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10 years on...a warning for tomb raiders - Printable Version

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10 years on...a warning for tomb raiders - troll - 22nd January 2014

Having read the thread on archaeology and health, I thought I would share my thoughts on the tenth anniversary of a life-changing mistake.

With an increase in the numbers of field archaeologists drawn abroad lured by the prospect of tomb excavation in "exotic" locations brimming with exciting archaeological landscapes, I thought I should draw your attention to some fairly serious risks. It goes without saying that health and safety standards differ on a site by site basis but even more so when abroad. I took part in the excavation of rock cut chambered tombs dating from the Bronze Age onwards in the Near East in 2004.

The cemetery is one of the largest in that particular country and had been targeted by looters for centuries. A significant number of archaeologists spent their days underground in confined spaces often crawling on their bellies in the dark-as an aside, this was the first time that I had ever had to plan and survey an underground tomb complex-quite a trial! :face-approve:

As a high number of the tombs had been subjected to the attention of looters exploiting the high demands of international dealers, wild animals were in the habit of occupying those spaces and dragging their prey in with them. Little did we know that a number of the tombs had a nasty surprise in store for us. After only a few days underground, we started noticing red bites all over our bodies and thought nothing of them (insect bites being a part of the exotic package!).

One by one, eleven of us went down with severe endemic Typhus. I`ll gladly share my experience of this for you but in precis form, left untreated this disease has a 70% mortality rate and is quite frankly hideous. It began for me with head to toe itching bites. The itching drove me nuts and I looked as though I had measles. Once in the bloodstream Typhus can take around 10 days to take control. As such we all took the bites in our stride and continued crawling around underground. I came back from work one afternoon and was immediately overcome by the sensation of being so damned cold I thought I was going to die. I took to my sleeping bag fully clothed and was there 24 hours straight. For those 24 hours I suffered almost constant convulsions curled up in a ball. I was soaking wet and could hear sweat running on to the floor under the camp bed. If that wasn`t enough, the hallucinations were unbearable and unrelenting. To cut a long gory story short, my travel insurance company told me they were about to organise a helicopter to fly me to hospital but I did eventually get to a doctor and was flown home to the UK soon after. A spell in a tropical disease unit was followed by 5 months of recovery on some serious meds. For the past ten years I have wrestled with the most debilitating headaches every 7 weeks. This apparently can be caused by a form of encephalytis as the high body temperatures during convulsion phases can damage the protective lining of the brain. I have central nervous system damage that manifests in tremors in both hands and a speech defect. Lucky me.

The moral of the story is this........for those of you who have had your fill of wet clay UK sites and the endless drone of heavy machinery, and those of you who seek the Indiana Jones excitement of archaeology.......please don`t take risk assessments for granted. Don`t just read and sign them-take a long hard look at what the risks could actually be and if you do get on to the site.......maintain dynamic risk assessments throughout. If it aint right, don`t do it. I yearned for dart-firing Pygmies, gun-fights with armed Nazis and secret chambers.....I made a life-changing mistake and am still paying for it. :I


10 years on...a warning for tomb raiders - kevin wooldridge - 23rd January 2014

A salutary warning Troll. Thanks for sharing.....

I heard earlier this week about the death of another long serving archaeological colleague, well before he had reached 'retirement' age. I have noticed over the past few years a worrying tendency for lifestyle, stress and work related conditions to be catching up on us old lags who once assumed perhaps, we might live for ever.....There are all kinds of hazards out there that we overlook, particular conditions that people contract whilst working overseas. I have known colleagues who have contracted a number of ailments during travels abroad including malaria, Weils disease, Lymes disease, TB and viral hepatitis (the last incident sadly proving fatal), which when you think about the normal ailments we all get is, really stress-loading our aging bodies. I don't know the answer, but it has to involve, as Troll suggests, taking more care of the systems put in place to protect our health.


10 years on...a warning for tomb raiders - Wax - 23rd January 2014

And don't forget those life style changes........ If you smoke give it up........one thing you can do that will make a difference don't be complacent Lung Cancer is a horrible way to die.

I can guarantee some of you who are reading this fag in hand will die early because of this disease. Sorry to lecture but I have known too many good people go early cause they could not give up the fags.