American Excavations at Morgantina:

Contrada Agnese Project

101 Ways to Eat Hard Boiled Eggs: A Guide to Navigating Your First Season at Morgantina

Starting something for the first time is a wild, flailing dance with the unknown. Archaeological digs, workout classes, graduate school, blog posts: everything in our life has a beginning and at some point we must face those beginnings lacking prior knowledge and the confidence that comes with it. It’s enough to make any sane person never want to start anything (hello, graduate seminar papers.) It’s enough to paralyze yourself with a whole slew of what-ifs, can’t-dos, and not-readys. But it can also be insurmountably exhilarating. Just as the diver from the Paestum tomb stood at the cliff of his podium, anxiously edging his toes toward the drop to make his iconic plunge into the afterlife, so do we have much to gain from our own leaps.

Unlike the Paestum diver, however, if you’re considering applying to the AEM-CAP 2018 season you won’t have to hoof it alone. What we lack in experience is made up by the support of our peers and, oh boy, does the AEM-CAP 2017 team have some suggestions for your first dig!

I may have developed a good relationship with some of the site dogs. Max is a good boy.

What to Wear

Keep in mind that you won’t be doing much other than digging. “Yeah right,” you say, sitting at your desk reading this blog post. “I’m going to be traversing Sicily every weekend and galavanting around Aidone at night. I will meet ALL the stray dogs.”

Oh friend. No.

You will most certainly be traveling on the weekends, if that is something that tickles your fancy, but you will be 100% utterly exhausted at the end of a day’s dig. You may stumble down/up to a piazza to convene with other members at night after dinner, but that’s about it. As such, don’t over-pack! Catherine Schenck, seasoned and celebrated returner, says “I do this every year and end up wearing the same three things the whole time. No one truly cares what you look like or what you’re wearing.” Similarly, an anonymous CAPster wishes that she brought “less clothing, more dry shampoo.” Comfort prevails. I recommend bringing enough non-digging clothes for 1-2 weekends (so, 3-6 days), a couple of loungewear items (tracksuit highly recommended), plus maybe a nicer ensemble for the final dinner. You can always clean your clothes, by hand or otherwise, if they get too dirty for your liking, but you’ll find your tolerance of dirt becomes far higher than it ever was. Similarly, I found that I overpacked dig clothes.

This season, I plan to bring about 2 pairs of good, reliable pants and about 4 shirts (one for each week of excavation!). I will end up discarding all of my shirts, and maybe some of my pants in Sicily at the end of the season. My reason? Laundry is a pain in the butt, and you’re going to be stinky regardless of how often you change your clothes. Better to use ‘til you can’t any more, then say goodbye. That way, you have more room in your suitcase for other things on your return. It’s imperative you test your pants out by assuming the archaeologist squat (like a catcher in baseball). To avoid the dreaded archaeologist’s smile (a very inconvenient sunburn on your lower back), I suggest you tuck your shirt into your pants and wear a belt. Stylish? Maybe not. Functional? Always.

Alexis Watts, 2017 CAPster, says that it is imperative to “bring appropriate shoes! Fieldwork can be very hard on both your feet and your footwear so I would make sure to bring sturdy, high quality yet comfortable hiking boots or shoes to dig in.” A good pair is a sound investment if you foresee more digging in your future. If you don’t, maybe a nice insole in a trusty pair of boots is the way to go!

What to Bring

If you treat embarking on a dig like embarking on weeks of serious gardening, it helps to envision what things you’ll need.

Have allergies? Bring allergy medication. Remember that you’re going to be in a new environment, and don’t know how your body will react. Have migraines/chronic illness? Make sure you’re stocked on your medication, enough for the duration of your trip and maybe a couple days’ more as a precaution.

Alexis wished she had brought dehydration tablets, as “dissolving them in [her] water bottle helps to combat dehydration and heat exhaustion on site (especially if you are susceptible to heat stroke!)” Catherine advises to “bring a chair,” as she really enjoyed that extra comfort on lunch and pottery washing breaks. I recommend bringing along a small bag to cart your belongings back and forth from site in (chapstick, SUNBLOCK, sunglasses, bandana for the dust, maybe a couple euros, etc). I loved having my fanny pack for hands-free portation! “Remember that it does and will rain in Aidone,” says 2017 team member David Welch, so maybe a nice collapsible rain jacket wouldn’t hurt? In the end, it all comes down to what you prefer.

While I don’t care too much about where I sit for lunch, I will absolutely bring dehydration tablets this summer. But maybe, like Catherine, you need that cushioning to get you through the rest of the day. Do it! Besides, after a morning of big picking in the Sicilian sun, we were all eyeing that camping chair.

What to Do


Sure, you’re in a new place with a different language and new people and it’s scary and overwhelming, but if you engage with the people around you, you won’t regret your choice to dig for a second. 1st year or 15th year, fluent in Italian or fluent in gestures, “what’s a trowel” thinker or chronic trowel-hand haver: Your experience will be infinitely better if you approach it with enthusiasm.

Noël Grisanti, another seasoned CAPster, says “Ask questions! Ask so many questions. In the trench, know why you’re doing what you’re doing, and how you’re supposed to be doing it.”

If you’re digging for the first time, it is more than okay to be nervous, but know that it’s more than okay to make mistakes. As Annie Truetzel, Museum supervisor and one of Aidone’s premier firefighters, says, “don’t be overly afraid of making mistakes. Yes, you might accidentally big pick through part of a context or break a terracotta figurine, especially while you’re still learning. Ask lots of questions and be careful, but don’t be timid.” And in terms of mistakes, I will invoke the wise words of my 2017 trench supervisor, Elizabeth Wueste: if you make a big mistake, it’s either because you blatantly did not listen to your supervisors, or we were not watching you as attentively as we should have.

Outside of the trench, the same rule applies: approach every opportunity with enthusiasm. As Noël instructs, “Learn about the people you spend so much time sweating with every day: what are their passions? Where is their favorite place in the world? What are their best and worst qualities?” Because if you give, you will be repaid one hundred fold. That’s just how CAPsters are! Or, as Matt Sibley says, “Be prepared to meet some amazing people and make long-lasting friendships. This is going to change your life.”

Ajax, the leader of Aidone, and I really hit it off, too.

I hope that I’ve helped to alleviate some of your anxieties if it’s your first year. If not, let me tell you a story.

About this time last year, Alex Walthall, our commander-in-chief, told me about the great piles of socks I would go through digging at Morgantina. “Bring as many as you can, buy a big package of them here in the States,” he said, “and then halfway through the dig buy a bunch more.” ‘How many socks would I need,’ I wondered anxiously, ‘what was it about the dirt at Morgantina that clearly ruined socks so quickly?’ I couldn’t discern whether Alex was kidding around or actually serious, so I promptly went to Walmart and bought 20 pairs of socks, stuffed them into my suitcase, and fervently prayed it would last me at least to the three week mark. Six months post-dig, I have about 7 pairs of those socks that are still brand new, sitting in the back of my dresser. I only used 10 pairs on the dig, and even then, that was WAY too many socks. The moral of this story is that, at the end of the day, only you will know what is appropriate for you to bring or not to bring, so take the advice people give you with a grain of salt. Or, to put it another way, it’s not so much about the dirt from Morgantina as it is the feet of Alex Walthall.



Apply for the 2018 AEM:CAP Season here!

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