What you need to know about attending a field school

The Diggers
If you’re an archaeologist in training, one of the hopes of your formal education is that it will allow you to experience your profession first-hand in what’s known as a field school. The concept is simple: active dig sites are sometimes tabbed as field schools, where young archaeologists can learn the ropes first-hand.

Of course, some students will leap at the chance to attend field school just for the experience of doing hands-on archaeology at a remote location. It’s common for many field schools to take place over the summer as a supplement to graduate classes taken during the fall and spring. Digging through the dirt in the sweltering sun might not sound like an adventure to most people, but for lovers of archaeology it can be a real thrill.

In order to prepare for such an adventure, though, you’ll need to make sure you address some sticking points that could make or break your field school experience.

Understand the conditions

Archeology is the opposite of sitting behind a desk. You’re out in all kinds of weather throughout the day—including unforgiving sunlight and summer heat—making your way slowly through the dust and dirt in hopes of unearthing a fossil or artifact. It can be slow, tedious work with little relief from the elements, far from the thrilling exploits showcased in “Jurassic Park” and other movies.

Make sure you can swing it financially

Field schools come in different shapes and sizes. You might attend as a way to receive school credit, or you might have to foot some of your own bills. Similarly, you might be paid or unpaid. Find out what your circumstances will be and review your finances. Only go if you’re confident you can swing it financially without too much difficulty.

Line up health insurance

Graduate students attending field school during a semester break can potentially have to travel quite far to complete their field work. It’s crucial to maintain health insurance coverage at all times, no matter where you are. This is trickier than it may seem, since health insurance policies issued domestically typically don’t cover you when you leave the country. Track down a graduate student health insurance policy and purchase it before you embark on your travels.

Bring the right gear

Come prepared to work outside and get dirty. Pack clothes you don’t mind ruining, and make sure they’re ideal for the conditions. You’ll want to pack a hat, sunglasses and good sunblock to protect you from the sun, as well as a pair of durable shoes. Check with your field school destination to see if there are other items they recommend you to bring.

With proper preparation, you won’t get caught off guard by a stressful or hazardous situation. Along those same lines, you won’t be blindsided by the conditions of your work environment. Archeology can be fun and rewarding, but it’s still hard work, so it’s important to realize that before you head off to field school.

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