Many people from all walks of life find the idea of going on an archaeological dig to be a fascinating prospect, but face the reality of actually doing it with a certain amount of trepidation. Fear not – most excavations looking for volunteers and/or trainees anticipate all levels of experience and are set up (with varying degrees of readiness) to provide basic training, guidance, and most of the necessary equipment.
Your part of the bargain is to do your homework first and be sure the dig you choose offers the level of experience that you're looking for and covers a time period that holds your interest. There is a big distinction between tuition-based field schools, volunteer-led digs and academic projects looking for summer workers. Depending on how far you want to get into the actual science of fieldwork, the first order of business should be deciding which type of dig will best suit your needs.
All digs should have well-formed lists of gear and other instructions readily available, as well as a good idea of the kinds of activities and skills that will be expected and how much instruction will be provided. Skills that are typically learned on digs can include: reading topographical maps, using a compass, surveying and locating archaeological sites, excavation technique, creating site plans, making written records and identifying and cataloguing finds. I would advise bringing along your own medical kit in addition to whatever is provided, as well as a high-factor sunblock and insect repellent.
Archaeology is an adventure, to be sure. However, turning up glamorous finds doesn't happen nearly as frequently to most people as it does to Indiana Jones or Lara Croft. Be prepared to work hard, to learn, to have sore muscles and to build friendships on a dig – but also be prepared for the fact that you may not find much of anything. I have participated in an array of digs in extremely different climates, including Native American villages, a mastodon pit, a scorching outcrop in the Mediterranean and a loamy beach in New Zealand. Though I have not walked away having found any artefacts of major significance, each dig was thrilling just for the very fact of being there.
- Lisa Westcott