The most common question that people ask me when I come back from fieldwork is: ‘did you find anything cool?’
There is still a perception among non-archaeologists that uncovering artefacts is our main goal when going out on an excavation, and by extension that finding interesting objects is the quality that makes a good dig. However, I have often found that a successful dig is far more dependent on the quality of the team. When team members respect one another, and know how to put their own skills to good use, even an artefact barren archaeological site can be a rich opportunity for learning. This requires a strong, competent and caring leader, who adeptly manages a team of professionals whose specialisations compliment and build upon one another.
Archaeological excavations, whether fieldschools or commercial operations are high intensity environments, and this can really have a toll on group dynamics. I have been on a number of excavations where physical strain and emotional stress has gotten the best of people. Without proper support such situations can lead to communication breakdowns that impact negatively on the entire team. These kinds of situations can be avoided if an atmosphere of trust and understanding is created among the team members.
On my last excavation at Wesley Church, a commercial project in the heart of Melbourne, creating and maintaining this kind of supportive atmosphere was seen as a central priority. With a team comprising of seasoned staff, recent graduates and new volunteers, experience levels were extremely varied. Rather than treating volunteers as bucket toters, the staff members on the Wesley project invested in training them and making them feel at home on the dig site.
One of our favourite weekly activities that really solidified the Wesley team spirit was our Friday photo, an event we looked forward to and planned for all week. What started out as Lego man shoots inspired by our high-vis resemblance to Emmet, soon became full blown reconstructions of famous artworks.
Our last day of excavation coincided with the Day of Archaeology, and was a bitter-sweet experience for the team. It was the culmination of months of work on an incredible site, and we were all gutted by the prospect of construction work making the site inaccessible.
While work at Wesley Church has ended, and the team has dispersed, our library of Friday photos document the amazing experiences we had on site. They serve as a constant reminder of the archaeological rigour and collaboration that we were able to achieve, and the high standards that I hope to work towards in all my future projects.