What Do Volunteers Do at an Archaeological Excavation?
These days there are no lavish budgets for archaeological excavations, and paid crew positions are few (very few) and far (very far) between. With no money for lodging, the crew tend to camp out at or near the site for the duration of the project. Feeding the crew on a tight budget may involve a lot of pre-frozen mini-burritos.
The excavation has a Directing Archaeologist in charge of the project. Often there will be one or more other archaeologists supporting the Director by excavating and/or performing other essential work such as cataloguing artifacts, recording data, and performing materials analysis. Graduate and undergraduate students participating in the excavation gain hands-on experience in as many aspects of the work as they can. Sometimes - but not always - they earn class credits. However, on many excavations there are too few students available to get all the work done in the time allotted.
Thus you will frequently see on-site a group of enthusiastic volunteers, like the GCAS's own hard core of avocational archaeologists. A hardy few of us may occasionally camp out with the rest of the crew, but more often those of us in a certain age demographic prefer to go home at the end of each work day to our hot showers and soft beds.
Like the university students, we GCAS members learn a lot about archaeology by helping out where we are needed. The professional archaeologists and students clearly have priority to engage in the serious research, but we volunteers occasionally get good opportunities to do what the big kids do: measure excavation units, carefully excavate as the Directing Archaeologist instructs, screen the soil for artifacts, measure again, complete excavation reports, lather, rinse, repeat.
← Here we see GCAS volunteers clustered together with students and archaeologists, haunch to haunch, in their respective excavation units within a very small and cozy structure.
Our GCAS President, Kyle Meredith, is undaunted by the reams of paperwork necessary to reliably document an archaeological excavation.
← Josh Reeves politely waits in the shade while other crew members meticulously measure areas abutting his own assigned unit.
GCAS Board member Gary Barnett demonstrates the ultimate in screening prowess. Yes; the work is hot, heavy, and dusty but the rest of the crew rely on the screeners to spot everything from small potsherds and lithic flakes to plant and animal material. A screener only has to find one artifact to make the day worthwhile.
Every GCAS member is invited to join in the next archaeological excavation that comes along. Help out for one day or for the full length of the project - anything goes when you're a volunteer!
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