As I did some last minute field work this past January, it gave me the perfect opportunity to create a packing list for everything you'll ever need on an archaeological excavation! So what I have done here, is separate the list into four sections such as Tools, Health and Wellness, Clothing and Miscellaneous. THEN, I've gone ahead and created three packing lists for you based on things like your budget and luggage space. You've got everything from your bare bones dig, to the most luxurious time you can have, considering you'll be digging in the dirt day in and day out for the better part of a month (or even more!)
* Just a quick note before we get started. I have not included normal packing essentials such as socks and underwear, pyjamas, toiletries, etc. These are all normal essentials with all kinds of travel and pretty obvious things that you'd be grabbing first. This list is solely dedicated to things you'll need specifically on site. Have fun!
Category 1: Tools of the Trade
Most archaeologists are very partial to their own trowels on site. Most digs and field schools in particular will have tools for everyone, but it's always nice to have your Ol' Faithful around. There are different sizes and brands for everyone, but popular ones are the Marshalltown Archaeology Trowel (click here) and the WHS Archaeology (click here). Both are great, just a bit different in size, so it's all your own prerogative!
I LOVE having my Swiss Army Knife on site! You never know when you're going to need it, or when someone else will. Whether it be for cutting some rope, using the screwdriver, anything, it'll always come in handy! Let's not forget the oh-so useful corkscrew and bottle opener as well for the evening activities ;). There are so many different types of knives out there, but the standard one will provide you with everything you need (click here).
It's SUPER important to stay hydrated on site, so a refillable water bottle is of the utmost importance! You are going to be working in the hot sun for hours, so you need to make sure you're taking care of yourself. Pack one, and don't forget to keep drinking!
Taking notes on what you're finding, stratigraphical layers and changes, and any documenting structures is very important while on site. It's really good to have a notebook with you to write down all these things for your own records, as well as for everyone else if they need it.
Pencils and Pens/ coloured pens, sharpies
A pencil case filled with all the things needed to take notes is also needed! Pack it with pens, pencils, coloured pencils for drawing sections and layers, and don't forget the Sharpies!! Sharpies are the keys to everyone's heart on site. They always go missing and are always needed. If you have one or two of those on you, you'll make friends fast.
You are going to need to carry all this stuff on site with you, so grab yourself a backpack and fill it with all the things you need on site!
If you aren't a trench supervisor, you probably won't need to have your own camera on site. That being said, it can be nice to have. Just don't sacrifice bag space for a camera you won't use, and don't pack a camera if you're afraid of damaging it.
This may be the conservator in me talking, but I cannot live without bringing 3 or 4 dental tools with me on a dig. They're great for careful excavation and cleaning of pottery, etc. If you are not familiar with working with them, or are maybe not so dextrous, I suggest using bamboo sticks instead as they are potentially less damaging to the artefacts than these are. So I put these under the heading "for trained professionals only".
Any sort of strong twine would be very good to have on site to help map out squares, etc. But this is also useful to make your own laundry drying lines, or just tie things down if needed. It's light and doesn't take up much room in your suitcase, so why not?
Other useful things that might come in handy are:
Tweezers (for small or delicate finds) Tape measure
Soft brushes (for more careful excavation or finer layers)
North arrow (for photo documentation)
Hand loop (for looking closer at pottery)
Category 2: Clothing
YOU MUST COVER YOURSELF FROM THE SUN AT ALL TIMES!! Your hat not only makes you look like a bad-ass explorer, it may indeed save your life. Covering your head is your first line of defense from heat stroke, sunburn, and all the other unfortunate things that come with overheating. It doesn't matter what you're using, a baseball cap, a straw hat, Indiana Jones hat, head scarf... honestly, anything. Just cover up!
This can be dependent on where you are digging (for example, in Oman we dug barefoot because we were digging in sand with some very delicate layers). Most of the time though, you will be wanting some good excavation shoes. I like having them more for safety and ankle support. The picutre I put here are the exact shoe that I wear and I personally love them (click here). They make me feel like Lara Croft too, so that always helps put me in the excavation mood!
Clothes that cover you- with LOTS of pockets
Truth bomb time- you may think that since you're excavating in the sun, in a nice warm place that you'll need to wear shorts and tank tops all day long to survive. NOPE, the reality is that the more you cover yourself from the sun, the cooler you'll be! This is a win-win because you'll also save on sunscreen! I'm very partial to long, cargo pants like these because they have all the pockets, which I'm always using on site.
These are not mandatory, but it's always good to have a pair of gloves on you to protect your hands, especially if you blister easily, or if your hands are getting sore or tired. They also help if you're doing heavy lifting.
I love my buffs! They're great for everything and can be worn a million ways. I always wear one on my wrist to protect my watch and for when I get sweaty. I usually also wear one as a headband to keep my hair in check, and have one to put around my neck for extra cooling or sun protection. Also it makes for a good face mask if you're dealing with a dusty environment. I suggest getting a cheaper multipack like these because they get dirty really quickly and need to be washed often.
Nothing feels better after a day of digging than taking off your dig shoes and letting those piggies breathe!
Sweater for early mornings
Since you'll be getting up before the crack of dawn, it can get chilly in the morning. Having a light sweater to keep you warm in the morning before the sun comes up, or for late at night is vital.
This is for the ladies! Digging in with a sports bra over a regular bra wins every time. You'll thank me later.
9 times out of 10, you'll be digging in some pretty sunny areas. Make sure you'll be able to see at the end of the day
Other useful things that might come in handy are:
Fancy clothes and shoes
Category 3: Health and Wellness
You'll be in the sun all day, so you need to protect yourself! Bring more sunscreen than you think you'll need, and slather it on every chance you get! Don't do archaeology for the tan, it's not a sexy one anyways.
Having some toilet paper with you on site is a life saver when you need to go to the bathroom. There are usually no bathrooms on site so you'll be digging holes and squatting. Bring some in a plastic