OK, this was a pretty exciting project! If you want a lot of details go to the official website here.
Our volunteer team excavated two burials; first a Xiongnu grave, then a slab burial.
The Xiongnu people are the guys the Chinese built the Great Wall to defend against and they're believed to be the precursors to the Huns (and are sometimes just called the Huns). The grave was roughly 2,000 years old. Bill and Amara (the directors) have been working in this area for six summers, so these graves had already been located and mapped. There are hundreds in the area and only a small sample are excavated. They are easy to recognize as they were always covered with a large number of rocks, which is pretty distinctive on the landscape. Our grave, like most from this period, had been looted so the skeleton was in a jumble. There were still interesting artifacts interred with him though, including parts of his bow and horse bones.
The second feature we excavated was a slab burial which dates even earlier than the Xiongnu-- up to 3,000 years old. The graves are quite spectacular looking but unfortunately ours no longer held anything.
We also had the opportunity to try other tasks such as survey, and lab work. Survey is basically walking around and noting any possible cultural features that might be examined later. Of course, where you walk and how you record things are systematic. It's fun, but I was too out of shape for going up and down the mountains! Flat land for me this summer, but next summer I'll try harder. There are a variety of things you can do in the lab but I was most interested in working with the skeletal material. I haven't had any experience with it since I left grad school and had forgotten so much! It was nice to freshen up my memory again.
In addition, various staff members gave us tutorials on what they specialized in and sometimes let us help out a bit. Through these guys I got to try my hand at sawing human bone for DNA samples, aging a goat by its teeth, measuring the landscape for topographic maps and more-- all new, fun stuff.
Overall, great experience-- wish it went longer!
One of our survey areas.