14-The Michigan Daily - Friday, April 19, 1996
Students spend summers on ancient sites
Scene: An archaeological dig in the desert. The air, hot
and stale, sticks to those who venture outside like a cheap
suit. The blinding sun deters all of the archaeology students
- except one.
Michigan Jones, the famed archaeology grad student,
throws offfears of heat stroke and dehydration like he threw
off a dozen scorpions-from his sleeping bag last night.
He will not let the working conditions stand in the way of
discovering valuable artifacts. He knows he will have to
wrangle with snakes and probably ward offafew angry ter-
rorists, but in the end, he will triumph over evil to find the
Ark of the Covenant.
If this is what you think of when you hear the words
"archaeology dig," you are not alone. Thanks to movies like
"Indiana Jones" and "Romancing the Stone," the public's
perception of archaeology is a highly dramatic one.
Many students from the University participate in archae-
ology digs each summer, and the locations range from Israel
to Greece to Belize. The actual experiences of these stu-
dents, while they don't involve snakes, are noteworthy.
The University has a reputation for long and careful
archaeological research. The University's Kelsey Museum
sent excavators to the site at Karanis in Egypt from 1924-
1935. In 1990 the museum began a project at Leptiminus in
The classical archaeology faculty also head up projects
each summer, adding to the tradition. Prof. John Pedley is
completing 10 years of research at Paestum in Italy. Prof.
Melanie Grunow, a second-year graduate student in clas-
sical archaeology, worked with Nakassis in Tunisia.
"There are multiple areas of research," Grunow said.
"There's both excavation and doing field survey - field
survey focuses on looking at the rural city of Leptiminus,
and in excavation you're focusing on kilns and evidence
Mika Wullinger, an LSA junior majoring in classics and
classical archaeology, has participated in the Cortona, Italy,
program for the past four years. Participants dug at the site
of an ancient Roman villa, and collected mostly pot shards,
pieces of bone, and metal.
How long participants worked on the site depended on
"(People) usually stay, there for six weeks or more, but you
can stay there for as little as three (weeks)," she said. "It's a
dig school, so basically you can sign up for credit or do volun-
Nakassis said that because so many artifacts were removed
from their country of origin in earlier excavations, foreign gov-
ernments passed legislation requiring archaeologists to leave
recovered artifacts in the country in which they are found.
"There's certain items that are featured - fine wares -
and those get special numbers and ... go to the museum in
Lapda," he said. "None of it leaves Tunisia."
Grunow and Nakassis said they needed to be on the site
by 7 a.m. each day, where they worked until I1 a.m., when
they took an hour break for lunch. The work day ended at
3:30 p.m., when many of the participants would take naps.
"I got a reputation for always taking naps," Nakassis said.
PHOTO COURTESY OF SUSAN ALCOCK
Classical archaeology graduate student Helen Dizikes works with artifacts during field work in Greece last summer.
John Cherry also works in Europe. He
has worked with the Nemea Valley
Archaeological Project in Greece, and
also teamed up with his wife, Prof.
Susan Alcock, to work on the Pylos
Regional Project in Greece.
Other professors go to more arid
regions to work. Prof. Sharon Herbert
has worked at Tel Anafa in Israel.
Herbert has also worked with Prof.
Henry Wright at Koptos in Egypt.
We had running
water but we
anywhere to wash
"It's hard work."
Wullinger's group also had to be
onsite by 7 a.m., but they only
worked until I or 2 p.m. "You have
to break, because it's so hot. You lis-
ten to lectures given by professors,
or you might wash and classify pot-
Although the common image of
archaeologists might be of dirty,
sweaty people living in tents, Nakassis
said his living arrangements were far
from that. "We rented two houses
adjacent to each other. It was really,
really nice. Each one had four bed-
spacious, but for the program's 30
Dimitri Nakassis, an LSA junior
majoring in archaeology, worked last
summer at Leptiminus, a dig site in
Tunisia. "There are three aspects to a dig," Nakassis said.
"There's site excavation, which tells you a lot about one
very specific location, like a grave.
"There's a surface survey, which is when you set up par-
allel lines at 10-meter intervals, and people pick up any-
thing they see on the ground. Based on the density of their
finds, you can get an idea of not just what the area was like,
but also of the surrounding area. Then there's potshed,
which is analysis of finds coming in."
Nakassis worked primarily in excavation. "There were
two sites we dug - one was a house. ... We looked for
things like tile floors, ruins. The other site was a kiln site
- a kiln for baking pottery. We were digging up more pot-
tery than dirt. Everything got put in bags and labeled and
taken to the house (the central working site) and then it all
M ik a Wullinger
This may sound
participants, the rooms were a little small. "Everybody
had their clothes, and that's it," Nakassis said. "We had
thin mattresses with sleeping bags on top. We also had
two showers for 30 people - I showered every other
Wullinger's housing arrangements were very different
from Nakassis' and Grunow's. "We lived in a school -
they allow us every year to use their facilities. Each of the
classrooms have bunks in them.
"We had running water but we didn't have anywhere to
wash our clothes. We had to buy soap and a little clothes
brush and wash them in the sun. You get the brush, take the
clothes, push them down in the water and raise them back
again. You'd think it would be a problem, but it was actu-
ally quite fun," Wullinger said.
Nakassis said the actual program did not cost that much, but
the total cost, including airfare, totaled about $2,000. "The
tuition was about $400 Canadian for six credits. If I'm not mis-
taken, (the money) was mostly for room and board."
Wullinger said that although she enjoyed the program,
she would not participate again. "I can't afford it. The
biggest expense is plane fare, money for your food. If you
volunteer, the tuition is waived and your living expenses
are paid for."
The plane fare normally costs between $800 and $1.000.
Wullinger said. "Then there's living costs, which could be
$500 for a Spartan existence, or it could cost up to SI,000."
The program's participants ate well, Nakassis said. "We
had local Tunisian cooks cooking for us. Some people didn't
like couscous or spicy food, so that was a problem for them."
Grunow agreed. "The food was quite plentiful and quite
good, although by the end of the season it had gotten quite
The hot climate and grueling work conditions make it
necessary for participants to meet certain physical and
health standards. "We had a lot of w ater fights to cool ofl
because it was so hot," Grunow said. "It was ov er 100
degrees in the shade, and very dry.
"You generally needed to be in good shape, basically
because there's a lot of digging involved," she added.
"There's a lot of walking and hiking, and fairly a lot of
manual dexterity involved in digging. ... It's about the
same as being involved in construction in the United
States, with a little more finesse - well, a lot more
Nakassis said that although he has "a lot of great storie*
about Tunisia, one of his favorites is about a Tunisian work-
man at the dig site. "There's this one guy we called 'The
Guardian,' and when we went to lunch, we'd leave all of
our tools at the site. Ile would watch them for us. fie must
have been 60 or 70 years old. lie was crazy, he was nuts -
he knew very little French, which is odd because almost
everybody speaks French.
-He would grab my hand and look into my eyes and speak
to me in Arabic. He knew full well that I didn't speak Arabic.
I had no idea what he was saying. so I would just nod my
head and say, OK. that's great, uh huh.' and walk away.
"Ile made this tea on the site - he would make it in W
Shot glass. If you refused this tea, he'd get really upset.
Apparently. he was impressed with people who would ask
for more, because (the tea) gave him headaches."
Wullinger said the most noteworthy aspect of her trip was
not the work she was doing, but with the students she
worked with, who came from the University of Manitoba,
the school that sponsored the dig. "(The strangest thing
was) my friends and 1, being American in the midst of a
Canadian group. I've never been a minority, and as much
as we think that Canadians are very similar, they're not..
They're very different."
Wullinger says her biggest regret is not staying for the
full six weeks the first time she went on the program. "I
thought that six weeks would be too long," she said. "But
you need to be there for the whole experience."
on some proj ects
With political tensions mounting in Israel and Lebanon,
many of those participating in archaeological projects there
and elsewhere in the Mediterranean face the possibility of
encountering hostile situations.
Classical archaeology Prof. Sharon Herbert has worked at
Quiryat Shemona, Israel, a town near the Lebanese border.
She said hostile situations are always a consideration.
She said she and her students have had to endure bomb-
ings near the border. "They're very disruptive, but fairly
small things. It's not a major danger unless you get hit by
one," she said.
Herbert said they had to sleep in bomb shelters during
the summer of 1981 because of the frequent attacks, which
occurred primarily at night. "We'd stay in the shelter until.
5 a.m. and then get up and go to work," she said.
Herbert said she will return to her site near the border,
despite current tensions in the region. "Things are very
much better than they were in the '70s. There's been a lot
of progress," she said. "I hope it's going to continue,
because I have a lot of people I like on both sides of the
Classical archaeology Prof. John Pedley said he has experi-
enced some less-than-pleasant situations because of hostile
political conditions in the host countries.
"We were in Apollonia (in Libya) the day war broke out
between Egypt and Israel in 1967. It was a pretty hair-raising
experience," Pedley said.
He said the students on his team continued work as usual until
they had to evacuate, even though the actual duration of the war
was very short.
Pedley said he and the students were transported to British
barracks in Benghazi and flew out the next day. He said they
had to work their way through an airport full of Algerian
Profs dig their work
Each summer University professors pack
their bags and head to Europe, Asia and
Africa to resume the archaeological projects
they left behind in the fall.
The professors all express a great love for
the excavations and field surveys they lead.
They also recognize field work as a great
complement to their teaching.
"I enjoy firing on all cylinders. I like
teaching and writing in areas not dealing with
the generation of new material," said classi-
cal archaeology Prof. Susan Alcock. "I also
love field work. But it's only part of what we
"(The work) gives us the opportunity to put
graduate students into situations where they
will reach firsthand the retrieval of data as
well as the interpretation of that data," said
classical archaeology Prof. John Pedley.
"I love the excitement of the chase," Pedley
said. "(I love) trying to formulate and solve
intellectual problems, disentangling the
Roman remains from the Greek."
"I love working with all aspects of research:
architecture, sculpture. inscriptions and pot-
tery, and interpreting it in a larger context,"
"The coffee's pretty good too," he said.
Although they love their work, professors
of classical archaeology admit field work has
Alcock says many archaeologists feel a
great sense of urgency to get sites excavated.
"There is an incredible rate of destruction
of the archaeological record in the
Mediterranean," she said. "If you don't get to
something it could be bulldozed or built over
by the time you get back."
The professors must obtain a permit to
home with them. No materials can b
removed from the site, unless the local gov-
ernment gives permission for specific samples
for testing such as carbon-14 dating.
Alcock says it can be very difficult just to
pick up one's life and transport it overseas for
"It's hell on the dog," she said.
Alcock says she is lucky, since she and her
husband, Prof. John Cherry, can worko
projects together. "Archaeologists tendt'
marry other archaeologists. But for those
who don't, the summers are difficult," she
Pedley says the two biggest problems on
archaeological sites are obtaining funding and
keeping people healthy. Pedley says the
health problems are a constant worry,
although they are not serious.
"When you take American students and put
them in a different culture, unless they are
very careful about what they eat and drin
they tend to get sick," he said.
"It can make individuals pretty uncomfort-
able for three or four days."
He said the health concerns pertain mostly
to hotter countries like Turkey, Libya and
Tunisia. "In Italy, the food was so good that
nobody got sick," he said.
Alcock says fund raising is always a major
concern. "We're desparately raising money
wherever we can," she said. "The Nation
Endowment for the Humanities' money
becoming harder and harder to get, and the
University has travel money for professors
and graduate students, but not for undergrad-
The professors say there are moments of
great success that dim all the problems.