When I was around six years old, my mom took me to see a travel display of dinosaur bones at our local science museum. I don’t know why that experience stuck with me for so many years, but I became determined to discover similar remains that would transport me to another time. The bones seemed like proof that magical lands do exist– or, at least, once did– and I was captivated.
And so, after years of daydreaming about traveling through golden deserts, brushing away layers of hot sand, and uncovering some long-lost key to Earth’s history, I decided to spend a summer studying archaeology in Spain. Specifically, I worked in Pintia, a little archaeological village in the area of Padilla de Duero.
It took approximately five minutes for me to realize I was about to have one of the best summers of my life.
I flew into Madrid, where a translator pulled up in a creaking old van, covered with a layer of dust, to pick me and the other students up. From there, we drove a few hours north, passing by small towns, narrow round-a-bouts, and fields of sunflowers that seemed to radiate a golden aura over everything- like a warm halo resting above the land.
When we finally arrived in Pintia, we pulled up to a triangular house, painted with bright oranges, yellows, and blues. Inside, there was one open room that held a rough, sagging sofa, a heavy wooden bookcase that was pushed against the wall, and two long tables, covered in blue plastic table cloths and surrounded by chairs. Pictures and small clay pots were displayed, without any pattern, around the room. On the left, we walked through a narrow doorway that revealed a row of sinks, toilet stalls, and shower stalls, and the bedroom, lined with bunk beds. Further in the back of the open room was a small kitchen. And that was it, aside from a tiny office at the front of the room. Beside the house, there was a three-sided shed that contained more tables and chairs and bins of small artifacts, wrapped in plastic and labeled. Everything, inside and out, smelled like dust.
Before long, we were exploring the little village, kicking up dirt as we walked around houses and past twisted trees. As a group, most of us did not know each other. We were from across the US, New Zealand, Australia, and Singapore. But, given our small living spaces and the amount of time we spent together working, that quickly changed.
In some ways the dig was everything I had pictured: hot sun, reddish brown sand, hours spent scraping, digging, and brushing. I was sunburned beyond belief! But in other ways, it was different. Obviously, we were not digging up dinosaur bones! We were uncovering burial sites and walls of the ancient Vaccaens. These pre-Roman peoples cremated their dead and buried them with small clay or iron trinkets that indicated their social status. So, most of the time, as we were digging and scraping, we were searching for little more than a different color dust or small fragments of clay. Much of our time was also spent hauling wheelbarrows of “uninteresting” dirt away from the site. And yet, it’s still one of the best experiences I have ever had. I wish I could be back there now.
No one tells you how much studying the past also gives you new respect for the culture as it exists in the present. No one tells you how holding clay in your hand that is even older than the idea of Jesus (!) can force you to conceptualize time in a different way. How you feel so humbled, wondering if you will ever be remembered, and also so inspired by humans’ ability to create such beauty around them.
And no one can ever begin to describe just how fun it is! I got to play in the dirt all day long! I could to enjoy the sun and the still, hot air, and, very occasionally, a gentle breeze. And I spent all day with thesepeople who are as nerdy and adventurous and curious as I am!
If I could, I would go back in an instant. I wouldn’t have to think very hard about going on another dig, either– the idea of discover more cultures, learning about our history, and traipsing across deserted land still thrills me. Although, I’m sure without the rest of my ArchaeoSpain friends and teachers it won’t be quite the same next time.