My Month as an Archaeologist

My first time as a real life archaeologist was even better than I imagined and it’s all thanks to the Northern Mongolia Archaeological Project, short for NMAP. Run by Dr Julia Clark from the American Centre for Mongolian Studies and Dr Bayarsaikhan Jamsranjav from the National Museum of Mongolia this field school offered a once in a lifetime opportunity to investigate nomadic pastoralism at the site of Soyo in the Darkhad region in Northern Mongolia. The team was comprised of a variety of nations; Mongolians, Australians, Americans, Scottish, British, French, and Swedish. Though all originating from different cultures, languages, and education, we all spoke the common language of archaeology and excitement!

The back side of Soyo mountain.

The trip gave me experiences in a variety of areas, but some of the archaeological that first come to my mind are working with Ian Moffat (Flinders University), and Dave Putnam (University of Maine at Presque Isle). Ian was on the team in order to construct an image of the whole site using GPR ( As a student of Ian’s we were given the task of walking up and down the sloping hills of Soyo, more often than not scattered with boulders ranging from the size of a hand to the size of a tent! Strapped onto our back was the radar which every 2cm would send pulses down into the ground to a depth of roughly 4m before bouncing back up. As we moved forward the screen depicted the data we had just collected, and it was fascinating being able to see what was beneath our feet and what it would mean later on for the site. Apart from GPR we were able to fly a kite with a camera attached to it up in the air to capture an aerial image of the site. What I definitely learnt from trying to fly a kite multiple times, was that all one needs is a storm and a kite goes right up! Learning about GPR, and learning how to work the technology associated with it was fascinating and a preview into what I see as the way of archaeology.

Ben Turcea and Evan Holt digging one of the test pits.

Working with Dave will always be remembered as the time I baptised my Marshalltown trowel. We dug six test pits in total and every test pit provided a different stratigraphic image of the landscape. Two of our test pits reached a depth over 140cm, with one of them even hitting permafrost which was an exciting discovery! Dave, along with Ian were able to describe each of the different layers we were viewing and bring them to life. Reading about stratigraphic layers from a textbook will never be the same let me tell you that! What I found extremely interesting were that the glacial boulders we encountered were at different depths at each test pit and units. Additionally I was able to help dig out the deeper test pits while upside down which just shows I’m fit for the role of an archaeologist!

Evan Holt and Adam Nelson giving me a helping hand.

This trip will be one of the most memorable excavations in my lifetime and I would recommend it to anyone! My only recommendation is that when you’re offered goat, take as much of it as you can because you’ll want seconds!