Are You Prepared for your Time in the Field?

3 Things I learned from a Month of Cemetery Field Work.

#1: Never Underestimate the Elements:

Cemetery work is not like other types of archaeological work where you might be in remote areas and unfamiliar settings with no signs of life for kilometers, aside from your camp. Cemeteries are everywhere, and many of them are right smack dab in the middle of urban areas. I found this to play tricks on my mind, simply because it still felt as if you are close to so many amenities, and do not feel the same level of concern for being prepared for anything. However, it is still called fieldwork for a reason, and while not all the cemeteries you will be working in will be in a field per say, you will still be outdoors for extended periods of time. As such, you will subject to the fickle whim of Mother Nature and must still always be prepared for any type of weather. You might somehow luck out, and the cemetery you will be conducting work in is a block away from where you are staying, but if this isn’t the case, (as it often is not) you are not going to be able to run home and change if it suddenly starts to rain. The work you are doing can be time sensitive and no one in your team wants to be waiting around for you to return with proper clothing or equipment. Your days in the field will be long and could require multiple changes of clothing, so don’t get caught wet, cold, burnt, or under equipped. Here is a small list of some common items you will not want to be caught without:


  • Backpack
  • Water!
  • Food for the a day, and extra protein just in case
  • Rain jacket/ rain pants
  • Shorts/ pants
  • Sunscreen
  • Hat
  • Write in the rain field paper with plenty of pencils
  • Toolbox with all essential tools (Tape measure, brush, gloves, etc…)



#2: Nutrition is all-important:

While this one might sound obvious to many reading this post, you would not believe how often we forget our bodies need fuel to run at maximum efficiency. You may have seen those hilarious advertisements for Snickers bars with the tag line, “You’re not you when you’re hungry”? Well it’s true! Your brain is very much dependent on appropriate glucose levels. When levels drop too low, you can seemingly become a whole different person. It becomes harder to focus and even perform simple tasks. When you are recording lots and lots of data points, over many, many gravesites, it’s important to work well fed. You don’t want to have to go back and do your work over again, simply because you missed a few curial points from being a little ‘hangry’.


You also don’t want to be your hangry self to get in the way of team work. You might be working with people you have never met before and developing an effective relationship with team members is crucial for the success of any project.

There is a comical, yet informative blog post on the “Science of Hangry” I will leave here too:





#3: Be Culturally aware:

Not all cultures that bury their dead abide by the same burial practices, or post burial norms. Traditions and taboos associated with cemeteries differ from culture to culture, and even city to city. Working in cemeteries is a sensitive situation and as such, should be treated with respect.

In the Emanu-el Jewish cemetery here Victoria, Canada, so long as there is no malice intent, it isn’t considered an offense to walk over someone’s grave. This is not necessarily the case with other religions or particular cemeteries; so right from the start it is an important thing to find out. In this case, being able to walk over the graves without offense was of huge help considering much of the work in the cemetery included taking measurements of the monuments, and often plotting them on a standard base line in order to create a reference map of the whole cemetery. No matter how much we attempt to mitigate it, conducting fieldwork is intrusive, and that goes double while you’re in a place where people’s remains have been laid to rest with intention and care.


It is always a good idea to speak with the cemetery director, or relevant figures regarding what may or may not be appropriate the particular cemetery you are working in. A perfect example of this occurred while working in Emanu-el Cemetery. We were informed that fruit trees are not planted in Jewish cemeteries, as it would be cruel to subject those buried there to the presence of food, when those souls will never be able to eat again. So, while I mentioned the importance staying nourished, it is also important to be aware that in this case, our food had to be eaten outside of the cemetery grounds. It is important to respect the traditions of the cemetery you are working in, even if you do not share the same beliefs.