A Day in the Life of a Volunteer Archaeological Excavator

I wondered for a long time what life would be like for participants in an archaeological excavation. I took a course on Classical Greek Archaeology in my undergraduate program, but the classroom is certainly no field excavation. I knew that Indiana Jones is not a pure source on the subject (archaeological tools = pistol & bullwhip), though a curiously large number of modern archaeologists wear variations of his hat.

The current excavation at Khirbet Qeiyafa/the Elah Fortress in Israel has provided some excellent insight into the life and work of an archaeologist, and of the people who participate in a dig. I would like to provide a few snapshots (literally) of a typical day on an excavation.

4:10 a.m. – Wake up


No people in this photograph per request of everyone present.

4:40 a.m. – The bus leaves for the site.

The expressions in this photo were not staged.

The expressions in this photo were not staged.

5:20 – Arrive at the site; carry water containers and equipment up… up… up… to the ruined fortress.

The excavation level is

The excavation level is the top of the hill, marked by the highest trees and the wall section visible in the upper left quadrant of the photo.

5:30 to 5:40 a.m. – Begin to excavate, remove dirt and rocks, and search for interesting things.


This is the 2nd gate to the city, which was discovered last year. It just began to be excavated this summer. The Elah Valley is in the background.

7:00 a.m. – Descend for Coffee Break

They also offer pastries and peanut butter/jelly or peanut butter/chocolate sandwiches.

They also offer pastries and peanut butter/jelly or peanut butter/chocolate sandwiches.

7:20 a.m. – Re-ascend and resume excavation


The man in the center is the site architect. His job is to figure out how stones and walls relate (or don't relate) to each other, helping to reconstruct what the buildings looked like, and when they existed.

9:00 a.m. – Descend for Breakfast


Food Watch... Can you identify the parts of this balanced breakfast?

9:20 a.m. – Back to work.


Almost everything is done in the shade. Almost.

11:00 a.m. – Watermelon Break

My favorite break of the day.

My favorite break of the day.

11:20 a.m. – Back to work.


Our ultimate goal is bedrock.

1:00 p.m. – Pack up equipment and return to our hostel via a nice air-conditioned bus.


On Sundays, we begin work in the heat of the day at 1:00 p.m. Thankfully, we only do that on Sunday.

1:45 p.m. – Lunch


This is the one "meat" meal in the kosher menu of our hostel. We are staying in an observant Jewish village, and thus dine within the dietary laws.

2:15-ish to 4:30 – Siesta/Free Time

We shower, then try to catch up on other things... with mixed results.

We shower, then try to catch up on other things... with mixed results.

4:30 p.m. – Pottery Washing


On this particular afternoon, some local kids offered to help us scrub the dirt from the day's pottery finds.

This young man didn't

This young man didn't wash much pottery, but I had to include him in this post.

7:00 p.m. – Attend Lecture on Biblical Archaeology.


We have nightly lectures from various professors attached to the excavation.

8:00 p.m. – Dinner

Represented at the table:

Represented at this table - Israel, the U.S., Canada, France, Holland and Korea.

After Dinner Go to Bed

[no photo – everyone is asleep]


About LukeChandler

Luke holds an M.A. in Ancient and Classical History and has been an adjunct professor at Florida College in Temple Terrace, Florida. Luke and his wife Melanie have five children. He serves as a minister in English and Spanish with the North Terrace Church of Christ and participates annually in archaeological excavations in Israel. Luke also leads tours to Europe and the Bible Lands.
This entry was posted in Culture & Cuisine, General Archaeology, Israel and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to A Day in the Life of a Volunteer Archaeological Excavator

  1. Nathan Collier says:

    Wow Luke, this is truly an epic post. I always love trying to take the people I love with me where I travel and this definitely gave me a better notion of what you are up to. Thanks!

    It also serves to inform me that, while the opportunity to dress like Indiana Jones makes archeology tempting, digging up rocks in the heat from early morning on doesn’t sound like my idea of fun. 🙂

    Glad there are those of you who embrace such an experience. Glad to see you are having a good time!

  2. afrankangle says:

    Whoa … that’s one long, full day! I other day I was wondering about your routine, so thanks for answering the question I didn’t formally ask.

    I’m touched by how this is a joint effort by people from different countries … and all for the common good.

  3. Luke – great job!

    Thanks to you and your dad for joining the team this year!

  4. Jordan Wilson says:

    Okay, I give up. What’s that brown stuff next to the hard boiled eggs in the breakfast picture?

    • lukechandler says:

      The brown stuff is tuna. Nothing like a little protein to fuel one’s morning. Incidentally, the yellow & red items toward the upper left are bell peppers.

  5. Pingback: At the 2010 Khirbet Qeiyafa Excavation | Luke Chandler's Blog

  6. Sarah Kornblau says:

    thanks so much for posting this! i’ll be joining the dig this year and both this post and blog have been so informative. thanks so much!
    -sarah kornblau

    • lukechandler says:

      Thanks for your kind comment. Perhaps our time will overlap at the dig. It’s a rich, fantastic experience. Best wishes, Sarah!

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