Table of contents:
- Ash Hill and Ceramic Souvenirs
- Equality in excavation
- "What? Where? When?" and evening by candlelight
- Feasting Hercules and skeletons
- Household question
- Informational detox
- How to get on an expedition
2023 Author: Malcolm Clapton | [email protected]. Last modified: 2023-07-28 10:38
About gender equality in the excavations, skeletons and “What? Where? When? in bathing suits.
When they ask me where I spend my summer vacation, I answer: in the Crimea. And then I hear the standard passage on the topic of poor service. Then I clarify that I volunteer on an archaeological expedition: I dig for 6 hours in the heat, sleep in a tent and eat stew. After that, people either politely say goodbye, or ask for more details.
I am not a historian or an archaeologist. For the first time I found myself on the expedition in 2009: our university organized an internship for students-historians, and I, a student of the advertising department, nailed myself absolutely by accident. This is how I got to the Crimea for the first time in my life, to the Donuzlav archaeological expedition "Kulchuk Settlement". For the first time in my life, I left home in absolutely wild conditions. And for the first time in my life I realized that I had found a place where I would return.
Yes, an archaeological expedition is a very extreme vacation. But also a unique experience that allows you to radically change the frame of reference, be alone with yourself and reboot. Plus, as a rule, you come back with a tan, new friends and funny stories that you definitely would not get into in the "ordinary world".
Ash Hill and Ceramic Souvenirs
Our expedition is located on a picturesque cliff: on the one side - the sea, on the other - the steppe. Wild beaches are just a stone's throw away. The sea is always near: you wake up and fall asleep to the sound of the waves. Every evening we watch Sunset TV, and at night we stick to the Milky Way.
Sea view from the camp
View of the camp from the steppe
We are digging a Greek estate under the working name Kulchuk - from the Turkic "ash hill". Approximate dating - IV century BC. NS. Nobody knows what this place was called in reality. Every year we hope to find a sign with a message like: “There are 600 of us here, 15 goats and 2 cats. And our city is called …”But instead we find another something that prompts new thoughts and hypotheses.
An expedition does not happen by itself. In order for it to take place, a so-called open sheet is required - a "license" for excavations. It is issued by the Ministry of Culture for a specific person (expedition leader) and specific excavations. It must be received before each season. Our excavations take place in July-August. This is due to the fact that the main "labor" cadres are student trainees, and you need to wait until their exams pass. Plus, the weather at this time is the most comfortable and not rainy.
An open leaf means that the excavation is of an exploratory nature. In the 90s, “black diggers” ruled in Crimea - people who walked around with metal detectors and dug out everything that rings. The local classifieds sites still sell rare coins, which should be in a museum.
An open sheet also means that we are digging "not for ourselves": therefore, we fix all the finds (photograph or sketch) and transfer them to the nearest museum of local lore in the village of Chernomorskoye. So you won't be able to take the found skull with you. But we have deposits of unnecessary ceramics, the fragments of which we use as souvenirs.
Equality in excavation
Under the shouts of the attendants "Kulchuk, rise!" the camp wakes up at 6 am. Then we have breakfast, and at 7 o'clock, under the shout "To the excavation!" we go out to work. We dig until 13:00, with a break every hour. If someone doesn’t feel well, he doesn’t go to work: either he sleeps or helps the attendants.
There are three types of work at an excavation site: cleaning, digging, or processing finds.
When cleaning, you take brushes, scoops and begin to clean the already excavated rooms from grass, dust and excess soil. As a rule, stripping is carried out before fixing (photographing the site) or when you need to understand what we have excavated. Stripping is a very meditative process. You sit to yourself, wave your brush and talk to the person sitting next to you. Or - after hours of work in the heat - with an imaginary friend.
The second way to work is to dig. In this case, you are either breaking a new square (digging from scratch), or working on an already excavated square (expanding or deepening). New squares are sometimes broken on the basis of geomagnetic studies: a man walks around the field with a backpack and something like a metal detector. This device captures vibrations caused by all kinds of materials (eg ash) due to their different magnetic properties. Based on this data, a kind of underground map with perspective areas is being created. We dig in layers, with bayonet shovels. We send the excavated earth with wheelbarrows and stretchers to the dump - the highest point of the camp.
One day we were digging a new section, which turned out to be not so new: at a depth of a meter, we found an old pack of Marlboros. She could be left either from the "black diggers", or from another expedition. Researchers mark already excavated areas with similar modern artifacts. Sometimes they bury a bottle with a note, which indicates the year of the excavation and information about the expedition. And we still wondered why this land is so pliable and surprisingly easy to dig …
Boys used to dig and girls cleaned. But equality has triumphed: now anyone can dig and clean up. Naturally, the guys still help with heavy buckets or stones. In general, helping each other is one of the golden rules of life on an expedition.
The finds from each square are put into a separate container, then they are washed and cleaned of dust. Interesting and important artifacts (fragments of ceramics with inscriptions, jewelry or beads, household items) are sketched, and the rest is thrown into a ceramic dump not far from the camp. To process the finds, we set up a special tent - "ceramics".
"What? Where? When?" and evening by candlelight
After the end of the excavation, everyone goes to sea - to wash off the dust. Then free time begins (of course, with breaks for lunch and dinner).
After 14:00, life in the camp moves under the tent. There are dining tables and benches, where we are escaping from the Crimean heat. In your free time, you can do anything: swim, read, sleep, chat, help around the camp, play all sorts of mafia-crocodile charades, or go to the nearest village for ice cream (3 km across the steppe).
Every season we organize a competition "Mister and Miss Kulchuk", and in mid-August we celebrate the Day of the Archaeologist. Sometimes we hold tournaments on “What? Where? When?". It looks very epic: instead of tailcoats and evening dresses, we are wearing swimsuits and dusty shorts, and instead of a gong - a suspended basin, which is beaten with a ladle.
After sunset, it is time for evening gatherings by candlelight. No, we're not romantics, we just don't have electricity. Each has a pocket flashlight with which you can move around the camp at night.
At 23:00 in the camp lights out. This means that those who want to go to sleep. And who does not want to, move to the beach so as not to disturb the others. We strictly observe this rule if there are children in the camp. You can go to bed anytime, anywhere. Sometimes it is very stuffy in the tents, so we huddle together and sleep in our sleeping bags on the beach. But it is important to remember: in whatever place and condition you fall asleep, the next day at 7 am you need to be at the excavation site.
Feasting Hercules and skeletons
The research of the Kulchuk settlement has been carried out for more than 100 years, and by our expedition since 2006. By conservative estimates, digging there for another 200 years, no less.
The top find of our expedition is a high relief with a feasting Hercules (located in the Black Sea Museum of Local Lore). This find not only looks interesting (a limestone slab with the figure of a lying man), but also tells a lot about the settlement itself: it turns out that the people who lived in it honored the cult of Hercules. In 2017, we found an altar - a flat stone, the specifics of which are still pondering.
Every day we find animal bones and shards of pottery: red Greek and black Scythian.
Fragments of “profile parts” (bottom, neck, handle) or fragments with stamps (inscriptions or symbols) are considered valuable finds among ceramics. The shape of the "profile parts" helps to date the find, and the stamps help to determine the period even more precisely. With the help of ceramics, you can learn more about the trade relations of the settlement: where this or that vessel was brought from.
Human skeletons were also found. I found one of them: I went to the excavation site, stuck in a shovel, forged something - and a skull literally jumped out at me. They say that my scream was heard even on the beach.
We do not believe in the curse of Tutankhamun, but we still treat the found people very carefully: we clean them, classify them (determine the person's age and gender), take pictures, then carefully put them in a bag by the bones and send them for examination.
Skeletons of different seasons
Skeletons of different seasons
We also find various elements of architecture: stairs, arches, underground passages and towers. In 2009, a six-meter underground passage was found. The walls inside were plastered with clay, on which fingerprints were preserved.
We live in tents. We sleep in sleeping bags. Among other structures in the camp there is an awning, under which there are tables for lunch and general gatherings, a huge tent, in which something like a warehouse and an infirmary, and "ceramics" - a tent with finds. Naturally, there are toilets and a kitchen. We cook on gas, because it is forbidden to burn fires in the steppe.
Every day there are assigned attendants who do not dig, but prepare food and camp. Food - pasta, cereals, stew, canned fish, soups, stews, vegetables, fruits and watermelons. For breakfast - cereals, tea, coffee, pies and fresh dairy products from the village. We eat from the camping utensils common to the entire camp. For vegetarians, there is always a separate saucepan, into which no stew is added. Wash dishes in the sea, then rinse them in potassium permanganate and fresh water. They bring us drinking water, for cooking and technical water. You can wash in the sea, and rinse with technical water.
Most of the rules that govern expeditionary life are dictated by experience and safety considerations. We provide detailed instructions to all new arrivals. For example, we tell you that it is better not to smoke in the tent: it burns out in 20 seconds, dripping melted plastic on you.
The most common health problems are overheating and poisoning. But they can be easily avoided if you follow the safety rules (do not go to the excavation without a hat) and hygiene (thoroughly wash your hands, fruits and vegetables and dishes). The expedition always has a first aid kit, a car and a connection with the outside world. If a person needs to lie down, he is sent to the village. If something serious happened, then there is a hospital in Chernomorskoye.
Natural force majeure also happens. In 2011, a terrible thunderstorm began at night: the lightning was such that the coast was illuminated for a couple of tens of kilometers! Some of the tents were knocked down, the awning was dropped. The next day we were drying pasta and looking for the things we had carried away. Sometimes a hot and strong steppe wind comes to the camp. Its funniest property is to blow soup from a spoon into a friend's face, so dinners are especially fun on such days.
Consequences of a thunderstorm in 2011
Consequences of a thunderstorm in 2011
As I said, we have no electricity. We go to the village to charge our phones and cameras (I remind you, 3 kilometers across the steppe) or give them to the local residents who help our camp. Sometimes someone brings in solar panels, which are used by the whole camp.
In general, the feeling of ownership is somehow dulled on an expedition. By the middle of the season, a mountain of things is formed under the awning that everyone uses: books, toothpaste, sun cream, and more.
When I arrived for the first time, phones were barely caught in the camp. Now there is even LTE. A couple of years ago, we joked that one day we would tweet each other at the excavation site, but now we can do it. But still, people want to somehow disconnect and arrange an informational detox: some take old push-button phones with them.
How to get on an expedition
Almost all expeditions welcome volunteers. More often than not, you don't even need to have a special education (for example, physicists, programmers, journalists and other strange people are digging here). Any restrictions are dictated by common sense: children under 18 - only with adults; do not recommend traveling to those who have serious health problems.
However, it is better not to come to the expedition with a joyful cry "Surprise!" First, because food is purchased based on the approximate number of participants. Secondly, getting to many expeditions is very problematic, and it is better to warn about your visit so that they can help you find your way.
It seems to me that a week is enough for the first acquaintance with the life of the expedition. On the first visit, it is important to simply understand whether it is yours or not. By the way, it turned out that my first expedition lasted as much as four weeks: then I became so wild that I forgot how to use the tap with water.
Everyone has their own reasons to come on an expedition every year. I like to disconnect from the usual life, completely changing the field of activity. Of course, I was very lucky in my time: I ended up in a cool place and with cool people.
And also an expedition is a single organism and a specific team building. An unreal sense of togetherness arises when you dig together, wash the dishes or catch a tent flying off a cliff.
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