Whether you want to excavate ancient temples, or skeletons of extinct critters like dinosaurs and mammoths, digs all over the world are looking for volunteers to lend a hand and get dirty.
In exchange for tuition and sweat, participants receive hands-on instruction, room and board, and the deep gratification of contributing to important scientific discoveries. Most excavations are strenuous, dirty, and physically challenging, involving walking, squatting, and sometimes tolerating rugged accommodations without electricity, but they attract many passionate people — not just college kids earning credits. Crew members tend to range in age from 16 to 80, and some projects even offer opportunities for those with limited mobility.
Generally taking place in summer with a spring application deadline, projects take place in almost every nation accessible to researchers. Here are eight excavation opportunities that are actively seeking adult volunteers for 2019.
1. Biblical archaeology in Israel
The site: Tell-es-Safi/Gath of the Philistines
Located in southern Israel between Jerusalem and Ashkelon, Biblical Gath was one of the five cities of the Philistines (Biblical peoples in conflict with Israelites) and supposedly home to Goliath, of the David and Goliath Bible parable. The site has been occupied from the Early Bronze Age, about 4,000 years ago, through today. This particular project has been going on since 1996.
The finds: Among other artifacts, crews have excavated ancient houses, rare cult objects, Philistine burials, and inscriptions referring to Goliath.
The details: The 2019 project runs from June 23 to July 19. It’s a mixed crew of college students and paying adults. Participation cost varies for the four-week project, depending on the type of dorm room the volunteer chooses. The range is about $500 to $1,200, also depending on length of stay and registration fees. Food is not included but there’s a store at the lodging site. There’s a minimum two-week participation.
Contact: Dr. Aren Maeir from the Institute of Archaeology at Bar-Ilan University heads the dig. Dr. Maeir is reachable via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. A link to the excavation site is here and its blog is here.
2. A Mayan city in Belize
The site: Blue Creek, Belize
Starting in 1992, the Maya Research Project (MRP) is an affiliate of University of Texas at Tyler. It’s legit, certified by the Register of Professional Archaeologists. According to the project’s website, “Recent support has come from the Archaeological Institute of America, National Geographic Society, the National Science Foundation, the Heinz Foundation, and the American Council of Learned Societies.” The project’s overarching goal is to understand more about the societies of the Americas, and to educate interested people about the ethics and procedures of archaeology. The Blue Creek site is about 20 miles east of the Guatemalan border.
The finds: Over the years, the project has excavated a portion of an ancient Mayan city. Among many other finds, this has included artifacts that indicate Pre-Hispanic trade; residential, religious, and civic buildings; pottery; lithics (archaeology speak for “stone tools”); jade; jewelry; irrigation systems; and sacred objects.
The details: There are four two-week field sessions this year, running from late May to late July. Adult volunteers pay $1,850 for a two-week field session; subsequent sessions cost less. To learn a field specialty, like scientific illustration or the study of skeletal remains, the cost for two weeks is $2,100. Participants are housed in a two-story building with a kitchen, or nearby cabanas without electricity. Meals and water are included, and laundry is available for a small fee. Evening lectures have covered topics ranging from conservation, mapping, and the sad history of looting Mayan remains.
Contact: For more information, check out the project’s detailed site or email email@example.com.
3. Queensland dinos
The site: The Australian Age of Dinosaurs tourism company presents a casual, comfortable dinosaur dig experience, called Dig-a-Dino. The excursion includes everything from lessons on how to tell a rock from a bone to onsite museum preservation demonstrations to day trips to Dinosaur Canyon. Participants can even try plastering a bone for museum exhibits. The AAOD dig experience site is located somewhat far into Australia’s western Queensland outback, with the nearest city being Winton.
Finds: So far, the group has unearthed sauropod bones and teeth, remnants of crocodiles and flying reptiles, and important plant fossils.
Details: The only remaining available week for 2019’s Dig-a-Dino experience is that of June 3. The cost of $2,430 is all-inclusive — even catered tea breaks, pre-dinner drinks, transportation to and from Winton, and laundry come in the bundle. Rooms are shared with two twin beds.
Contact: A “Contact Us” form is located on the group’s site here.
4. A day of Greek archaeology
The site: Travelers ages 18 and over can spend a day learning the principles of archaeology alongside University of Athens experts at a new project at Marathonas, Greece. Student visitors will learn everything from recognizing surface artifacts to properly photographing them, and maybe even get their hands dirty by taking the site down a layer. They’ll also see the Tomb of Marathon, aka “the Pile,” a monument to soldiers who fell at the Battle of Marathon.
Details: Cost depends on number of participants in the group, and includes transport from guests’ hotels, meals (including beer, wine, or soda) at the tour company’s favorite seaside taverna, and all entrance fees. For details regarding dates and availability, visit the Marathon Excavation Tour site.
Contact: Click here to contact Discover Greek Culture, which runs the excavation tour.
5. Rock art in Italy
The site: Paspardo Valcamonica is an alpine valley in northern Italy with tons of UNESCO World Heritage-protected prehistoric engravings. In affiliation with Catholic University of the Sacred Heart (Brescia), the Footsteps of Man Archaeological Cooperative Society-run project will teach registrants to excavate, photograph, draw, and catalog rock art at two specific spots in the valley.
The finds: Some of the art dates back to 6,000 years ago (the Neolithic Period), and ancient artists continued to leave artwork in the area through the Bronze and Iron ages (up to 2,000 years ago). The 200,000-300,000 known art pieces include geometric shapes like spirals and anthropomorphic (human) and zoomorphic (animal) designs. This year’s students will learn to survey the landscape to find even more.
Details: Volunteers only have to be 16 years old and do not need experience to participate in this longstanding project — just an open mind and sharp eyes. The cost is $570 per week, with a minimum stay of one week. Tuition covers food, lodging, work material, instruction, and lectures. The field season runs from July 18th to August 8th.
Contact: Professor Angelo Eugenio Fossati leads the project. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. English and Italian are spoken and the project’s Italian-language website is translatable.
6. Angkor empire households in Cambodia
The site: The esteemed nonprofit Earthwatch Institute sponsors field school for adults interested in understanding the world’s oldest pre-industrial city: that of the Angkor empire, which started more than 1,000 years ago in what is now Cambodia. Climate change has and continues to damage this site, but people have never truly abandoned the area. The 2019 fieldwork is set in Battambang Province and will continue to excavate less-visited ancient villages set on private lands and farms.
The finds: The main questions the head archaeologists are asking include how Angkorian and post-Angkorian communities sustained political strife and why certain people stayed when the political capital of the area moved south. This is household archaeology: an investigation of the everyday lives, possessions, and structures made by small communities. Some of the most revelatory artifacts include ancient ceramics and domestic structures.
Details: Spaces are available for seven- or 14-day excavations running from late May 2019 to late June 2019. Participants will stay in a hotel in the nearby town of Siem Reap. Catered meals are included. Breakfast is continental and lunch is in a Cambodian restaurant. Evening lectures are included, and 14-day sessions usually allocate a day or two for recreation. Costs range from $2,425 to $3,625 depending on the length of the fieldwork.
Contact: Dr. Miriam Stark of the University of Hawaii at Manoa is the co-director of the project. To contact Earthwatch, click here.
7. Dinosaurs and more in Montana
The site: In the previous field seasons, crew members at the nonprofit Bighorn Basin Paleontological Institute hit a fossiliferous jackpot, locating a region full of plant and animal skeletons representing many creatures that lived just before dinosaurs went extinct. Of course, they found dinosaurs, too — this area was a home to the Tyrannosaurus rex and to Triceratops, among many others. This field season, crew members will be excavating that area (called the Morrison Formation) to scientifically document their many finds.
The finds: The BBPI has located fossils of prehistoric crocodiles, mammals, lizards, birds, and dinosaurs. It has three more quarries to excavate in the region.
Details: People 12 and older in healthy physical condition can join the dig for one or two days as an Expedition Daily Visitor or one week as a crew member. Slated weeks are June 30th to August 10th; check availability of sessions here. Lodging and meals are provided in the Beartooth Mountains at the Yellowstone-Bighorn Research Association. Cost is $1,600 per week including room and board, all meals, tools, training, and transport to and from the site from the research association headquarters.
Contact: For more information, email email@example.com or check out the organization’s FAQs here.
8. Historic archaeology in the United States
The site: Fort San Juan near Morganton, North Carolina
Fort San Juan is (probably) the oldest European settlement in the interior of the United States. The fort was used from 1567-1568, but native peoples occupied the site well before the Europeans arrived. In fact, researchers have found a mound site from the Mississippian Period and a native town, in addition to five burned buildings from a Spanish settlement. This site honors all kinds of interests, and covers both prehistoric and historic occupations.
Details: Field dates are June 3 to June 28. No experience is necessary. Volunteers must be 16 or older and commit to contributing for at least one week (but can stay up to four weeks). Cost is $425 per week. Optional room and board is an additional $75 per week. Visit the website for more information here.
Contact: For more information, Dr. David Moore of Warren Wilson College at firstname.lastname@example.org.