I’m so (so) sorry again for not writing in such a long time. I’ve been busy and also very tired; and on top of all this, the internet hasn’t been working as well as I expected it to be. As of today, I’m in the middle of my third week here, in France. I can’t believe I’m already half way through. On one hand, it feels like we’ve been here for ages. But, on the other hand, we’ve been here for that long.
As I’ve said in previous posts, we don’t go to the excavation site everyday, as might happen in other archaeological projects. The lab work is a very important part in any research project, so it’s completely understandable that it’s also featured in this project. In the end, we will have done more days on the lab than at the site; not only are we supposed to spend more days on the lab, but there’s so many of us and the site is so small, that they can only take a few every day. However, there’s a few exceptions. Some of the volunteers will have spent more time on the site but that’s because they have certain skills that are very useful for the whole excavation process. As of today, I’ve been to the site five times (one of them just yesterday) and I feel I was really lucky because I went to the site three times on a row, last week.
From the house where we’re staying, it takes us about 40-45 minutes to get to the site – La Ferrassie. It’s a long ride but the landscape is so beautiful that I think it’s well worth it. Actually, this region is absolutely beautiful. On the last day-off, some of us went canoeing on the Dordogne river. If you have the chance, I recommend visiting this department (Dordogne) as much as any other department, since France is such a beautiful country, especially for those who like nature. The La Ferrassie site is an archaeological site with both occupations on the Middle and Upper Paleolithic periods. This site is best known for the neanderthal skeletons found in the 1900’s. However, the site was (and still is) also important to describe the aurignacian lithic industry. This site is often classified as a rock-shelter but, actually, this site is a cave, which roof has fallen off. During the five times I was at the site, I dug in layers of both periods. I wouldn’t say that excavating the Upper Paleolithic layers is harder but they surely require a lot more attention to what we’re doing, since they have a lot of artifacts and some of them are really small.
As I said before, our crew – i.e. the volunteers – is international, just as the group of researchers. As far as I know, we have researchers from the United States of America, Canada, South Africa, the United Kingdom, Portugal and France. This team of researchers is also very diverse, academic wise: we have archaeologists (of course), anthropologists, paleoanthropologists, zooarchaeologists, archaeobotanics and geoarchaeologists (I hope I’m not forgetting someone). These are some of the many aspects that I really like about this project and this team. However, what I really love about this team is the good environment they create, especially in the field. I have to admit that we couldn’t have a better field work coordinator. And they’re also so nice. I might sound weird talking about this but I’ve never seen this much kindness together; sometimes I feel like I’m in a parallel dimension.
I don’t know exactly what happens in the Indiana Jones films but I’m pretty sure it does not represent in a good way an archaeological excavation. I’m also pretty sure that what most people say isn’t exactly right. First of all, we don’t dig holes without a propose and we don’t dig to find specific and beautiful objects, as it was done in previous centuries when archaeology wasn’t considered a scientific subject. Second, we don’t have to dress like the people in those kinds of films. Basically, everyone is free to wear whatever they want – if you want to wear a dress or something like that, you’re totally free to do it. However, the common sense tells us that we’re going to get so dirty that we should take with us clothes that we don’t use very often or that might get ruined forever. I use gym clothes and hoodies for the coldest days. They’re really comfortable and it’s stuff that I only use for excavations. Third, we don’t have necessarily to use tooth brushes to excavate, like sometimes we see on TV. It’s really cute to see it but most of the excavations don’t require it. Actually, the materials that we use to excavate vary a lot because it depends on the period that’s being excavated. You’ll be able to see some of them in the photos below. Forth, and pretty much the most important detail, we don’t go looking for beautiful objects. Every kind of information has value, even the ugliest artifact. We have to dig carefully and do some measures to make sure that every context is recorded properly.
As you’ll see in the photos, the archaeological site is quite small. Actually, there’s more of the collapsed cave that I don’t show in the photos. I don’t show it because there’s people on those photos and, mainly, because we’re not excavating on that part. You can see on the 6th photo the two places I excavated on: both spaces are on the left side of the photo. Firstly, I started by excavating in Middle Paleolithic layers: the area close to that bucket with a blue dust pan. Secondly, I excavated in an Upper Paleolithic layer: the area on the top left corner. Once again, these photos weren’t photoshoped.