In 2007 after returning from the Cook Islands I had about 5 days to see my family, do my laundry and re-pack my bags 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.
We had lunch breaks where we all took turns cooking or washing. After work we all lived on site, they locals only returning home for the weekends. So at night we all sat and talked and drank. We drank so much. There were 3 fridges in 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 24) 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 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 such a great time at the dig that I returned again for the 2008 and 2009 seasons.