We are all well underway with the first week of digging and as newcomers start to grasp the scale and purpose of the work they do, they come to interesting realizations. One of the most heard so far is the joy people experience at finding ‘special objects’. Special objects are not so much things like rich treasures, but rather items that can tell us more specific things about what we are excavating. A good example of this is nails. The purpose of a 1500 year old, severely corroded nail is evident to no one save archaeologists.
If you were to find a piece of severely worn flint while gardening, you might raise an eyebrow at it. More likely, you`d probably toss it somewhere far away from you. In the field, even a heavily worn piece of flint is significant as long as it was visibly worked. Where an annoyed jab to throw something as far away as possible is what most people would consider the best solution, out on an excavation site it literally has people dancing.
It is all evidence of the archaeological adage that context is everything. Without it, all our effort: the fuel burnt, the people brought over, the sweating in the sun, the cramps, scratches, bruises and hangovers…are for nothing. Any and all finds need to be relatable to the environment in which they were found. A collector might be pleased with having an object that is beautiful, but it is the exact layer, the pottery that surrounded the object, and other such apparently trivial things that can help us date an object and give us a better understanding of how people in history perceived and used said object.
This is exactly why archaeologists despise looters and treasure hunters. A good example is the TV-show “Diggers”, which depicts people trying to find antiques to sell for a profit. No self-respecting archaeologist could support a show that teaches people to take evidence of historical events out of their context for a reason so banal as to make money off it. You could argue that this is reflected in the relatively low average pay of archaeologists: these are people to whom a specific chunk of rock is more important than their own personal health; to whom financial means only serve to prolong and expand excavations, rather to enrich themselves. As the 19th century Egyptologist Jean François Champollion noted: “Archaeology is a beautiful mistress, but she brings a poor dowry.” As we at Horvat Kur know all too well: true love isn`t about gold digging…
Signing off for now,
The Lost Dutchman