What archaeology is really like

Most people have this notion that archaeological work is a sort of super-thrilling adventure that takes place exclusively in distant lands. While sometimes (on very rare occasions) all components of this description are true, much of the time archaeology — like any other job —  is just hard work.

To wit: I am currently in Kansas City doing some archaeology with my long-time colleague, Bill McFarlane. What work, you ask? Well, this week, what “archaeology” means to us is the ugly labor of putting finishing touches on a manuscript presenting the results of our last four seasons of fieldwork. Laborious hand editing. Long debates about the right structure for the discussion and interpretations. The tedium of making sure the dreaded “findings” section is thorough but as short as is humanly possible.

On this visit, archaeology also means visiting the Biodiversity Institute at KU to check out some local, previously unstudied artifact collections. Why? We’re (gulp) considering starting up a small scale field school in the area while we wait for Honduras (the country where we’ve always done our excavations) to become “safe enough” to return to with field school students for whom we are liable.

I mention these things because, actually, this kind of work is a lot of what archaeology really is. Yes, digging stuff up and having adventures in foreign lands is a fun (okay, let’s be honest, AWESOME) part of being an archaeologist. But without analyzing your findings, writing them up, making them fit for publication, and doing the same for old, neglected museum collections, you’re not really doing archaeology. You’re doing Indiana Jones. You’re doing looting with some field documentation on the side.

So, yeah. Today I’m off to do some archaeology. At the office.

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