Monday, 10 November 2014

Salon: "Why we’re obsessed with glamorizing archaeologists"

There's an interesting article on Salon right now on archaeologists and their profession, tied in with a new book, Lives in Ruins, by Marilyn Johnson, about the same subject. The gist is that archaeologists are funded poorly but they bring some semblance of meaning and fascination to the world through their efforts, which is why the public glamourises them.

My only criticism of the article - I haven't yet read the book - is that the writer, Laura Miller, says archaeologists would probably continue to do their work even if they didn't receive money for it. The idea is that archaeologists are dedicated people, of course. But obviously if you broadcast the notion that archaeologists are so dedicated that they'll brave privations and work in muddy pits for free, you're not exactly encouraging full funding of archaeological research. Instead of 'these people ought to be paid better', it comes across as 'it is the duty of the archaeologist to suffer'.

Now, I'm not an archaeologist and I've never conducted a dig. I'm much more at the museums/languages/ethnographies end of things, which is less messy and which I can (to some extent) pursue without recourse to funding agencies and earthmoving. The subject matter is ultimately the same, though, and I would say that I'm reasonably dedicated to prehistory. I don't yet have a job in a closely-related industry (I have a job that pays the bills), but my bookshelves are bursting with prehistory and languages, and my Kindle Fire is near-capacity with pdfs of articles from JSTOR. When you get the history/prehistory bug, it's hard to walk away.

Anyway, it's sad that so many archaeologists reap so little reward for their efforts - especially so when you consider that assholes like Gavin Menzies and Scott Wolter make a lot of money pushing pseudoarchaeological garbage about Atlantis and Templars in America and all of that. It would be nice if people appreciated the real history of our planet and species as much as they profess to.

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