For a unique vacation and learning experience, consider spending part of your vacation volunteering alongside professional archaeologists at an archaeological dig. Imagine helping to excavate Solomon's palace at Megiddo in Israel, or helping to uncover the secrets of a castle in Romania. From cliff dwellings in New Mexico to ancient Roman forts in Great Britain, you are sure to find an archeological dig which excites your imagination.
In most digs, you have to be prepared to spend long hours in the hot sun. Many digs around the Mediterranean and Middle East occur in extremely hot, dry conditions, and the work is demanding. To cut down on the intense sun, digs can start as early as 4 am. Thus, physical fitness is very important. Do not look for this kind of vacation unless you are sure you will be up to it.
However, previous experience is not necessary to volunteer at a dig. Your job is to be an extra pair of hands wherever the dig leader needs it. In a time of tight funding, your help is essential to be able to continue excavating a historic site. As a volunteer on an archeological dig, you make it possible for that dig to continue and for projects to be completed.
How to volunteer
You will have to ask in advance before joining a dig. However, finding a suitable volunteer placement is as easy as asking your local university. Even universities without an archaeology department will be able to connect you with people in charge of many major digs. You can also research a dig through the dig's website, through the sponsoring university, or independently.
Your cost for participating in an archaeological dig is your travel. In most cases, you will have to arrange flights on your own. Sometimes you will have to drive to the dig site on your own. In other cases, there may be a shuttle or other pre-arranged transportation link to the dig site.
You will also usually be expected to pay for your food and accommodation while on the dig, which will be with the rest of the crew. Your accommodation won't be anything fancy, but the prices will be reasonable. The minimum stay depends on the dig, but usually it won't be less than a week or two.
What to expect
When you arrive, you will be assigned to a site supervisor and placed with a team. What you will be doing after that depends on what time of year you join the crew. At the beginning of the digging season, volunteers are often involved in site preparation. Later on, you may be digging physically with everything from shovels and picks to tiny trowels.
As you gain more experience, you could even be assigned to help lift and clean the surface of a delicate Roman mosaic. Skilled senior students and professionals will coach you through your task.
At the end of each day, the new finds will have been cleaned and sorted. At that point, you will learn the history and background of what you and your team have discovered that day.
Many university-based archaeological digs include evening lectures for the students who are involved. Volunteers are welcome to sit in for free, as long as you don't expect academic credit.