Jo: Appreciation for Education and Privilege

It seems like only yesterday when I rolled my blue suitcase into the convent, wondering what the next four weeks would bring me. Now, back in the United States, I have the priceless opportunity to reflect on my experiences and learned lessons. Below are four of the countless lessons I learned during my four weeks as a part of the “Dig Umbria” excavation team. Please, again, feel free to email me at jjo1@exeter.edu for further discussion or questions.

  1. A patient process is of greater importance than a rushed solution.

The first interaction I had with Professor Glen, my trench vice, was a question I asked: “What did the Romans use this location [our site] for?” This was a question that I would soon realize, was the entire reason for the excavation. Yes, it was important to find the enamoring green fresco and the gleaming glass tesserae, but above all, the questions were the main goals, mainly the one I asked Professor Glen.

Now although these questions were left unanswered, there was no rush to attach an answer to the unknown. In our lives, we have been indoctrinated with the idea that everything unknown must be found immediately, that we must find that solution at once. This mindset, I have realized, is often a mistake, since it allows us to neglect the process through which the answer is achieved.

In archaeology, the main question is often “What was the site?” However, the things that lead up to the answer—”Why is there a well in trench A?” “Where does the drainage channel in C Central lead us?” “What was the vault in trench C South used to store?” —are often the best ways to learn and most importantly, enjoy archaeology.

  1. Something unsaved is something lost.

As we dug, we also emptied out buckets full of dirt and hurled them into the dirt pile.

There was one day, I believe in the third week, when Will, the capo of trench A, looked at the surface of the dirt pile and noticed several pieces of pottery lying there. Even though he discovered those pieces, he was unable to keep them and was forced to discard them, since there was no hope of its documentation anyways. Which locus did it come from? On what day? With what other pieces? These were all questions that could have been answered if the excavators were more careful with sorting through the buckets before discarding the dirt inside.

In this case, Will was lucky enough to see the pottery pieces and offer a piece of advice on prudency. However, in most cases, the lost artifacts are left and no one knows about its disappearance. An archaeologist needs to be discreet, even when using larger tools like the pickaxe or shovel.

  1. Everything is more fun with company.

One of my non-archaeological goals of this trip (besides keeping the blog) was to meet and talk to as many people as I could. The dig was a rare experience for me to interact with such a bright, diverse, and interesting group of people, ranging from chemistry majors to classics majors to human resources majors. Each person had a different story to tell, and as Professor Glen said one night, you can learn from everybody.

I truly did learn from everybody. Whether in the trench or up in the city of Orvieto, I engaged in conversation with just about everybody on the dig team, hoping to create lasting friendships, rather than treat the excavation team as just a group that I would only see for four weeks.

I am sure that if I had neglected the social aspect of the excavation, I would not have had nearly as much fun as gained nearly as much knowledge. During that Saturday when I walked to the city with Kate or the one night when Professor Glen (a philosophy professor) and I talked about appreciation of privilege, I took advantage of all the interesting personalities and experiences that existed in the team and I am so grateful that I headed into the four weeks with that mindset.

  1. Always give thanks, no matter how tired you are.

There were some afternoons when I came back to the convent, with specks of dirt outlining my ears and eyes, and legs sorer than after basketball practice, and I complained. I complained about how tired I was and how much aching pained my body. In those moments, I had essentially forgotten where I was, and where others were. In those moments, it was often difficult to notice how privileged I was to be at an excavation in Italy. In those moments, I wish I could go back and tell myself to value the experiences of being tired, of being sore.

Fortunately, these moments were brief, and thanks to the blog entries, I was constantly—daily to be more precise—reminded of how fortunate I was to dig with “Dig Umbria.” The time to reflect by typing out my entry offered me perspective, and I thank the blog immensely for that.

On the last night, when I was writing in my final blog post, I mentioned how thankful and to whom I was thankful for this opportunity. As now I am back in the United States and gained further time to reflect, I will reiterate my gratitude.

Thank you to all of the Phillips Exeter classics instructors, who have driven me to pursue my passion for classics and now, archaeology. Thank you to the professors on the dig, who guided me during my nascent stages of archaeological knowledge—Professor George, Professor Rulman, Professor Glen, and others. Thank you to Bliss, who has continuously been by my side whenever and wherever. Thank you to the college peers who taught me the in’s and out’s of the excavation including dinner cleanup and bathroom cleanup. Thank you to the capos, and my capo, Kristin, who constantly taught me and answered my endless barrage of questions. Thank you to you, the readers, who have inspired me to continue reflecting—and appreciating what privilege and opportunity I have had, and have.

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