When I tell people I’m an archaeologist I always, 100% guaranteed, get the same response: “Oh that must be so interesting, what a wonderful job” it’s true, it is a wonderful job, but I understand why it is a wonderful job, they believe it’s all digging in the sunshine, working on time team, living like a student your whole life type job.
Yes we get to dig in the sunshine (when its sunny), we also get to dig in the rain, snow, sleet, frost, wind. It is interesting and on a daily basis you see something new, something challenging and normally something that no one else alive has seen.
But I must say I am a bit of a ‘snob’ (you can’t really call it professional snobbery when I’m at the bottom and earn the lowest amount), I don’t believe you can call yourself an archaeologist if your not digging or not on an excavation site for the majority of your working time. Now before this causes mayhem let me explain: As a job title archaeologist to me means the person who does the digging. Those within the archaeological ‘realm’ who are in the office of an archaeological unit, an academic, or you’er the person in post-excavation in a lab/tent/warehouse… Yes you work in archaeology, but I’m sorry your not the archaeologist in the situation. You are a lecturer/research assistant/report writer/technician/finds assistant/archivist/specialist etc. Archaeologist used to be a very broad term. Now we’re in a time when archaeology is a profession and developed discipline. Archaeologist no longer means everyone, we’ve all been sub-divided.
You have your zooarch’s, osteoarch’s, geoarch’s, palaeobotanists, environmental arch’s, bulding arch’s… you can see where I’m going with this. Sometimes you cross over, you join us in the field and then go back to your place within the ‘realm.’
Now in the scale system you have your Archaeologists (Site Assistant, Assistant site supervisors, Supervisors) Senior Archaeologists (Project Officers, Site Managers, Project Managers) Directors (Owners of the companies). Again the archaeologists do the digging, everyone else does the organising/delegating/assessment/write up.
Then you have your aspiring archaeologists – I know I considered myself to be an archaeologist back in 2009 after my first proper bit of digging and recording, however given that archaeology is a profession, if you’re not a paid digger, then you’re not currently an archaeologist, maybe an amateur/student/enthusiast but no job title specifying archaeologist.
Of course this is opinion and conjecture.
Now being an archaeologist seems to attract an ilk. We’ve probably all been called weird, quirky, odd by our friends, relatives or significant others, we like to be outdoors, when stuck indoors it’s akin to caging a wild animal, we keep our old baggy clothes as our digging clothes, the men grow beards, the women dye their hair cooky colours, we have a lot of vegetarians and vegans and they drink (I have deliberately chosen ‘they’ instead of ‘we’ for the last one there).
In the last couple of weeks I’ve read two quite funny articles about archaeologists:
The first on how to annoy us:
The second on our stages of grief over a lost trowel:
(And it is only in this moment that I realised they were both written by the same person (bravo!).
They’re funny because they’re true. We all hear the same lines/questions/’jokes’ so when I tell people I’m an archaeologist, after the ‘oh that’s so interesting blah blah’ part, I soon get: “Have you found gold?” “What’s the best thing you’ve found then?” “Have I seen you on time team, I always watch time team.” (As this is a blog I’ll answer honestly: Yes, Roundhouse built into a rampart, No) And yes losing a trowel, something that has been the extension of your arm over many years, seen all the bad weather, found that cremated bone, perfect brooch, preserved wood or invaluable dating bit of pot, when you lose it – there is grief and archaeologists are weird in how attached we get to a singular tool in our bag (lets face it, all of our other kit ends up lost ‘to the cause’ anyway, you don’t hear people frantically searching for that lost sharpie, 6H pencil, compass or tape measure, they ask people… it’s not frantic).
The images and reputations of archaeologists are actually quite funny and scarily true. I read a jolly good book (and if you’re reading this, archaeology may peak your interest and you have probably read it too) ‘The Bluffers Guide to Archaeology.’ Published 25 years ago this book gives a fantastic image of bearded, jumper wearing (baggy jumper) eccentric folk, added to the 2006 descriptive from out favourite MP as bunny huggers and well… you get the same picture.
So let me round this off:
My name is not Indiana Jones, it’s Rebecca Jones.
I’ve never dug a dinosaur, I don’t want to, I’m not willing to hunt down through layers of natural deposits for palaeolithic man at 0.5mn years old, I’ll be damned if I dig my way through deep layers to reach 64mn years old for something I know nothing about.
We’re not all on time team. We don’t have three days and an army of diggers to use. It was brilliant for publicity, less brilliant for showing conventions and the true nature of the discipline.
I’m not hunting for gold or other treasure. I have found gold, it wasn’t interesting, the pieces I found informed nothing. I want features, structures and something we weren’t expecting to find. I’d take digging a massive ditch section over a pot of coins any day.
I am an archaeologist, I have worked with hundreds of other archaeologists, we are jumper wearing bunny huggers but we’re also extremely professional conservators of our heritage, we’re skilled in excavation, technical drawing and recording.
And just as an added bit of fun, put ‘archaeologist’ into google images and see what you find 🙂