Thursday, 21 June 2007


Several people have asked me recently 'Why ARE you going to Afghanistan?' given all the difficulties, hardships on the road, potential dangers and stresses (I've recently started waking up in the middle of the night thinking about what else needs to be done). Hmm, good question, when you put it that way!
I could list the objectives in our project proposal - to finish off our ceramic studies from 2003 and 2005, to make a positive contribution to getting archaeology in Afghanistan back on its feet... and I'd obviously like to discover previously unknown archaeological sites in this remote part of the country. In short, we have the opportunity to increase significantly what we know the Ghurids and medieval Afghanistan in general.
To be honest, a certain obstinance also comes into play - in 2003, I agreed to work at Jam on the condition that it would be a three season project, not a drive-through jolly. We have since been prevented from completing our work at Jam, but I would like to see through my side of the bargain.
Alison and I have also worked hard to raise a significant amount of funding for the project and to assemble a highly skilled, multi-national team - it'd be gut-wrenching to have to hand back all the funding at this late stage and for all our organisational efforts to come to naught.
An inherent stubbornness, however, isn't a particularly good reason to jeopardise my own, nevermind the team's safety. That said, a student has stabbed at random by another student in the library here at uni a few of weeks ago and two passers-by were shot in Melbourne's CBD on Monday. It's a crazy world.
I think of myself as more determined than stubborn - I want to complete the project, provided that the conditions on the ground make that possible. None of us has any desire to get into strife for some old ruins.
At the end of the day, I just love what I do - exploring, in time and space, challenging knowledge (and myself), pushing boundaries. I am certainly not in this game for the money and domestic bliss! I feel incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to work in an amazing country, and I get a buzz from doing something extraordinary. I think that we'd be crazy not to go, rather than crazy to go!

Wednesday, 13 June 2007

Gearing up for the season

Many of the people I talk to have a 'Hollywoodified' image of what going on an archaeological project entails. While they don't necessarily expect us to be discovering ancient treasures, fighting off villains and saving damsels in distress every day, they think of our trips abroad as basically another long holiday in the sun.

Unfortunately, whereas Indy just rocks up and starts digging / pillaging (have you ever seen him take any notes?!), I currently feel like a bureaucrat, trying to sort out flights, hotels / hovels, insurance and equipment, and chasing down errant team members (you know who you are, so if you read this get in touch ASAP!). Working in Afghanistan merely adds another layer of stress and admin.

Our lives would be much easier if the British Institute of Afghan Studies hadn't been closed down in the early 1980s. Few foreign teams worked in Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation and subsequent conflicts, but the French re-opened their institute DAFA a couple of years ago. We can only envy their facilities, although they generously let us use the library and provide lunch whenever we crawl in off the dusty streets.

That's not to say we don't appreciate the support and interest that the British Embassy has shown in our work. They were one of our major sponsors in 2005 and are funding this year's seminar series in Kabul. We hope that the seminars will teach the next generation of Afghan archaeologists about the theory and practice of archaeological survey and fieldwork, non-Indy style.