“That belongs in a museum…”

Hello fellow archaeology students,

So far in my career as a student here at MSU, I have taken three archaeology courses: introduction to archaeology, method and theory historical archaeology, and now great discoveries in archaeology. I have also had a handful of other anthropology coursework and let me tell you something! In almost every anthropology class my professor has brought up Indiana Jones at least once and it usually is on the first meeting and in regards to how Indiana Jones is not archaeology, or at least isn’t archaeology by todays methods and practices anymore.

Once upon a time archaeology was carried out in a haphazard way and possibly by some “archaeologists” today. Try remembering the ideas from class about the collecting of items, the formation of the first museums around the world, and the paid government agents whose sole responsibility is to gather up as much “stuff” as possible… it isn’t hard to imagine that the evolving discipline was in need of an overhaul. Pertaining to archaeology, the times have changed dramatically since the early 1900s up and as a matter of fact, so have we; just let an anthropologist tell you by how much haha. As brought up in this class as well as the methods class, there was a push to change the discipline of archaeology to something more scientific and the post-processual era ushered in the new age along with the changes needed to transform the idea of collecting/hoarding into something that can tell humanity something about itself.

With the advent of this new era and scientific approach, new analysis methods could be utilized to gather information about the site. It is important to remember that archaeology is anthropology at its core and not history, in a manner of speaking. The archaeologist has the duty of formulating the best possible questions to ask at a site. A historical archaeologist would use the written record about a site to aid in the data collection before digging even takes place in order to formulate the right questions… You don’t go to a site and start digging and hope that you just discover some artifact for the point of doing so. An archaeologist wants to learn something about a person or people at some point throughout time and the questions need to be known before one trowel is placed to the dirt.

Archaeology is useful in telling something meaningful about people in the present or past, but it only works if you use the proper methods. The days of professional archaeologists “looting” a site for the purpose of collecting is over. The discipline is not concerned so much about the artifacts, but instead concerned about where the artifacts are in time and in space. THIS IS THE CONTEXT and when the artifact is removed from the site and not documented with its surroundings then questions cannot be answered and all is lost. There is only one shot to dig up the site and answer your questions. The artifact may be captivating, but without its context it cannot aid in discovering the bigger picture of the site and the people who utilized that land which is the whole point of the excavation to begin with!

Location is everything. Where objects are can tell many things. Given the example of The Little Mermaid, it might have been easier to deduce that the artifact that Ariel acquired was for eating (even if Ariel didn’t know what the artifact was, but still had some concept of a kitchen) if it had been found with other objects that she could associate with food in one way or another… or at least realize that it probably was not an item used for hair. It is possible for things to be out-of-place at a site, but you should understand my point here. The context matters.

P.S.

Either good old George Lucas didn’t understand the concept of context and archaeology, understood what “archaeology” had been and produced a character similar to what “archaeologists” had been doing, or he just didn’t care and wanted to make an exciting action movie. It’s not Indiana Jones’ fault he is a bad archaeologist! 🙂 The quote that titles this blog post is actually from Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade. The reply to that statement was “so do you” (speaking to Jones). Put ourselves in that movie universe… 1000 years later how could we possibly know anything about Dr. Jones if he is on display in a museum clearly with no context?

The earth holds the truth and it is up to the archaeologist to uncover it.

Justin