How to Prepare for Your First Archaeology Dig
Archaeological dig at Bekonscot
What You Will Need
Going on your first archaeological dig? That's exciting! I've been directing and assisting on archaeological digs since 1993 and teaching archaeological field schools since 1999. Field season is on and many students and first-timers want to know how to prepare for their first archaeological dig. Keep this guide handy while you prepare for your first excavation. There are so many things to bring (and things to leave at home), so get ready.
It might seem like a no-brainer, but you are going to be exposed to the elements. It's important to prepare for the great outdoors and any kind of weather Mother Nature might bestow on your archaeological dig. First, you will want to pack clothes that can be tossed out at the end of the season because you will get dirty. Very dirty. Soil can, and often does, stain clothing, and depending on your dig location, some stains NEVER come out. It is best to wear light-colored, lightweight clothing. Some prefer to wear shorts, but again, it depends upon your location.
If you will be working in areas with tall brush, jeans might better protect you. T-shirts and tank tops work fine in warmer locales, but those of you working in the cooler climes will want to dress in layers and bring a hoodie, too. Many people like to wear hats; I don't, they won't stay on my head! But it's a great way to protect your skin or you may choose to wear a bandanna. Bandanna's are wonderful on hot sunny days because they can be soaked in water and keep your head and neck cool. I suggest packing a rain poncho because some archaeological Field Directors will expect you to work in the rain.
Shoes are very important! I strongly suggest sturdy hiking boots if you will be doing any shovel work. Yes, many people prefer tennis shoes, but I've seen some sliced feet and it's not a pretty sight. You can always put a pair of flip flops or tennis shoes in your backpack, too. Did I mention getting a backpack? Get one, you will need it!
Keep yourself hydrated and DO NOT rely on the field director to provide water. I've heard some horror stories, so bring yourself at least two or more large jugs of water. I always bring along several bottles of my favorite sports drink. NEVER bring glass containers to an archaeological dig. Limit caffeine and alcohol during the off-hours, too. It's hard on the body and makes it more difficult to stay hydrated during the workday. If you aren't sweating or urinating throughout the day, you are not adequately hydrated!
What about those pesky pests? Bees, sweat bees (my personal favorite), ticks, chiggers, wasps, mosquitoes, and anything else that stings or bites are probably going to become your archaeology dig buddies. They love archaeologists! Okay, I never use personal bug spray, ticks and mosquitoes don't like me, I've grown accustomed to chiggers, and yes, I run from bees and wasps. Sweat bees love me, right behind the knee. I live with it. If you, however, choose to wear personal insect repellent, that's your business. I highly recommend applying it downwind from anyone in your vicinity or using a cream. Some people can't tolerate the chemicals in that stuff, so be kind to your archaeological dig crew members. They same goes for spray on sunscreens. You will probably want to pack some sunscreen, too!
Now for the fun part, the archaeologists toolkit! Most archaeological projects provide the necessary tools, but I've always preferred to bring my own. First and foremost, purchase a Marshalltown trowel. I recommend that brand because it is the sturdiest and it's a tradition among us archaeology folk. You will probably find it useful to purchase the Marshalltown square trowel for excavation unit walls and profiling (not the racial kind, you will learn about that from your Field Director). So, you will need both the "pointy" trowel and the "square" trowel. Most hardware stores carry them. Get a medium-to-large-size tackle box or something similar to carry your tools. I typically keep my trowels in my backpack and everything else goes into the "dig kit."
The next item for your archaeological dig toolkit is colored yarn string (Field Directors never supply enough and someone is always running out). Get yourself a good pocket knife or multi-tool for cutting string. A small hammer is handy and a metric measuring tape (at least 2-3 meters) is mandatory. Your archaeology dig kit must also include a wooden ruler and a small line level with hooks (it has to hang on your string). You will need a metal file for sharpening your trowel, a small dustpan with a brush for getting the soil out of your excavation unit, and a pencil. Every Field Director is different, but I would bring along several black permanent markers, too.
Now, for the final touches that will make your archaeological dig kit look way better than anyone else out there. Bamboo tools. Don't use dental picks unless your Field Director threatens to throw you off the site. Bamboo doesn't scratch artifacts unlike metal dental tools. You can either buy pre-manufactured bamboo skewers at the grocery store and resharpen them as needed, or get some bamboo from your local garden store and make your own bamboo picks. If your archaeology Field Director is worth their salt, they will be impressed!
Last, but not least, don't forget to bring some duct tape. Let me repeat myself. Don't forget to bring some duct tape. It has literally saved some projects and may make you the hero/heroine of your first archaeological dig!