Fieldwork is currently on hold while we are working on a book detailing the findings of Phase I of the Project, and a variety of other publications. Please send an email to nick.brooks [@] uea .ac .uk if you wish to be added to the mailing list to receive news of future field seasons. In addition, as a result of the situation in Mali, most foreigners have left the Sahrawi refugee camps in Algeria, and the security situation needs to be considered carefully, in cooperation with the Sahrawi government, before any further field seasons can be confirmed.
Once fieldwork is resumed, details will be posted here. In the meantime, details of how to volunteer and how to receive information about future field seasons are given below. You can also subscribe to the Western Sahara Project’s Twitter feed (@WSaharaProject), or check the Project’s Facebook page.
The role of volunteers in the Western Sahara Project
Volunteers play a vital role in the work of the Western Sahara Project, and make a major contribution to the funding of the Project, which is run on a not-for-profit basis, with all funds raised going towards the costs of fieldwork and laboratory analysis. Most field seasons can accommodate non-specialist volunteers. Volunteers can participate in both excavations and reconnaissance survey work, and do not need to have any experience of archaeology or desert environments. Full instruction is given in excavation and field survey techniques, and volunteers work closely with a variety of specialists while in the field. Volunteering for a field season provides an opportunity to gain general archaeological experience, learn about arid environments and past environmental change, or simply explore a fascinating and largely inaccessible part of the world that has been effectively closed to outsiders for several decades.
The cost of participating in a field season is comparable with the cost of many adventure holiday packages, or the cost of participating in a conservation project such as those run by many charitable organisations. For further information on the next field season, and on how to volunteer, see below.
To date, excavations have taken place in the Project’s principal study area, some 15 km north of the main settlement of Tifariti. Excavation teams stay in Tifariti, travelling to the excavation site on a daily basis. Excavations are supervised by experienced field archaeologists, and full instruction is given to volunteers in excavation techniques as required. The aims of excavations are to acquire samples for radiometric dating (radiocarbon and optically stimulate luminescence) and other analysis (e.g. of plant and animal remains), in order to develop chronologies of cultural change.
Excavation work is led by Dr Joanne Clarke (joanne.clarke [@] uea.ac.uk).
Reconnaissance survey work takes place throughout the Polisario controlled areas of Western Sahara, focusing on either the Northern or Southern Sector in any given season, and has two principal aims:
- To identify and sample environmental indicators of past humid conditions (e.g. dry lake beds, geochemical crusts formed by the presence of surfae water, springline deposits, etc), in order to infer information about the timing, duration and nature of past humid episodes through subsequent laboratory analysis.
- To identify and record new archaeological sites, focusing on funerary monuments. Environmental work contributes to the development of a chronological framework within which the archaeological record may be interpreted, addressing questions of how prehistoric populations were affected by and responded to climatic and environmental change, particularly during the period between about 6000 and 4000 years ago when humid conditions gave way to aridity in a series of apparently rapid climatic changes around 5900, 5200 and 4200 years ago.
Volunteers for reconnaissance surveys work principally on the recording of funerary monuments, and are given full instruction in recording methodologies, which will involve the recording of key aspects of monuments using dedicated Project recording forms.
Reconnaissance survey work is led by Dr Nick Brooks (nick.brooks [@] uea.ac.uk).
Travel to the field
Travel to the field is typically via Algeria, with the team flying from London to Algiers and then taking an internal flight from Algiers to the southwestern Algerian town of Tindouf. Here the team is met by representatives of the Polisario (Sahrawi) government. The team typically spends one or two nights in the Sahrawi refugee camps in the vicinity of Tindouf, before travelling overland into Western Sahara and onto specific study sites in the territory. Excavation teams are based permanently at Tifariti, while reconnaissance survey teams spend most of the time in the field away from Tifariti, camping in the open or staying in Polisario military bases. Full details of the itinerary and logistics are circulated to teams in advance of travel.
Conditions in the field
Conditions in the field are very basic, with accommodation consisting of dormitory rooms in Polisario military bases and (for reconnaissance work in remote locations) camping in the open air. Cold showers are available at Tifariti and some of the other bases. It is important to bring a good 3-4 season sleeping bag, as nights can be cold. This should be complemented by a good quality sleeping mattress or thermarest. Some team members bring a small one-person tent, although this is not essential for those who do not mind sleeping in the open. Where teams are travelling a significant distance from settlements or military bases, a large tent is carried, which serves as a kitchen and store, and which can be used for sleeping in the event of adverse weather conditions. While nights can be cold (and can drop to 5-10° C or lower in the winter months), temperatures during the daytime are generally in the 20s or 30s (degrees Celsius). However, during the transitional months of October and March temperatures can reach the 40s. A full list of necessary equippment is circulated to volunteers well in advance departure.
Teams have their own cook, and the food and hospitality are always spoken of very highly by our volunteers. The Free Zone has no paved roads, and almost no permanent settlements (those that exist are little more than hamlets). Traditional nomadic lifestyles are still practiced in the area, and the archaeological record remains virtually unknown to the international research community.
Photos of the area and of the field study sites are available here. If you would like to speak to any volunteers from previous seasons (some have participated in multiple seasons and are coming back for more in October) let us know and we can put you in touch. See below for contact details.
The cost of participating in the last field season (autumn 2009) was £2395, based on 3 weeks in the field. The cost of participating in future field seasons is likely to be similar, although costs will be confirmed well in advance for specific field seasons. The cost of participation in a field season includes international travel from London, all travel, accommodation and subsistence while in the field, and a contribution to the costs of running the field season (e.g. staff costs, fuel and other incidental costs). It may be possible for volunteers travelling from outside the UK to meet the team in Algiers, in which case the cost of travel from London will be deducted from the volunteer fee.
If you have experience of archaeological excavations and wish to volunteer for excavation work at a reduced rate, please contact the Project Directors (below) to discuss possibilities. Volunteers are requested to arrange their own travel insurance (the organisers can provide advice on this issues).
Next field season
Currently we are focusing on writing up the results of Phase I of the Project, in a book that will be published in late 2013. Once we have finished working on the book we will begin planning Phase II, after which we will confirm the dates of the first field season in Phase II. If you are interested in volunteering you can contact us by email and we will add you to the mailing list for future field seasons.
If you want to be alerted about news of future field seasons, volunteering opportunities, or general news about the Project, you can do one or all of the following:
Contact Nick Brooks (see below) and ask to be added to the general Project mailing list (very low traffic) or the volunteer mailing list (very low traffic outside of field season preparation periods – a separate list will be set up for confirmed volunteers for a particular season).
Subscribe to the Project Twitter feed (WSaharaProject) – occasional tweets about the Project and other topics related to Western Sahara.
Find the Western Sahara Project on Facebook. Project news and updates, including about field seasons, will be posted here.
To register an interest in participating in future field seasons, or to request more information, please contact:
- Nick Brooks for reconnaissance survey work and general enquiries (nick.brooks [at] uea.ac.uk)
- Joanne Clarke for excavation work (joanne.clarke [at] uea.ac.uk)