In every culture, every society, there are things that go without being said. We don’t even realize those things exist, not really, because we don’t talk about them, we don’t even know we’re doing them, in our native culture. Yet, when we enter a new culture, a great part of what’s called “culture shock” is trying to navigate in a place where you know you don’t know the things that go without being said….and the things you expect without realizing you expect it, just aren’t there.
Today, as I was walking to the grocery store with one of the students, we both wondered out loud if we should, or could, tip the person who has been taking care of all the laundry, all the meals, all the arrangements, all the everything that has to do with the basics of living. We found out it is a grave insult, here, to tip. It is considered demeaning. Whoa, right? In the U.S., it would have been considered stingy, rude, and ungrateful to not tip. Culture shock. The things that go without being said.
The little microcosm of archaeology has some things that go without being said, too. Things like knowing how to use an Israeli hoe, how to use a pickax, when to use a soft brush and when to use a hard one. Tip 1: get the hard brush with bristles that narrow to a thin line on each edge. You’ll thank me later.
Knowing what kind of gloves to wear (pay the ten dollars, and get form-fitting ones), what kind of pants (REI fancy, lightweight hiking pants) and boots (over the ankle so scorpions and snakes get no purchase), shirts (short-sleeved is better) and hats (light, floppy, wide-brimmed).
Knowing to bring work goggles to protect from flying dirt and other bits. Knowing to bring a water bottle and really take breaks to hydrate, even though you don’t think you’re thirsty. Wearing a face mask if you asthma. In fact, the list is long. Every day I’ve been making mental notes to myself of how I will pack differently for the next dig.
Tip 2: Hard-boiled egg with salt, 2 anti-inflammatories, and 12 ounces of water with electrolytes for 5am breakfast. Truly. You will thank me
Excavating the past requires a lot of squatting and bending over, and always swinging or scraping something. Some dig directors prefer trowels, others prefer picks. I prefer picks and brushes, hands down. Tip 3: if you’re serious, spend the money and get your own trowel or pick with nice balance, strong steel, and the right size for your hand and arm.
Taking in the whole experience may not seem to make sense at the time, like washing pottery day in and day out, when you do everything you can to avoid washing the dishes when your at home. Like going to dinner with everyone, every evening, rather than cut out to a restaurant or the beach, or hole up in your room with a book. But, it’s that very experience, all of it, which works its way into your mind and spirit, revealing not just the mysteries and material world of the ancient past, but truths about sharing that discovery as a community.
There are all kinds of tasks necessary to do this well, so finding your niche will make the experience deeply satisfying. I’ve discovered I am not going to be the Paul Bunyan of Archaeology. Oh well. But! I can articulate stones like a house on fire, oh yes I can. That’s my niche, and I love it. Some are sifters, others are hewers, some are collectors of tiny things under a microscope, poring over trays of dirt. Some are sweepers, others are sandbag fillers, and so on. It’s a community of workers, discovering the ancient past together, each contributing a vital part of the work.
Huh. Might be a Bible verse in that! “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” 1 Corinthians 12:12-27, NRSV)