In 2007 after returning from the Cook Islands I had about 5 days before I took off on my next adventure. I was headed to Europe to work on an archaeological dig at Scladina cave in Belgium.
I travelled first to London and gave myself a two day stop over to wander around and be a tourist and see some theatre.
Then I flew to Brussels airport. I navigated the train from Brussels to Sclyan the sleepy town where the site is located. I got off the train and had directions but this was the first time I was travelling by myself and couldn’t help but be worried I would do it wrong.
I crossed the bridge and turned left like instructed. I finally started to see signs for the site, but they were pointing up hill. It is a pleasant walk normally but with a backpack and a carry-on suitcase it was not something I was excited about. I managed to find the gate to the site.
I walked through and saw a large building and a tent camp because we would live on site. I met with my instructor and she introduced me to all the other people at the site. Some were from my university (6 of us) and there were about 20 from the University of Liege. Then there were the workers for the site. It was overwhelming at first.
That changed with time though. I learned the work quickly. We were working in a cave to document a known Neanderthal Occupation. Some remains of a child had been found. Also there were stone tools found and bones from other animals. The dates of the site ran from 80,000 year at the top of the cave to about 140,000 years at the current bottom of the cave.
The cave had a grid system 1m x 1m that we worked in. We would remove soil from the grid slowly trying to keep any items in their place so we could document exactly where they were found. The cave had very distinct layers of soil and different materials were found in different layers so you had to know exactly what you were looking at before removing anything. When we had remove a bucket of soil we took it up to the washing station to wash away the soil and see if any of the rocks were tools or bones we had missed.
You also had time to work in the lab documenting and cataloguing the materials that came from that cave. There was much less pressure in the lab.
The work was the easy part and not really embarrassing at all, except for those times you found something in your wash pan that really should have been found in your square for documentation, like teeth and stone tools.
We had lunch breaks where we all took turns cooking or washing. After work we all lived on site together, the locals only returning home for the weekends. So at night we all sat and talked and drank and drank. We drank so much. There were 3 fridges on site one for food and two for beer. Cheap beers, weak beers, strong beers, special monk made trappist beers. During the week we would keep tally of what we drank and pay it at the end of the week. And at the end of the week they would attach a cart to the end of a motorcycle and takes the empties (a record of 34 cases (of 24bottles) in one week) for recycling.
I had a great time and met great people. The local students became friends I still stay in touch with even almost 10 years later. We drank and made fools of ourselves and we worked really hard.
On the weekend we would go different places with the head of the excavation; Brussels, Liege, Namur, little local places to explore and share meals. One weekend there was a mid-evil festival at the Namur Citadel. We went with two of the workers from the site, they were all dressed up in period costumes. We would drink mead, watch jousting and archery, shop for traditionally made items. It was great fun. I had so much fun that I returned the following two years in 2008 and 2009.
In 2007 I escaped with relatively few embarrassing moments, though I did date (though we never went on a date) one of the local boys who exaggerated how intimate we had been. I only found that out on my return in 2008.
In 2008 there were a few more embarrassing moments. Like the time I went to do laundry in a dress that was a bit too short for bending over to move clothes from washer to dryer. I flashed a lot of people that day.
Or the time we went on a hike to learn a bit about the geography of the surrounding area and our boss challenge us to get in the freezing cold river for a beer and the crazy Canadians (and Elise) did it. Then we had to spend the rest of the day in our wet clothes
In 2009 the sheer amount of drinking we did led to many small embarrassing moments for most of us. Like falling asleep outside our tents or getting hot and taking all our clothes off.
We worked with some amazing hangovers during our time in Scladina and it was more embarrassing to be seen without a drink that with one. This is an amazing place that I will forever be thankful for the chance to work with and live with these amazing people.