The Daily Grind: A day in the field

The days are long. Every day for 5 days a week I wake up at 5:30 AM, and that’s sleeping in! I quickly pull on my old dirt brown boy child sized cargo pants and whatever clean shirt I can find in the dark, stick my hair in a bun and head downstairs to the communal kitchen. Since I sleep in I’m usually late for breakfast, but so long as there is still coffee, heads don’t roll.

Back at again with the white vans!

Everyone got a zombie look in their eye save for that one morning person who cheerier than a seagull with a French fry. It takes us the rest of us non-morning people a solid 10 minutes for the caffeine from the coffee to sink into our bloodstream. By 5:50 AM the team piles into the 3 white vans before heading over to the lab to grab all our equipment we’ll need for the day. Apparently, white vans are considered undesirable for stealing, sorry Daniel.

Typically, when we arrive at the lab we are greeted with the sun rising over the beach. While it sucks to be awake so early, it is almost worth it to see the sun rising every day. Each person is responsible for obtaining their equipment which is dependent upon what job you must conduct. Based on a rotating bi-weekly schedule each person will switch from being an excavator to a gunner. Gunner as in laser shooting an artifact for it latitudinal and longitudinal measurements, not gunner as in shooting bad guys Rambo style.


Once everyone has gathered their appointed equipment the team is divided into two excavating teams. Since there are two open sites that need to be excavated the team is divided using again a bi-weekly rotational schedule. The first and most prominent of the two sites is PP56, the other smaller site is known as Vleesbaai. After everyone knows which site they have to go to and have all their equipment, the cars get packed and off we go!


On average it takes about 15-20 minutes to drive up the coast to each of the sites. This is one of my favorite times of the day. I get to sit and listen to some oh so hip tropical house jams with the mandatory trumpet/flute solo and relax. I know Kygo’s music is pretty sweet on its own, but what really makes this part of the day my favorite is being able to watch the rest of the world wake up. There’s something beautiful and personal about watching everyone prepare for the day ahead of them. Both teams tend to arrive at the parking zone a little before 6 AM. Since both sites are located on the actual coastline, we aren’t able to drive directly up. This means that we have to pack mule ourselves with our gear and walk to the site. Now if you are at Vleesbaai this is easy, pleasant even. You walk down to the beach and then for a mile or two you stroll down the soft flat beach. PP56, however, is like descending into the depths of Cthulhu’s watery domain. PP56 is a cave site, a cave site located on a jagged cliffside. Just to get down to the beach we have to walk down a ramp so steep cars don’t have traction on it.  Not only that, but once on the beach you then have to scramble up about a ½ mile along the cliffside to reach the entrance to the cave. Now, add a 50lb pack full of equipment worth more than your college debt and your set!


When you do manage to get to the site, everyone divides up to their designated sections or stations and sets up. And, so the day starts. For a total of 9 to 10 hours, we work like a human version of an ant hill. Excavators, carefully measure, dig and plot any finds. Gunners, constantly take measurements. And, directors, analyze data and supervise. Throughout the day we get coffee breaks to reboot our caffeine intake and stretch our limbs.

Scrub a dub dub time to get in the tub

At 4:50 PM everyone’s internal factory bell rings signifying the end of the day. We pack up our equipment, walk back to the cars, and drive back to the lab to put everything away. It’s 6:00 PM by the time we arrive back at the house and with only an hour before dinner it’s like Black Friday in a mall. Everyone is trying to get a shower to try and rub away some of the dirt that’s decided to become our second skin, but unfortunately not all do. If I’m lucky I manage to snag a shower, but most of the time I just wait until after dinner when the hot water tank has a chance to refill itself.

Once everyone returns back from dinner fat and happy, we pack our lunches, call our loved ones and relax. However, the work isn’t finished. At about 10 PM we all grab some local beer (or liquor if you are one of the Australians) and spend the next hour bantering and labeling our artifact bags in preparation for the following day.

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