I didn’t plan on being an archaeologist. I originally wanted to be a historian/astronaut (if you must know).
To be fair, archaeologists are a sort of historical astronaut. Children romanticise archaeology in the same way as they idolise astronauts- heck adults do too.
Like Chris Hadfield, we deal with cramped conditions, bad food and worse toilet facilities- all in aid of exploring the past, so we can teach others about it. And like Chris, we might also bring guitars.
Anyhow, it seems that my childhood intuition put me on the right track, for which I am ever thankful.
Archaeology is the perfect field for my analytical, ever observant, sciency-but-math-challenged brain!
Archaeology is humanity’s past and everything in it. Humanity has been around for about 200,000 years- and we’ve left lots of stuff behind to study. Goody!
Archaeology is always fun- even when your back is hurting, and the wind is trying to whip the planning board from your numb, cold hands (well maybe not).
So you are interested in archaeology…
My advice to you:
- Learn as much as you can- about everything, anything.
All those random bits of information are gonna come in handy- trust me. Macgyver always packs a paperclip- knowledge is your paperclip.
- Read as much about ‘famous’ archaeologists and as you can.
This will feed your passion, you will learn cool stories to impress your future archaeologist friends with, and it will help dispel hero-worship you might have about big shot archaeological figures (Except Colin Renfrew, everyone gets excited about Colin Renfrew).
- Learn to read excavation reports.
Why read second-hand site interpretations when you can read dig reports? Learn what archaeologists don’t know about some of the most famous archaeological sites, not what we think we know.
As a future archaeologist you need read and decipher (not always the same thing) excavation reports. These can come in many different languages- read those languages. English, French, German- imperial histories make these the main languages of archaeology. Start here and you can’t go wrong.
Teasing information from excavation reports, no matter the language, takes some finesse. Excavation methods are peculiar to each type of site, and every archaeologist (for various reasons) seems to have a different method of writing up.
Reading these puppies can tell you a lot about archaeology; not just excavation methodologies, but also academic and professional rivalries. Buried in the minutiae, archaeologists slam each other’s excavations, theories, what have you. In these unguarded moments, they also let the ideas, and questions fly.
These reports are eye opening, and sometimes hair raising, reads. Pay attention to how archaeological practices change over time, compare earlier with later reports.
Archaeological reports can also help provide context for archaeological theory- this is something you will need, trust me!
- Archaeological Theory…..
Eat this stuff for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Devour it as a midnight snack. Do not be intimidated. Theory informs how archaeologists interpret the past. Know the theories…Be one with the arguments.
- Learn things that will make you handy on a dig.
Being the one person who saves the day is one of the easiest, and most appreciated, things you can do as an archaeologist.
All you have to do is, as the scouts say, be prepared! Simple things can help make work go much more easily.
Make coffee on a camp stove, and share with your crew. I still remember the guy who did that. We had a 4am start time. He could have had all our souls for the price of that coffee.
Be the person that always has a pencil, band-aid, piece of string, camera, band-aid.
Know where the context book is, and be constantly aware of the most up to date context numbers and what features they apply to.
Learn how to use ALL the equipment. The levels, the cameras, the site kettle (should you be lucky enough to have one).
Also being able to un-jam the porta-potty door can make you a hero… just saying.
Know how to plot a 1 m square area. Know how to draw to scale. Avoid overfilling the buckets, wheelbarrows. Know how to use a pickaxe. Always volunteer to empty the bucket/wheelbarrow. Have toilet paper. Know movie trivia. The list goes on….
- Go on a dig as soon as you can.
Some people just love archaeology only to find, upon participating in their first dig, that they don’t. “This is boring,” they say, or “this isn’t how it is on tv.”
I slap those people about the face. Well not really, they are good for menial tasks.
Go excavatin’ early to find out if archaeology’s physical aspect (you know digging) is something you will actually enjoy. If you still love archaeology then – WOOOO YOU’VE JUST GONE ON YOUR FIRST DIG!
My first dig was a Tel site located on the coast of Israel. Here, student excavators were discovering mosaic tiles, Greek statuary and faience beads. In my trench, however, we were neck deep in a World War II outhouse pit that cut through several layers of occupation- Hellenistic to Roman- this crap was full of history!
I learned even more about myself digging than anywhere else. I work well with people, I am an easygoing, but effective, problem solver. I roll with the punches, and get stuff done.
I can always un-jam a porto-potty door.
One other piece of advice ….
- Do not wear any sort of Indiana Jones style hat!
There is one on every dig, but don’t let it be you! Television tells us that archaeologists always wear some sort of adventurous hat. This is wrong! While headgear may be advised- tone it down people, it’s not halloween.
Fare thee well archaeologists of the future.
A word to the wise- always have gum!