Friday, September 26, 2014

The Hazards of Archaeology


I talked to K last night. She said she spent the evening hanging out with some friends, and that one of them, Dan, is now a professional archaeologist and K said I "made a good call" in not actually becoming an archaeologist. I said it was because I had found out it involved being on hands and knees in the dirt for hours with a ruler and a paintbrush, removing dirt an atom at a time, instead of hacking through the jungle with a machete to discover the ruins of Copan. K said no, it was "because bees." Dan said that most of what he did was dig test holes in sites before construction went forward in order to determine if there were remains of historical interest on the site, and that 99% of the time there was nothing; but bees. Usually the first shovelful will discover a treasure trove of ground bees-- and because Dan has gloves and long sleeves on they would head right for his face and neck.

The real reason I didn't go for archaeology was because I had a chance to see Barry Cunliffe (now Sir Barrington Windsor Cunliffe) lecture enthusiastically at Leeds University in the 1980's about his finds in Celtic trash pits (he actually liked to do the first pass with a bulldozer to save time) and while he found out fascinating, important and quite gripping things about the everyday lives of the early Brits, it didn't change the fact he and his assistants were digging through the equivalent of trash cans and old poop and worse to discover these things. Also there was a lot of working with the hated paintbrush; rain, mud and sleeping in tents outside in the British weather. Also the pay was pretty much a pound a week and my parents would have had to chip in to keep me there the summer after I did my junior year abroad, and I missed tacos and good toilet paper. On such things are career decisions made.

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