Recipe for Surviving an Archaeological Excavation

In the July/August 2013 issue of BAR, Tel Kabri excavation directors Eric Cline and Assaf Yasur-Landau describe the unique Aegean-style art at the Middle Bronze Age site in Israel. BAS web editor Noah Wiener is currently taking part in the excavation at Tel Kabri. In the Tel Kabri 2013 blog series, learn about life on an archaeology dig as the team publishes directly from the field. In her Middle East Marvels and Musings blog, Kabri excavator Marielle Velander shares her recipe for surviving an archaeological excavation. We’ve shared her whimsical tips below.


Marielle Velander survives the dig with a smile and hydration.

I’m already halfway through my three weeks as an archaeologist at Tel Kabri, a Middle Bronze Age palace in northwestern Israel. I’ve learned a lot already about what is necessary to get through hard physical labor while maintaining a passion for finding broken pottery sherds. In this post I will lay down four key ingredients for surviving an archaeological excavation:

1. Smile – It is important to have a sense of humor on the dig, because it makes it so much more enjoyable to get up at 4:00 a.m., or at that horrible period when you are returning to the excavation site after breakfast and your body feels especially slow after swinging pickaxes and carrying buckets of dirt all morning. Laughing with your companions easily replaces complaints and makes the day pass by faster and more pleasantly.

2. Hydrate – It is hot, and already before the sun comes up you will break a sweat. I go through 2 liters of water by breakfast at 8:30. Unfortunately ants nearby also like to hydrate, so I’ve had to hang my water bottle on a tree twig to avoid them crawling into my precious water supply. Thank god we are excavating in an avocado grove!

D-West excavation members.

3. Teamwork – You are working closely with a relatively small number of people for an intense three weeks in which all of you will be pushed to your physical limits in extreme heat – and yet I have had some of the most fun in my life! There is such camaraderie among us, and we cheer on each other as we defeat the earthly cover of time and uncover the Bronze Age palace we are excavating. For the people I work with alone, I wake up at 4:00 a.m. with a smile on my face.

4. Perseverance – Excavating is physically exhausting, and if you add on a 30-minute workshop at 12:30, pottery-washing at 16:00, an hour-long lecture at 17:30, and another lecture at 20:00, both your body and mind are ready to crash by 22:00 maximum. However, with everything mentioned above, and by keeping your focus on your goal, to find out more about the unwritten past, you can get through it and even have an amazing time doing it.

The excavation staff lines up in a bucket line–a fast-paced way to move dozens of buckets of dirt per minute.

I didn’t really know what to expect from this excavation. However, I have had an unforgettable time with incredible people who inspire me. Perhaps I may not enter into the field of archaeology in the future (though it is too soon to say) but I feel that after this experience, I very likely want to participate in an archaeological excavation again, because there is nothing else like it.

It is ultimately extremely satisfying, combining physical energy I didn’t know I was capable of and solidarity with an inspirational group of people, who all seek to pursue new knowledge about our mysterious past. I recommend anyone who is thinking of joining an archaeological excavation to do it as soon as they get the chance! Laila tov for now! I need to wake up in 6 hours!

Over the next few weeks, visit the Tel Kabri page for frequent updates on the dig, including a day in the life in the field, videos on archaeological technique, guest blogs by student volunteers, reports on visits to ancient sites in Israel and the latest discoveries—right as they come out of the ground.

Click here to read more about Tel Kabri in Bible History Daily.

BAS Library Members: Read Eric H. Cline and Assaf Yasur-Landau, Aegeans in Israel: Minoan Frescoes at Tel Kabri as it appears in the July/August 2013 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, as well as “Your Career is in Ruins” by Eric H. Cline and Assaf Yasur-Landau as it appeared in the January/February 2006 issue of BAR.

Not a BAS Library member yet? Join the BAS Library today.

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  • John says

    I like that you said that you will be pushed to your limits. If I was going to do a project I would want to know what was expected of me in the end. It might be a good idea to speak with the people you will be working with if you are concerned about something.

  • George says


    Loved your article! 🙂

    Just wanted to send your way some info on a medieval dig going in France in Summer of 2014. You can read more on it here:

    George Hruby
    Leymonie Archaeological Project

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