Archaeological Digs: The Best Listings
1. Archaeological Institute of America Fieldschool Listing
2. Earthwatch Institute Expeditions
3. Archaeological Digs and Tours for 2005
1. Archaeological Institute of America Fieldschool Listing
Rescue archaeology in Iran may lead to some important archaeological discoveries in the near future. Recently, a joint team of Italian and Iranian archaeologists have discovered thousands of pottery shards scattered in an area that will soon be flooded by the waters of the new Sivand Dam. The shards were found in an area that bears significance in association with the King Road, the major ancient road that connected the ancient World Heritage site of Pasargadae with ancient Persepolis and Susa. The archaeological history of the area threatened by the flooding dates back to prehistoric times.
About 70 kilometers east of the city of Rostov-on-Don in a beautiful, picturesque region of southern Russia lies what remains of a medieval fortress. Traces of its walls are still visible, but much is left shrouded by layers of earth. The site is identified as the Zolotiye Gorki, or "Golden Hills" fortress, dated to the 8th - 10th centuries A.D. (the "Khazar" period). The significance of this site is that it may become the first Khazar fortress of the region where sustained scientific research is possible. Any results of excavation and research will contribute to reconstructing an important part of the archaeological history of an area which remains somewhat sketchy to this day. In light of that, systematic excavations of the site were initiated in 2002 and, to date, more than 500 square meters have been excavated. The foundations of stone buildings, two kilns, and several burials were investigated, but there is much more to be done.
Although the year 2006 may seem a little far off, it's not too early to reserve your place on a team that will be exploring the roots of the great Southeast Asian civilization that is credited with the famous ruins of Angkor Wat. From January 9 to March 5, 2006, Dr. Charles Higham of the University of Otago, New Zealand, will be leading an expedition of earthwatch teams in Thailand to recover and analyze evidence of a sophisticated indigenous civilization that, he suggests, may have played a major role in the foundations of the culture associated with this spectacular site. The 2006 investigations will focus on the remains of Ban Non Wat, a large mound ringed by banks and moats. A major objective will be to determine the relationship of the site to other nearby prehistoric sites. Ancient settlements dot the landscape of Thailand, many of which were large and complex enough to leave clues of social organization, technology and trade as early as 2000 B.C. Ban Non Wat represents one of these settlements.
Modern construction work, if not managed well, can destroy valuable cultural resources. But here is a hot-off-the-press example of how properly planned and executed construction work can not only avoid that destruction, but make a valuable contribution to the preservation of cultural resources and the advancement of archaeological inquiry. From the Seattle Post Intelligencer:
If you want a single, one-stop online source that will give you information about archaeology around the world, the World Atlas of Archaeology on the Web might be a good place to start. Although new and under development, this "living document" provides a place where archaeology enthusiasts and students can go to retrieve comprehensive information related to the archaeological sites, key researchers, and institutions involved in conducting archaeological research in virtually every country of the world.
Some very amazing things can be found in the earth in parts west of the United States. Colorado, Utah, Montana and Wyoming collectively make up what can arguably be said is the dinosaur capital of the world. The fossilized remnants of these Jurassic giants are being investigated again this summer, and there are a number of opportunities for public participation. The Judith River Dinosaur Institute's "Exploration 2005" is offering two 5-day sessions for interested volunteers. The goal will be to find new specimens and sites for future studies. Participants will learn methods of field exploration and excavation, how to map and record finds, identify and interpret finds, and techniques of specimen preparation and preservation in the lab. Group discussions and slide presentations round out the educational experience. As an added benefit, participants will be allowed, with professional staff approval, to actually collect and keep some dinosaur bones that are not deemed important to research. The cost for the experience is $850 per person, which includes transportation from the base camp to the field sites and back, lunch and beverages in the field, and information on their various programs. Transportation to the base and accommodations in the vicinity are the responsibility of the volunteer; however, information is provided on the available accommodation options in the area.
Rarely do archaeologists come across fossilized footprints of prehistoric humans. One immediately thinks of the famous australopithecine prints at Laetoli, Tanzania, discovered by the Leakeys. More recently, a fossilized footprint was discovered in a Romanian cave (Vartop Cave) and identified as belonging to Homo Neanderthalensis ("Neanderthal Man"). The footprint, dated to approximately 62,000 years B.P., is considered to be the first recognized and dated print for this human species. Much more prolific are the fossilized bones of these neanderthals, who walked in comparative abundance across the European landscape.
Many of the more "civilized" ancients regarded the Macedonians as barbarians, but recent finds in a cluster of 141 Macedonian tombs in the ancient necropolis of Archontiko in Pella prove otherwise. Dating from the first half of the sixth century B.C. to the beginning of the fifth century B.C.,the tombs contained the remains of warriors still bedecked in full armor, with helmets adorned in gold, steel swords with gold on the handles, and spears and knives. Leather breastplates, clothing, footwear and hand coverings were also adorned with gold and other ornaments. The tombs included grave offerings of gold and silver jewelry, bronze and clay vessels, clay idols, and furniture. The finds present and reinforce an image of a civilization with a highly developed socio-economic organization, including an aristocracy with sophisticated burial rituals and a high living standard. Not bad for barbarians.
Are you interested in archaeological dig and tour opportunities for 2005? Go to digs and tours for a comprehensive listing.
Read about the latest discoveries at a site where archaeologists are exploring the foundations of ancient Egyptian civilization.
For those of us interested in the archaeology of the Big Bear state, here is a listing of sites that include, among other things, the "Lost City of Cecil B. De Mille", where excavations have been conducted at the site associated with the first Cecil B. De Mille production of The Ten Commandments, produced about 60 years ago. That's entertainment.
A Polish team excavating in the ancient city of Luxor have discovered three ancient Coptic manuscripts in a Pharaonic tomb. The event is considered by many to be the most important Coptic discovery since the famous Nag Hammadi Coptic codices found in Egypt in 1945. The manuscripts date to the sixth century and were concealed in a Middle Kingdom (2000 to 1800 BC) tomb. Scholars suggest that the texts may have been hidden there by early Christians who were being persecuted by the Romans.
Excavated chamber of the Iron Age City Gate
Bethsaida, Israel – At an elevated location not far from the north shore of the Sea of Galilee lies what remains of a place identified with some of the miracles of Jesus (healing of a blind man, walking on water, and feeding of the multitudes). Birthplace of three of the Apostles (Andrew. Peter, and Philip), this site is now yielding the remains of Bethsaida, the famous town mentioned so often in the Gospels of the New Testament and, along with Capernaum, associated with the ministry of Jesus. What makes the ancient town doubly exciting, however, is what lies deeper beneath the Hellenistic/Roman layers. In 1996, while going about business as usual during the 1996 excavation season, Dr. Rami Arav of the University of Nebraska, Omaha, began to peal away layers that covered an Iron Age city gate complex rivaling the great city gate complexes found at other great ancient sites such as Megiddo and Hazor. The complex proved to be part of a large Iron Age city that is now identified by scholars as very likely the capital of the Kingdom of Geshur, which figured prominently in events associated with ancient Israel’s King David.
This summer, Dr. Arav will be leading a team of scholars, students and volunteers in the continuing efforts to reveal the secrets of this ancient kingdom, focusing much of the work on the Iron Age city gate complex. Along with the experience of excavating at the site, you will wash, sort and catalogue artifacts and participate in afternoon sessions designed to instruct on methods of analyzing and identifying the artifacts. Educational lectures will be offered on selected evenings. Located on the shores of the historic Sea of Galilee, you will stay in air-conditioned rooms at the Ginosar Inn at Kibbutz Ginosar, where you will have access to a swimming pool and, of course, the Sea. Hugging the shore, there is an excellent museum near the kibbutz, which houses the astonishingly well-preserved remains of a typical fishing vessel (popularly referred to as the “Jesus Boat”) that is dated to the time of Jesus. Conveniences include transportation from the Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv at the beginning of each 3-week dig session, and comfortable bus transportation from the kibbutz to the dig site each day.
More Information and Application
When we think of the archaeological sites in Jordan, most of us picture the sensational architectural remains of the ancient cities of Jerash and Petra; however, these are but the tip of the iceberg of archaeological sites to be found in the Hashemite Kingdom. Here is a listing of at least 50 prominent sites, many of which are still under active archaeological investigation. Given its rich ancient history, it goes without saying that Jordan is a country that will offer numerous excavation opportunities for future scholars, students and volunteers.
Perhaps, like many of us, the closest you have come to actually being on a dig was watching Indiana Jones do it in Raiders of the Lost Ark, or watching one of those well-scripted documentaries by National Geographic. In case you are thinking about it, here are 10 good reasons to try it first-hand:
1. If you want to go somewhere “foreign”, it is a good excuse to take that unusual vacation to an exotic location and really have something to “write home about” and share with friends and family. You have one mortal life on this planet. Do something exciting.
2. There is something to be said for making new, lasting friendships with people who have a common interest. The strong group and teamwork aspect of a dig makes it difficult to avoid this. You won’t take your house or your car with you when you leave this world, but friendships and memories go with you.
3. It is satisfying to know that you are part of something larger than yourself, and that your contribution is making some difference. Digging, sorting and processing finds, and recording data leaves your mark on the effort.
4. Education is a lifelong endeavor. An archaeological excavation offers the opportunity for everyone to learn and gain new skills, regardless of age or station in life. You don’t need a Ph.D. to be a dig volunteer – only a willingness to learn and work with others as a team….and you get to hob-nob with the professors and dig directors.
5. You have the chance to help develop a cultural resource that will benefit a surrounding community and enrich the lives of the local population, both in terms of the tourism it could bring and the employment it could generate. Not a bad way to give back to the world community.
6. Being a part of a scientific expedition distills a sense of importance that can't be matched by a traditional vacation.
7. It is just plain fun, in addition to the “meat and potatoes” work of the day, to experience the interesting evening lectures, field trips, and the many cultural and recreational amenities that the host country or community has to offer. This is another memory builder.
8. For most of us, an archaeological dig will be an “out of the box” experience. It will broaden the mind a little more.
9. If you are out on the dig long enough, you will no doubt learn some things about yourself that you didn’t know before. This will be different for each person.
10. Finally, it is the next best thing to time travel. There is a pure thrill about holding something in your hand or touching an ancient wall that was left in place long ago. It has a story to tell about the person or group who left it there. The context of the find will say something, but the rest is still a mystery. In a very real way, you are making or amending history.
Read what an excavation director has to say about why diggers dig.
Read what a volunteer has to say about her own experience on a dig.
Here is a HUGE listing of Dig and Tour Opportunities for 2005
Iran is not a place one normally thinks of when contemplating dinosaurs and their fossil remains. Yet in the fossil rich Kerman province of central Iran, the footprints of three Jurassic/Cretaceous-period dinosaurs were recently unearthed. The footprints are just now under study and it is too early to determine the size and type of dinosaurs that left them.
Jennifer R. Smith, Ph.D., Washington University assistant professor of earth and planetary sciences in Arts & Sciences, and her doctoral student Johanna M. Kieniewicz, are conducting analyses of ancient freshwater snail deposits and carbonate silts from a small lake (now dry) in the Kharga Oasis of western Egypt to reconstruct climatic conditions during the lifetime of the lake. Their analyses support a surprising picture of arid Egypt: 130,000 years ago, what everyone considers an eternal desert was actually a thriving savannah, complete with humans, rhinos, giraffes and other wild life.
Many scholars have argued that the ancient Edomites who interacted with the Israel of kings David and Solomon were not real. But recent evidence uncovered through excavations and research at Khirbat en-Nahas in Jordan under the direction of Professor Thomas Levy of the University of California, San Diego, show massive 10th Century B.C. fortifications and copper production facilities attributed to the Edomites. The facilities were determined to have been active during the period of the United Monarchy (the reigns of kings David and Solomon).
If you are not in the mood to do some digging in the jungles of the ancient Maya but you want the chance to survey first-hand some of the latest research sites where on-going excavations and investigations are being conducted, here is an archaeological tour that may do the trick. This will afford the opportunity to explore recently discovered archaeological sites in Guatemala's Peten Jungle, where you will often find archaeologists at work. You will reach many of these sites via boat on jungle rivers and lakes, and some hiking will be required. Needless to say, you will need to be physically fit. You will also need to specially request this arrangement. Here is the itinerary:
Arrive Guatemala City. Participants will be met on arrival and escorted to Hotel Biltmore Express in Guatemala City's fashionable Zona Rosa. Tour orientation at the hotel. (B.L.D.)
Guatemala's Verapaz Region. Early drive through a tropical cloud forest which is home to the elusive Quetzal, Guatemala's national bird. Brief hike in the cloud forest to admire the flora and to look for the colorful Quetzal. As you descend from the cloud forest to the lowlands you will pass through coffee and cardamom plantations to the lands of the Maya Kekchi people. Arrive at the Candelaria Caves in time for dinner and overnight at the Cuevas de Candelaria Lodge. (B.L.D.)
Cancuen and Its Spectacular Palace. Morning transfer via road and river boat to the Maya site of Cancuen. In 2001 archaeologists discovered a spectacular seventy-two room Maya Palace here. Excavation is still in progress. Dinner and overnight at the Cuevas de Candelaria Lodge. (B.L.D.)
Cuevas de Candelaria. Explore the Candelaria Caves. The Maya believe these caves are an entrance to the underworld. Following lunch drive to Sayaxche for a boat ride on the Rio Pasion and across Lake Petexbatun to the Chiminos Island Lodge. Time to explore before dinner and overnight at the Chiminos Island Lodge. (B.L.D.)
Aguateca Mayan Ruins. Perched on a high outcrop on the southern tip of Lake Petexbatun, you will see the temples of Aguateca. The site has a magical atmosphere, encompassed by dense tropical forest and with a superb view of the lake. Following lunch continue to Flores for overnight at the Hotel Peten Esplendido on the shore of Lake Peten Itza. (B.L.)
Waka and the Mayan Queen. After breakfast enjoy the lush scenery along the San Pedro River as your boat approaches Waka Archaeological Site, which was previously called "El Peru". In May of 2004, archaeologists discovered the 1,200 year old tomb and skeleton of a Mayan queen. She appears to have been the leader of a city that was once home to tens of thousands of people. Waka was inhabited as early as 500 BC but reached its peak between 400 and 800 AD. Dinner and overnight at the Guacamaya Research Center.
La Joyanca. Morning scenic boat ride followed by a jungle hike to the archaeological site of La Joyanca. This Mayan city was brought to the attention of the public by French archaeologists in 2002. Return to Flores this afternoon for overnight at the hotel Peten Esplendido on the shore of Lake Peten Itza. Tonight dinner is on your own. You might enjoy walking into the island village of Flores to try one of the attractive waterfront restaurants. (B.L.)
Holmul and Yaxha. Visit the partially excavated site of Holmul. Continue to Yaxha with its towering pyramids and large concentration of buildings in its central plaza. German archaeologists are currently at work here. Afternoon return to Flores Airport for flight to Guatemala City. Farewell dinner and overnight at the Hotel Biltmore Express. (B.L.D.)
DepartureBreakfast and transfer to airport. (B.)
INCLUDED: A bilingual expert guide, all land and boat transportation, flight from Flores to Guatemala City, entrance fees, eight nights accommodations, and meals as per the itinerary. The PRICE: Standard Double $1,945; Standard Single $2240 PRICE WITH FOUR PARTICIPANTS: Double $1,597. Single occupancy: $1,844.
For more archaeological adventure travel options, see my page on digs and tours for 2005.
Sterkfontein, Swartkrans, Kromdraai -- for students and others versed in the historic drama of the discovery of human origins, these famous South African sites played a salient role in the ongoing efforts to piece together the puzzle of mankind's beginnings. Now, you can have the opportunity to visit these sites and play a part in the continuing research. A month-long field school in paleoarchaeological excavation and research is being sponsored this summer by the University of Witwatersrand from mid-July to mid-August. Directly from their website, here is the itinerary:
Kibish, Ethiopia, 1967 -- The fossilized bones of two early homo sapiens (anatomically modern humans) were discovered by scientists within a rock formation and dated to 130,000 years B.P. This placed the emergence of modern humans earlier than ever before. A new study of the same site, however, now places the date of those bones to approximately 195,000 years, pushing back the dawn of this emergence more than 65,000 years. What makes this determination all the more interesting is that it neatly matches the date suggested by genetic studies.
One need not go only to Italy or locations near the Mediterranean to dig into what remains of the ancient Roman Empire. The United Kingdom boasts a rich heritage that reaches back through the time of Roman settlement and long before. Things like Hadrian's Wall and Roman fortress outposts come to mind. Equally as fascinating are the architectural remains and artifacts of medieval history, a time period that few other countries can match, archaeologically speaking.
You will not find the name of the great ancient city of Rehov mentioned much, if at all, in the pages of the Old Testament. Yet, among the great cities of its time in ancient Canaan, it was well known. Egyptian texts list it among the other prominent cities of Canaan, and the evidence of greatness -- monumental architecture and the shear magnitude of its spatial layout -- testify that it must have been a place of great significance.
Whether you are a professional or an avocational archaeologist, or simply someone who is exploring the field and its opportunities as a new interest, chances are there is an organized group of enthusiasts in your area (particularly if you live near a large city) that can facilitate your interest and provide opportunities for participation. In America, the Society for American Archaeology (SAA) has an organized affiliate system of groups that meet this purpose. Here is a listing of local societies affiliated with the SAA. If you are interested, locate the group that is closest to you and contact them for more information:
For a comprehensive listing of dig and tour opportunities for 2005, click here.
An ancient Roman wooden coffin dated to AD 120 was recently stumbled upon during construction work in London. The archaeologists who later investigated the find were amazed that it had survived intact, centuries after other wooden coffins had disintegrated with only the telltale nails left behind as evidence. The wood survived because it was kept in wet conditions without oxygen, and the weight of the skeleton left an impression of the ribs, spine and knee-joints. The coffin dates from a time when Roman London was quite prosperous.
If you have taken an educational tour of a native American archaeological site in the American Southwest, your tour guide was most likely a National Park Ranger or a trained, Anglo-American professional archaeologist. Nothing wrong with that, of course. But you were missing something.......The unique cultural/historical perspective of a Native American. I say this because the way they view their history and the material ruins of their past can be quite different than the canned, albeit very "scientific" view you get from the conventionally educated tour guide.
A new translation of a 16th-century Spanish document may reinforce a hypothesis that the ill-fated Lost Colonists settled more toward the middle of Roanoke Island near Shallowbag Bay, rather than the north end of the island, where archaeologists have been searching for more than a century.
Excavations being conducted at a site near the Savannah River in South Carolina may debunk the conventional theories long held by scholars that humans (modern homo sapiens) began inhabiting the North American continent approximately 12,000 years ago. The most popular theory suggests that humans began arriving via the Bering Land Bridge around 12,000 years ago after the closing of the Ice Age exposed negotiable land for their trek from points east in Asia. The findings, if confirmed and accepted by the scholarly community, suggest that America was inhabited by humans about 34,000 years earlier than the 12,000 year benchmark date. Albert Goodyear of the University of South Carolina has been directing excavations there since 1998, but recent laboratory results from radiocarbon dating of organic materials found in association with flint blade and tool chip artifacts unearthed at the site indicate that the artifacts are close to 50,000 years old. Moreover, he maintains that the tools resemble those found in Asia at about the same time period. "Man is a traveler, an explorer," he says. "In retrospect, it's almost absurd to insist that people could never get into North America before the last Ice Age."
An excellent book on the topic at Amazon.com: The First Americans: In Pursuit of Archaeology's Greatest Mystery . Once I started reading, I couldn't stop!
You are into archaeology but you don't particularly want to get your hands dirty with digging or you have an injury or physical condition that precludes you from the kind of activity involved in excavation work. Or, you would like to take your spouse on an archaeological adventure but he/she is not much interested in digging or the other activities associated with a dig. You have the vacation time, expense is not a huge obstacle, and you want an educational and cultural experience to enrich your mind and life. Does this describe you?
Tiberias, Israel -- Like a great jewel, the modern city of Tiberias rises on the slopes hugging the shore of the Sea of Galilee. It is, among other things, a popular resort destination in Israel. But not far from its shops and hotels lies another Tiberias......an ancient one. In about 20 C.E., Herod Antipas saw this location as a seat of power and established Tiberias as a governing center and a city of prominence. In addition to its association with a region where Jesus walked, taught and performed his many miracles, it became a center of Jewish political and spiritual leadership during the period of Roman Palestine and the Diaspora. Here, the Palestinian Talmud was compiled and edited. In the Byzantine period, it drew thousands of Christian pilgrims and during the time following the Arab conquest it served as the capital of northern Palestine. Needless to say, its ancient political, spiritual, and attendant economic significance endows the location with archaeological treasures yet to be unearthed. Add to this the fact that the ancient site has been relatively unaffected by later construction, and you have a site that promises incredible potential for new archaeological discoveries.
Bethsaida, Israel -- At an elevated location not far from the north shore of the Sea of Galilee lies what remains of a place identified with some of the miracles of Jesus (healing of a blind man, walking on water, and feeding of the multitudes). Birthplace of three of the Apostles (Andrew, Peter and Philip), this site is now yielding the remains of Bethsaida (Hebrew for "House of the Fisherman"), the famous town mentioned so often in the Gospels and, along with Capernaum, associated with the ministry of Jesus. What makes the ancient town doubly exciting, however, is what lies yet deeper beneath it. In 1996, while going about business as usual during the 1996 excavation season, Dr. Rami Arav of the University of Nebraska, Omaha, began to peal away layers that covered an Iron Age city gate complex rivaling the great city gate complexes found at other great ancient sites such as Megiddo and Hazor. The complex proved to be part of a large Iron Age city that is now identified by scholars as very likely the capital of the kingdom of Geshur, which figured prominently in events associated with ancient Israel's King David.
France is rich in archaeological treasures and sites. Go here to see a long listing of very interesting sites, some of which may have ongoing excavations open to volunteers and students.
As Duma, Ethiopia -- Scientists here have found the fossil remains of nine hominids dated to between 4.5 and 4.3 million years ago. Mostly teeth and jaw fragments, the finds also include a pedal phalanx (foot bone), the examination of which confirms that this species of early hominid, called Ardipithecus ramidus, walked upright. Scientists suggest that this species may be the forerunner to the Australopithecus group, a type of early hominid that was ancestral to later humans, such as Homo Erectus and Neanderthal Man.
A book due to be published later this month makes the argument that, despite the popular theory that archaic homo sapiens and other hominids were primarily hunters in prehistoric times, they were more often hunted than hunting. The author suggests that this state of affairs and the necessity of coping with it for survival actually underpinned the evolution of cooperative behavior and other types of social behavior that laid the foundations for the sustenance of our species and the development of civilization.
Dr. William Kelso of the University of Virginia, in conjunction with the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities (APVA) has recently excavated the remains of a 17th century sea captain, believed to be Captain Gosnold, a "founding father" of the Jamestown colony, the first permanent English settlement of colonial America. To verify the claim, scientists are attempting to acquire DNA bone samples from Gosnold's sister and niece, whose remains are buried in the UK. The project is funded by the National Geographic Society and, if they are successful, the effort and results will be shown in a documentary slated for November.
University of Pennsylvania Museum archaeologists at the ancient site of Tiwanaku in Bolivia are beginning a large-scale, subsurface surveying project using equipment and techniques that may become a forerunner for methodologies used in future archaeological efforts worldwide. The three-year project, called "Computing and Retrieving 3D Archaeological Structures from Subsurface Surveying", seeks to collect detailed, three-dimensional data of archaeological remains from about 60 subterranean acres of Tiwanaku, the spectacular remains of the ancient pre-Inca civilization located in Bolivia--without the use of the traditional tools used for digging. The University of Pennsylvania article says it best: