Excavating can be arduous and unexciting. Brushing away little flakes of sand and watching their replacements come tumbling down from the walls around the fossil you wish to carefully uncover. Alternating brush and trowel, picking away at empty dirt. There is something zen and almost spiritual about it, but maybe that feeling comes from the dehydration and sunburn tramp stamp. But every few minutes, when I got up to sieve the dirt from my level, grab a trowel, or pass someone a dental pick, I always got to look out on an amazing view, and that made all the difference. The above picture is from my most recent fieldwork in Greece, summer 2014. Why are there no blue domed white houses or classical ruins you ask? We were in the north of Greece just east of it’s second largest city, Thessaloniki, in an area called the Mygdonia Basin.
Our site was magical. The hour drive in the morning from the hotel took us through streams of golden wheat and rapids of hilly forest. We excavated along a shallow-sloped hill side, leaning against it as we dug burrows around the bones near the surface. Our job was the stare down onto dirt and bones, but every time we got up, took a water break, or ate lunch, we got look out to these emerald hills all around us.
This is not to detract from the fun turned obsession that is the physical act of excavating. Like the stress and excitement of 2048, you start off with small exposed pieces of bones, maybe one end sticking out of the wall. As you remove more of the surrounding dirt you expose a ever growing bone. By the time you’re so close any last move to pull it out of the ground every move can be a game-changer for success or failure.
Each filled and labeled collection bag by your side was a job well done. The more bones you get out of the ground, the better your got at it. You learn how the sediment crumbles with each of your dental tools, the feeling of hitting bones buried below, and the right amount of force to pop an elusive fossil from it’s 1.5 million year old home. It was truly addicting. 6am alarms weren’t cursed at and the morning drive through forests and fields was full of energy and excitement. Even after a long day we’d go through the spoils of our efforts cleaning bones and gluing together broken pieces.
It can be difficult sometimes for me to realize how cool my job is when I do it every day. I spend almost every day this semester at the AMNH collecting data in the mammals collection. Day after day I am hunched over a box of bones taking measurements and notes. Unfortunately, when I get up, I see white cabinets and taxidermied specimens staring over me. I find this creepy and dreary, though today, a woman walked past me as she took a tour into the collections, fascinated by the imaginations of what was resting in the cabinets. But luckily I am afforded the chance to change my view every once in a while. I get sent to Greece or Kenya to sit in a meter by meter square hunched over a layer of bones carefully exposing them.
So this backdrop, the amazing scenery around us, is really a view from the office. And there is nothing better than doing an awesome job in an awesome place.
All photographs (C) Kristen Ramirez