The alarm wakes us, now a sound that our bodies somehow anticipate even in slumber. It is still dark outside, though the morning taunts us with light that leaks through the sky’s caliginous gauze. Like clockwork, my roommate and I slip on our hiking boots and fill our water bottles. Half an hour later, we are sitting in a bus that rumbles through the city of Komotini, the coffee shops and bakeries our only comrades in this early hour. We are always a bit dazed in the morning. I start to wake up only when I step off of the bus and onto our site, the sun thrown into the sky like a glowing discus that illuminates the rippling fields of wheat.
Our site is located on the peninsula of Molyvoti, surrounded by the sea and facing the island of Thasos, which we at first mistook for an inexplicably permanent low hanging cloud. When we first arrived, the original squares that were dug the previous year taunted us with corners of foundations and potential rooms. Now, we have expanded them, each strata revealing more information and slinging even greater questions. Clinking hammers and phrases thrown in Greek are the constant chorus.
We work until about one in the afternoon with a break, and then all convene for lunch. We have either lecture or Greek class in the afternoon. In lecture we talk about the site, or have some of our on-field experts talk about their specialties. In Greek we try desperately to capture the unfamiliar guttural sounds and trick our minds into pronouncing “r” when we see “p”.
When we first arrived on site, we stood anxiously awaiting instruction and uncomfortably confused on the edge of what we affectionately refer to as “the trenches.”. Now, in the last week that I look around, I see students confidently taking GPS coordinates with our Total station, looking for the Munsell chart to describe soil changes, and sitting with scale rulers and graph paper making top plans of the site. Pottery shards no longer sit anonymously in heaps on our sorting tables. Students christen them with names like Attic ware—pottery that originates from Athens—and give them identities of amphora toes or handles. Our Greek, though pretty abysmal, has allowed us to give cheerful good mornings to the workers on site and ask how they are. I grew accustomed to the bizarre concoctions of conversations that happen with ingredients of zoo archaeology and archeaobotanity.
Though we had a regimented routine, there was always one everlasting element that differentiated the days—the possibility of discovery. Even throughout the most meticulous and tedious moments, the promise was there. Who would find a coin today? Where was the rest of the wall that stood proudly in the sun before burying itself in the bulk of soil like an animal taking refuge? Who was the 12-year-old boy we found, his life only revealed in an odd synecdoche of his mandible? It seemed every time we answered a question, a myriad of others sprung from its place. I can’t help it but bring to mind the Greek myth of the hydra, the two heads springing from the one removed before it.
In many ways, the myth of the hydra also represents an aspect of archaeology that I hadn’t fully appreciated. It represents how the past and present are not mutually exclusive, in the same way that an ancient myth or a tale can find its way into a contemporary article. It seems that there is not a clash between the old and the new in Greece, but rather a mesh. People live comfortably with ancient columns sprouting beneath them, pottery fragments littering fields, arches like frames bordering empty pictures of what was there. I now realize that archaeology is not just about the history of the site itself, but the history of us as an evolving human culture. It gives cities names, and people identities, brings chapters back into the story of humanity. I now understand the inherent pride that I have found in a lot Greeks. Their temples and amphitheaters are constant reminders that they are linked to a culture, however remotely, that defined the world as we know it. They have both the constant visual mementos of their lineage and the unseen history, waiting to be revealed. I am lucky to have experienced, however briefly, part of both.
~ Charlotte Williams '17
© 2014 Princeton Traveler