Mortuary Archaeology Field School

To the northeast of Warsaw, Poland lies a small town of less than 200 people: Drawsko. It has two schools, a bakery, a hotel and post office and one grocery store. It is also host to a mortuary archeology field school during the summertime, where I spent a month of my 2017 summer, learning and teaching forensic anthropology.

Students were housed in an empty schoolhouse, with 6 or more people per room; beds were air mattresses and the windows and numerous fans didn’t provide hardly enough air circulation. These typical field school conditions set the scene for hours of field work in the mornings, large and quick meals, and evenings filled with classwork and lab time.

The site was located in a farmers field. Polish law dictates that if artefacts are found on a person’s property, that the site must be excavated until deemed free of artefacts. On this specific farmers field, an extensive cemetery is continuously being unearthered, with items ranging from the 10th century B.C.E. to the 17th century C.E. and throughout the excavation period that I was there for, roman pots, empty graves, lusation items and plenty of skeletons were uncovered.

Every morning started with breakfast at 7am. Everyone would line up for buffet style perogies or crepes and then sit at the long table for a quick bite before heading out to the field. Then began about 6 hours of careful digging and artifact acquisition with a quick break in the middle for a sandwich lunch and as much water as our hot and dusty bodies could take. An afternoon snack would happen after digging was done for the day and the evening would be filled with classwork, lab analysis, exams and dinner before we had the late evening to ourselves. Sometimes this meant Game of Thrones, sometimes this meant an early night.

Over the time we were there we practiced the initial surface collection of a site, testing, mapping and transit techniques before excavation truly began. It’s a slow process, and as you can see in these pictures, layer by layer needs to carefully come away and everything must be accounted for.

A baby rattle (it made sound!)
No body found in this grave… did we stumble across a 17th century grave robbery?

This is my dig partner, Curt [see below]. He’s a meticulous Canadian nerd who was awesome to work with during the week and a blast to hang out with on the weekends as we explored some Polish towns. Together we did quite a bit of mapping, measuring and the full excavation of a very strong, approximately 50 year old man.

With teacher’s from around the globe, students learned about animal bones, advanced osteological profiling, lab analysis and museology techniques. I loved teaching osteology and after finishing my time there I was thrilled to come back to University to teach more anatomy courses – plus, I felt sure that I had found something I really loved to study.