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Traveling as an Archaeological Dig Volunteer

brooke digging

Brooke digging in Menorca, Spain

[O]ne of my prized travel memories would have to be from the month I spent working on an archaeological dig site in Spain.

It was a long month, a dirty month, but also a month where I was able to do more than hostel-hop.

I made great friends, connected with my surroundings, and worked out both my brain and my body.

As stated in the alternative travel ideas post, archaeological digs offer travelers another way to travel — one that is perfect for history buffs or those who just like to get their hands a bit dirty.

Most of the digs are for students, but many digs around the world open their doors to volunteers — albeit paid volunteers.

At least it's good to know that the funds you put into it generally help to cover your room and board, as well as fund the dig itself.

menorca

I took part in a dig on the beautiful island of Menorca

Where can I volunteer on an archaeological dig?

Volunteer positions on archaeological digs are available all over the world.

According to the Archaeological Institute of America, the website I use to search for fieldwork availability, opportunities are currently offered in Israel, the UK, the USA, Macedonia, Greece, Romania, Peru, Bulgaria, Italy, Belize, Australia, Ireland, Spain, Mongolia, Cyprus and Ecuador.

Digs will normally run during the summer months since they happen in part by universities, or in hopes of having university students along.

It is important to keep this in mind, as summer heat in many locations can be overwhelming.

Digging in the trench

Digging in the trench

What can I expect on an archaeological dig?

Well, for one, this is not a vacation, so you can expect work. You will be in the pits with archaeology students and professionals, so you better believe they will be taking this seriously.

You can expect a lot of early mornings.

When I worked for a month on the dig in Spain, we had a 45 minute bus ride to the site each morning, before starting our hours of digging — generally done in the early hours to avoid the peak of the day's heat.

You can expect to get dirty.

Don't pack up all your nicest clothes because by the end of the term, you will probably want nothing more than to chuck your work clothes in the bin.

There were days on my dig where we were covered from head to toe in mud after a few rainy days, and if it wasn't mud, it was just sweat.

You can expect to learn a lot.

As long as you take part in a dig that is marked as one for beginners, you should be fine.

Plus, the fact that they act as field schools for many archaeology students means the people running it are teachers. Ask away and learn!

dorm room

The dorm room I stayed in during my dig. Much like a hostel.

What about accommodation?

Accommodation options vary for all digs, so be sure to research that before signing up.

When I did my dig in Menorca, Spain, we all lived in a 4 bedroom apartment with up to 6 people in a room (much like a hostel).

Other digs will have participants staying in college dorms, hotel rooms, apartments, or even just out in a tent. Digs can vary from comfortable to extremely rustic, just as the price will vary, too.

dig site

A wet day early in the dig

How do I pack for an archaeological dig?

The dig program you are participating in will most likely provide specific tips, like whether or not you need to bring your own sleeping bag or tools.

For the most part, you can expect to need knee pads and heavy-duty gardening gloves. Closed toe shoes are great if you'll be working with pick-axes.

Clothing and hats for sun protection are important as you'll be out for hours, and a poncho or rain jacket might come in handy on wet days.

Another tip would be to bring some bug spray and a reusable water bottle.

identifying amphorae

Learning to identify amphorae fragments.

How much does it cost to participate in a dig?

The cost will vary for a dig dependent on the location, amenities and length of time. It seems to be common that digs last around 2 weeks, but month-long and summer-long courses are available.

A typical month can run anywhere from $1,500 to $3,500.

If the price of a dig seems high, you might want to consider that many will include all meals and your accommodation — plus some free knowledge and group tours along the way.

So, a dig might not be a form of budget travel, but it is a different form of experiential travel — allowing participants the chance to really immerse themselves in a place, learn about its history and perhaps even uncover something worthy of sitting in a museum.

dig bus

The group of diggers I got to have fun with on a daily basis

Will I have fun?

I loved my time on the archaeological dig in Spain, but just like with any group tour, your fun will depend on a number of factors:

  • The other people in the group
  • Your location, amenities and comfort level
  • The amount of physical activity
  • The amount of free time given
  • Your interest in the subject

Many programs will include group tours to other parts of the region so that you're not only seeing the same thing day in and day out.

When I was in Menorca, we went on a weekly excursion to different sites on the island.

I highly recommend this to travelers who tend to get lost in museums on the road, or those that want to take in the vibe of a destination while still feeling like they are being productive.

Planning a trip? Go Backpacking recommends:

Danuta

Thursday 11th of August 2016

After having kids & grandkids just want to do something I always want it do , thank you for awesome info

Christopher

Thursday 9th of June 2016

Do you know if there are any archaeological opportunities that offer free room and board in exchange for the volunteer work? I am a social sciences student at a private university, and I can foot travel expenses but the extra cost while there is a little too much for my budget.

Olivia-Petra Coman

Tuesday 3rd of April 2012

This is awesome, Brooke! As a History student, I'm really into archaeology, too, and this really seems like an opportunity to learn a lot in the field.

David Ward

Thursday 8th of March 2012

Great read. Glad I found this through twitter. I am trying to do some research on this, as I too am going on this same archaeological dig in Menorca, Spain. However, aside from being immersed in the dig, were you able to travel the cities on the island and sort of "look around", if you will? I am very excited about this trip! I am going in early May, when did you go, Brooke?

Jade - OurOyster.com

Monday 5th of March 2012

Wow Brooke! This sounds amazing. I am totally adding this to my bucket list! And thanks for the link to the website... I am always on the lookout for volunteering opps that are not crazy expensive ( I dont mind paying.. as long as it isn't more than I would spend just living my normal life... 3k a month...? thats ok... 3k a week? no way!)

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