Tuesday, July 30, 2013

A Day in the Life of an Archaeological Field School Student

Trench 3 after we finished de-turfing on the first work day.
I'm now three weeks into my archaeological field school on the island of Gotland, in the Baltic Sea off the coast of Sweden. This is a five week course, so there's just under a week of digging left and then a week of lab work and research before the course concludes on August 9. I did have a bit of archaeological experience prior to this trip, but it consisted of two weeks of volunteer work at the Bethsaida Excavations in Israel (while on a study abroad trip to the Middle East in 2011). This experience has been very different so far. So to give a little picture of what the dig has been like, I'll relate the story of a typical day at the Gotland Archaeological Field School.

7:30 a.m. - Convince myself to get out of bed and get ready for the day... usually a slow process.

7:55ish - Head to the dining hall to eat a hearty Swedish breakfast (yogurt, granola, linden berries, hardboiled eggs, fresh fruit, and bread) and pack a lunch to take with me to the excavation site.

8:30 a.m. - Board the bus to drive from the Gotlands Folkhögskola in Hemse to the excavation site at Paviken, on Gotland's Western Coast. (This is a great time to catch up on sleep, write in my journal, or read a book.)

9:10 a.m. - Arrive at Paviken and hike through a nature reserve to our dig site, a Viking Age harbor and manufacturing site that was inhabited from roughly the 7th- early 11th centuries. The site was excavated in the 1970's but the site director died before he could finish his records, and before he came to any conclusions about the site. Naturally, this makes our job more difficult, as we're working with Pars's incomplete and confusing records, while trying to make sense of what we find, too.

10:30 a.m. - Fika. Otherwise known as a coffee break, this is a very important part of every Swede's day. Included in the mandatory tradition is a very tasty cinnamon bun called a bulle. I do not protest.

12:00 p.m. - Lunch. 'Nuff said.

2:30 p.m. - Fika. Yep, Swedes are serious about this coffee break thing.

4:30 p.m. - Ride the bus back to Hemse and collapse onto my bed until dinner.

5:30 p.m. - Food. Delicious Swedish food.

6:00 p.m. - Free time, which for me means working out, showering, then engaging in some combination of something like goofing off online, writing, drawing, Skyping, or working on my research project for the field school (ceramic!). There's even another fika in the evening, which usually includes cookies - if none of the other groups staying here at the Folkhögskola have stolen ours, that is.

11:00-12:00ish - Sleep.

So that's a typical day. The archaeology part can be fascinating, tedious, exciting, boring, and frustrating, but over all it is pretty rewarding. I'll post later with more details on what the digging part is actually like, as well as some more history on the site, Paviken, and Gotland in general. It's really an awesome place for archaeology.


  1. Hi! I'll be going on this dig this upcoming July. I was wondering if you could give me some tips on what to pack (this is my first dig), the actual digging experience,the town of Hemse, what facilities are like where you stay, and what to do on weekends or with free time on Gotland? I'm sorry if this is a lot, I'm very excited to go! Thank you!

    1. Saskia van WalsumMay 15, 2014 at 1:05 PM

      Hey! Me too! (I hope...it's a bit last minute. I just kind of stumbled onto it and happened to ask if there had been any cancellations, the SAME DAY they got a cancellation. Talk about luck!)

    2. I'm glad to help if I can!
      Pack a pair of sturdy and comfy work shoes/boots, gloves, and some kind of kneeling/gardening pad that you could either kneel or sit on. You don't need to bring your own trowel as they provide those, but theirs are pretty cheap, so it might be worth buying a decent one to take with you (I didn't, but I definitely will for the next time I work on an archaeological dig). A hat wouldn't be a bad idea, but you could survive without it.
      To be honest, the digging experience can get monotonous, but if you're interested in archaeology at all, hands-on experience in the field is soooo valuable and worth it! It may be tedious, but it can also be rewarding, with found artifacts or structural remains (though there's no guarantee you'll find anything). :)
      Hemse is a small town, but the main area is a short walk from the Folkhögskola where I presume this year's students will be staying again. There's a bookstore, clothing store, hardware/sports store, coffee shop, and pizzeria/bar. The facilities were very nice there, rooms had 2 people each (same gender) with ample space, small closets, and a sink; showers and toilets are just down the hall, and bedding and towels were provided. Great food too! :) As for weekends and free time, each weekend was different; sometimes we worked, or had a day trip to Visby or elsewhere in Gotland, or just had a day or two off. It was possible to rent vehicles from the school, for a minimal fee which we split, so we could drive to the beach once or twice. There were also bikes we could borrow to ride around town or the countryside.
      I hope that helps! If you have any other questions, feel free to let me know, or I could point you toward some other students from last year if you contact me via Facebook.
      -Deanna :)

  2. Hi people

    I have been in the museum field now sometime working in Goa India...am looking for something like 6 months or more that includes archaeology...anysuggestions...something like this..as mentioned for 5 weeks ...but id like for 1 year...if anything interesting plz messege me on pinho.pramila@gmail.com