The Map Is Not The Territory

A blog by Christian Willmes.

Excavation campaign Ardales and Sima de las Palomas

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This September I went to participate in my first archaeological excavation campaign. After I finally successfully finished my PhD this summer, I could manage to find the time to participate in a campaign of the CRC 806 project, I work for since more than five years. My colleagues from archaeology offered me to participate in field campaigns and excavations like this since I was part of the project, but before I finished my PhD, I did not found the time.

The excavation was located in southern Spain, in Andalusia about 50 km north west from Malaga. See the map below for the locations refered to in this blog post. Two sites were excavated in this campaign. The Cueva de Ardales, a karstic cave with findings of human remains dating 35.000 years back. And at the Sima de las Palomas de Teba, also with findings dating back to the paleolithic.

Because this was my first excavation, I did not really know what to expect in terms of how I could participate and contribute in the actual archaeological work of the campaign, as well as from the whole setting, like how we were accommodated and how everything is scheduled etc..

Regarding the participation in the field work, this was really easy. My fellow campaign participants, who are all quite experienced field archaeologists explained all task to me and I could do them within hours on my own. At the Campo (an abandoned football field in Ardales including a building housing former locker rooms, toilets and showers), the sediments of the excavations were investigated for further findings, that were not directly recognized during the actual excavation, I got to wash the sediments from the excavation squares (German term “Schlämmen”), which is a fun thing in the hot southern Spain sun, because you basically play with water and mud. :-) Additionally, I looked and sorted through the washed sediments for things like bones, small artifacts, shells and snails, as well as charcoal remains. This second task needs way more concentration than just washing the sediments, so I washed sediments if I had the choice. ;-)

On the excavation sites itself I could help measure the positions of findings using a Tachymeter, which I theoretically already knew from my undergrad Cartography “Vermessungskunde” courses. And sometimes I was allowed actually excavating sitting on the ground and scratching sediments with a scraper on an 50x50 cm square. This was awesome, I felt like a real archaeologist! ;-) My biggest find was a part of a rodent skull in the Cueva Ardales! And of course, I could apply myself in helping with carrying equipment as well as sediment bags to and from sites (see photos of the excavation sites in the gallery below).

Regarding the accommodation, it was even better! The campaign staff was living in apartments on the Parques Ardales camp ground. The apartments were really nice, and the parque was situated directly at the shores of the lake you can see on the map above. So, we could go swimming after work, which we did as often we could (see the photos of the Parque Ardales in the gallery below).

We also did some trips to the surrounding areas on our free days (Sundays) and hiking at Caminito del Rey. The Caminito del Rey is a prepared 5 km hiking path through a canyon. The landscape is breathtaking (see the photos below), it was a great experience.

Another nice trip was on a Sunday to Gibraltar. It was a quite funny experience to cross the border and suddenly everybody speaks english and you have to pay things in Gibraltar Pound (not even UK Pound) and not Euro, unless you accept a bad exchange rate. But I was a bit disappointed, Gibraltar did not match my expectations. The city itself is actually not very nice, and it has the feeling of a big tourist destination without much further substance to me. We were not able to see the famous Neanderthal excavation sites, because our contact who would have been able to show us the site was not available on this day. Another cave in the Gibraltar Rock, where Neanderthals were found too, is now a theater. There were disco lights (sic!) and the floor was paved with concrete, almost all speleothems were cut off or stabilized with cement for safety reasons I guess, which really is not nice for the atmosphere in the cave. Additionally the weather was a bit foggy and cloudy (british! one could say) on this day, so we were not able to see Africa on the other side of the Straight of Gibraltar. But the Monkeys are really great and they made the trip worth it (see some photos of Gibraltar below).

Concludingly, it was a really great experience to take part in an archaeological excavation campaign and take part in the actual field work. The place of the excavation, Ardales and its surroundings are just beautiful, I would come back here any time. We had the best weather we could ask for, temperatures between 25 to 30 °C and almost no rain. And the excavation group was amazing, for the time there it felt a bit like family, really good atmosphere and no anger or trouble at all. Actually, I was a bit scared before the trip, because I thought if more than 10 people hang on each other for more than four weeks there must be at least some trouble between people, but there was none, the opposite was the case we all had a very good time together. :) I may be interested in participating further campaigns in the future, if boundary conditions like time and work schedule allow for it.


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