indiana jones and the secret lives of archaeologists

the movie raiders of the lost ark had already been a big hit for years by the time i finished grad school and was heading off to greece on my first archaeological excavation. but its effect on me was huge, nonetheless.

no, indiana never did any real archaeology. but he was cool. he chased after artifacts all over the world.

he carried a bull whip.

so by the time i got to greece for my first archaeological excavation, i had images of how cool it would be. chasing after artifacts. 

i didn't carry a bullwhip or chase nazis around in pursuit of the ark of the covenant. but in the years since i have entered a tomb or two in my lifetime as this photo of my daughter and me shows. (persephone and i have a few things in common.)

even though i'm a big fan of indy i know what the people who make movies like raiders won't tell you. 

sometimes archaeology doesn't even take place in the field. it takes place in a lab (in the basement of a greek school gymnasium that's been taken over by our dig). while many team members sweat in the field, a small percentage works all day indoors.  

before fieldwork began on our excavation in pylos, greece, i helped out at the lab as we got ready for the season. 

our conservator removing fresco fragments from storage for analysis

we store fresco fragments in foil take out tins - less chance for damage than plastic bags. 

tagging the artifacts both on the inside and outside. in our field we also rely on a hardcopy back up system, and redundancy rules.

potsherds that have been washed are left out to dry in the sun

lab team gathering al fresco around a group of potsherds to be analyzed

the pottery specialists spend hours every day sifting through the washed potsherds, sorting them by diagnostics (rims, handles, base and bodysherds) by fabric (coarse, fine, etc.) and if we're lucky - painted. but one of the most important tasks is always dating them. 

as world experts, they've been doing this for years and can often identify a piece of pottery with just one look.

between you and me, i'm a field person, not a lab person. i prefer the wide open spaces any day over the confines of a building. 

we're lucky to have such amazing specialists on our team. to know at the end of a long day in the field they will give us critical feedback. we can tentatively date or identify artifacts in the field, but we rely on them for the ultimate analysis. we dig things up in pieces and oftentimes they put it together, both figuratively - and literally.

Top two photos courtesy of Google images


  1. Love the last sentence. As well as the greater insight this wonderful post provides. Beautiful photographs, and not in the usual way of Persephone. Grittier somehow, though still lyrical.

  2. it's all still fascinating and wonderful to me - my first love - maybe someday.....

  3. how wonderful to have developed and engaged in such fascinating stuff, (that includes the daughter pic)....even though there is always a lot of lab work, the excitement of finding something in the dirt must be incredible. I remember finding artifacts myself on the Cretan coast made a huge impact on first business as a potter was called, "shards of terra cotta" my art, i have always tried to capture that have studied and realized that dream must be so enriching....the goddess must be respect and admiration, best, susan

  4. What a thrill to see this process..and I think you and your team are way cooler than Indiana..well I did like his hat.
    I have to say..that sure did look like a ton of itsy bitsy pieces..Phew you guys are Good!!Anyway..thanks for giving us the tour.Hugs,Cat

  5. Have a look at and see how students view digging work.

  6. great header and post--sounds like an amazing time--Indie would be proud of you!!

  7. I'm aware that archaeology involves a lot of tedious paperwork and packaging. You've confirmed that for me. My guess: the digging is less than half the job. It's the cleaning, and cataloguing, and potential re-assembling that take the largest time. And making sure nothing happens to the goods you've unearthed. But even the unearthing is tedious, as you move east, west, north, south, and down through the layers, which have to be well demarcated.
    Archaeology; grave-robbing in the name of science? Hmmmm.
    Maybe you and Indie Jones have more in common than you thought.
    And I love your new picture up top. I've walked the same wall you have, but a long time (20 years) ago.

  8. What an awe inspiring job you have. Just to touch something that someone else held so long ago...fascinating.

  9. Incredible. Just like your job (love) of archeology, there are many layers to you too Amanda. I think you are an incredibly facinating person, and i'm sure your team feels the same way (as well as a vital member). And you sure are alot prettier than Indiana.

    Brilliant post.

  10. Wow! That's a lot of intensive work. I'm thankful that there are people like you, passionate and patient enough to do it and preserve the past for the rest of us :-)

  11. If I could chose a second profession I would definietly like to be an archeologist. Hard but it must also be a very satisfactory job

  12. I would like the digging better, too. Oh my, what many little pieces! But then, the hot Greek sun? Maybe I`ll just wait till you present me the glued-together dishes and statues. Such an eye-opening post, Amanda! And I go with Lori, you`re really a many-layered person. Thanks for mail, will answer soon!

  13. the enjoyment of your quest comes shining through in your posts.

  14. Thanks for taking us along on one of your days. It is extremely painstaking work. I'm afraid I do not have the patience for archeology, but I am appreciative of all discoveries.

  15. Incredible work and amazing pictures. The last one is the best!!

  16. I am so envious. I would LOVE doing this. Your smile is worth a thousand words.

  17. Thank you for the fascinating trip into your secret life, Amanda! I'm quickly becoming addicted to your blog and to the thrill of these vicarious experiences with you.

    Well done on another fabulous post! :-)

  18. I guessed that you didn’t have a bullwhip but I had no idea that so much archeology was done in a lab. The incremental process sounds a bit like writing a book.

    Cool photos of Israel below too. I can see that’s the source of your new banner. I had planned a trip in my 20s but had to cancel due to travel warnings from the American embassy.

  19. That was a great behind-the-scenes look at archaeology. Did I spell that right? Probably not :)

  20. Yay Amanda...what a fabulous post..awesome pictures..super intriguing...thanks for taking me on an adventure and a sneak peek to the inside of your world! Fantastic!

  21. Your post gave me chills, Amanda. I loved going behind the scenes with you, and I love the picture of the gentleman gazing at the bit of pottery with such academic concern!

  22. Great post. I happened upon you via Jo at Smiling Heart and see you know many of my blogger pals. Funny how we "dig" around and find one another! The work out of doors would be my choice also, but I am quite capable of lab work & research as I was once a librarian. I shall be back for a visit!

  23. i am fascinated, amanda. is this why you travel the world? i knew you had an interest but didn't realize until now that you are part of a team uncovering these mysteries and histories.

    i learn alot from you and i appreciate that. i want you to know that.


  24. What a wonderful post Amanda! I am a former potter ( ceramist) and I can imagine how amazing it is to work with these million little pieces! Thank you for sharing these great photos , you are really an amazing person, full of surprises!

  25. Another fascinating post, dear *Twin*.....I was always intrigued with your particular field of work...but alas, not enough to join it...for me, the combination of "outside" excavation and exploration plus *inside* sorting and cataloguing seems ideal.....yet, *Fate* pushed me in another direction! So now, I live it with great interest - through you! As for "Indy"... I liked the first file (except for the Spiders)....and the one with Sean Connery as Indy's Father...

    What YOU do though is real....and especially vital in this 21st Century, when we are losing ao much of our past to Global Warming and general indifference from so many.

    Sending you many hugs from your Proud *Fowlesian Twin*!!!


    ♥ Robin ♥

  26. This was such a joy to read! And the photos!! Fantastic post, Amanda. You are such a versatile, deep and interesting woman, this post gives us a small glimpse of how many layers there are to you and your fascinating work.
    Brava amica mia!!

  27. You are SO COOL! And I never thought of the lab side of things. I only thought of the romanticized few of archeology. Amazing.

  28. what eleonora writes. it's so good to see inside of what you do and yet i get itchy thinking of endless hours in that room with the tin plates. in the soil, yes, i can see this is where your heart is at. there or with the people in the different cultures.


    (i must come back to read your creative writing. this is exciting for me.)

  29. Fascinating blogpost. It gives me a glimpse of a world I know virtually nothing about. Great photos too.


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