A Real Live Archaeologist

This Wednesday I was the guest speaker at Joey Schotland’s World History class. Joey teaches at Another Course to College, a charter school in Brighton. In fact, it’s located at 20 Warren Street, about 150 yards from the house where I lived with Kelly and Gavin (104 Warren) and across the street from St Elizabeth’s Hospital.

Joey asked me to come in and talk about archaeology and give his students a chance to ask a “real archaeologist” questions about my experience.

I agreed to teach three one-hour classes beginning at 8am. I was sure that the first class would be the worst (with sleepy students), the second I would peak, and that by the third I would be too tired to give a good class. I was wrong.

Every class was terrific and gave me more energy as the morning progressed. And the first one might have been the best because the students had so many excellent questions.

My prepared talk consisted of telling them how I became an archaeologist, and how a number of different disciplines (art history, anthropology, geology, Classics, botany, etc.) all feed into a dig team. Then I told them where I dug (focusing mostly on Tell Brak because I brought slides of that site), and how a mound is formed and something about how we try to dig stratigraphically. My slides showed what Tell Brak looked like, workmen doing various jobs, and some of the finds from the site, including a headless legless horse figurine, some pots, and the bead horde.

For each class I focused on different topics, just so I wouldn’t go on auto-pilot — absolute dating, approaching a new mound, the specialists on digs.

What made the classes great were the questions.

Every class was interested in how we got paid [we don’t–shock and disbelief]. Did we get paid by the find (Joey had given them a summary of Woolley’s excellent Digging Up the Past from back when workmen got baksheesh — bonuses — for good finds)? [No more baksheesh] Who funds a dig and what do they get out of it? [Universities, museums, NEH, NSF and they get prestige]

Also: Who gets to keep the material? [The local country except for maybe some bones or other samples] How do you get permission to dig at a given mound? [Ask the local country’s antiquities dept] What happens if you don’t find anything? [We always find something — even a wall — but finding “nothing” would be worth reporting] Can’t you use radar or something to see into the earth? [Yes]

Some question for me specifically: What’s the first thing you found? [A wall at Sardis] What’s the most valuable thing you found? [the bead horde, although I tried to play up the importance of the carnelian as a sign of trade rather than pure monetary value]

And some stumpers: How much of what you find is about religion? [Me: If you say grace before you eat, is your plate religious? It’s interpretation] Why did people use the same kind of pots all the time and then why did they switch? [That could be your dissertation, kid]

I think what surprised them the most in the pictures were how green the mound was in springtime, how many sherds are littered on the ground (Tell Brak is kind of extreme that way) and how shabby our living conditions were (Tell Brak is kind of extreme that way, too). Those’re the things that probably surprised me the most the first time I visited, too!

An enjoyable visit and I look forward to coming back next year. I didn’t even get a chance to talk about Bevel Rimmed Bowls!

3 thoughts on “A Real Live Archaeologist

  1. Jack was terrific: great slides, interesting anecdotes, & clear explanations. My students now want to replace me with him!Thanks for coming Jack!To everyone else, Jack is a great guest speaker.

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