Tread Softly, and Carry a Big Pick - Hamilton College
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Tread Softly, and Carry a Big Pick

by Maeve Gately '12

Posted July 21, 2010
In my first week as an amateur archaeologist, I learned the following lessons (in rough order of importance):
  1. Always look where you are stepping, and try not to trip and fall over walls or artifacts
  2. Applying sunscreen three times per day does not necessarily mean you will avoid getting burned/people with red hair were never meant to work in the sun!
  3. Remove earth before stones, and always sweep an area after digging
  4. Pushing a wheelbarrow is far more involved than it seems
When I was asked by Professor McEnroe in the fall of last year to accompany him on a four week archaeological dig in Crete, I was absolutely ecstatic, overwhelmed, and without any idea of what to expect. I was to be part of a dig through the American School of Classical Studies, working with students from SUNY Buffalo (as well as Kiernan Aquisto, another Hamilton student who is also studying Art History) to excavate the Minoan town of Gournia, which had been discovered by Harriet Boyd Hawes in 1901. Hawes was the first female archaeologist to direct a project in Greece, and excavated most of the town (an impressive feat) in the four years between 1901 and 1904. Since that time, however, Gournia had not been touched, and now after a century of quietly resting on an open hilltop by the sea, the best preserved Minoan town was about to be re-discovered. Needless to say, it was a very exciting prospect.

And so, in the middle of June, I left swampy Baltimore, filled with exhilaration and trepidation, expecting from Crete what no single place could ever fulfill. I would be staying in the tiny town of Pachia Ammos, on the northeastern part of the island, and working nearby. What I wanted was an adventure, an escape, a precious glimpse into a past whose physical remains lay beneath 3000 years of dust. I was not prepared for what I would find.

Even after nearly two weeks spent in this incredible country, I hesitate to vocalize exactly how I feel about Greece. Yes, it is beautiful beyond imagination. Yes, it is ancient, and, even amidst millions of tourists in crowded Athens, still feels somehow unspoiled. But Greece, the way I see it, is best taken in its separate elements, experienced in pieces of an as-yet-incomprehensible whole.

Greece is the rush of the ocean, constant and unchanging, outside your bedroom window. Greece is fields of wild thyme, purple and prickly, which scratch your ankles when you wade through them. Greece is instant coffee, and stuffed tomatoes, tiny pitted olives and the smell of grilled lamb. It is the wet Almeriki trees that line the sea shore, and the pickup truck of fresh watermelons that delivers to the cafes along its expanse. It is the hours spent staring into the distance, any distance, because not rushing to be somewhere can be an activity unto itself. Greece is modern and eternal, loud and peaceful, waiting to be explored like the dirt beneath my pickaxe.

In the dig itself, we are working to establish the parameters of an earlier Minoan town, which lies below most of the visible site. In the morning, we get up at 6, watch the sun come up over the mountains while eating Greek yogurt (which makes up for having to get up so early!), and drive up to the site, where we dig until around 1, and then wash pottery in the afternoon. So far, we have found an intact water channel, quite a few pottery shards, and a round, burnished cup. Despite the heat, dirt, and exhaustion, the sensation of removing something which has lain in the earth for 3000 years is unlike any other.

At the end of every day, our hands are covered in calluses, but we are still smiling.

Gately '12 and Acquisto '13 Uncover Minoan Past in Crete (7/21)
The Language of Life on Crete (7/27)
A Shift in Perspective (8/5)


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