I did something new this summer. For the first time, I went back to an archaeological site I had worked at before. That’s not to say I’ve been to tons of archaeological sites once and never gone back, in fact, this is only the second site I’d ever worked at. But it was something new, and it was important.
My first up close experience with archaeology was working with the Athienou Archaeological Project in Cyprus. At the time, I was an undergraduate, unsure as to whether or not I would like archaeology at all (spoiler alert, I did!), unsure as to what region of the ancient Mediterranean was the most interesting to me, and still figuring out how to live away from home. My experience at Cyprus was overwhelmingly positive, and confirmed that I didn’t just like the historical aspect of studying the ancient world, I really really liked the nitty-gritty, on-your-knees-digging part of it too.
I learned a lot as part of this project, which is run as a field school and is an excellent entry point to the crazy, dirt-filled world of archaeology. We did pretty much everything an archaeologist does throughout an excavation, and by the end of it there were never any rocks in our pottery buckets.
By the time I had booked my trip to Israel to be a part of the second site, I had finished my BA and was just about to start my MA. I was a lot more confident the second time around, and more comfortable with the tools and the hard work required. As a volunteer, my workload was smaller than it had been when I was a student at Cyprus, but we all found ourselves writing tags, reading elevations and drawing plans at one point or another, because Tell es-Safi/Gath is also very focused on educating its volunteers in archaeological methods. We want people to come back, after all!
I’ve written about my experience that summer before, so now let’s talk about this past summer. I went back to Safi, back to Area F at the very top of the Tell, and back to a part of the area I had worked at the summer before. Not the affectionately named Well of Souls that featured in my last post, but a room of a house that had been excavated for several years. I had worked a bit on it towards the end of the 2015 season, so I was already somewhat familiar with the square itself. Unlike the last time, when I had been no more than a volunteer, I was now supervising the square, with my own set of hard working volunteers, all Israeli, and all of whom were very patient with me as a I learned with them.
Square supervising brought along an entirely new set of responsibilities, to both the project and volunteers, but my familiarity with the site and the people I was working with made it all less stressful than it could have been. I was also a lot more prepared than I thought I was, having been trained in documenting elevations, assigning basket/bucket/artifact numbers, and drawing top plans since my first brush (ha! Get it? Because we use brushes in archaeology? I’ll see myself out) with archaeology back in Cyprus in 2013. I also learned that having accessible pens and sharpies to write down all of this information is key to making sure you document everything, and that it is a sad day indeed when a pen dies on you out on the field.
Going back to an area I had worked in before, it was amazing to really see and understand how an archaeological site changes each season. Of course, I know that this happens every year in sites all across the world, but to actually document how Area F changed throughout the season really hit it home. It’s one thing to just dig through the dirt looking for fun stuff, and it’s another to dig precisely, with certain goals to fulfill, but keeping an open mind for any possible changes and surprises you might come across.
It’s amazing to think of what being an Area Supervisor or Site Director must be like, to really be able to see the uncovering and discovery of so many finds, small or architectural, throughout the years, and to experience the changes in a site and the associated process of understanding what all of these discoveries mean. This past summer gave me a simple taste of that, and I, for one, am hungry for more!
Before I end this post, I cannot stress enough how thankful I am to everyone I worked with at Safi, particularly everyone in Area F, for making my first time supervising a busy, but overall easy and happy experience. Throughout a very hectic four weeks, an astounding amount of work got done, and whether in the field, washing pottery or setting up breakfast, people were cheerful and helpful. I’m looking forward to seeing everyone again next summer, and to once more be in awe of how much can change in a season!