Archaeology isn’t much of a spectator sport.
“So what are you doing?”, a pair of old English ladies ask me, as I trowel down, knee deep in loose soil and fragments of pottery. The dust – the soil is sandy, and barely holds together under a careless breath – clouds my sunglasses as I lean against the theoretically Hellenistic Period wall and look up at them, framed by the sun to be no more than silhouettes.
“Well,” I say, “long story short, we’re digging a hole.”
I’ll say it now to get it over with: I don’t have a clue what I’m doing.
My name is Callum Dougan, and just under a year ago I walked out of Aberdeen University with a degree in archaeology, much to my enduring surprise. In the absence of paid work and with the usual young man’s ennui, I’m going digging. It’s theraputic.
Oddly enough, I ended up in archaeology by accident, in a desperate attempt to evade another year of geography, but I’m glad I did. It turns out that I enjoy it. It’s also a nice way to go see some of the world: what better way to understand the depth of a culture than by digging down through it?
I’ve always been a sucker for the Near East and Levant, places I only know from books. As a child, I remember devouring the Reader’s Digest of ‘Vanished Civilisations’, and from there progressing to ransack the books in my paper-heavy home. Babylon, Achaemenid Persia, Rome and Byzantium, Jerusalem, Catal Hoyuk and Petra are names I’ve grown up with. I’ve wanted to see what I can of that world for as long as I can remember, and I’ve finally got on with it.
Stop one is where I have been working for the past week, here in Pafos, on the western shores of the Republic of Cyprus (stay tuned – tomorrow we actually start talking about that). Two more weeks of work here, and then I continue on, combining digging with the standard Western simpleton approach of peering at anything that looks old. This blog is for that: ‘mah gahp yahr’ combined with what’s happening on site and my poorly informed observations of whatever else I run into.
A note: Socrates said it best. I’m a generalist, one step up from an amateur. I will say things that are not peer reviewed, and I promise neither 100% accuracy or any true depth on the ancient cultures I’ll be passing through at speeds unrecognisable in archaeological time. But there’s only one way to learn anything in the end, and that is to do.