Archaeology & Being “Game”

Between digging up wedges of wind-blown sand and anhydrite stub walls I’ve been thinking about archaeology and reflexivity quite a bit lately–what we are allowed to do and think while we are constructing a record of the past. My daily experience of site is fairly rote; I clean the context, photograph, draw, level, record, dig, sample, record, sort artifacts, write 1000 labels, rinse, repeat. A criticism of single context recording is that it is deadening to creativity in interpretation, but I think that is a critique more of the application of the methodology than the methodology itself.

Though I find many moments in the day where I could be creative, where I could take a moment to take an unnecessary but beautiful photograph, where I could try to chat with my workmen about their opinions of the site, think about the architectural phasing and recreate the paths around and in-between the buildings that people could have taken, I often retreat back into single context.

Clean, photograph, draw, level, record, dig, sample, record, sort artifacts, repeat. Faster.

Among professional archaeologists it is often frowned upon to step outside of these lines. Most people don’t really want to talk about their day job while they aren’t on the clock–it’s an unwelcome intrusion into relaxation time. It can be a hard balance while on an archaeological excavation–sometimes you are just exhausted and talking about stratigraphy or methodology can be dry dinnertime conversation.

Still, I consider “being game” an essential part of being an exceptional (or at least interesting) archaeologist. Want to find a nearby clay source to reconstruct an earth oven to see how it works? Okay. Want to find the only soccer field with grass within 100km and play on it until the evening call to prayer? Okay.

By “being game” I mean being open to experiences of all kinds, and importantly, letting this allow you to see your archaeology in new and interesting ways. It is easy to become hide-bound and it is a truism on sites that archaeologists don’t like change–they don’t like new people, different accommodations, new rules, but it is important to stay open and excited about archaeology. And life.

I think that there is a balance in archaeology, as with most things. Staying passionate and invested in your profession while living life as an ongoing adventure can be tricky, to say the least. But it’s a worthwhile cause, if only to maintain some semblance of sanity, right?

More about reflexivity, soonish.

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9 responses to “Archaeology & Being “Game”

  1. I’m surprised there’s supposedly a truism that archaeologists don’t like change… perhaps I’m still a n00b or I’ve been living under a rock? Maybe both! I’d like to think I’d “be game” for trying things. I’d go looking for that clay pit with you!

  2. Hmm, my experiences are quite the opposite. I’ve never met an archaeologist who doesn’t talk about their day job all the time. And even after a long day of recording or cleaning of a near sterile planum we still like to discuss our theories of the site…
    I agree that “being game” is important on an excavation but most archaeologists are. And those that aren’t don’t usually stay in the job…

    But then again I don’t know whether one can compare European rescue archaeology with American academic archeology…

  3. “Among professional archaeologists it is often frowned upon to step outside of these lines.”
    Says it all, does it not? At the beginning of my academic career I often strayed well beyond that line. Actually, I still do, only now I do it
    anonymously. Lesson well learned.

  4. I’m sorry, I don’t recognize this in any way from excavations in Sweden – whether rescue or research. Everyone talks about the site and interpretations! There would be a mutiny if the excavation leader didn’t share information and at least partly involve the field workers. For the big excavations there are often extra-curricular activities, whether within or without the discipline. Like volontary field trips to heritage sites or just a game of bowling. More so on the big excavations far away from home of course, than smaller ones nearby where you live.

    What you are describing sounds really troubling to me.

  5. I have notices that English excavation leaders tend to be more authoritarian and sometimes don’t wan’t “to mix” with the general field archaeologists. Maybe this is an anglo-saxon problem…?

  6. I wonder if what you describe is a symptom of the over-privatisation of archaeology? When I began as a volunteer “digger” in the 1960s and continued on into the 1970s as a professional rescue archaeologist we did it for fun, adventure, excitement, insatiable curiosity and with a passion to save fast-disappearing evidence from the bulldozer. I’m sure there are many archaeologists today who still share those traits, but now archaeology is either a cash-chasing business or a funds-chasing academic pursuit perhaps some have become a little too deadly serious?

  7. Thanks Asa, that’s just what I was trying to say. I wonder if it is an Anglo-Saxon thing…

  8. This description of an excavation season describes exactly the first season I did in CRM. In the field, the crew was so focused on getting the work done that they didn’t talk much. When they did talk, it wasn’t about the site, it was about what they had done the night before or what the plans for that night would be. When we went out at night as a crew, no one wanted to talk about the site, they didn’t want to speculate about the strange rock alignments. Or what the amazing cache of tools in my unit meant (a mano, chopper and 2 cores- all piled on top of each other!). They wanted to sing karaoke and drink cheap beer. We did do some field trips, but even on those the crew was more interested in drinking beer than the sites.

    We had a bit of a change this last excavation season, the crew seemed to be more “game” to do different things- hiking on the weekends, rock art field trips. The crew was also much more interested in talking about theories and methodology, it was pretty cool.

    I think it’s just hit or miss, it depends on the crew you’re with how game people are to do things. Perhaps my opinion will change after more than just 2 years of professional experience though!

  9. I haven’t been on an excavation for so long that I can’t even remember what we talked about outside of the field, although I’ve also become something of a field hermit for various personal and professional reasons.
    I know that I love talking about the site in the field, and make a point to wander around and see what other people are digging up and offering my ideas. I especially love working with Steve Carpenter, who encourages this. He also continues his field trips to find the chert sources, which usually mean trips to skip rocks!

    When I’m home-home, as opposed to hotel-home, I don’t really talk about work unless people ask. I guess my down time is just that to me now. Obviously, the cobwebs on my blog reflect this. Long days of survey and hours of post-field work have me utterly burned out.

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