Archaeology is one of the sexiest jobs that nobody understands. Most of us get that it involves the ruins of ancient civilizations, treasure, and the odd fistfight with a huge bald German mechanic, but we're less clear on how any actual science gets done. It's time to change that. My name is Hadas Levine, and I'm the woman who has to pick up Indy's slack while he sword-fights and flirts with teenagers.
6Digging Is Just the Vacation; the Real Work Sucks
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Say the word "archaeology" and one image pops into your mind: Indiana Jones and Gimli, digging up the Ark of the Covenant in the sands of the Holy Land. Well, I'm an archaeologist in a different chunk of the Holy Land, and I can honestly say, it does look a little like that. For a month or two, which is all the digging season usually lasts.
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None of us look this good digging, and no one besides Harrison Ford looks this good doing anything.
It's very rare to have an excavation go year-round. In a few weeks alone, you'll find hundreds or thousands of items that need to be photographed, cleaned, and cataloged. And that's what we do the rest of the year: You spend a month or two digging and then 10 months daring carpal tunnel syndrome to nut up already and fight you.
When I went out on my first dig, I expected to see large walls and paved streets covered in vines and angry natives -- you know, the way ruins are depicted in books and movies. It's always something clearly identifiable as an ancient city or temple or orgy cave (depending on your taste in fiction). But then you arrive at an excavation and it's all in tiny bits and pieces, and you realize that most archaeology is making educated guesses about what used to be there based on the scant wreckage you've found. It's like putting together an enormous puzzle after your dog chewed the box with the picture to shreds and somebody stole half the pieces.
For every intact Ark of the Covenant, there are a million scattered Shards of the Something-or-Other.
Oh, and remember that awesome sonar drill thing from Jurassic Park? They shoot it into the ground and find out where the dinosaurs are buried, right before Dr. Grant trots off to traumatize more children:
"I'm starting to think our boss might be a dick."
Stuff like that totally exists, but plenty of working archaeologists go their whole career without ever using it. Dr. Grant was a rock star paleontologist, with a fancy book deal and everything (because that totally exists, and it's not like a Kardashian's biography tops the best-seller lists every week). Most of us aren't rock stars. My university hasn't seen the need to shell out fat stacks of cheddar for maps that look like this:
University of Denver
Those wavy lines = dinosaur tracks, apparently.
We're a little more low-tech. It's pretty common to have a bunch of students stand out in a line near where you expect there might be ruins and just start walking and looking for stuff really hard. We'll comb the whole area for pottery shards or ancient penis graffiti, using such complicated equipment as our eyes, our feet, and pointing. Sadly, there are far fewer sonic shotguns involved in archaeology than you have been led to believe.
5We Throw Almost Everything Away
There are only a few shards of any type of pottery that can identify what it was and when it came from. Basically, if it isn't from the top or the bottom of the vessel, we throw it away. Those are the only bits we really need, and unless the other pieces have some sort of unique penis graffiti or whatever (who doesn't love that stuff?), into the trash heap they go.
Print Collector / Hulton / Getty
Fun Fact: 70 percent of our shared cultural heritage survives in the form of bulbous red penis drawings.
Storage space isn't free. Our university is small, and we can't afford to hold everything we find. It's a shame to let precious chunks of history go to waste. There's a part of you that believes anything human-made from that long ago should be treated with reverence, but the sad reality is that pottery was pretty much the plastic of the ancient world. Around 65 percent of ancient earthenware ends up dug out of the ground, then tossed in a landfill and buried again. Perhaps ... for future archaeologists to dig up and throw away again?
Long story short: Any large dig frees up heaps of this cast-off history. It's kind of sad, but it's also an incredible opportunity to decorate your home for free with some Frasier-quality ancient antiques. You're one archaeological dumpster dive away from an apartment full of straight-up relics. And since it's only second-hand grave robbing, you'll be one of the last victims to die from any lingering curse. Everything's coming up you!
The major name-brand mummies only have time to punish about 10 percent of the cursed population.
(Disclaimer: Please don't pick anything up off the ground from an actual dig site!)