Archaeology is, in many ways, a fascinating subject. The point of archaeology is to learn as much as we can about a society by examining the material remains which have been left behind. These objects, called artifacts, inform our understanding of past civilizations and cultures.
This is my first time working as a laborer on n archaeological excavation. I love it. Though the work itself is very physically demanding and meticulously slow, it’s also exhilarating. Knowing that, with the turn of one more trowel-full of soil, exciting new artifacts may be waiting an incredible feeling.
As I have said, the work is very meticulous. The process, however, is rather simple. An excavator begins excavating by clearing the area of any debris that may impede excavations. We spent most of Tuesday doing just that; we pulled weeds for nearly five hours! After clearing the area, the next step in the excavation process is to map the area according to its location on the grid, and identify was is called a locus in archaeological jargon. A locus (loci in the plural) is essentially a location in which an excavator is digging. Once the locus has been identified, the next step is to begin excavating. Diggers use trowels and brushes to clear layers of soil from the area, while they search for finds. The soil is placed in buckets, carried to a sifting station, and then sifted for other artifacts that the excavator might have missed. The finds are placed in what is called a “find bucket” (original, I know!) to be cleaned, sorted, and “read” (a.k.a. analyzed) later.
WVU students doing archaeological things.
What surprises me most about our work however is the vast amount of pottery scattered throughout the cite. In the pre-modern world, pottery was used for many things. For example, storage jars, plates, bowls, cooking pots, etc. were all composed of fired clay. It should come as no surprise then that pottery will be found at any pre-modern site. The sheer number of pot sherds however is huge, sometimes in the thousands from a single locus. Interestingly, the shape, color, style, and thickness all helps trained archaeologists determine from which period pottery dates. Learned, trained archaeologists can look at a single sherd and immediately recognize its date and place of origin. I, however, am not yet that skilled.
The analysis and cataloguing process is intriguing. After every sherd found has been cleaned, they are all counted one by one, diagnosed (a fancy word for analyzed) and catalogued in both a digital and paper-based system for analysts to determine their signifigance.
Again, archaeology is a long, tedious, slow process. That being said, the information found at sites like Bethsaida complements the historical records of ancient texts, often completing our knowledge of a period or a culture with information that would otherwise be lost. It is for this reason that archaeologists and volunteers from three continents gather annually to work long, hard, hot days.
Shalom and best wishes!