When working at an archaeological site during the summer, you live in a bubble. You aren’t on your phone all the time. Your internet may be spotty or non-existent. You don’t watch TV. It’s pretty refreshing to disconnect for a bit and to focus on something other than the gloom and doom of the 24 hour news cycle.
But you have moments where the bubble bursts. I remember being on site at Poggio Civitate in the summer of 2005 when we all heard about the subway bombing in London. For hours our head conservator was trying desperately to get a hold of his partner back home who, based on the timing, would have probably been in the tube at that moment. We did not have internet in town, so the few cell phones and TV at the hotel was the best we could do. And we all waited nervously until he was able to get a hold of Bob. And he did. And we went back into our bubble.
This was 11 years ago. Now at Poggio Civitate most, if not all people have cell phones, everyone can get online at the hotel, and while it’s still a bubble, it is more plugged in than it used to be. Working in Italy, though, we never had reason to be nervous about bombings or violent political upheaval. I have archaeologist friends and colleagues who worked in Syria, Israel, Egypt…the list goes on…who cannot work in the field because it is simply not safe, security cannot be guaranteed, or due to their nationality, they are no longer welcome to work in that country.
Now I work for a project in Turkey where multiple times this year alone, we’ve had to play the waiting game after a bombing to find out if everyone from the team, their families, friends, and colleagues, are ok. Because of internet access on site, almost immediately after the story broke, I was able to hear from a team member that all Sardis folks were accounted for and no one was flying through Ataturk that day. My boss was in touch with the US Embassy and by the time I came in to work the next morning, he’d already emailed us to let us know the Embassy said everything was fine in their area.
Friends and colleagues have been getting in touch with me to ask if I am in Turkey this summer and whether the team was going to leave now. The answer to both is no, and that’s usually met with, “Wow, aren’t you happy you aren’t there right now?” My answer to that, in all honesty, is no. That team is like part of my extended family, and I miss them and want to help support them.
We are fortunate that Sardis is located near Izmir in a very safe part of Turkey. Could something happen there? Of course. But it could happen anywhere. Just a couple years ago I had to wait to hear from friends in Boston after the marathon bombings. Over the years I’ve had to wait after multiple campus shootings.
Over the course of my 15 years of archaeological fieldwork, I’ve lived in many bubbles and both enjoyed it and have been scared by it. Now, though, the bubbles are increasingly more connected to what’s going on the world, and unfortunately, it’s a big relief. We don’t have to go nearly as long with the stress of not knowing.