To be, or not to be, an archaeologist? By Louis Schilders

This is going to be a bit of a rogue one: I’m going to write about how my time at the excavations at Halmyris influenced my future career choices, but in no way, shape or form do I want to become an archaeologist or an academic.

This preamble makes it sound like I’m going to spend the next couple of hundred words talking about how my excavation experiences in the Danube were so traumatizing that they made me want to become a chartered accountant, happily this isn’t the case.

I came to the excavations through my undergraduate degree, I am currently studying Ancient History and Archaeology at Durham University, and in my first year I received an interesting email about the possibilities of doing archaeology abroad. My friend Sam and I, having already done some digging in County Durham, thought it sounded like an excellent idea to go and have an excavation adventure abroad, Leonard Wooley or Hienrich Schliemann style. So, it happened that we ended spending the Summer of 2016 having a fantastic time in an abandoned Roman fort. I spent my days in a dusty hole, in a derelict Roman fortress, surrounded by a vista of rolling green fields and distant lines of trees marking the course of the far-off Danube, digging and joking (I spent considerably more time doing this than actually digging) with the friends I’d made.

The sense of discovery was palpable, but it was also addictive. Knee deep in the dirt, peeling back the layers of mud, scraping here and there hoping to uncover some fragment of the past, I found mainly pottery. The promise for more was always there, to find something really special was one of my key motivators. Around me there were some pretty fantastic finds, axe heads, coins, sarcophagi—all sorts of wonderful ancient paraphernalia always lying just under the next layer of collapse or the next layer of topsoil, waiting to be found, by me, with my trusty trowel. This isn’t to say it was all easy; the work day was pretty tough, we got out of bed early, devoured breakfast, and made our way to the dig-site. Once there the work was industrious, we had to get as much done as possible, as meticulously as possible. It was hard work for brain as well as brawn, I was as likely to have to move a bunch of rocks around as I was to fill in a trench report. The digging portion was always a race against time, against our number one enemy, the afternoon heat. Usually we’d finish up around 2-ish in the afternoon, then head back to the local restaurant that was our base, to inhale some more delicious Romanian food.

The food was actually fantastic, it is a well-known fact that food tastes better after you’ve spent your entire day digging holes, and boy was it delicious. I loved those cooks, almost as much as I loved my afternoon naps. After a couple of hours of rest, it was time for potwashing. This was also quite enjoyable, and very communal, the dig team sat together in the veranda of a local farm house, scrubbing kilos and kilos of muddy pottery with toothbrushes. We kept an eye out for diagnostic sherds, or ones with painted detail, but the sheer volume of material produced by the site meant that we inevitably had to away large amounts of it. Dinner would inevitably follow, this time accompanied by excellent Romanian beer, which cost all of 10 pence for a bottle. If we were particularly lucky, the evening would be rounded off by lectures from the dig supervisors. Topics covered ranged from: Roman frontier defence strategies; Romanian national identity and its connection with archaeological heritage; to a particularly good one on how to use geographical data to fairly accurately guesstimate the location of a watchtower.  Day over, we’d roll into bed grateful for its much-needed embrace, ready to wake up at the crack of dawn to do it all over again the next day.

Now I did mention I was going to talk about Halmyris and my career choices. Next year I’m going to be doing a Masters in Environment & Development at LSE, and without my time at Halmyris, I would never have been driven to follow this direction. I was persuaded by virtue of the beautiful, unspoilt countryside that the site found itself in. The beauty of nature is very much in evidence around the site, the greenery of the surrounding landscape was almost excessive. Fields and forests spread as far as the eye could see, and the commanding location of the fort in the landscape meant that this was far indeed. The various field trips organised by the dig took us all over this countryside, we visited the lakes, the coast and the mountains. Unspoilt is the word I would like to use to describe it, and because of this I have decided on the planning and development direction in my professional life: so I can have a say in the moulding of a landscape, and attempt to prevent its disappearance. Without my time spent in the fantastic greenery around Halmyris, this might never have dawned on me, and for that reason I am very happy that I went.