All good things must come to an end. In archeology this is expressed when the digging stops and the backfilling begins. As dirt falls from the buckets and shovels days, months, even years worth of meticulous digging can be wiped away in a matter of minutes. So, I suppose it was fitting that the last day of my archeological work was spent backfilling.
This trench was nothing special. In fact it may have been the most uneventful trench of the entire trip. In the five days that the team excavated the two by two by one and half meter trench they discovered three context layers and zero artifacts; that is equivalent to reading a two-thousand page book without a plot or ending. By the time we backfilled it the crew was more than delighted to put the trench behind us.
Backfilling couldn’t have been easier. The amount of dirt was minimal, and the pile was as close as it could have been without gravity pushing the sediment over the edge. Besides the blazing sun and dust particles clogging my nostrils the experience was rather enjoyable. It was easy to savor work that had such obvious results – the shovel went in, removed the pile, carried dirt to the hole, and filled the hole. It was brilliant.
As our pile decreased and the hole disappeared there was little discussion. Some of us were distracted by a toad attempting to escape the pit; it must have hitched a ride with the dirt on one our shovels. My time in the Philippines was coming to an end, so I was lost in thoughts about the trip. I thought about the new friends that I had made, the amazing adventures I had experienced, and the beautiful places that I had witnessed for the first, and hopefully not the last, time.
Before I knew it, we were done. Our pile was gone and the trench was no more. I assumed that putting all of the sediment back would have appeared level, but as I took in the results of our labor I realized that there was dirt overfilling the trench. What a beautiful sight. My thoughts went to the sacrifices that were made to take the trip – job loss, time away from those I loved, the anxiety of leaving familiarity.
The cup that was empty when I arrived was now overflowing. Every sacrifice was worth only a small fraction of the life that came from my time during the previous six weeks. The stories, experience, and learning that I hoped to extract were more vibrant than I could have ever hoped for.
As I soaked up the image of the small mound that now existed where the trench once was, a member of our crew tied two large pieces of bamboo together to make a cross. I’m not sure if it was a joke, but he planted it firmly in the center of our mound. If that isn’t closure than I don’t know what is.