The Five People you meet on Excavation

There is a certain truth that archaeology can be an adventure, but not because of what you are finding.  More than likely, it is because of who you are working with.  For weeks at a time, with perhaps only a few days off at a time, you are physically and mentally toiling and living with people, in somewhat isolated conditions.

In many cases, you create long lasting relationships quickly; you can’t really hide who you are when you cursing God under a pile of rocks.  But, certain aspects of people’s personality, those aspects they try desperately to hide under normal circumstances, come out quickly and dramatically.  There is no hiding your true character on an excavation, because sooner or later, sober or drunk, you will be revealed.

Given that you have to be a little odd to begin with to succeed in archaeology, you are often left with an unusual cast of characters.  In many cases, similar personalities are drawn to the profession for different reasons, and where that can go? Well, it’s not surprising that a large number of murder mysteries feature archaeology sites.

  1. The Theoretical Archaeologist

This young man or woman considers themselves a part of the ‘big picture’ in archaeology, and enjoy reaching conclusions based on heavy research and evidence.  When you first meet them, you are certain that they will be an excellent role model and be incredibly knowledgeable in the field.

This guy knows what’s up, he has books

They are lazy as fuck.

Like this guy, but not funny.

As soon as they have to physically do work, they will come up with every opportunity to get out of it.  Paperwork? They are on it.  Mapping? Boom, out of the hole. Digging with them is like playing ‘pop goes the weasel’, because they are always jumping out. They will state that they are ‘more concerned about the big picture’ and will kiss every ass to get out of the arduous and lowly physical labor.

Ultimately this is good, because they usually suck at digging.  I know, how does someone ‘suck at digging’? Dogs can do it, right?  Well, without going into too much detail, digging requires the ability to identify minute changes in the soil and the patience to go precisely along at a quick pace.   For whatever reason, our fledgling genius just can’t seem to get it.

They will probably end up as the teacher you fall asleep to learning about theory.

  1. The Seducer/uctress

I want to make it very clear that there is nothing wrong with having as much sex with as many people as you can.  It is a problem if you make it blatantly public and rely on alcohol to get the job done.  I don’t want to get too dark, but archaeologists, especially student excavations, are rife with alcohol (at minimum) and things can occasionally get out of hand in this regard.

That got really dark. Think about a puppy for ten seconds.

The creature I want to focus on is the open seducer/uctress.  This person often comes into academic or commercial excavations with the specific desire of getting as much sex as possible.  There is often a few of these people on the larger excavations, so more often than not, they just cycle through each other with the same expectations and nothing goes wrong.

It was a pleasure doing business with you, fellow sex-friend!

The problem is when you find out one of them has a wife or boyfriend at home that they didn’t mention sooner.  And the person they didn’t mention it to was last night’s fling.  Now, open relationships do exist, but there’s an unspoken agreement that in many cases, these flings need to be kept secret at all costs.  When their significant other visits, there is a heavy cloud of guilt that all of those who know carry, and every member of the field crew avoids them until they leave for the week.

Please don’t ask me why his fingers smell funny, please don’t ask me why his fingers smell funny…..

There are also those flings who are unaware that they were flings. The master seduce/uctress will, in a tale as old as time, coerce them with sweet words and promises( In one case, a girl lost her virginity thinking it was the ‘real deal’).  The uniqueness of the situation comes in the awkwardness and blatant fighting that takes place the rest of the time, making it impossible to focus on anything else. And when they take up with the their next target (in the same case, the best friend of the previous, fling. ) everyone seems to take a side, and you forget you’re supposed to be focusing on bronze age roundhouses.

As if anything could distract you from these sexy mamas.

  1. The Partier

There is a joke that all archaeologists are ‘alcoholics who happen to do archaeology’.  There is a certain truth in that, I can personally say that there are places on a certain farmstead in Lincolnshire where  colorful vomit paints beautiful colors across the landscape.  But, we all learn our lesson, having a stopping point, and can make it through the morning.

I can paint with all the colors of my digestive system.

These people do not have a stopping point.  It isn’t a straight case of alcoholism, because more often than not, excavations are the only place where they will drink or ‘partake’ heavily.  It’s really what they expect other people to do when they are drunk.

Bets are taken, people play drinking games, and in the morning, they are found passed out in bizarre positions the next night (perhaps from nakedly humping the kitchen trailer on a dare?).  Everyone takes their turn doing these things, but this creature does it often and without any restraint, every night is a new story, and no amount of hangover, vomiting, or projectile shitting will stop them from doing it over again the next day.

Just hope you aren’t the one helping them pull down their pants on the toilet.

Just stick them on the toilet and back away.

  1. The Couple

There are plenty of couples who go into excavations together, or even meet on an excavation, and have long-lasting, classy, successful relationships.  These are not those people.

Take a walk, you two cute fuckwads, this isn’t about you and your joy.

Perhaps they are looking to spice up their relationship with a volunteer dig (that you are slaving away at for money or school) or maybe they met on the dig (and moved into each other’s room or tent after twelve hours), but you will never doubt for one minute that these people are a couple.

It starts as standard, hand-holding and cutesy talk, but quickly elevates into something more…primal. Now, these people certainly have private spaces to themselves, whether it’s a decent sized tent or a hotel room, but they consider themselves ‘alone’ in the most crowded of bars.  Kissing turns to Frenching turns to groping turns to over-the-pants hand jobs. Often while carrying on a conversation with somebody else.  At least once, there was some ‘zipper-down’ action in Ireland.  There was definitely a discussion overheard about including one of their sisters in on the action.

George R.R. Martin used to be an archaeologist, incidentally. The Red Wedding? Based on an excavation of el-Amarna.

If one of the members leave early, often times the remaining person becomes ‘the partier’ or ‘the seducer/uctress’.  Some people are just meant to be awful. More often than not, these characters are the inspiration for murder mysteries, because the author secretly wanted to kill them.

I can’t focus on the soil with all your shit mucking it up.

  1. The Jabba

These people are the ‘theoretical archaeology’ without the ability to understand paperwork and micro-management. Essentially, they are lazy as fuck without an excuse, because no one told them archaeology includes things like ‘walking’ and ‘carrying stuff’ and ‘moving’.

They LOVE making shady deals with Harrison Ford, ironically. Rumor has it, George Lucas was also a failed archaeologist.

Everything they do is at the slowest possible pace, with as many excuses as possible.  They may ‘break a finger’ or ‘bruise their knee’ early on, to get out of any physical work, confining themselves to cleaning bits of shit off of pottery an bagging them.

Still harder than brushing my teeth. Which I don’t do. So fuck your transfer-print, white-ware.

As you read this, you may realize every job has these people in them. But, not in every job do you have to live with them, eat with them, and shower next to them. Think about that next time you get to sleep in your own bed and eat with people who don’t give out sexual favors for banana bread. At least most people wait until they know if it has chocolate chips.

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“Are you sure you wouldn’t rather go into business?”

There are a lot of people who give archaeologists shit about their career path, myself included. Apparently, there are no jobs for us, and if there are jobs, they are in Ivory Towers, waxing poetically about ruins and Egypt.  That is patently untrue, there are actually quite a few jobs out there, although initially seasonally, definitely  with the possiblity of better work. It’s just that many archaeologists get burned out (like many other social science and hard science fields) working the hours to wait for the golden opportunity.  But enough with that, let me introduce you to my job:

So, what exactly does the average archaeologist do?  You’re in luck, because I can totally tell you! They work in CRM to protect the archaeological resources in the United States (the U.K. calls this ‘commercial archaeology’, many countries have a bureaucratic designation for this).

What is CRM?  It is what almost every archaeologist will or should do at some point in their career, and how most archaeological data is found in North America and the United Kingdom today.

Basically, the idiots guide is this (because it was a very confusing class and there are a lot of parts of it.)

  1. As of now, all companies who work for the government or who accept any form of government support(most of them) have to make sure they are not building over archaeology sites (or disturbing environmental features).
  2. To mitigate this, archaeologists test areas for archaeology sites; this is usually done years before the proposed project takes place.
  3. Surprisingly, an enormous part of the world under your feet is archaeology. If you are living here today, somebody else thought it was a good idea to live there.
  4. We either protect the major sites, or curate (put into high security storage/museums) the artifacts we find to save them, as well as recording the information, meticulously that we find.

This is pretty important work, believe it or not, and it ties heavily into the overall framework of environmental protection.  There is an enormous amount of work available in this field, but it is physically demanding and sometimes not worth the pay. There are different levels and intensities of excavation, but that is about as interesting as watching slugs mate. (if you want to watch slugs mate : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ST_AEmm3GmI. )

With a bachelors, you can do the job that I do, which is the physical recording and collection of artifacts OR curation with supervision in a lab.  I’ve been paid anything from $16.50 per hour (without housing and food A.K.A. ‘ per diem’) to $14.75 an hour with per diem to do this job.  I am pretty lucky, because the average pay is definitely lower than that. A hot tip: government agencies (in the U.S.) pay WAY more and can abuse you WAY less; more internal surveillance, they also have more security.  However, there is more mobility and a greater potential for higher salaries in private companies towards the management end.  OH THE ETERNAL DECISION OF SECURITY VERSES WEALTH!

As far as the U.K. goes, my friends who work in Commercial Archaeology state that entry pay is around £7 or £8 starting pay; not quite sure how good or bad this is, given the exchange rate. It is the same between government agencies and private, likely because there is tighter regulations on wages, leading me to think private companies would go lower if they could*.

Here is the kicker though: as nice as that deal is, I can only work when the ground is NOT frozen. Where I live, that is roughly April through November, from there you can live on unemployment or have a flexible seasonal job.  I substitute teach, personally, and that supplements pretty well.  But, I do not have regular health insurance (luckily, I’m under 26 and eligible for my Dad’s) and no guarantee until I ‘level up’ (I’m a fan of Skyrim, hence the term).

I went through a grueling 13 months of work and thus I have some mobility. I have a masters, so I also have the potential to move up in management, which includes overseeing the entire site and organization of the labor and paperwork.  From there, it moves into further bureaucratic leveling (I am not saying this negatively, but government labor designations are very tiring!).

The place I’m at now travels around the state, having me stay in motels until we are done. Since it is government, it is Monday to Friday, approximately eight hours a day.  Some places have you work different on and off days, for example, ten days on and three days off.  Again, these are usually private firms setting the most convenient schedules for their work.

There are horror stories off course, of having to stay in horrible conditions and being forced to work on little water or no breaks (http://archaeology.about.com/od/careerstories/qt/rebecca.htm, http://archaeology.about.com/od/careerstories/qt/slave.htm ).  I would like to say this isn’t typical, but I only know my own experience for sure, and I can say that I enjoy the work.  Will I do entry level work forever? No, my knees are shit enough without ten years of ‘shovel bumming’. But some people do, so obviously it still draws people in to work.

My biggest advice would be to stand up for yourself and your dignity wherever you work, and always look for a new job as soon as you even suspect the current one won’t cut it.  Don’t be afraid to report being abused; that is the very foundation of human rights and you should exercise them!

If you have any questions, or comments, please share them!  I love what I do most days and would enjoy answering your questions! Also, if you have any stories, in or out of archaeology you want to share, comment below.

*(ANYONE FROM THE U.K., correct me if I am wrong; I only lived in your country for a year, that isn’t enough to say I’m any kind of an expert!  Anyone else from around the world, please give me insight into how things work! I am very interested in hearing about it, and would love to branch out in my own experiences once I stop being poor.)

Archaeologist Anxiety

I have pretty bad anxiety, like to the ‘needs therapy’ and ‘possibly medication’ extent, so that can be a bit of a problem.  This means that I literally cannot enjoy anything new without imagining some horrible new fear; in this case, a new job as a field technician, even though I’ve done it before with another organization.  But this is new, so it’s really quite scary.

There’s the standard archaeologist fears:

What if I find a projectile point and drop it into a pile of dirt filled with ticks and black widow spiders?(Already happened, waiting for the inevitable Lyme’s disease)

What if I mistake sandstone for prehistoric pottery (it actually looks really similar to the untrained eye)?

What if the motels we stay at have dead bodies and cockroaches under the bed? (it’s really possible)

What if I accidentally decapitate my dig partner with a shovel? (At over a meter in the ground, your arm gets super weak.)  And being struck by lighting?( it’s totally possible).

Then there’s the standard work fears:

What if everyone hates me? (pretty standard)

What if I’m horrible and get fired? (really standard)

What if people discover I like to knit and demand I make them hats, then realize I’m really bad at it and can’t afford the yarn without charging them? (Everyone’s been there)

But then there’s these REALLY specific fears that only make sense to me (or to you. I don’t know your life).

What if my married roommate at the motel I am staying in has sex with someone while I am still in the room? (I feel like one in two people have had this experience; hence the divorce rate).

Standard Falling Off of a Cliff? (happened in Achill Island in Ireland, 200 ft drop, caught myself at the last minute).

How about the very high risk of choking on melted cheese? (It happened when I ate potato skins at this restaurant in Mackinac island, and now I fear my favorite food).

What if I meet a really over competitive douche bag who tries to get ahead by ruining my relationship with our supervisor by sabotage? (That seriously happened in graduate school; there was some weird stuff going on in that staff office).

When it comes right down to it, my fears from the most specific and odd to the most standard are currently out of my control.  I can do the best I can, but I know I will screw something up; it’s inevitable at any new job. There is no way to not screw up at a new place, even if you’ve done the same job somewhere else. No amount of experience or preparation can stop that first mistake, and disappointment.

But I’m still going to have a panic attack.