Digging In: MSU 360.24 and Campus Archaeology

Yesterday, a few of us at Campus Archaeology participated in MSU’s 360.24.  We hauled out the shovels, picked through the artifacts and poured over archival material to show the at-large MSU community and beyond what we at Campus Archaeology are all about.  Despite initially being thwarted by convoluted camera settings and a few technical hiccups during filming (gotta love technology!), we managed to capture in less than five minutes, the essence of Campus Archaeology.   The entire exercise gave me pause to consider how we were encapsulating our archaeological experience at Campus Archaeology, versus the way archaeology is portrayed to the general public in mass media forms.

Though short, our film was honest: archaeology comprises a lot of grunt work in the field, and a lot of tedium (for lack of a better word) on the post-excavation end.  We spend hours and days digging away in the dirt, in wet weather, cold weather, hot weather, and when we are lucky, those fleeting beautiful days.  Extensive amounts of time are spent in the library, archives and simply sitting at a computer entering and retrieving data.  Almost as a knee-jerk reaction, most every archaeologist will immediately tell you that what we do is nothing like Indiana Jones (I have personally visited Tanis and no, there was no Well of the Souls), but more than separating “fact” from “fiction”, how often do we stop to consider what is touted as “fact” in archaeological portrayals beyond the silver screen?

Confession: almost invariably, when I am forced to watch a program on popular television about archaeology, I cringe.  That is not to say that I think the scholars presenting their findings are in anyway cringe-worth, but that even the most “honest” archaeological programs on popular television rarely depict the banalities of real archaeology.  They hit the highlights: digging at some exotic site, finding “the artifact!” (as if we all squeal with delight over the finding of  each individual undecorated pottery sherd), and then, as part of the format, the archaeologist returns to his or her lab to “do the analysis”, and that is where we tend to trail off into a montage of photos narrated by some honey-tongued narrator in authoritative, yet dulcet tones.

While popular tv programs about anthropology/archaeology tend to aggrandize archaeology, it is not always a bad thing. Sure Indiana Jones is the farthest thing from an archaeologist, but he popularizes the field. Would archaeology be as well known if Harrison Ford and didn’t quash the Nazi’s into submission with his whip and fedora? Hollywood has made the field of archaeology a household name. It has taken it out of the Ivory Tower and made it approachable and cool. Is Hollywood’s version of archaeology accurate? Not really. But it makes us visible and relevant to the general public.

Here at Campus Archaeology, we give you the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.  Archaeology is a dirty, often tedious, repetitious business, but it is also, without question, one of the most interesting ways to spend your life.  So come January, when the MSU 360.24 documentary is released, look for us giving you the dirt on what really makes archaeology and what we do on a daily basis as ambassadors of history.

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