Pursuit of the unknown and the thrill of discovery have always been driving forces behind archaeological fieldwork. Those forces, along with early mornings, back-breaking labor, and dirt permeating everything you own are the hallmarks of “dig life.” Since the 1920’s and 1930’s when William F. Badè conducted his excavation at Tell en-Nasbeh, many things about dig life have changed a great deal. For example, some excavations are now virtually paperless. Their teams take computers on site and enter information into databases in real time. In other instances ground-penetrating radar is used to image what is underneath the surface before excavation even begins. This allows archaeologists to be more accurate and targeted in where and how they choose to dig. Thanks to digital cameras, endless images can be shot and saved, allowing archaeologists to better reconstruct and understand information from an excavated site after fieldwork has concluded.
Some things about dig life, however, have not changed much. Tools today may be more sophisticated, but the daily responsibilities of an archaeologist in the field remain the same. Each layer of earth must be carefully removed so as not to miss any information that can be gained by the context, or provenance, of any artifacts uncovered. All of the data must be meticulously recorded, organized, analyzed, and published. Artifacts must still be reconstructed and conserved. The fundamental principle that archaeology is a destructive process has not changed; once a site has been excavated, it is essentially “destroyed” and cannot be excavated again. The hard work of those early mornings and dirty, back-breaking labor still make up the majority of dig life. And, at its heart, the pursuit of the unknown and thrill of discovery remain the inspirations driving archaeologists to return to that life season after season.
This exhibit showcases photographs and tools from dig life on W. F. Badè’s excavation of Tell en-Nasbeh. These are paired with images from excavations in which our Museum staff has participated over the past several seasons. This contrast illustrates the fact that while these pictures were taken nearly ninety years apart, the activities and processes shown remain similar; it is mainly the tools and technology that have changed.