Excavating the Archive

I am the full-time data manager for the Archaeological Exploration of Sardis, an excavation continuously co-sponsored by Harvard and Cornell Universities since 1958. As you can imagine, we have an incredibly rich archive of materials ranging from field diaries to maps, plans, reports, drawings, photos, and everything in between, from 1958 onion-skin typewriter copies to 2016 drone videos. We do all of our publishing in-house, so juggling manuscripts for materials excavated over the course of nearly 60 years keeps me busy and leads to uncovering absolutely fascinating moments in excavation history. It’s not only the history of Sardis itself, but also the history of the people that excavate it. I thought I’d talk about a dramatic archaeological moment from 1968 that I reconstructed with all of our resources, from photos to the memories of those who were present.

Last week while looking for an old plan, I came across this folder with the text, “Army jeep off the road. Dog killed.”  (I promise this post isn’t going to be all sad).IMG_4049 I was curious, so I decided to check the field books for July 18, 1968 to see if any of the excavators recorded this event. And one did: IMG_4050 Then I thought…surely there must be photo evidence of this…IMG_4051 Bingo. Photos of the Citroen crane used to lift heavy stone blocks and other things from excavations, this time to hoist an army jeep out of the trench! By coincidence, this was a year during which a museum curator I know (I was his research assistant many years ago) was a graduate student on site, so I sent him an email asking if he remembered this, and he responded right away that he did, as well as a few other  truck incidents! Ah, the excitement of excavating near a highway.

Archaeological archives are not just dusty repositories full of tomes and documents that won’t ever see the light of day. They can be invaluable, dynamic resources not only about ancient material culture, but also the very practice of archaeology. And sometimes…things get a bit dramatic.