A Subterranean Odyssey
Do you detest sparkling sunlight and fresh air? Would it be too onerous to visit beautiful, exotic lands? Would it bore you to tears to travel through time or touch a piece of history? If the answer to any (or all) of these questions is no, then you may be a perfect candidate to volunteer for an archaeological dig.
This summer over a dozen archaeological sites throughout the greater Mediterranean region will be recruiting volunteers to work on their dig teams. You can help rescue an endangered Byzantine monastery in Syria, search for buried treasure at an ancient Roman fort or excavate the stone walls of a seventh-century French chateau. For most of these projects, the only requirement is a passionate interest in archaeology, a strong work ethic and the cost of transportation and lodging.
Even if you don’t like the idea of getting your hands dirty, you might consider enrolling in an archaeology or ancient history study abroad program for the summer. Whether it’s a two-week seminar on how to read ancient inscriptions or a month-long stint hefting a pickax in the Arabian desert, Archaeology Odyssey’s second annual dig section offers something for anyone interested in the past.
Excavations at the Athenian Agora
Archaeologists from the American School of Classical Studies at Athens have been excavating Athens’s central marketplace and civic center—the Athenian Agora—since 1931. Working in the shadow of the Acropolis, they have uncovered everything from fifth-century B.C. voting ballots to early Christian art and empty Coke cans. For the last few years, the team’s efforts have been focused on the upper levels of the Agora, where excavators have found a medieval Greek neighborhood, including an intact 11th-century church. Places on the Agora dig team are much coveted in the archaeological community; most of the 25 spots are reserved for trained scholars or Ph.D. students, but the program’s director, John Camp, says the American School will consider other candidates with a strong interest in Greek archaeology. Everyone selected for the dig team gets 053free room and board, as well as a small stipend to cover daily expenses.
Roman and Etruscan Excavations in Italy
It seems fitting that Italy, the heart of the ancient Roman empire, should offer so many volunteer opportunities. Anyone interested in studying the grandeur that was Rome should look into The Council on International Educational Exchange’s Excavation of the Roman Imperial Forum. Last year, the 20 Americans enrolled in this program helped excavate the first-century B.C. forum of Caesar. (One volunteer even found a rare 17th-century Italian manuscript.) This year, the council team will tackle the adjacent site, where Emperor Trajan (98–117 A.D.) built a magnificent marketplace and erected a slew of monuments to himself.
The directors of the Anglo-American Project at Pompeii are looking for fresh recruits to excavate an area that includes a bar and an inn. Further south, the Mamertion Foundation of Lakewood Colorado also expects to continue its excavations of the third-century B.C. Roman colony Contrada Mella in the heart of ancient Bruttium (modern Calabria, Italy).
Roman ruins aren’t the only remains being uncovered in Italy this summer. American archaeologist Jane Whitehead is digging even deeper into Italy’s past with her ongoing excavation of the late Etruscan settlement of La Piana.a Whitehead’s Etruscan Foundation has been excavating this fourth-century B.C. site, near Siena, since 1982. Over the past 18 years, the foundation’s teams have unearthed numerous buildings and artifacts, including a wide assortment of Etruscan pottery, a cistern and a large public building that may be an Etruscan temple. The Etruscan Foundation is not soliciting volunteers for the La Piana excavations, but Whitehead is looking for students and volunteers to assist with archaeological recording and data analysis during the post-excavation “study season.”
The Ancient Near East and Cyprus
Travelers interested in venturing beyond Greece and Rome will find plenty of opportunities in the ancient Near East. Turkish archaeologist Mehmet Taslialian of the Museum of Yalvac in southwestern Turkey needs volunteers for his excavations at Pisidian Antioch. Once an important Roman colony, Pisidian Antioch became a major pilgrimage site in the early Christian era. Its ruins include Roman houses and temples, a bathhouse and the Church of St. Paul—where the apostle is supposed to have made some of 055his earliest public pronouncements about the new faith.
Across the border, in Syria, archaeologist Michael Fuller and his wife Neathery B. Fuller, both of St. Louis Community College, are supervising a rescue effort at Tell Tuneinir. Continuously occupied from the Early Bronze Age (c. 2500 B.C.) until its destruction by the Mongols in 1401 A.D., this ancient Syrian tell offers scholars a unique opportunity to study several different Near Eastern civilizations in a single setting. In the past few years, the tell’s excavators have discovered the ruins of an early Christian mudbrick church, a Parthian temple, a Byzantine monastery and a 13th-century Ayyubid (Islamic) market. Unfortunately, Tell Tuneinir is scheduled to be destroyed by the construction of a dam on the nearby Khabur River sometime within the next five years. Until that time, the Fullers are looking for a “few good men” (and women) to help them save what they can.
The Nabatean capital of Petra, in Jordan, is one of the Near East’s most famous “lost cities.” Since its rediscovery in the early 19th century, it has become one of the most visited, and studied, archaeological sites in the world.b This summer, Philip Hammond of the University of Utah will conserve and excavate Petra’s most important Nabatean religious shrine, The Temple of the Winged Lions. Volunteers, he says, are more than welcome.
Last but not least, University of Arizona scholar Pamela Gaber is exploring possible cultural connections between the ancient Near East and the Aegean world in her dig at Idalion, in Cyprus. In 1993 Gaber and her team uncovered Idalion’s Temple of Adonis, a first-millennium B.C. Cypriot shrine that reveals both Phoenician and Hellenic religious influences.c Now Gaber and her team are hard at work unearthing Idalion’s “lower city,” where most of the ancient community’s domestic and industrial structures were located.
Roman Britain and the Isle of Man
Oddly enough, merry old England is one of the best and most convenient places to study ancient Rome. The vestiges of Roman rule are scattered all over the British countryside, and it is still not unheard of for British farmers to dig up an occasional sword or a box of Roman coins in their fields. Less than an hour’s drive from Oxford, in the tiny village of Alchester, Eberhard Sauer of the University of Leicester is directing the ongoing excavation of a first-century A.D. Roman fort—one of the oldest surviving Roman fortifications in southern England.
Just a few miles away, in the Cotswalds region, the British National Trust plans to host a series of “excavation weekends” at the second- to fourth-century A.D. Chedworth Roman Villa. Designed for the “novice excavator,” these weekends offer first-time diggers a chance to help excavate the 32-room villa’s west wing—while learning a few basic archaeological field methods along the way. Far to the north, in the resort community of South Shields, a team of scholars from the Earthwatch Institute and the Tyne and Wear Museums is studying the life of Roman frontier soldiers in the colonial barracks of the Arbeia Roman Fort.
Just a short boat ride from the mainland sits the Isle of Man, where The Billown Neolithic Landscape Project is excavating a Stone Age site. The project is recruiting volunteers to work at a 6,000-year-old settlement that has already yielded an extremely rich assortment of prehistoric finds—including dozens of flint arrowheads, an ancient stone circle and four round funeral barrows.
Southern France and the Spanish Isles
This coming July, France’s Association for the Study of Rural History will sponsor two new dig projects in the St. Romain region of Burgundy: a rescue excavation of an endangered Merovingian farming community (c. 700 A.D.) called Sous-Labeau and the excavation of a Neolithic cave settlement known as Le Verger, where archaeologists have already uncovered numerous prehistoric artifacts as well as signs of Gallo-Roman occupation.
Just off the Spanish coastline, on the beautiful island of Menorca, Boston University’s Murray McLellan and Amalia Perez-Juez will direct the dig at Talatí de Dalt. This ancient site contains ruins dating from Menorca’s Punic period (fourth century B.C.) through its Islamic period (13th century B.C.). The 2001 excavation season will focus on a series of underground structures from the Roman era. McLellan and Perez-Juez are quick to note that their dig team’s hotel is located “within easy reach of the island’s spectacular beaches.” Post-dig dunk anyone?
Do you detest sparkling sunlight and fresh air? Would it be too onerous to visit beautiful, exotic lands? Would it bore you to tears to travel through time or touch a piece of history? If the answer to any (or all) of these questions is no, then you may be a perfect candidate to volunteer for an archaeological dig. This summer over a dozen archaeological sites throughout the greater Mediterranean region will be recruiting volunteers to work on their dig teams. You can help rescue an endangered Byzantine monastery in Syria, search for buried treasure at an ancient Roman […]