This website began in an unusual way… In 2014, an early-nineteenth-century building located at 810 Royal Street collapsed, a victim of termite damage and neglect. While such a loss in the middle of the French Quarter of New Orleans was tragic, the new owners who acquired the now-empty lot realized that it offered a rare opportunity for archaeologists: a chance to see undisturbed layers dating back to the earliest years of the City. They invited Prof. Gray and his students from UNO to conduct a series of archaeological field schools on the site, and they created “The Art of Digging” website to help inform the public about the progress of the excavations.
Over time, the website began to house information about some of Gray’s other projects around the city, and eventually about other projects in Europe as well. This new, expanded version of the website is intended to both highlight the 810 Royal dig and to tell about some of these other projects in more detail. We thank Mr. Claudio Hemb and N.I.C.E. Investments for giving us access to the site, and to getting this website going in the first place!
Many people think of archaeology as a science, and it does incorporate analytical techniques and standardized methods from the sciences. In this way, it is intended to generate systematic, testable facts about the past, which can then be used to reconstruct people’s lives and actions at different points in time.
But archaeology is not just about these ‘facts’, but also about how they are generated, woven together, and interpreted, and this is why the phrase ‘the art of digging’ fits so well for this website. Excavation –digging—is a moment of artful destruction. When something is excavated, it is forever removed from the context in which it was found, but a skilled excavator creates a picture of a moment in time that can be documented. It is a skill that develops through practice and care, the trowel wielded like an artist’s brushstroke.
Of course, those pictures never simply speak for themselves. They must be critically interpreted, and that will always show something of the person doing the interpreting. The challenge for the archaeologist, as artist, is to show something that is both meaningful and that makes the world a better and more just place.