My problem with Archaeology #365

Any guesses as to what this little piece of bent metal is?

I studied archaeology for many years and always I was plagued with two feelings:

1) It was all some huge elaborate joke. No one in their right mind would choose to build this massive earth fort on top of a windy hilltop, and choose to live there. Right? Surely, any minute, some Iron Age warrior was going to pop up from a particularly beautifully cut ditch and go “Hah! Fooled you!”

2) Everything (well, most things) we know of civilisations long gone are construed from the barest of traces. Things that haven’t rotted away. The rubbish. The few things they took care to bury. Anomalies, not day-to-day. The tiniest piece of wood, or metal, or stone is analysed for years and wild guesses made as to its purpose. Whole castles are built, from a few scattered stones.

I had this piece of bent metal on my desk just the other day and it struck me – it symbolised perfectly my feelings about this part of Archaeology. We can make VERY GOOD guesses as to how things might have been, but at the end of the day it is just a guess. I was looking at this artefact and, whilst I knew exactly what it was because I had been using it not three minutes before, no one else in the office knew what it was. What hope in hell does a future archaeologist have?

Hence, this piece of metal is my problem with Archaeology.

And it’s actually part of a delux German paper-clip thingy. If you’re curious.

(Whilst we’re on the subject, sort of, I’m being cremated and my urn being buried with a symbol of every major and minor religion I can find. Plus a stone plaque carved with the words “I was an Archaeologist too, leave me alone 😛 “)

5 thoughts on “My problem with Archaeology #365

  1. Interesting! I was guessing it was some sort of paper fastener… and now I understand the title. You make a very good point.

    Have you ever read Who’s Afraid of Beowulf by Tom Holt? You’d appreciate the archaeology jokes. 🙂

  2. I’ve not read that particular Tom Holt – I found that after reading a couple of his books I was writing in his style, not my own! Daren’t run the risk of that in the middle of NaNo and my own writing binge. Will make a note of it though 🙂

    And would you have guessed paper fastener without the office context or knowledge of my work? (Don’t get me started on the context rant…)

    • You’re right — without the office context, I probably wouldn’t have gotten close; I would have guessed something from a hardware shop.

  3. Hey, I leave for 5 minutes and suddenly everything looks different 🙂 Remember the comments people used to make about the foot and mouth outbreak? The archaeologists of the future are going to think we had one hell of a ritual when they start digging up all that burnt catle.

  4. Hello stranger 🙂

    And lol. It always amuses me how we are trained to think ritual (or sex) for most everything. We used to have a Time Team drinking game – a shot for every time religion, ritual and sex were mentioned, or something was called phallic. It didn’t last long as we were generally under the table by the first ad break!

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