Farewells

Hello everyone,

I am sorry to write that this is going to be my last post. Unfortunately the blog site still doesn’t let me upload photos and fixing it is going to take more time and effort than I have to spare. I also ended up going home to Denver after finishing the dig, instead of travelling around Europe like I planned, so I’ve run out of things to blog about. I’ve been spending a lot of time relaxing at home and preparing for the upcoming school year.

The last two weeks of my time in Europe was incredibly busy. The last week of the dig was spent running around, trying to finish digging our trenches and clean up the site. I did a lot of sweeping, digging, and weeding under the hot sun. The temperatures soared during the last few days of the dig, reaching up to 103 degrees F (40 degrees C). We were all very careful to drink a lot of water and take frequent breaks, and luckily no one got heatstroke. Our last weekend on the dig was marked by the annual tradition of taking a boat ride on the Danube. The three-hour ride was incredible; soaring down the wide river, turning off onto small tributaries lined with fields and houses, and then heading out to open waters again. We saw huge lily-pad marshes, tons of water-birds and wildlife, and boats of all shapes and sizes. Our captain even stopped at one point in the middle of the river to buy live crayfish from a fishing boat!

We left Murighiol on August 5th. All of the volunteers piled into a couple cramped vans and we drove six hours to Bucharest. We scattered briefly to visit our respective hostels and hotels, but then met up again for a final team dinner. It was fun but bittersweet, having to say goodbye to everyone I had lived, worked, and bonded with over four weeks. I developed so many friendships and academic relationships with the people on the dig, and I am hopeful that some of them will continue now that we’ve all left.

I flew out of Bucharest two days after we arrived. I spent most of my time packing, relaxing, and staying out of the heat. After I left Romania it took me almost three whole days of traveling to reach the US. I flew from Bucharest to Milan, Italy (with a 20-hour layover), then to Manchester, England (with a 22-hour layover), flew to New York City (a short layover in the airport) and then a final flight to Denver. It was exhausting and I am so, so glad to be back in the US. I’ve gained a new appreciation for the comfort of being in your home country, where you know the currency, customs, and language.

These last few months have been absolutely incredible. I got to see so many diverse places and experience new, wonderful, and sometimes terrifying things. I traveled to foreign countries, met new people, and experienced diverse cultures. I am so grateful to have participated in these exhilarating experiences, and I know I have grown as a person because of it. I hope you have enjoyed reading about my travels and that I was able to bring a little bit of New Zealand and Romania to you.

Thank you so much for coming with me on my travels!

Farewell,

Rachael

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Constanta

Hello everyone,

My time at Halmyris has been filled with a lot of hard work, but one thing I love about this dig is that we make sure to play hard too! We put on music while we dig, joke around at mealtimes, go out for drinks, have a homecooked dinner once a week, and take trips together on the weekends! Last weekend I spent resting and reading and trying very hard not to get sick (and was only semi-successful) but the weekend before that a big group of us took a trip to the nearby city of Constanta.

Constanta is a city in southeastern Romania, the largest port on the Black Sea and one of the largest ports in all of Europe. It is also the oldest continuously inhabited city in Romania and is the site of some pretty significant archaeological excavations. The city was originally called Tomis, and legend has it that this is where Jason and the Argonauts landed after finding the Golden Fleece.

The first stop of our trip was, naturally, the National History and Archaeology Museum.

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Jon, our site director, took us on a tour of the museum’s Greek and Roman collection and gave us some fascinating information about the artifacts and excavations. The two highlights of the collection were a 3rd century statue of Glykon the Fantastic Snake and a large statue that has been tentatively identified as the goddess Fortuona and an attendant Pontos, god of the Black Sea.

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The museum also displayed statues of other Greek and Roman gods, some curse tablets, artifacts from everyday life (pottery, glass, jewelry, etc.), and – my favorite – a stone lion with a really dumb expression on its face.

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We also toured the Roman mosaics, which were in the remains of a huge commercial center connecting the port and the ancient city of Tomis. The building was the site of all movements of goods from the harbor into the city and was where the merchants and sailors registered their imports, paid taxes, and sold their items. The building was huge and contained a beautiful and complex floor mosaic. Today only about a third of it remains, but even that is more than 9,000 feet of tiles.

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After our tour of the museum and mosaics we all ate lunch together and our supervisors set us free for the weekend. A bunch of us were all staying the night at the same hostel and decided to make plans together. The number one thing we all wanted to do was to visit the beach, so after dropping off our stuff we put on our swimsuits and walked down to the shore of the Black Lake. It was a beautiful sunny Saturday so the beach was full of people swimming, surfing, and lying in the sand. Everyone else jumped into the water right away, but since I didn’t want to swim I rented a beach chair for a few dollars and spent the next few hours happily reading my book.

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We headed back into the city as the sun was setting, walking through winding residential streets as the sky turned pink and purple.

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After showering and changing we all caught a cab (or three) into downtown to get some food. By sheer coincidence the cab dropped us off right near the Luna Park amusement park. We were immediately intrigued by the flashing lights, rides, and attractions, and ended up wandering around the Park for the rest of the evening.

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Image from Google

Unlike theme parks like Six Flags there was no entry fee, only a fee for each individual ride, which meant that we could walk around all we wanted and only have to pay for the rides we wanted to go on. We ended up going on quite a few- some crazy bumper cars,  a hilariously non-scary haunted house, one of those elevator rides that bring you way high in the air and then let you ‘fall’ down- but my favorite by far was the Kamikaze Ranger ride.

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Image from Google

The Kamikaze Ranger ride is a pendulum amusement ride with two gondola cars at the ends of rotating arms that are attached to a large tower. The arms rotate a full 360 degree, sending you swinging back and forth and even upside-down. It was a crazy ride (made more exciting by the shaking, clattering, semi-dubious Romanian construction) that left me terrified, exhilarated, and completely breathless. There’s nothing quite like finding yourself upside down in a ride that is slowly, slowly creeping downwards and there’s nothing you can do about the ridiculous drop in front of you but at the same time you can feel the blood rushing to your head and with every fiber of your being you want to stop being upside down but the ride is so slow it feels like you’ll be stuck there forever and then suddenly you’re moving, hurtling towards the ground and just when you think you’re going to crash you swing upwards and start all over again. I had a lot of fun but it was the first time that I actually wanted to stop being on a ride while I was in the middle of it.

We spent a few hours at Luna Park wandering around, going on the rides, eating unhealthy fair food, and laughing ourselves silly. It was a great night and I really enjoyed getting to spend time with the other volunteers that wasn’t just digging. It was a great way to spend my first weekend on the dig and I think it made a solid basis for the friendships that I’ve been building with the rest of the people on this dig.

It certainly helped make the next week of digging more fun, especially since we couldn’t stop giggling about our adventures when we were supposed to be working.

Until next time,

Rachael

Halmyris

Hello everyone!

This weekend marks the end of my third week with the Halmyris dig. I have had such an amazing time so far and I can’t believe I only have another week here. The work on the site has been surprisingly fun so far. The volunteers got split up into groups and assigned to different ‘trenches’ around the fort area. The trenches are usually a 5m x 5m square and can have anywhere from three to eight people working in them.

Below is an aerial photo of the site that I have permission to post (please ignore the awful reflections as the poster I snapshotted was very shiny). The area in the middle of the right side with the tight grid of squares is an area with a lot of original trenches. Other areas, such as the lighter section near the top, show cleared areas divided by the ruins of ancient walls and do not show the original trench boundaries. The semicircular sections around the edges of the triangle are towers; the pair at the left point of the triangle bookend the north gate, the single tower on the bottom side is half of the west gate, and the tower on the top side is a lookout tower above the ancient harbor. The big building covers the basilica and burial crypt and the smaller building covers the bathhouse, both areas that contain delicate features that need to be protected from the elements. The area I’m working on is a little up and to the right of the top point of the triangle, and was completely un-excavated and covered in grass at the time this photo was taken.

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I’ve been moving around a bit from trench to trench depending on the type of work being done. At the beginning I was part of a huge group that was working on three side-by-side trenches which would apparently be uncovering a tower (how the site director knew that I have no idea since all the cool stuff is buried under a couple feet of topsoil so the entire site looks like a very lumpy field). A couple days into the dig, though, the trench I was in hit a very hard layer of rocks and mortar and my supervisor switched me to another trench due to my back problems and inability to use a pickax.

My new trench was being dug to extend the space that last year’s crew had cleared. Over the course of a week and a half we dug our 5x5m square to the level of the rest of the cleared space (maybe 5 or 6 feet down)- and every last inch of it was loose soil. We didn’t find a single wall or formation in our entire trench, compared to the trench right next to us which had two walls and a bunch of cool finds like coins and engraved tiles! I was pretty jealous, although by the end we had a sizeable collection of pottery shards.

Two days ago we completed our trench and got moved to a new project. The big group that I was originally in had kept running into problems so they moved them all together in one big trench a little to the west of the three original trenches. They’ve dug pretty deep so far and they’ve found basically an archaeological trainwreck. Big areas filled with absolutely huge slabs of stone (that need two people to move) and a bunch of rubble. However, the director of the site says that this area is important, and even pointed out a few areas that he says used to be pillars that held up an arched ceiling (again I have no idea what he’s talking about but that’s why he’s in charge). My group just got assigned to a big trench (approx. 6mx6.5m but it’s not exactly square) right next to the other group to try an extend the area being dug since the original group hasn’t even hit the outer walls of the tower. Today we found an area with a bunch of huge slabs of rock all mortared together which the director thinks might be the outer wall of the tower but until we dig deeper he can’t be sure. Right now it just looks like a huge mess of dirt and rocks (and very stubborn roots) but we know something interesting is down there!

Mostly the work is a lot of digging and shoveling, and occasionally carefully trowelling around walls and formations. We put on music and take snack breaks and it’s actually pretty fun! I was surprised by how satisfying it is to be moving so much dirt and uncovering ancient walls and rocks. So far the dig has uncovered a lot of pottery shards, some (animal) bones, some glass (both ancient and modern), a few lumps of metal, a couple Roman coins, a Roman spearhead (that unfortunately was in the rubbish pile from a 2007 dig so it’s not archaeologically significant), and some engraved tiles (including one that has dog prints from a 6th-century puppy that walked through the wet clay! So cute).

Speaking of puppies, here’s the dig’s mascot, guard dog, and loveable food mooch: Thor (or Tor in Romanian)

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Although I still don’t have permission to post any photos from the dig itself, I encourage you to visit the Halmyris facebook page which has some photos from our dig. Also, my supervisor just published an article about the site in The Conservation journal with a lot of interesting information – go check it out!

Only one more week to go!

Until next time,

Rachael

 

P.S. I am aware that my blog is having some trouble displaying my photos (thank you to everyone who pointed it out to me). I am working on the problem but it’ll take a while to fix since I need to hunt down and re-upload every single picture on my blog. Bear with me while I work it out!

Romania!

Hello everyone,

I’m in Romania! Today was my first day volunteering on the Halmyris archaeological dig and my third day in the country. I am so excited to be here, and I’m greatly looking forward to the next month of archaeological work and traveling around Romania.

I finished finals at the University of Otago on June 22nd, and from June 23rd to July 4th I was traveling the South Island with my friend Sarah (who is not the same Sarah from my spring break trip). I’ll still post the details of that trip (including when I went bungee jumping!) but I’ll intersperse them with posts on my time in Romania so I don’t get too far behind.

I left New Zealand on the 5th of July and it took me four plane rides over three days to make it to Romania. I took a four-hour plane to Sydney with a one-hour layover, a 13-hour flight to Delhi with a 20-hour layover, a 9-hour flight to Milan with a 19-hour layover, and finally a two-hour flight to Bucharest, Romania. The flights themselves weren’t that bad but because all my layovers were at nighttime I stayed up the entire time I was on the plane. It was very boring but I watched a few movies and read a lot. The layover in India was really great because the airline gave me a free hotel voucher which got me a nice hotel room (with the best mattress I’ve slept on in years) and free dinner and breakfast in the hotel restaurant. My layover in Italy, however, was not nearly as nice.

It started with my plane getting delayed on the tarmac so we had to wait for an hour and a half in the plane before even taking off. That made it pretty late in the evening when we got into Italy, so instead of taking the long train ride into the city to sleep in a cheap hostel, I just got a hotel room near the airport. The rest of my night was fine and I slept quite well but I ran into some trouble when I went to pay for my hotel room in the morning: my credit card wouldn’t work. I didn’t have enough euros on me to cover the cost, so I had to walk for fifteen minutes to an ATM and fifteen minutes back, in the midday Italian heat, alongside a road with no sidewalks. So that wasn’t very fun.

Then I got on the shuttle and went to the airport with plenty of time before my flight. I checked the flight board to see what gate my flight was leaving from but I couldn’t find it. Confused, I double-checked my confirmation email. The date and time were all correct, so why wasn’t I seeing my flight? Then it hit me. Oh, no. I was at the wrong airport! 

To make a long story short, I ended up getting a 90-euro taxi to the other airport and made it onto my flight with a little time to spare and a lot of worrying. The situation sucked but I made my flight and learned my lesson- always, always check the airport!

Finally, I had made it to Bucharest. I got in around four and easily made it into the city and to my hostel. I met up with Marlee, another volunteer at Halmyris, for dinner and had an early night since I was very jet-lagged. The next day I spent wandering around the old city of Bucharest, stopping in stores that caught my eye, waiting out an afternoon rainstorm in a Starbucks, and watching the sunset in a park near my hostel. Bucharest was a beautiful city, all tall stone buildings, hidden parks, wide canals, and narrow cobblestone walkways lined with shops and restaurants.

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That night I met the rest of the Halmyris volunteers over dinner. There are around 35 of us in total, and our ages, occupations, and places of origin vary wildly. There are professors, historians, college students, people researching for their Ph.D theses, retirees, and even a farmer or two; people with brown hair, red hair, white hair, no hair; from America, Japan, Turkey, England, and Romania; people who are embarking on their first dig or who have been coming to Halmyris for years. We have it all. The dinner was nice and afterwards we went for drinks and ice cream. It was fun to talk to everyone and to hear about their diverse stories and experiences.

The next morning we woke up bright and early and got on a bus to Murighiol, the village closest to the site where we would be staying. The drive took about four hours (plus a stop for lunch) and took us through some beautiful countryside, villages, and fields of corn and sunflowers.

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Murighiol is a small village whose name means purple lake in Turkish, after the way the town’s lake turns violet at sunset. The main road runs alongside a bank, a grocery store, two convenience stores, and a few restaurants and bars. Every house has its own garden and often some chickens and roosters whose crowing wakes us up every morning. Storks nest on top of the telephone poles and stray cats and dogs wander the streets. We are staying in a lovely B&B run by Mariana and her husband that is just three minutes’ walk from the restaurant where we get all our meals.

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Mariana’s B&B
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The room I’m sharing with two other girls.

Today was our first day working at Halmyris. Our daily schedule runs a little like this:

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Today was a fairly easy day, since it was our introduction to the site. Dr. John Karavas, our site supervisor, gave us a tour of the site and some historical background. The site dates back to the 2nd century and sits in an area that once was the convergence of the Danube river and the Black Sea. It was one of the most important military, civilian, economic and religious centers in the region throughout history, and had been occupied more-or-less continuously by different groups for over 1,000 years. The archaeological site so far consists of a fort, a bathhouse, two large gates, numerous towers, and a basilica/church. Under the basilica is a crypt with beautiful frescoes that contained the bodies of two Christian martyrs executed in 290 AD. This find was extremely significant both anthropologically and culturally and really put Halmyris on the map. Unfortunately due to lack of funding the basilica is only partially excavated and continues to be exposed to the elements, and without further care the frescoes will soon fall apart and be lost forever. During the month that we are here, we will be working on excavating the eastern part of the fort and two towers.

After the tour of the site we got to work on clearing the area we will be excavating. Currently it looks like nothing more than a grassy hill which in some areas has an unusually large amount of flat stones (most likely marking underground walls). We had a controlled burn of the vegetation and used shovels and hoes to clear the area. By the time we cleared the hill we were all sooty, dirty, tired, and happy to go back to Murighiol for lunch. Tomorrow we will be split into teams and start actually digging.

Unfortunately I’m not allowed to put any pictures of the site on social media, but I highly encourage you to check out the Halmyris website here.

Until next time,

Rachael