AS A SENIOR in college, I spent much of my last term down in a pit every morning, scraping dirt with a little trowel.
It was an archaeology class and we, the students getting six credits and a tan, were searching for evidence of a small academy that predated the college on the back of the current campus.
Compared to those ruins, which were a few hundred years old, the work that Adam Janney of Stafford County did this summer was downright ancient.
The graduate of Randolph-Macon College in Ashland joined several dozen college students, doctoral candidates and a collection of others at the decades-old excavations at The Agora in Athens.
From June until August, the James Monroe High School graduate found himself digging in four different trenches, some of which produced artifacts left there long before the birth of Christ.
Janney was one of the few American students and recent grads to get the opportunity this year, thanks largely to a class he took with professor John Camp.
When not teaching in Ashland, the professor runs the excavation in Athens, conducted by the American School of Classical Studies there.
Janney, who got a degree in history, said he jumped at the opportunity to get a firsthand feel for the history and society of the ancient Greeks.
Though he hadn't done much archaeology before his trip to Athens, Janney said the supervisors at the dig gave him and the 45 others a quick primer on how to slowly scrape their way into the ancient soil.
Soon enough, he was looking for artifacts, changes in soil color and texture, and any other clues that the ancient rock and ground might yield.
He and the others were digging on the site of The Agora, the major hub of activity in ancient Athens.
The American School of Classical Studies online describes The Agora as a marketplace and civic center.
"In addition to being a place where people gathered to buy and sell all kinds of commodities, it was also a place where people assembled to discuss all kinds of topics: business, politics, current events, or the nature of the universe and the divine," says a description on the site.
It continued that "The Agora of Athens, where ancient Greek democracy first came to life, provides a wonderful opportunity to examine the commercial, political, religious, and cultural life of one of the great cities of the ancient world."
Janney said knowing the importance of the excavations made the work he did seem worthwhile, even when it got tedious in the hot summer sun.
The 23-year-old said he spent most of his time working in the area that has been determined to be the site of a general's office or building.
"They had found a coin hoard there--money they said was probably kept to pay the soldiers," he said.
Janney said the most exciting find he had while scraping through the layers of history with trowel, brush and dust pan were the remains of a baby in a burial jar.
"That was a little creepy, but interesting," said Janney, noting that a paleontologist examined the bones to determine that the child most likely was stillborn.
He said the big push this year, as it has been in recent summers when work on the dig is concentrated, is the search for an ancient wall mentioned in many works of literature.
"One of the students working near me found something that might be a start on that," said Janney. A block of stone was discovered that might provide clues to the wall's location.
While the dig was hard, hot work from 7 a.m until 2 p.m., the schedule left plenty of time to explore Athens and learn more about Greek society.
"One of the neat things about this dig is that it's not miles out of town somewhere," he said. "There are stores and shops all around there. In fact, the excavation from time to time buys a business so they can take it down and do excavations under it."
Aside from the dig itself, highlights of the trip included touring with family after his work on the dig and attending a function at the American Embassy in Athens.
Though the articulate young Janney will treasure his memories from the excavations, he doesn't plan a future in archaeology.
He's mulling over some opportunities in business, but has not ruled out attending law school.
Wherever he goes, the patience and diligence honed at the site of democracy's birth will serve him well.