Monday, 30 November 2009

Top Five Questions

These are the questions that archaeologists always get asked, and the answers

Q1. What is archaeology?
A. The study of human past through material remains. This gives archaeology a scope far beyond history, into, you know, prehistory. As it were. Material remains can be human made or worked things, called artefacts, or environmental remains such as seeds, called ecofacts, as well as architecture, skeletons, rubbish heaps etc.

Q2. Do you dig dinosaurs?
A. No, no, a thousand times no. That's paleontologists. And for the record, we don't all study rocks either.

Q3. Do you actually dig?
A. Yes. Archaeology students usually buy (and embarrassingly name) their own trowels, which they carry everywhere. On digs, we wear dirty old t-shirts and trousers with many pockets full of nails and string and spirit levels, and get down our knees and dig for glory. However, in countries like Egypt and India, people often hire labourers who do the bulk of the digging.

Q4. Can you keep the things you dig up?
A. Nope. Archaeologists dig things up for the information we get from them, not because they're pretty to look at it. I usually only find old bits of pot, which are not pretty to look at, but are very Important. The things you dig up belong to the project you're working for, which will properly analyse them. India doesn't allow many objects out, so legally they have to be stored or displayed in the country. I have to emphasise, keeping things is a big no-no professionally. Hand it all over to be tagged and bagged!

Q5. What's it really like?
A. Surprisingly Indiana Jones, if you multiply the times he spends in his office or classroom by a thousand. You get to travel the world and find wonderful and amazing things, and understand the lives of people who haven't been alive for 4000 years. That's the exotic side. Once you get home, there is a whole lot of careful analysis using worrying things like statistics. Once a site is dug, everything needs to be recorded (photographed, weighed, drawn etc) and written up in a giant thing called a site report. You have to do a lot of reading, and you spend A LOT of time in front of your computer working it all out and writing papers for journals and books. That's the academic side.

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