Silence in the Cemetery: Part III (Excavation)

This is Part III. Here are Part I and Part II.

This was the first year that I had to include spare batteries in my excavation kit. I spent the summer working as a supervisor and instructor on an archaeological site, which brought with it numerous situations previously unexperienced. I could easily be introspective, but I will attempt here to articulate situations that relate to other people or explain particularly pertinent challenges.

The prescription on my hearing aids means that one compensates more than the other, so they never run out at the same time. It’s disorienting if one is off and the other is on, so if one goes dead and I have no spare batteries, I can’t use either. Changing batteries can be a fiddly business and this meant that sometimes I had to step out of the trenches so I could change the batteries in a more controlled and cleaner (relatively speaking) environment; here I could avoid getting dirt in the gubbins of the hearing aids (because dirt in hearing aids usually equals broken) and also avoid getting dirt on the ear pieces (because dirt in the ears usually equals infections). This occasionally meant stepping away from a supervisory position, in which case I had to account for my absence (either by giving clear instructions, asking excavators to temporarily stop, etc).

In addition to not being dirt-proof, (my) hearing aids aren’t waterproof. They are okay in drizzle, especially as my hair cover(ed) my ears, but in rain (and remember: UK) you risk the electrics fizzling out if they get wet. This means one of two things if it’s raining: you can either take them out, rendering you unable to hear very well; or put your hood up, which has the effect of amplifying the noise of the rain, rendering you unable to hear very well. I generally opted for choice number one, putting my hearing aids in a waterproof pocket. But this did mean I had to inform the people around me, so we could continue to communicate effectively.

My colleagues on site already knew about my deafness and hearings aids, because I informed them.* The same went for my students. In this case, although it makes no difference to my being able to archaeology with the best of them, I felt that I should let them know in case they had to get my attention.

Speaking of which, I noticed this summer how much we, as archaeologists, communicate across trenches, between tents, through hedges, etc. This generally doesn’t work for me, for obvious reasons. From my own point of view, I adjusted my supervising and excavation styles to make sure I was constantly aware of what was going on. But I could have also used others being slightly more aware.

On this note, I would say, if we need to speak, first make sure it’s really necessary or ask yourself if it can it wait until a break. If it is necessary, and you get my attention to make this known, please consider coming to wherever I am to have the conversation. I’ll do my best if you want to shout back and forth, but please be aware that I might not get everything – and knowing that, don’t get frustrated with me if I don’t and don’t expect me walk over to you all of the time. I realise I’m the one who can’t hear across the site, but does that really mean I should have to do all the extra work – especially if I look like I’m particularly busy and you’re the one who wants to talk?

And yes, I already do a lot of extra work, even if you might not necessary notice it. I think one of the biggest challenges for me this summer was that I had to constantly be listening. For me, this is different to just hearing things. I need to be able to distinguish whether that sound was a cow mooing in the field over the way or a student in a further trench asking for assistance. On site there is a constant ebb and flow of conversation, amongst all of the other sounds, so picking out which ones are relevant and which ones aren’t can be tough. And figuring out where the relevant sounds are located is another difficult task.

Although it has taken me quite a lot time to firstly, adjust to my hearing loss, and then secondly, readjust to having hearing aids, I’ll admit that I actually enjoy the silence. It is really nice to be able to literally switch off and become entirely focused on what you are excavating or recording or cleaning. It is a wonderful sensation and I actually feel a bit sorry for people who aren’t able to so easily tune everything else out. However, because of the nature of this site, my position, and so much more, it was very rare that I could actually do this. I was almost constantly switched on.

It would help if you remembered that.

I might be asking you to make small adjustments to make things a bit easier for me… but I am constantly making massive adjustments to make things a lot easier for you, by fitting into your fully hearing world – and that, I do without you needing to ask.

* I plan to discuss deafness and employment in the next post in this series, because for me: When exactly do you tell people you’re deaf? is a very complicated question.

I’ll be attending Archaeology for all: improving the experience of the hearing impaired community in a few weeks, after which I’ll include a further post in this series, to cover the advice from others (because remember, this blog series only covers my own experiences and opinions on deafness in archaeology).

4 responses to “Silence in the Cemetery: Part III (Excavation)

  1. “I might be asking you to make small adjustments to make things a bit easier for me… but I am constantly making massive adjustments to make things a lot easier for you”

    i’ll remember that one to explain my ASD (found out last year that I’ve been living in a parallel universe for years). Thank you for posting.

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