Article by Robin Van Auken on Volunteer Forever

Thinking about traveling abroad? You’re not alone. People have been traveling for 2 million years. It began with Homo erectuswalking out of Africa in the early migrations. Then other archaic people followed, like H. heidelbergensis, the likely ancestor of modern humans, around 500,000 years ago.

Our ancestors spread to other continents, and along the way, they invented houses and built communities. They invented agriculture and changed the landscape. They invented religions and built temples. They created the special places we love to visit today, leaving a rich legacy of hope for a bright future.

We know about the paths early people took, and the things they made, from the development of the first stone tools at Lomekwi in East Africa 3.3 million years ago, thanks to the work of archaeologists. These scientists interpret the story of early people because there was no written record left behind, with the exception of handprints and animal paintings on cave walls. The historical record began with the system of writing, which began around 5,000 years ago in modern-day Iraq. Then people began writing their own stories. And even then, archaeology is able to fill in the gaps of those stories.

Some people consider archaeology a form of time travel – a way to peer into the past to gain a richer understanding of our world today, and our place in it. Are you curious about ancient people, wondering about who they were, where they came from, and what struggles and successes they encountered along the way? Here’s a quick survey that may help to unleash your inner Indiana Jones.

  1. When your grade school class visited the local museum, were you the student who lagged behind, staring at the mummy sarcophagus and ogling the artifacts in exhibit cases?
  2. When other kids were tuning into Nickelodeon, were you watching the History Channel while flipping through old issues of National Geographic?
  3. Do you roll your eyes and correct people when they say archaeologists dig for dinosaurs? (Inward sigh) “No, that’s paleontology.”
  4. Do you walk with your head down, your eyes constantly searching the ground in front of you for an unusual object?
  5. Do you solve puzzles and mysteries easily, because you love patterns and find them in all sorts of places?
  6. Do you browse the Duluth Trading Co. website for cargo pants and work boots instead of Net-a-Porter for literally anything else?
  7. Do you ever wonder how the ancient people of Cambodia constructed Angkor Wat, but more importantly, why? What is the meaning of Stonehenge? Were the pyramids of Egypt only burial chambers for the rich, or was there a more significant reason for the decades spent building each one? Why did people brave the cold and ice to cross the Bering Straits and populate the New World?

If these questions and others like them stir your interest, then you could be harboring the “Scientia Antiquitatis” gene, and there’s only one thing to do to find out. Get into the field and test yourself with an adventure that combines meaningful travel with history.

Archaeologists study people through time, from 3 million years ago to yesterday, by excavating, recovering, and analyzing material culture. Material culture is another word for artifacts and features – anything that was made or used by humans. Through archaeology, we can understand where and when people lived on the Earth, but also why and how they have lived.

Archaeology isn’t for the faint of heart. There are heat and cold, and rain and snow, and dirt and lots and lots of mud. There are bugs and snakes and the occasional bull that chases you out of their field. Your crew consists of people who look like construction workers but talk like scientists because that’s what they are. They rigorously study the cultures and lifeways of prehistoric and historic people. Like cultural anthropologists, they’re interested in what people do and why they do it, with one caveat: the people they study are long gone.

If you’d like to know more about archaeology, you can enroll in a university course, or you can check a book out of a library, but there’s nothing comparable to visiting and volunteering at an archaeology site. If you’d like to know more about important archaeology sites you can visit, and some that you can volunteer with, check out the opportunities below. With the exception of an actual archaeological field school, these may be the closest you’ll come to taking part in an archaeology dig and finding your own fortune and glory.


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