Archaeological Expedition in the "Valley of Kings" by the Russian Geographical Society: expectations and experience, before and after
June 9, 2018 / Travel
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Now, in June, the archaeological expedition in the “Valley of Kings” by the Russian Geographical Society is already in progress: volunteers are studying the Tunnug burial mound in the Republic of Tuva. Julia Mahfoz - a journalist of the Goodsurfing team - is going to join it. That will be her first archaeological expedition, so, we decided to ask her about the preparation process and expectations.
- Julia, why did you choose this archaeological expedition?
- It was a quite spontaneous decision. I applied with a very blurred idea of what it would be like and did not really expect to be selected. And that is exactly what happened - I didn’t find my name on the short list. My application was not accepted and I received a rejection letter. Sad, but I made peace with that - what else could I do? I did not have an extensive experience of expedition life, and, simply, it was not surprising. I learned about the previous projects of the Society and realized that they have a strict selection process. It’s really hard to get to any archaeological expedition: at least, you have to be an active member of a regional office of the organization. And that’s when I almost forgot about it, went to a media forum to Crimea, I got a call from the main office of the Russian Geographical Society. One person dropped out, so, there was an extra spot. The organizers found me on the long list. I was over the moon! Usually I consider all “pros” and “cons” and plan the dates, but at that moment I just said “yes” without thinking. I will take part in archaeological excavations on the territory of the burials which form part of the “Valley of the Kings”. The excavation site is thought to be potentially rich on historically important finds. For me, as for a journalist, it will be an invaluable and incredible experience that will be remembered for life. When will I have another chance to witness important archaeological discoveries?
- How is your preparation going?
- To prepare well for the expedition, you need to solve all your issues in advance. That's why I had to pass all exams ahead of schedule. Yes, it's difficult, very exhausting, but I'm sure it's worth it. I allocated a whole day to collect and purchase all the necessary things for the trip and make a list of necessary things so that I don’t forget anything. Since this is my first long expedition (4 weeks), I am asking for advice from my more experienced friends. My friends who travel a lot consult me about the contents of the backpack. I am addressing questions to the biology teacher of my university, because he is very experienced in this field and he himself has been a participant of expeditions many times.
- Let’s talk about your expectations. What are they?
- Totally tremendous! *smile*. First of all, there are three shifts of the expedition in Tuva. Members of shift in June will be as pioneers, cause it is the the first shift, which is quite nice. If we find the preserved organics and various artifacts, then we will be the first. Secondly, we can become a part of history, if we really find something new and previously unknown, and the chance is quite high. Due to hard-to-reach swampy terrain and permafrost, the study of the Tunnug mound was postponed for 2017-2018. And while a joint Russian-Swiss expedition conducted a small preliminary exploration of the mound, an archaeological passport of the site was drawn up, plans and maps were made in 2017, these are us who will be engaged in excavations. A responsible and important fact for history. Thirdly, in addition to the work, a rich cultural program is organized for us, like lectures by archaeologists from the Institute of the History of Material Culture of the Russian Academy of Sciences, thematic days, visits to museums in Tuva. I hope that this will be very interesting and informative.
We wish Julia to spend amazing time and hope she will share her experience when finished! And now, while she is working on the archaeological excavation site, Olga Gachkova told us how the expedition in the “Valley of Kings” was organized in 2015.
Archaeological expedition to the Valley of the Kings in the summer of 2015 was the brightest event for me. As often happens, it was a spontaneous application at the last moment, which I filled out while traveling through the Balkans. There was no feeling of upcoming magic at all: almost no expectations, the exhausting flight Vladikavkaz - Moscow - Abakan immediately after a ten-day hike in Svaneti Region in Georgia. But Tuva only needed a couple of minutes to show that these 4 weeks will be remembered for a long time.
The Russian Geographical Society seemed to choose the most picturesque place for the camp - the most starry sky, Russian banya, a pond, 20 minutes by foot to the Yenisei and mountains across the horizon.
The very process of excavation was exhausting in a good way: in the company with the guys from a dozen countries, the morning flew by quickly and cheerfully, and fatigue rolled up only towards the late evening when we gathered around the fire.
The usual schedule included a hearty breakfast, a five-minute bus ride to the excavation site, the work managed by professional archaeologists, a return to the camp for lunch. For the real fans of archaeology, it was possible to return to the excavation site after lunch. Dinner, bath/shower, campfire and various activities, including lectures on archeology.
The third and last summer shift promised to be the most interesting for the finds, and so it happened: in the previous months the mounds themselves were examined, documented and taken to pieces, and we got to their contents.
On weekends we went to Kyzyl and local "places of power". Tuvan throat singing and shamanism were a separate motivation for me to come, and my curiosity was fully satisfied: there is a lot to see and to hear around the Valley of Kings. Our shift was also very lucky: the RGS took us to the international festival of throat singing.
The conditions in the camp were over the top - even foreign volunteers, all 40 of them, recognized this, and most of them visited Russia for the first time. Organized food, tents for 10-20 people with beds and a couple of outlets, a Russian banya, work clothes, tools, a shower with hot water, a doctor available 24 hours. In addition, the travel expenses were covered, a bus to the camp was provided, events took place all shift with trips around the area on the weekends. Things for survival in the wild nature were completely unnecessary. So follow the recommendations of the host organization and do not stuff your backpacks "just in case".
And if you still have doubts: go without hesitation!
Author of the text - Kristina Yakovleva
Edited by - Ksenia Guschina
Translated by - Olga Gachkova
Date of event - June, 2018
Date of publication - 09.06.2018