Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Student Travis J. at Vinovium, UK

Travis digs Vinovium.
From June 28 to July 28, 2013, I participated in an amazing field school in the north of England at the Roman fort of Vinovium (Binchester) built in the late 1st century AD. During the excavation season we lived in the nearby town of Durham, which is located about a 30-minute drive from the site. Our accommodations were provided by Durham University, which sponsors excavations at the site during the summer. Our team consisted of students from several countries, including the United States, Nepal and Australia. We were assisted by a large number of students from the University of Durham and local volunteers from the area surrounding Binchester. The site itself consisted of two trenches: one focused on the fort and the other on “Vicus,” or the town. We had the option to work in either section and I chose to be a part of the team working in the fort itself.
During the dig I was moved around constantly to different sections; this was an excellent opportunity for me to get to know all of my awesome trench-mates and work in different parts of the fort. During the first week I worked in one of the barrack blocks and our group was given the extremely difficult task of excavating Roman cobbles. I was then moved to the Roman latrine where we excavated down until we reached the stone bottom of the structure. We were constantly running into a number of massive stone items which were identified as two wash troughs and two sections of stone that turned out to be toilet seats. I was lucky enough to find three round Roman tokens engraved with numerals which were later discovered to be game pieces and a bronze belt buckle. It seems that at every field project the most exciting thing is discovered near the end of the dig. During our last week, as we reached the bottom of the latrine, we discovered was appeared to be the top section of an arch. Upon digging down further, we uncovered the full arch and determined that it was one of the drains that evacuated water and waste outside the fort.
Our typical workday schedule was to eat breakfast at 8:00 and then head off to the site to begin work at around 8:30. As to be expected while in England, we had a mandatory “tea break” around 11:00 and then lunch around 1:00. One of the surprising things about my experience at Vinovium was the heat and the severe lack of rain.  During the middle of the day temperatures would peak at around 93 degrees and we only had one day of rain. This led to a large portion of the team returning home with tans or major sunburns.
On the weekends we went on field trips organized by Dr. Devore and Dr. Chatfield, directors of the field school. Our trips included a five-mile hike along Hadrian’s Wall to the fort of Housteads, a unique experience touring Durham including watching the miner’s gala, and a trip to the west coast of England to visit a museum about Roman Britain. Each student had the opportunity to work on a number of projects related to the site out of the field. One option was to work in the lab facilities at the University of Durham classifying and learning about different types of pottery and the processes through which they were made. Another option, which I chose, was to assist in the virtual reconstruction of the fort that was to be presented to the public in an online environment. The final option concerned the conservation of artifacts, mostly coins, iron fragments, gold artifacts and glass. One of the best and most rewarding aspects of my field school was the opportunity to work with a diverse and dedicated group of people from various backgrounds. Our team became more than just a group of students working at a site; we became a group of friends that came home after a day under the hot sun covered in dirt and still be able to laugh and enjoy the experience. I think that everyone on our team, students and professors alike, left the field school feeling a huge sense of accomplishment and pride in our work. I know I did. 

Student Korine P. at Fort Ouiatenon, IN

For four weeks in summer 2013, I participated in an archaeological field school sponsored by the University of Southern Indiana at Fort Ouiatenon in West Lafayette, IN. This field school was originally scheduled for May 15-June 15, but due to the flooding of the Wabash River, our excavation was delayed until May 20. At first, I was a little nervous because this was to be my first field school experience, but after my first day in the field, I knew that I would be just fine.

The focus of the 2013 season was to excavate in the vicinity of Fort Ouiatenon, a French fort constructed in1717. Our investigations focused on areas just outside the fort perimeter where a number of Native American villages were located. Previous excavations at this site focused on the fort itself and not in areas outside the fort where the Indian houses were located; thus, there are hardly any data at all about the Native Americans who lived there. We knew that there were Kickapoo villages on the side of the river where our site is located, so an anomaly that appeared in the magnetometry reading was most likely a Kickapoo structure of some sort. In addition, we took a trip to the Tippecanoe Battlefield Museum to look at the artifacts that were found through previous excavations at the fort. To think that you can learn all of this through research!

Flooding near the site.
I learned a great deal from my field school experience. I learned how to read and interpret a magnetometry map, conduct pre-excavation research, draw maps and features, screen soil, fill out different types of paperwork, and dig using correct excavation techniques. While excavating, we were able to support the hypothesis that this circle anomaly was a Kickapoo structure due to the mass amounts of charcoal and post holes. We did not have enough time to excavate the whole structure, but we did uncover about a quarter of a structure some 20 feet in diameter. Additional experience that we did not expect to get was canoeing back and forth to our site! In the last two weeks of the field school, the Wabash River flooded again, so we had to get a canoe to reach the site. This was an experience that I will never forget and it made me fall even more deeply in love with my major: archaeology.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Student Kayla K. at Jezreel

For one month in May-June 2013, I lived in a kibbutz called Yizre'el in the Jezreel Valley on top of the hill that was a short drive away from where our dig site is located. Technically, there were three separate areas of excavation but I only worked on the one in the field near the spring. The other two were on the “tel”: one was the wine press and the other was the excavation of the cisterns around worked stone that could have been a fortification wall. I used quotes previously because technically the hill we worked on is not a tel in the archaeological sense of the term even though most call it that. As stated previously, I worked out in the field above the spring in Square T-14 with Michael Kolestos and Susannah Morris.
Kayla (left) and Vanderbilt University graduate student Susannah (right).
In my square, for the first three weeks we worked on removing large rocks as well as layers of smashed mud-brick and collecting any pottery, flint shards, and animal bones we had found. During those three weeks we weren’t sure if we had found a wall or an altar, so we affectionately dubbed it “Walter”. In the last week, we officially found a wall and a professional architect who specializes in ancient construction told us that “Walter” was actually two walls which were built over our third wall! These two walls which made up “Walter”, however, were not connected in the sense that they create one building. Unfortunately, we did not find anything else which would help us identify what these walls were part of or what they were used for.

 Outside of excavating five days a week from 5:00 in the morning to 12:00 in the afternoon, we went on a variety of field trips or had an exciting lecture after dinner. I went on every single field trip, and visited archaeological sites like Megiddo, Hazor, Bet She’an, and Gezer as well as major cities like Jerusalem and Nazareth. While I had to go on all of these trips as a part of my credit course, I definitely had a fun time on each trip. As for lectures, they focused on interesting subjects such as games, the importance of horses, and the sexuality behind cultic figurines.

 But what really made this trip and field school worth it to me was all the people I met and became friends with. Actually, I would say more than friends. I lived in a house with about 18 other people and saw everyone in the whole dig school every day, working side by side with them, sharing meals with them, and experiencing some of the most amazing things with them that will forever stay with me. I will never forget the four weeks I participated in the Jezreel Field School and mainly this is due to the people I spent it with. As Nate Biondi states in thevideo on YouTube, “we are one really big…weird family.”  I wouldn’t mind having a family reunion by attending another season of the Jezreel Expedition Field School.

Student Mike S. at Jezreel

My experiences started the moment I stepped off the plane at Ben Gurion Airport in May 2013.  Just the look and feel of Israel itself was beyond anything I had ever experienced before, and that is coming from someone who has traveled over three continents.   The kibbutz we stayed on, Kibbutz Yizre’el, was so welcoming and friendly that it very quickly felt like home, especially after a long day of digging or fieldtrips. 

While staying in Israel for four weeks was amazing enough, the excavation part of the expedition was incredible as well.  I was pretty nervous about going on a dig with no experience and felt like I would probably be slowing my trench mates down.  Fortunately for me, the directors and supervisors were very helpful with not only teaching us newbies the proper techniques and procedures for digging, but also things like washing and dating pottery.  I was also nervous about being the only UE student working in my trench, but that too worked out to be great.  It provided an excellent opportunity to meet other people who are interested in archaeology, who in my case, were from around the world.  All in all, probably the most important thing I took away from the expedition is that archaeology is really what I want to do with my life.