By Lucy Triedman, Earthwatch Program Manager
My journey to Cambodia for our new expedition Unearthing the Ancient Secrets of Angkor in Cambodia really started last spring – a year before I made the big trip around the world to Southeast Asia. When we invited Dr. Miriam Stark and Dr. Alison Carter to submit a proposal to join our project inventory, I quickly raised my hand to help coordinate this project with the hopes that a year later, I’d get to participate in my first archaeological dig. After many months of preparations and with flights booked, I was ready to go and represent Earthwatch as the first team site visitor! My role was simple: Make sure everything ran smoothly during the expedition’s first team in Angkor Archeological Park.
A few weeks before the expedition began, we got some news. Due to unforeseen circumstances, we would be unable to pursue international research in Angkor Archaeological Park. Thanks to the gracious support of Cambodia’s Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, the scientists were able to move their project to Battambang, a nearby province three hours from Siem Reap with significantly less tourism and little previous archaeological work. There was some disappointment surrounding the change, but we (the research team, Earthwatch volunteers, and I) were quickly charmed by Battambang’s French architecture, quiet nature, and friendly villagers. We were eager to start digging and learn from the household mounds in this unstudied area of Angkor society.
Before we could start digging, there is a tradition to have local monks bless the dig site. We weren’t quite sure what to expect, but excited to be part of this ritual! The experience far exceeded expectations and I was truly in awe of the proceedings. There was the jarring object in front of me which quickly became clear to be part of a pig’s head (for your viewing pleasure, I’ve included a photo below), there were the surmountable giggles that came out upon the monks arriving on motorcycles, and the intrigue of the village children who were scattered among the archaeologists, Earthwatchers, and landowners in the crowd. This was a unique opportunity to acknowledge our field site as a historical and cultural landscape, and home to farmers who have generously allowed us to dig their land in order to understand the past and inform our future.
The motto of day 1? Dig, dig, dig, and dig some more! I quickly became used to the blisters forming on my hands as we made headway on our trench in search of what archaeologists consider to be “gold”: ceramics, metal, and other artifacts. Pretty quickly, we started finding Angkor Period ceramic stoneware sherds, animal bones and teeth, and char. We worked side-by-side archaeologists from the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts to dig, screen, and organize our findings for future teams to then wash, photograph, and identify. Dr. Alison Carter would jump between trenches sloshing around the muddy grounds (it was the start of the rainy season after all) and charismatically explain our findings and early hypothesis about what they could mean in relation to her research question:
How can we better understand the Angkor Period and the great socio-political and climatic change, specifically how the local people in the area were adapting to these events, in order to understand how we as individuals and as a society can combat our current climatic changes.
The season is now well underway, as they field the last team of the summer, and I’m certainly curious to hear what else they’ve dug up in the trenches!
To learn more about the expedition or to sign up to participate, visit our website: Unearthing the Ancient Secrets of Angkor in Cambodia.