The many surprises of a dig by Merve GÜNAL

A new working day in Labraunda

Before I start talking about archaeology in Labraunda, I want to mention a little bit about myself. Because it is going to be weird if I directly jump into archaeology, I think. Whose blog post are you reading ? I need to answer this question first.
My name is Merve Günal and I am a senior in the Archaeology department of Bilkent University. Here comes the most classic and boring (sorry but not sorry guys) question WHY ARCHAEOLOGY ? The main reason why I choose archaeology in the first place is because I do not like sitting in an office from 8am till 5pm with formal clothes. It is not me. I should be moving and get the feeling that “I AM USEFULL FOR HUMANITY”. The second most asked question (especially by parents and adults) “ARCHAEOLOGIST ARE POOR PEOPLE, THERE IS NO MONEY IN THAT JOB !” Let’s make things clear guys, if you are doing the job that you love and have passion while you are doing it, you will earn money from that (it will take time of course) and because you are doing the job that you love, the money that you earned has a different taste. I can talk about comments and judgements, which I ebdure again and again, in a lengthly way but it’s not the topic here. So GUYS ! Here I am, and for the second season, at Labraunda. I have had experiences before in different sites, both Neolithic and Classical/Roman sites, but why I came here again and why archaeology has lots of excitement ? I will explain…
 
The team in action
This year in Labraunda, something unexpected happened… (drumrolls) GRAVEEEESSS ! This year, I worked with a team in the Tetraconch area. We were looking for a (possibly Late Roman) villa complex because this Tetraconch is a private bath that used to be typically located in villas. When I joined team, they had started excavating some graves but those were empty. There were just a few ceramic fragments and thats all. At first, we couldn’t really understand these grave structures because they were just a bunch of aligned stones arranged in a rectangle (tomb size) with nothing above and nothing below, just plain dirt. After we documented and removed those stones, we started a general leveling of the whole trench. By the way, still no traces of any mansion or villa which we were looking for. The leveling took us down to the bedrock, on which (after cleaning) we found some east-west oriented slabs. 
The slabs on the bedrock
First, I didn’t understand what we were looking at, they arranged side by side, in small groups and clearly not in a natural way. They must have had a purpose so it should be something meaningful. Olivier Henry (head of excavation and also he is an instructor in our department) came and said to us “These slabs are grave lids so tomorrow we are going to dig them with a small team”. The day that we dug the graves, there were no workers with us, just archaeologists. Why we did not give any news to anyone and did not take workers with us ? Because news can be spread to everyone and you already know that graves are “popular” in Turkey for illegal excavations. Also we did not know what artifacts were going to come out, so we kept it to ourselves for a day. Also, the slabs/lid were clearly undisturbed which was particularly exciting for us. All in all, we had high expectations. Actually, that day I felt like a real archaeologist because there were no workers with us and we were touching something that had been arranged millenia ago. We were the ones to open those graves that had been closed for something like 2000 years ago. 
Olivier Henry and Çağla Durak discussing the dig
I mean, come on guys, isn’t that exciting ? At first, Olivier Henry gave us basic info about what we need to do and how. He explained a little bit about these type of graves. By the way, his speciality is about graves, so we were working with the “Master of Graves”. We started then to remove the slabs and leveling with trowel the dirt that had accumulated in the pits through the ages. We were really careful because Labraunda’s soil is so asidic that if there were skeletons, they would be in a fragile condition. We repeatedly did light trowelling+ brushing+light trowelling +brushing. Then….. WE FOUND SKELETONS ! 
My first skeleton!
To be honest, I thought the tombs would be empty when we opened them as it already happened a few years ago when our excavation director had excavated a 4th century BC group of tombs where bones had litterally been dissolved. After we detected bone fragments, we started to work with dental tools (yeap, archaeologists using dental tools). In that day, we opened 3 grave pits, carved inside the bedrock. We also learned another thing about graves. If you open a grave, you should finish your work the very same day. Because when you open a grave that has been staying full of dirt for lots of years ago there will not be only a ‘heat’ shock, but also a chemical raction with today’s environment. I remembered that day, it was saturday and in saturdays, we mainly work until lunch then we head to the city center for 1.5 day break. Our team couldn’t leave the site at lunch time because we couldn’t finished our job in time (yes, digging graves takes a lot of time!). Everyone from Labraunda team left the site and we (that is the Tetraconch team) stayed 2-3 hours more in the trench. We found two whole skeletons. I also need to confess that we digged in really weird positions, like downward dog yoga pose type of things because they were buried inside the carved bedrock and you shouldn’t stepped into graves and the bedrock is far from being even so... 
The downward dog yoga digging pose...
After that day, we were in pain because of sore muscles. But I really felt pleased and useful about what we did in there, even if there were no grave goods inside the burials. It gave you the feeling that you are professional about what you are doing.
In every excavation, you learn. To me, excavations are like schools where you learn methods of archaeology. Every excavation has a different system but I think the key point is you. You should do your best about the job that has been given to you and always be curious about things. Do not hesitate to ask questions to former people, professionals in excavations. The network is also important for our job so in every excavation you should try to create a network for yourself... good that Labraunda is an international team with archaeologists coming from 10 different countries!
These are my 23-year-old advices for you guys. For now!

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