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Doing a Dig in Greece

Sarah Brereton Student, History of Art, University of Winnipeg

After seeing all the works in the Winnipeg Art Gallery’s Olympus exhibit, I was reminded of an archeological dig that I went on last summer. By examining the large statues, along with the pottery and other artefacts, I came to thinking about all the work and labour that not only went into the dig that I was a part of, but all that has occurred before me.

Although I am a History of Art student, I jumped at the chance to go on a six-week archaeological dig that was being organized by the University of Winnipeg. It would provide me with an opportunity to travel to Greece while gaining credit hours, and I would later be able to boast of how I was part of an archaeological dig! Having not studied classical archeology, my preconceptions were somewhere between Indiana Jones and a dusty, pipe-smoking Englishman with a brush. In June 2014 I travelled to Greece and began digging at the site of Ancient Sikyon, located in the village of Vasiliko, an inland drive of about four hours from Athens where I learned just how hard excavation really is.

After about one week, I discovered that while excavation is exciting and rewarding, pick axing, shoveling, and wheel barrowing topsoil every single day is the less glamorous, but more realistic side of archaeology. Later, I did get to gently brush soil away from fine pieces of pottery and bone, but only after much hard and exhausting work to remove the upper layers of dirt. Many of my fellow students found the dig grueling and we couldn’t help but marvel at the men hired to perform the majority of the manual labour. In my trench I worked with Alexis and Kostos, both farmers whose land was in the surrounding area. These men were what kept our trench on track because, for however hard we worked, they would cover double the space. While I paraded around the dig, proudly displaying the ancient coin I had found, Alexis had not only unearthed more artefacts, but simultaneously removed a significant amount of topsoil. I may try to claim some small glory in the work that I got to do on that dig, but I have to give huge praise to Alexis and Kostos, and all the other workers “behind the scenes” at excavations.