About a month ago, I was officially hired into the ranks of working archaeologists – as a field technician at a CRM (cultural resource management) firm. Love the job, love working with friends from school, love being active and outdoors (even when it’s 20 degrees) – I don’t even mind (too much) the achy muscles. Both in the context of telling people about my undergrad senior thesis research and, now, in the context of telling people what my job is, people are almost always surprised that there’s any archaeology to be done in Kentucky. Which, in turn, surprises me…I mean, there’s archaeology everywhere (except maybe Antarctica.)
And yes, as great as historical documents are (and I do loves me some history) there is a lot that written history doesn’t account for. How accurate and unbiased a perspective on Native American life do you think European settlers really had? Who sits down and writes about their slaves’ or servants’ lives for posterity? For that matter, how many struggling farmers had time to write out the nitty gritty details about their daily lives? And how many parts of your daily life do you take for granted – well, of course you use your cell phone for navigation, because that’s what we all do here and now…and of course most of your diet consists of fast food, because that’s how busy people live these days…etc. – ? Why would you bother to document things that are perfectly normal and mundane? (Oh, wait…Facebook…)
So, we dig stuff up. Trash pits and privies are the best – what people throw away says a lot about them, a lot about their culture. Building footprints. Projectile points. Animal bones left from meals. Broken dishes. Medicine bottles. Buttons. The scraps of the past that nobody thought were worth mentioning. And that’s precisely the stuff that can be used to learn the untold parts of history – which is what I love about historical archaeology.
Two more things worth mentioning:
- I don’t dig dinosaurs. That’s paleontology. But, yes, I love dinosaurs.
- I don’t dig with a bullwhip and a revolver, but, yes, I love Indiana Jones (even if he is a terrible archaeologist).