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The 5! Archaeologists


A Story From Velika

Evaggelia Lefa (Instagram: @evaggelia_lefa)

A year ago I had the chance to visit and work at an excavation at Velika, in Larissa, Greece. It was an unforgettable experience. In that particular excavation we were few people, some from Greece and others from England. The first amazing and extremely funny thing was that when we arrived to the area, we couldn’t find a taxi, so an old man picked us up in the back of his pick-up truck and drove us up the mountain to the place where we were staying. We were playing music and singing. We arrived at the place where we were staying: a cabin in the woods with bunk beds like those in the army. The place was wild and fun, the view was amazing and the weather perfect. On the field the excavation was going great. We were laughing all day while we were working. The team was amazing: everyone knew what to do and how to do it. In an excavation, besides the professional and educational experiences, you also make good friends. 

In the end I would like to add that in the excavation we also found nice artifacts. One of those was a coin from the Justinian period (6th century) that we found in a pile of soil that was about to be thrown away. I wish the joy of finding artifacts to all the new archaeologists, and keep in mind you can also have fun and make good friends while learning and working. 

 

Being an Archaeologist

Steven Mortelmans (Instagram: @archaeo_ard_ri)

Being an archaeologist, in my case studying archaeology, is a life-long dream of me that’s slowly becoming a reality. Even though I was inspired by Indiana Jones and Lara Croft when I was still a kid, archaeology as a science quickly overpowered those fictional depictions.

My first find was given to me by a work official during the digging of an artificial lake in a nearby nature reserve. I lost that find for several years, but managed to find it again during my 3rd year studying archaeology at Ghent University. The find was shown to several archaeology and history professors, but not a single one of them managed to identify this object. This find was out of context and not professionally excavated, yet it showed me how a single object, however small, might change or verify the view on the use of a site.

Even though my studies aren’t going as planned, I managed to gain a lot of experience, over a year, since I started. The last four years I’ve excavated a sites ranging from the Late Palaeolithic to World War I, with some more recent transections though older features along the way. This has led to a better understanding of the rich history and prehistory of Flanders, which isn’t always visible in more rural areas due to an intensive ribbon development, industrial development and large-scale agricultural exploitation. These experiences were the shining light in a view clouded by a classical education.

In my experience, the past of Flanders and Belgium and the views on it are still largely misunderstood, with 19th century terms still in use and the legacy of 19th and 20th century theories inspired by colonialism, Flemish nationalism, Belgian unionism, Christianity and the Ahnenerbe which are still largely influencing the public view of our past. Throughout the last 30 years, an immense treasure of information has been uncovered thanks to and due to the developments mentioned earlier, and I’m glad to have been a part of this and to have made a few friends along the way.

My own little projects for the rediscovery of the past are restricted to a few field prospections and prospections along the river Scheldt. Even though some archaeology students, archaeologists and even archaeology professors don’t feel the need to register their finds and communicate them with the government, it’s the most important element of archaeology; placing a find into it’s geographical, historical and  context. This is why I’ve decided to focus my attention to the trade of archaeological objects. Archaeology is the study of the human past, yet if an object is removed from the context it was placed, dumped or deposited in, a part of our story is lost forever. 


The Bishop's Feast

Lucie Francis (Instagram: @lucidd_geographia

 

I’m sure every archaeologist or student of the subject finds a similar reaction when they talk to friends about what they do: “Ahhhh like Indiana Jones!” and visions of archaeologists in Egypt by the pyramids making great discoveries like the death mask of Tutankhamun. While generally this is not the life of a field archaeologist in darkest England, I’d like to argue that what we do is not as glamorous, but much much cooler!I had my first dig at the site of The Prince Bishops Palace at Bishop Auckland in 2019. Bishop Auckland is a small town near Barnard Castle in the North East. The Palace is the former residence of the Bishop of Durham, who during the middle ages held power and status in the North of England rivalling that of the reigning Monarchs of the day. 

My friends asked me what it was like and what I was doing, I would excitedly say “Its amazing I’ve been so lucky on site!”.  I was faced with animation and imaginations running wild with assumptions that I’d found gold coins and jewels or swords and skeletons. To which I’d reply, “No EVEN BETTER, I’m in a food waste pit!!!” - responses were always similar at first, a double take followed by looks of pity or disgust. 


What my friends were yet to find out was that to an archaeologist, a food waste pit is a coveted spot, a magical gold mine of rich black organic soil, filled with evidence of the diet and lifestyle of people who lived so long ago. My trench from the first few buckets of spoil and scrapes of a trowel yielded finds of animal and fish bones, post medieval glazed pottery sherds and lead window frames. The sheer thrill of digging up the mandible of a sheep when its been a lifelong dream to become an archaeologist is indescribable. Definitely something, if you pardon the pun, to tick off the bucket list! We also found hundreds of oyster shells. Today oysters are considered a food of the upper classes, though through the Medieval eras were a common food, easy to source and very nutritious, most importantly very cheap. Think Arya Stark and her “Oysters, clams and cockles” barrow. 

 2020 with all the effects of Coronavirus may not have held the fieldwork opportunities that any of us had hoped for, but the field definitely hasn’t seen the last of me!


Some Unforgettable Moments

Nik Siaperas (Instagram: @nik_siap)

I’ ll never forget my first excavation. It was in an area called Velika, a seaside area near Larissa in central Greece. This happened in 2015 on my first day excavating as a student. It was just after our supervisor had taught us ( a team of three rookies) the basics of how to excavate, and had left us to scrape some soil until everyone was ready to start working. During those first moments scraping the soil we found something. It was an iron plate and we were thrilled to find it. Later, our professor explained us that the plate belonged to the holy cup and disk of the nearby Byzantine church and used to be gold gilded. The iron plate is now in a central place in the local museum and I am really happy every time I see it. 

Another amazing experience that I had was a couple of years ago on Tenos Island, located in Cyclades, Greece. It was a Sunday morning and we decided to drive around for 2 hours to the northernmost point of the island, to search for any antiquities and have a BBQ in the wild. 


Those things are part of some excavations, and usually take place in our free time. A local guy was our guide and the person who was in charge of taking the portable BBQ, the meat and the food for the day.  After searching for 3-4 hours around steep cliffs we started heading back to the place where we were going to have the BBQ. Unfortunately, the guy had forgotten all the meat. On the other hand, it was my first vegan BBQ with only potatoes, onions, mushrooms and bread, and it was delicious. 

Excavations are really fun: you find things, you work hard, and you also have a great time and create amazing memories. 

 
 
 
 
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