This summer I spent two months on the American School of Classical Studies at Athens’s Agora Excavation. The agora was the ancient marketplace and public gathering space at the heart of ancient Greek city. It housed temples, public buildings, monuments, courts, and other important buildings. This dig has been going on since 1933 and been excavated by students since 1980. The goal of the excavation to uncover and study all the public buildings in the agora, then make them available to the public to visit.
This summer, the excavation was focused on four areas of the agora, with the volunteers rotating between them every two weeks. This afforded us the chance to work with different supervisors, who all had different methods, ideas, and experiences. Each area had something unique, like a well, a terracotta processing area, a Roman road, or a friendly site cat. Each was at a different era in the city’s occupation, so we had experience with a wide range of time periods and artifacts: Mycenean (11th-8th BC), late Roman (3rd–h century AD), Byzantine (10th-11th century AD0, and late Greek/early Roman (150-300 BC).
While I was working in the Agora, I learned new archaeological field methods. I also got experience working with different tools, such as a pickaxe. American archaeology is usually done with shovels, in addition to trowels. We also processed pottery differently. After it was washed, it was immediately sorted into diagnostic sherds (those with rims, handles, bases, or lamp fragments), and by type of pottery (Classical blackware, amphora sherd, Roman redware), then it was photographed as a lot on the drying screen before being bagged. In the lab at UMW, we wash the artifacts, then replace them in a labeled bag. The artifacts are usually only photographed if they are visually interesting or important. And of course, in Greece, we only using the metric system. That took some adjusting, especially when it came to complaining about how hot it was in the sun (37 C = 100 F). Each site and each group of archaeologists has different methods, especially when it comes to processing artifacts, and learning different methods is very useful as I look towards my future career.
In addition to the hands-on experience, I spent most my weekends traveling across Greece to different archaeological sites. It was a joy and a delight to see them in person. I really hope to go back next year, but even if I don’t, the experiences I had and the things I learned will stay with me and make me a better archaeologist. This trip was also a wonderful chance to combine my Classics and Historic Preservation majors in a way that I really hadn’t anticipated and hope to continue to do.