November 14, 2014
Possibly the most well known archaeologist is Indiana Jones. Of course, he isn’t a real person, but for people who would not normally read articles on archaeology, he might be the closest that they would ever get to one.
The reality though is that the way he acts is more akin to being a looter than a true archaeologist. Real archaeology take far more time & effort, although it might not have quite the same number of fast moving action scenes as say Raiders of the Lost Ark.
What is particularly unfortunate though is that some archaeologists (Zahi Hawass – we’re looking at you) seem to feel a need to style themselves on Harrison Ford’s character).
Sunday, Nov 9, 2014 11:00 PM +0000
“Indiana Jones would be considered a looter”: Why we’re obsessed with glamorizing archaeologists
The lives of real archaeologists are even stranger than fiction, and a whole lot harder
Several years ago, while researching a story on biblical archaeology, I had the chance to talk to a leader in the field by telephone. At one point, he kindly provided me with a lengthy explanation of pottery seriation, the means by which archaeologists track the history of a particular site. Styles of pottery change over time and vary from culture to culture, so if an archaeologist excavating a heap of broken shards encounters a layer of pieces radically different from the one below it, it’s likely a sign that a new population had moved in. “I’m sorry,” the archaeologist laughed when he finished. “It’s pretty boring.”
To the contrary. “I get paid to look at people’s trash” said one of the itinerant archaeologists interviewed by Marilyn Johnson for her new book, “Lives in Ruins: Archaeologists and the Seductive Lure of Human Rubble,” and she wasn’t wrong. The man who told me about pottery seriation has spent his life studying broken crockery, after all. But the great and undying magic of archaeology is just how much ancient rubbish can tell us. Sherlock Holmes may have used his encyclopedic knowledge of tobacco ash to catch criminals, but archaeologists can use animal teeth and plant seeds to change our understanding of the world.
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