“There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

Friday, July 11, 2008

Belarus and week 1 of the dig Posted July 31

After a very quick turn of Minsk, I have arrived at the dig site of
Asaviec 2 2008, near the town of Beshankovic (which translates to
'crazy town', while Asaviec is 'place of horror') on the highway
between Minsk and Vitebsk. So far the digging has yielded a fantastic
amber pendant and a small flint axe simply from the top soil. It looks
very promising! The dream is to find figurines. We are digging a 12
square meter trench and going down in 10cm increments. The site is
smack dab in the middle of a huge field of stinging nettle, so I have
reacquainted myself with the joys of nettle stings, which I'll have
you know, are strong enough to sting through pant legs!! The
mosquitoes and other vicious biting bugs are also good friends with
the site, so I lather myself with spray every time I go out. Oh, how I
wish I had my mosquito racket with me now! I do hope it survives the
journey to Azerbaijan, as it has been hell living without it. Several
campers also discovered ticks sucking on their juicy flesh, and after
removal were then sent to the doctor for testing, as we're in an area
of tick-borne encephalitis.

The foreign volunteers are a much more international bunch than those
in Romania, and the dynamics are quite different. We have one
Lithuanian, Mantas, one Dutch, Aulky, one Brit, Toby, myself, the
kiwi, and four Americans: Maureen, Lee Ann, Alec and Sam, not
forgetting Olya, the Belarusian-Canadian! Almost all are affiliated
with archaeology in some officially academic way, except me, of
course, and many are in the process of masters, so overall it's an
older group, and we all get along well. There are also two Belarusian
State University archaeologists on board: father and son, Michael and
Max, many Belarusian volunteer students, and the Belarusian
"first-years" many of whom are history students as everyone in the
entire department is required to complete a dig. Their English levels
vary and overall, they are a welcoming, friendly, social bunch. We had
a friendly campfire introduction early on this week, and sang songs
with the two guitars!

Camping has added another interesting element to the trip. The last
time I went camping was when I was still in NZ, so it's a been a long
time. I bought a camping shower because cleanliness was the thing I
was most worried about, but after one attempt, I have abandoned it, as
I got more bug bites than is seemingly possible, in all sorts of
unpleasant places, and finding a tree high enough to hang it from was
quite a trial! In terms of food, we have a rotating cooking schedule,
and without a fridge, this has led to interesting concoctions! Sour
cream plays a big part. Trash is interesting, and the idea of
environmentally conscious rubbish has flown out the window! We have a
burn pile and for a while I actually wondered about what I should and
shouldn't burn—aren't burning plastics a big no-no? Not here!
Everything goes on the pile! I have endeavored to keep the compost pit
free of plastic bags, which has been mostly successful, but I will
draw a personal line at attempting to keep the ladies from throwing
their pads in our dug toilet. Too much of a communication confusion,
not to mention cultural exchange!

The walk to the site from camp is around 20 minutes in the morning,
and we wander through a field of yellow flowers, which are apparently
used for some type of oil fuel. The Belarusian students built a bridge
across one of the small canals that was dug in the 1970s to drain the
peat bogs so that we can get to the site more easily. It's an
impressive structure of 4 logs! We also had a visitor this week—a mole
decided to dig a narrow trench through our trench.

I must say the rain here has been insane!! Why have I managed to take
this bad weather with me for so much of my trip? We had a huge series
of thunderstorms on Sunday evening, where at least 7 rounds of
whipping lightning-filled gargantuan storms passed over the camp
soaking us all and shaking every tent to breaking point. (I never
realized that you could repair a tent crossbar so many times, although
I have to say that the person who rigged an entire plastic tarp tent
on top of their other one has to have the best idea!). We also had a
quick hail storm and amazing fog drifting in on what proved to be a
freezing night!

Pics: Campsite kitchen, Hail, campsite in fog, bridge, dig site 2791,
yellow flower field

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