There and Back Again… the Spain Edition.

As a recipient of Rivet and Sway and GoMighty‘s Find Your Joy summer inspiration grant, I used the money to help fund a trip to Spain to volunteer on an archaeological dig. I’m a professional archaeologist in the US Southeast and have volunteered in the past on a dig in Mongolia. This grant gave me the chance to check another continent off of my dig list, something I’ve been wanting to do for some time. I did not have any particular location or project in mind so looked through all the websites I could think of that feature these opportunities and made an elaborate chart marking locations, project participation costs, flight and accommodation costs, and so on, as I love to make charts. In the end I chose a week-long project in Spain, an hour north of Valencia on the Mediterranean coast, excavating an Iberian necropolis. The program was run by Trowelschool Archaeoholidays, an organization based in Valencia that had just wrapped up a similar volunteer excavation on a Spanish Civil War site.

The Joy

The number one thing I got out of this week was actually not the glee of checking off a life list item, as sweet as that was, but it was connecting with the lovely team members of the project, students and professional archaeologists alike. You would never get an opportunity to connect with people on this level in a regular vacation. We shared every meal together, spoke each others languages, asked questions and solved problems together and commiserated about the heat and always hitting our heads on the same part of the shade canopy. I feel extraordinarily luckily to have spent a week getting to know these lovely souls, and know that my knowledge of Spain now goes deeper than a few historical facts and impressions from its ‘top-sights’.

The Program

Learning how to fill out site forms, at the building foundation feature.

Learning how to fill out site forms, at the building foundation feature.

Our group was a mix of students and professional archaeologists having a working holiday, like me, along with four local archaeologists running the program. The local archaeologists, Enric Flors, of ARX Arxivistica i Arqueologica in Castellon, and Ruben Lopez, Daniel Sanfeliu, and Alejandro Vila of Soluciones Arquelogicas in Valencia, were easily some of the most knowledgeable and genuinely enthusiastic archaeological professionals I’ve ever worked with.

A typical day was spent working from breakfast to lunch (at 2, as meal times run late in Spain), followed by a siesta, then lectures and field trips in the evening before dinner. Work on the site included excavating features such as cremated burials and structure foundations littered with Iberian and Roman ceramics, drawing site plans, and using survey equipment to map the topography of the site.

The Project Archaeologists always explained every task thoroughly and were on hand for questions and guidance. We had the flexibility to work on whatever skill we wanted to develop and get extra time to ask more questions. It was a really relaxed and fun working atmosphere. Lectures ranged from the ceramic history of the region, to how to make technical drawings of artifacts, and how to use AutoCAD to make digital illustrations. Our small group made for really cozy chats, in both English and Spanish, about archaeology, local and world history, and beyond.

Enric, taking us on a tour of local archaeology sites.

Enric, taking us on a tour of local archaeology sites.

We stayed at a camp- but we were not roughing it, by any means. This was an extensive complex of cabins and bungalows, pools, restaurants, tennis courts, -oh, and the beach. On the Mediterranean. Meals were all included, with the lunch being the highlight for me, as it was always a buffet that included a big pot of fresh, local mussels – I couldn’t get enough of them.

The Takeaway

People are awesome! Archaeology is the coolest!

No really though, I knew this trip would refresh my enthusiasm for archaeology, as my own job is not as exciting as a large scale excavation of a 4,000 year old necropolis would be. What I didn’t anticipate is that this experience would refresh my enthusiasm for people. So many of our exchanges with others are brief and superficial, that’s life most days, but when we get the opportunity to go a little deeper we find kindness, curiosity, and desire to share and connect. It’s pretty neat.

You do not have to be an archaeology-nerd to have an experience like this. There are many programs, ranging from a weekend to a few weeks, in the US and around the world, that allow people with no experience to participate. And if archaeology isn’t your thing, find another volunteer gig or program- habitat for humanity, beach cleanups, yoga workshops, artist retreats, language courses and more will all throw you in the mix with a wonderful group of locals and other travelers like you, all learning and working together. And hey, it won’t be all work and no play- I still got to dip my toes in the Mediterranean.

Me, working on a burial feature.

Me, working on a burial feature.

Thanks to GoMighty and Rivet and Sway for the grant to check this goal of of my life list.  A big thanks goes out to all of the participants of the project for their good humor and companionship. Extra special thanks goes to Ruben and Daniel for helping me go back and forth between the airport and shops when my bags were delayed by three days, and for Alejandro and his wife for lending me clothes and bedding.  You all rock!