A Shift in Perspective

The Pacheia Ammos beachfront.
The Pacheia Ammos beachfront.
When you tell people you are spending the summer on an archaeological dig, those who have any experience with excavations begin to tell you how it will affect your daily life. They tell you it will give you perspective, that you will begin to view everything with the eye of a historian, attempting to reconstruct a past from the physical remnants of a few walls and broken pots. They tell you that it will make you a more organized person, that it will bring out the meticulous side of your personality, that you will begin to stack the artichoke peels on your dinner plate, treating them like sherds of ancient pottery. They tell you that it will make you stronger, dirtier, more patient, less rested. They tell you it will change your life.

All of this is true. What they do not tell you, however, is that it will make you insane.

After the first few days of digging, I begun to notice a change in the way I saw the world around me. Walking along the Pacheia Ammos waterfront one evening, I had an inexplicable urge to sweep the sand off of the pavement slabs, to collect every rock on the beach, bag, tag and catalog them. I brushed this bizarre inclination aside, attributed it to sleep-deprivation, and continued on to dinner. The next day, however, I was in the car on the way to the site, and staring out the window at the terrace walls set into the olive-orchard hills. Immediately, I began tracing the outlines with my eyes, trying to visualize how they could have formed a structure, evaluating the linearity of the walls and whether the stones went down in even courses. It was at this point that I realized I might have a problem.

When you spend all day unearthing walls, sweeping dust off of rocks, and collecting pottery sherds to be washed and cataloged, the intricacies of archaeological methods begin to imprint themselves onto your subconscious. Without realizing it, you begin to see everything around you with the eyes of an excavator, a shift in perception that can be unnerving, amusing, and at times annoying.

When I began helping Professor McEnroe draw the architecture of the site, I would spend my days taking points on stones, measuring the distance from two corners of the trench in order to transfer their locations to a scale drawing. In the afternoons, I would return from the site, exhausted but triumphant, and sit in a cafe, drinking iced coffee and talking to friends. After several days of taking points, I began to envision a measuring tape, extending from one corner of the cafe to the other, and estimated the distances to various chairs across the room. When I mentioned this bizarre awareness to other members of the dig, I learned it was an insanity they shared, and have since decided to embrace it.

Learning to see the world through the eyes of an archaeologist is yet another aspect of my summer which I could not have anticipated, and have come to love. By becoming so deeply involved in something that it became a part of me, I learned to let go of certain predispositions, and to adopt others wholeheartedly. Since coming to Gournia, I worry less about the steadily accumulating layers of dust, eat as much ice cream as possible after a day under the sun, and now view every stray stone or vertical wall as a part of something greater. When I return home, these acclimations may steadily fade, and I will resume my life as a college student, the imprints of Minoan walls fading from my vision.

But I hope that they will still be there when I close my eyes.

Digging Through the Dust
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