My story this week for Travel+Leisure Do-It-Yourself Digs covers a subset of science-based trips that are participatory expeditions and get-your-hands-dirty digs. The Warren Wilson College archaeology field school, in Morganton, N.C., as one example, offers sessions that put attendees on the site of a 16th-century Spanish fort. You dig and brush at the dirt to find pottery and tools at the earliest European settlements in the interior of what is now the United States.
Other trips are more exotic, including an expedition run by the Earthwatch Institute to Chiles Atacama Desert, where one person I interviewed came face-to-face with a mummy. Not the Hollywood kind, but a real, long-gone hunter-gatherer. The body was wrapped in a grass mat, skin still intact, resisting rot for centuries in the antiseptic dirt of one of the driest places on the planet. It was right out of the pages of National Geographic, just mind-boggling to see, said Carl Schweser, a retired university professor.
Major discoveries are not uncommon, says Jeanine Pfeiffer, a program director at Earthwatch, which facilitates more than 4,000 volunteers a year. These volunteers have discovered a trophy ancient Wari warrior skull in Peru, an Inca solar observatory, and an Argentinean fossil treasure trove that revealed a new vertebrate life-form that existed in the Late Triassic period.
Some adventurers hire private guides to dig in out-of-the-way places, while families and day-trippers can find more accessible programs. In the United States, several research sites are open to the public, including the Pioneer Trails Regional Museum in North Dakota. This museum and hands-on field school offers amateur paleontologists the chance to help at a dig site for dinosaurs at the price of $100 per day.
See the full story and a list of Do-It-Yourself Digs at http://www.travelandleisure.com/articles/do-it-yourself-digs