woman in the office gives me a warm smile when I enter, signs me in and gets me to wait in one of the shipping containers which has been converted into a lunch room with a refrigerator, microwave and urn for hot water. It is far more civilized than I’d envisioned. I find out that the third container is the bathroom and the other the conservation lab where another group of students will be working to clean, assess and catalog any artifacts uncovered.
9 am– Formal site induction with the site supervisor and several other students on work experience. I find out that I am the only one in the group who will be staying the whole day, but I will most likely work with one or more of these people next two weeks, so I try to remember their names.
10 am – I’m sent to the field area to find the supervising archaeologist where I’m handed a trowel and a shovel and instructed to start scrapping back a small area. The earth is harder than I thought it to look at. In the process I uncover a rounded deposit of really sticky clay which I am told may indicate the location of a post hole. The archaeologist supervising tells me to mark around it and move onto another area and see what else we can find.
10:50 am – we break for morning tea. Its cold and has threatened rain all morning so we all huddle in the lunch room. Everyone is super friendly, which is a relief. Some of them have already been working on this  project  for weeks before the dig began, others only started on Monday. Some wander to a nearby cafe and come back with coffee. I must remember to bring some change for coffee when I return next week. It smells really good.
11:20 am– I spend an hour and a half with one of the archaeologists scraping back earth to reveal yet more areas of clay while another group work at uncovering stone foundations. The supervisor deems the area they have named “Site A” clear enough for us all to start scraping back in a long line. We start at the outer edge of the site and trowel back, removing debris and the loose earth left by the excavators. There are about ten of us working in a long line, each troweling an area approximately a meter and a half wide. Senior, junior archaeologists and work experience students work side by side, all at the same task.  The archaeologist I’m working next to shows me how to work the trowel and alternate hands so I don’t get cramps. She tells me which size trowels work best for what areas and another tells me where to get decent quality ones online. I find some broken crockery pieces and bottles, and a lot more clay.
1:45 pm– It drizzles rain and the supervisor calls lunch. Most of us head for the lunch room, a few head back to the cafe. In the lunch room the archaeologists chat about other places they have worked and their favorite and least favorite projects. I try and file away some of this information for future reference.
2:30 pm- The rain has stopped and we are all back to troweling. Everyone is in good spirits and chatting away about archaeology, places they have worked and  the kinds of characters they have met on digs in the past. Troweling is almost hypnotic, but by 3:30 my knees are getting stiff and my arms starting to ache. The ground is damper now, which is making it somewhat easier. Someone finds a broken piece of a smoking pipe. There are pieces of ceramic pots and more slivers of broken china and glass.
3:45 pm- We’ve all but finished troweling back Site A and it rains. Properly this time. We wait it out in the lunch room.
4:15 pm – The rain stops. Site A is full of puddles and slippery clay now. The site supervisor makes the call to abandon Site A for today and start hoeing back Site B, which sits much higher and has still to be dug out. We spend thirty minutes or so with everyone hoeing and shoveling out wheelbarrow loads of earth and debris before it begins raining again. By this time we are all very muddy.
4:50 pm – The site supervisor calls it a day. We all put away tools and sign out in the office where myself and the other work experience students are handed our days stipend, a small payment to assist with the cost of transport to the site and lunch etc. There is very limited parking around the site so those who live or are staying locally must use public transport, which I decide I will do next week to save five days of long drives.
5:10 pm- My partner meets me in a nearby car park where I awkwardly  change out of my muddy boots and clothes in the back of our car before the long drive home. It takes us over an hour just to get out of the city and onto the road home, but I don’t mind. It gives me a chance to tell him all about my first day.Somewhere around the 100 km mark I fall asleep mid-sentence and don’t wake until we pull into the driveway