My Archaeological Adventure

Linda’s post about MOOCs has inspired me to write about an online course I studied last year: Archaeology’s Dirty Little Secrets. The description of the course in the Coursera website is: Admit it — you wanted to be an archaeologist when you grew up… This course builds on that enthusiasm, while radically expanding your notions about just what archaeology is and just what archaeologists do. Why is it that every child wants to be an archaeologist? Some people say it is because the Indiana Jones movies, but in my case it wasn’t (I watched Indiana Jones for the first time when I was 25!). In any case, I am also fascinated by archaeology, I love visiting ancient ruins and I decided to sign up for the course.

It was taught by Professor Sue Alcock, from Brown University. She is an enthusiastic lady absolutely in love with her job and the course was great. We studied the basic concepts about archaeology and also followed some real archaeology field work done by several professors in Egypt, Jordan, Guatemala and Montserrat. The lessons were mostly in video format and very entertaining.

There was also homework. Every week we had to do some practical exercises. The homework for the last week was this:

Get on out there and participate in something related to archaeology near you. There are many options: go to a museum, visit an archaeological site or monument, attend a lecture, convene an archaeological discussion group (including ones that revolve around Archaeology’s Dirty Little Secrets!). Then report on what you have done, including:
1.    What did you do? Describe what you saw, heard, talked about, learned, etc.
2.    Why did you choose this activity?
3.    Did you enjoy it?
4.    Would you do it again? Will you?Why or why not?
5.    If possible, upload a picture of your experience.


And this was my answer:


At first I intended to visit the local museum as I haven’t been there in a few years and I didn’t know about any archaeological site in the area. But a quick search on google revealed that 3 years ago archaeologists had found a cluster of tombs spanning 6 dynasties. (At this point I think I have to mention that I am located in Suzhou, China). I told my boyfriend and he was totally excited and started researching in Chinese websites. Finally we decided to go and see the remainings of an earth wall that was the border separating two territories in the Wu State (11 century B.C. – 5 century B.C.). For more info on the State of Wu please check this link. Chinese archaeologists are not sure yet wheter the Wu capital was located in present day Suzhou, Wuxi or Changzhou.

Taking a map we found on the internet as a reference and with the help of Google Earth we located the area where the wall was supposed to be and drove there (about 30 km west of Suzhou). It is an area currently used as farming land. It was very sunny and like 35°C!
After stopping at a wrong place (which seemed to be in the right place according to the map and looked like an earth wall but turned out to be the side of a pond) we arrived at one of the places where the wall should be. We walked over to the mounds where the trees are and we guessed maybe that was the wall, but weren’t really sure. I was starting to believe we were in the wrong place, or that the wall had been completely destroyed.



We didn’t want to give up just yet so we headed north to look for other parts of the wall. We arrived at a small village, parked and crossed through the village following a path (thanks, Google maps!). And there, in the middle of the fields, there was something! A small makeshift building looking like a temporary warehouse or something like that. We walked up to the front door but it was locked! So we peered through the window and this is what we saw:



There was the earthen wall! (well, or a small portion of it). There were pictures and texts hanging from the walls but too far to read, I assume they were explanations about the site. Just on that moment a local granny passed by on her way from the fields to the village and we asked her about the place. She confirmed it was an archaeological site but that it just opened for scheduled visits for scholars and government members. She also told us that the archaeologists had been digging around in more places nearby but didn’t find anything (I guess she meant no artifacts were found).

We walked aroud the building and noticed that there were remainings of the wall outside:




So, I didn’t really see much, and didn’t learn much on the spot as there was no information I could read, but I did an extensive research when I arrived home!

I chose to go exploring and not to the museum because it was way more exciting! Even though I didn’t see much but I felt like a real archaeologist surveying the land! I will definitely do it again, next weekend we will go and see if we can find the tombs that I mentioned in the first parafraph (and with find I mean if they have not been buried again and a building built above them!). A friend has also told me about an abandoned Buddhist temple on top on a mountain close to where we saw the earth wall. Adventure, here I come!!

Now, a few months later, I have to confess I haven’t been yet to look for the tombs or to visit the abandoned temple. But I will some day! Thanks to this MOOC I found out that there are some ancient and hidden vestiges of past civilizations very close to Suzhou.