Archeology Field Work at Age 63: Challenges & Triumphs – Part 2

You’d think after 6 hours of digging, scraping and hauling each day, we would get some rest. But no! In the afternoon, we wash pottery for two hours. By now my dishpan hands are raw and sore. Then, after the cafeteria dinner, we go to class and listen to a lecture. I’m too tired to take notes and I am hoping there will be no test at the end. It’s 7pm and I should be working on my two required term papers. I have no energy left to give and they will have to wait.

Today is Friday, the 5th day of digging. My body is beat up. It doesn’t get any recovery time to heal.  It is the hottest day so far – easily over 100 degrees. With two hours of digging left, I hit the wall. It is like mile 22 when I ran the marathon, only worse because I had no training for this. For the first time, I wanted to quit; not for the day; for good. It is not just the physical exhaustion, it’s now a mental thing. I don’t have the will to continue.

Fortunately I’ve been in this situation before, when I climbed the Half-dome at Yosemite a few years ago. I follow the same plan as then, pause and move into my “observer” – a version of me that looks at my current physical, emotional, mental and spiritual state. He laughs. “You’re really doing it to yourself this time, RJ!”

I couldn’t help laughing also. This is so insane. But the mental wall is broken. I take a 10 minute break and follow B.J. Fogg’s Tiny Habits advice. I focus on what I could do which is just 6 more inches of wall. Then drink water and rest. Then 4 more inches. Then another few inches, each taking longer. With 15 minutes to go, I start hauling the buckets of pottery and tools back to the shed. I make it to the end!

I wasn’t over heated like the second day, just exhausted, so there is no danger. Back in the dorm, a long, max cold shower renews me. And now just relaxing on my bed, writing this, life feels great.

I did something beyond my limits. I found a new capacity to accept pain – mental and physical – and keep going.

That’s how you get internal strength and fortitude. It doesn’t come by giving up. That alone made this entire adventure worth it. Life doesn’t get any better than this.

A shout out to my roomies Paul and Juan Carlos for helping me to keep at it. Love you guys. You’re the best!


Archeology Field Work at Age 63: Challenges & Triumphs – Part 1

I’m not sure what possessed me to go on an archeology field trip to Israel. As a 63 year old student at Claremont Graduate University, I should be sticking to my Philosophy of Religion courses. Yet, when I was approached by Dr. Tammi Schneider, the Field Manager of the Akko, Israel archeology project, it sounded like a fun adventure. And getting course credit made it an “easy” decision.

Of course, I had visions of an “Indiana Jones” type of adventure. Unfortunately, the reality did not meet those expectations. Not even close.

First off, the dig was in Israel. I’ve never been to the Middle East before and had no idea of the travel requirements. A 16-hour flight started things off slowly. Thanks to the jet lag and only a couple of hours sleep, it was time to head to our first day of “adventuring” at 5:30am.

Oh, we aren’t ready to start digging yet. First, we have to remove hundreds of sandbags and take them to an off-site ditch. I did this for the entire 6-hour day.

The second day is more of the same. It’s 90-100 degrees and I’m wearing a hat and long sleeve shirt (to protect me from some serious UV rays) so I’m drenched in sweat.

The third day we begin our work. There is no journey to an exotic temple to pick artifacts laying right on the ground. Archeologists, students and volunteers have already been digging in Akko for the past ten years. We are just taking it down another level – apparently the Persian era, whatever year that is.  You’ve seen in other blog posts some of the artifacts found. No gold treasures! A jug gets “the find of the day.” About 99% of what we dig up is broken pottery sherds (not shards. I was laughed at for calling them that, obviously exposing my lack of archeology knowledge).

Unfortunately, I try too hard to keep up with the young students and spend so much time in the hot sun pushing wheelbarrows that I get over-heated, almost sunstroke. So, I’m down for the count the rest of day 3. Day 4 on Thursday is another 6-hour day (this time in the pit with shade which keeps me alive). My body is breaking down. I can barely get back to the dorm. But more trouble lies ahead. In part 2, I’ll take you to the dark night of the soul and a subsequent discovery.

Archeology Field Work at Age 63: Challenges & Triumphs – Part 2
Archeology Field Work at Age 63: Challenges & Triumphs – Part 1