By William Branson

The Taste of Dust & Smell of Dirt: Participating in Two Archaeological Field Schools 5500 Miles Apart

Last year during the summer of 2018, I took part in a four-week long dig over July and August, excavating on historic Huguenot St. in New Paltz, New York. The site where we dug was about 45 minutes away from my home, so every morning, Monday to Friday, I would leave my house around 5:45am and not return until nearly 3pm. This summer, I have been participating in a similar four-week long program over July in Akko, Israel, where the digging begins at a similar hour and ends just past mid-day as well.

Other than the time slots though, not much has been the same. While I certainly expected the two experiences to vary significantly, the differences in both feel and actual work differed almost completely and this caught me off-guard. While the proper techniques of the archaeological work varied of course, the most visceral difference between the two field schools I have felt has been in the experience of my senses, namely in taste and smell.

When I think back to the work I did last summer, one of the foremost things that comes to mind is the smell of the cool, fresh, and damp soil. I bought gloves for the dig, but hardly found myself using them. The dirt itself became a protective and hydrating layer over my hands. It became less of a nuisance and more of a comfort somehow. It was damp in such a pleasant way that few things achieve – and it is the smell of that dirt that stands out most in my memory of that time.

Conversely, for Akko, I find the taste of the dust is the easiest thing to recall, and expect this to be true for the future as well. At the sift, in the square, anywhere on site, the dust and sand blow everywhere. Upwind, downwind, with my head turned away, the dust always found its way into my mouth and across my face. As most people reading this will know, getting a face full of sand is about as unpleasant as it sounds. Given we excavate in one of the driest and hottest places on earth, during one of the driest and hottest times of the year, this should have been completely expected by me of course, but sometimes you just can’t prepare for everything.

That being said though, this was an experience I would never want to give back (face fulls of sand included). While the dust may be one of the first things that comes to mind in the future when I recall the dig here at Akko, the second, third, fourth, fifth and so on things I recall will be about all the great people I met and the times shared across the city, dining hall, pottery cage, lecture room, beaches, restaurants, field trips, and up on the Tell itself with all the dust. So while the smell of dirt will remain a comforting memory, the taste of dust will always be bittersweet.