Tag Archives: indiana jones

Stop Saying “Archaeology is actually boring”

I understand the temptation. You want to show the mundane, you feel that there is too much Hollywood glamor attached to the profession. So you begin your article, or your Introduction to Archaeology course, or public lecture with some variation of the following:

I know you all think that archaeology is all whips and snakes, Indiana Jones, and Lara Croft, but it is actually a set of methods that can involve long, boring episodes in the lab, counting things, and general tedium.

STOP. Stop this now. Take it out of your lexicon. Not only is it one of the most lazy, overused introduction strategies, but it actively works against the profession and is terribly bad form in science education.

When archaeologists introduce their work with this cliché, they are attempting one of two things:

1) They are trying to tell their audience that their work is actually Very Important and Very Scientific. You do not need to contrast this with Indiana Jones’ breaking-and-entering approach, you can relate it through your enthusiasm for the science.

DO: “Let me tell you about the magic of Lidar and what it is doing to change everything we know about the archaeological landscape of Brazil.”

2) They are thinking that they can tap into a pop-culture figure as a way to relate to their audience. This is fine, and can be done in interesting ways. But to contrast you and your work with this character in an effort to disabuse your audience of romantic notions of the field, and, further, to offer extreme examples from your graduate career of the 100,000 obsidian flakes that you counted as some kind of badge of honor is wrong-headed.

You are not telling people that archaeology is boring, you are telling them that YOU are boring. Can you imagine a job talk starting with, “Well, I know that you think that the analysis of Bronze Age pottery from the Aegean is all rockstar magic and crazy Octopus eyes, but let me tell you how absolutely soul-sucking it truly is.”

DO: “While digging in Belize I found a vast, incredibly rich cache of obsidian flakes, but the true revelations came in the lab when I looked at them under a microscope.”

Show your excitement, show your enthusiasm, don’t patronize your audience by denigrating their passion for YOUR field. Don’t be blasé in some sort of effort to show how “over it” you are as a big, important archaeologist. Worse, don’t show your deep insecurity or ambivalence about the relevance of your work. If you hate your research topic, it kinda shows. Talk about an aspect of it that you find truly fascinating. By this I am not saying to hide the tedious bits. By all means, after you tell your audience how exciting and important your work is, highlight how your results were supported by sorting 600kg of oyster shell in a museum basement.

As more and more archaeologists become involved in science communication, whether by blogging, or television, or public lectures we cannot have the same failures over and over (and over) again. By calling archaeology boring you are not serving an important function in rectifying pop-culture. You are not imbuing your work with some kind of scientific importance. You are not showing a reaction against positivism with your post-modern indifference. You are stealing the limelight from the parts of your research that are absolutely fascinating. You are diminishing the reasons you became an archaeologist, and the reasons that you are compelled to tell people the story of your research.

Tell me what you do and why it is important.

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The Lost Delta Archaeological Expedition

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As Brian mentioned over on Old Dirt – New Thoughts, when April comes around, archaeologists start to get wistful, going over old photographs, and longing for the field.  To alleviate this problem, I decided to check on our friends at the Lost Delta Archaeological Expedition.

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Working in the jungle is difficult at best, and my field shots were hampered by raging hordes, rushing to and fro, almost knocking me over at times.

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There was an unusual amount of wear on much of the statuary, including what looked like whip marks, instances of burning, and even bullet holes.

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The field site conditions were tough, and the curatorial facilities were deplorable. It was as if they didn’t care about many of the artifacts that would provide insights into daily life, but were rather more interested in those used by the elites in society. Still, it wasn’t my project and so I felt that it was bad form to criticize such a well-funded excavation from our colleagues at the University of Chicago.

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I finally managed to make it to the temple.  Sadly, not many of my photos from my survey of the temple turned out, as I had the unusual experience of riding around in a jeep in the interior of ancient monumental architecture (contra Flannery’s description of driving on top of mounds to determine their importance via gear shift).

In all, it was an educational adventure and I hope that Dr. Jones actually publishes his results in a timely manner. I will be looking forward to reading his interpretation of what looked like a wide mix of cultural influences, and his struggles with community outreach.

The Real Technology of Indiana Jones

By Deeveepix on Flickr

By Deeveepix on Flickr

It’s here!  I’m getting ready to go to Austin, TX to speak on a panel at South by Southwest, an annual music conference that has grown to include film and interactive media.  When I lived in Austin I would go check out hundreds of bands that were playing all over town, but this will be my first time to attend the interactive conference.  This is the first panel dealing with digital archaeology to appear at the conference, and I’m excited to be a part of it.  If you happen to be going to the conference, the panel is on Monday, March 16th, at 11:30 in Room B.
Title: The Real Technology of Indiana Jones

Organizer:
Adam Rabinowitz, University of Texas at Austin
Panelists:
Stuart Eve (University College London), Bernard Frischer (Rome Reborn), Colleen Morgan (University of California at Berkeley), Adam Rabinowitz, moderator (University of Texas)
Description:
Archaeologists no longer rely on whips and fedoras; they now use a range of sophisticated digital tools to collect information in the field and study it in the lab. Too often, though, this wealth of information meets the same fate as Indy’s discoveries, locked away in digital ‘warehouses’ where no one can see it. The archaeologists on this panel present different projects that use web platforms and open-source approaches to bring digital archaeology out of the warehouse and into the public eye. Learn how archaeologists are using interactive media to open their data and processes to the public; discuss the creation of an online archaeological community in Second Life; and explore ancient cities across space and time using publicly-available online tools.

//sxsw.com)

Taters of the Lost Ark

Taters of the Lost Arc

I love that his idol is another potato head.

More Indiana Jones toys here.