The worst part about working on archaeological excavations is leaving friends and family for months at a time. During my flight to Turkey this year I miss my meal and they lose my bags. Not an auspicious start to the summer. Arriving at the dighouse in Miletos, I am greeted by a colleague from Heidelberg University. I go to bed early - we must start before dawn to avoid the heat of the day.
In addition to students from Heidelberg our director has engaged 20 local workers, some of whom have been digging here for decades, to deal with the physical work.
Our current excavation, near the classical temple of Athena, is below sea level due to tectonic change and we must first set up a complex vacuum-pump system to lower the water-table and then clear the site of winter rubbish and wildlife (dogs, turtles, snakes) before we can excavate. We also construct the shadak, a tent that will act as field-office, dining room and shelter for the next two months.
Last year, to protect the remains from harm, we covered the site with plastic and a thick layer of sand. Now it is wet, it is a laborious job to shift it with shovels. The first thing to re-emerge is a Minoan building, built by the second millennium BC culture of Crete. This year we aim to go deeper, to discover when occupation began. So far we have got back to the fifth millennium BC.
The upper trenches are cleared and excavation begins. As pottery is found it is washed and sent to the museum for drawing and analysis. Most of it is undecorated, but there are also some decorated shards. Other common finds include bones, loom-weights and spindle-whorls. Previously we have found fragments of Cretan Linear A script and frescoes
painted with lilies and other
Minoan motifs. We would all
like to find more of those, but that will take weeks of careful excavation.
Disaster! The generator has failed. A local mechanic is sent for. Moving from Turkish to German and back, I explain to the director that apparently a small washer in the fuel line was rotten and air got into the starter-motor. Days of cleaning have been ruined - all for a tuppeny bit of black rubber.
Another day at work, but no remarkable finds. We leave a nigh****chman at the site and head for a disco in the local holiday fleshpot. It is full of sunburnt nurses from Yorkshire. I feel thoroughly at home.
A few of us take a dolmus into the countryside to see some ruins. Turkey is full of history - what the tourists see is only the tip of the iceberg. We scrub up and blag our way into a posh hotel to play on the water dodgems. Back at the dighouse my bag has appeared. Clean pants at last!
Alan M. Greaves, research fellow, British Institute of Archaeology at Ankara and field director, Temple of Athena Excavations, Miletos, Western Turkey.