Thursday, June 3, 2010

The First of Many (hopefully)

photo credit: Ian Ostericher

It has been exactly a month since I had left the Philippines, saying one last goodbye in the Manila airport to a place I will now always remember. It seems like just the other day when the whole team would just hang out after a hard day's work, drink beer and play games like charades, poke fun and get on each other's nerves. As people are starting to slowly put up their Palawan pictures online, I can't help but to feel a little nostalgic as I flip through them. I didn't just grow to love archaeology, but I fell in love with the land of Palawan, the people, the culture, and the group of strangers that had become my family for the past month and a half.

I remember being nervous a few days before leaving for the Philippines. Nervous about living with a group of people I had just met, adjusting to a completely different lifestyle, actually doing archaeology every day, and just not knowing what to expect from a field school. However, by the time I landed in Manila and stepped out of the airport, I was so excited that I felt like I could just take on the world of archaeology; I was ready to dig, trowel in hand, eager to take on directions and find artifacts. Although we didn't get into digging right away, once we did, it was just an eye-opening experience all together. From using surveying techniques such as the total station, and seeing how one could build a model of how the land used to look like centuries ago just by mapping out points and taking elevations was incredible to me. Even the digging techniques that Helen Lewis took the time to show us was a memorable experience because before that, I thought archaeologists just dug until they came upon something, using no special technique, just piercing the ground with a trowel. I learned that every detail was important, even the type of sediment we were digging in, making sure we recorded all the different contexts, describing the soil by the color, texture, and hue. I learned what a cut was compared to a fill, and how we can either dig in spits or just follow the natural contours of the land. Even making the trenches turned out to be a lot more technical than just measuring out a square and putting boundaries on it to start digging. Each trench had to be facing North, and by using basic pre-calc math, we had to make sure we were precise in making a close-to-perfect square before even thinking about lifting our trowels. The labor was hard at times, but the artifacts that we found were definitely worth any and all of the physical strains. One of the most memorable experiences for me personally was when Reed found a full adult skeleton and I was able to help excavate it out in trench one at the Sibaltan Elementary School site. Although I learned a lot about the art of archaeology including the digging, sieving, sketching, note-taking, surveying, etc, I think I would have to agree with Greg and say that it was really impressive how much the community was involved with our excavations. It was encouraging to see how interested the people were and even by just showing up at our trench rounds, it made me feel like I was doing something, even if it was a small thing, to help the community be aware and learn more about their history.

Apart from doing archaeology, learning new techniques and information, and exploring the land of Palawan, I would have to say that the people I met made the whole experience. Each person played a role and made a contribution in the small community that we built. If it wasn't for the people, I don't think I would have had the same wonderful experience that I had at this field school. I would definitely recommend going on a field school if this is something that anyone is interested in trying out. There are some things that you can only learn by putting yourself out there and being open-minded. I also hope that there will be other excavations and opportunities for me in the near future because I haven't had my fill quite yet :)

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