The SAA Archaeological Record — May 2013, Volume 13, Number 3
Change Language:
I Love Archaeology Because

Uzma Z.Rizvi

Uzma Z. Rizvi is Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Urban Studies at the Pratt Institute of Art and Design, Brooklyn, New York.

I love archaeology because it inspires me to understand the world around me with nuance. I do not just have tea in my favorite mug: I know that in choosing each other, the mug and I have developed an intimate relationship rooted in the everyday. In that choice, we have reinstated certain cultural and economic choices and changed others. I know that in the creation of that habitus we have or will let those choices merge into nothingness, into the visible affects of the vernacular, into just something we do every day— and not every thing in the everyday can always have meaning. In making that decision about the meaning (or lack thereof) of the everyday, there is a new plane of understanding between the mug and myself— one in which we can take each other for granted, one that indexes a more intimate relationship.

My passion for archaeology is not all cerebral— in a very visceral way, when I touch, hold, examine, and sort the materials from excavations or collections, I feel a certain amount of affection for the things themselves. It has been this way since my first encounter with an ancient object in my first archaeology class in my first year as an undergraduate. Even after all these years, I vividly recall holding on to a Mesopotamian beveled-rim bowl that was being passed around. My thumb landed in the same place where a rushed potter 6,000 years prior had quickly scooped up the bowl off the wheel to start the next. It was an uncanny moment— being taught the value of antiquity in a monetary and cultural form, but realizing and recognizing it as the everyday act of an individual from the past, an act whose meaning that individual may have already erased because it was an intimate practice (much like my tea drinking). And yet, this act maintained meaning for my reconstruction of the past, my contemporary moment with the object, and my recognition of the paradoxical situation. I can only think back to that one beveled-rim bowl of the thousands that are out there still in circulation 6,000 years after production, albeit in different contexts, as an interaction I had with an other that made me think about the world in a different way... and I am sure I was just another student with whom BRB 3849 spent a few moments. Would we recognize each other if we met again?

It is precisely because I love archaeology that I define, deconstruct, and decolonize it. If I had no affection for this practice and thought process I would have left archaeology a long time ago. This discipline has proven to be expansive and generous in its ability to take on other disciplines to critique it, to help move it into new directions, and to embrace new methodologies. But we cannot be fooled into thinking it is infinitely malleable— it too changes the practitioners: we are disciplined into our subjectivity, into ways and modes of thinking and interacting with the world that shape us as archaeologists. It was through the practice of archaeology— a practice steeped in teamwork, that I learnt the value of collaborative action. It is through the process of decolonizing methodologies that I learnt how to work, dialogue, and organize with communities and publics on meanings related to heritage and the politics of the past. And it was through these processes that I realized that regardless of its colonial pasts, archaeology has the potential for a reflexive and critical future— a future that I could be a part of, help shape, and, in turn, be shaped by. Falling in love with a discipline is not entirely difficult to imagine. However, as with other relationships, it is staying in love with it that has its own intimacy.

Mitch Allen

Mitch Allen is the publisher at Left Coast Press, Inc., and Visiting Professor of Anthropology at Mills College.

I love archaeology. But, unlike most participants in this forum, I had a choice. Like many, I discovered a love of archaeology on a dig while in college and became enamored with exciting finds, mud-caked boots, tall tales of the field by grizzled veterans sitting around a crackling campfire, and the reliance on mind-altering substances. I did get a Ph.D. (it took 24 years), worked on a couple of field projects, and secured an adjunct teaching position. But my career trajectory into Shovelbum Hell, Grad School Blues, Adjunct Wasteland, then a position as an academic, CRM professional, or heritage manager got stunted.Why? Well, I got a job.

This job was as an editor with an academic publishing house, one that publishes widely across the social sciences. My passion for archaeology was overtaken by the need to become an ethnographer of other academic tribes— learning the jargon, kinship system, structural hierarchy, values, warring theoretical camps, and drinking patterns of sociologists, education researchers, gerontologists, and museum professionals, among others. I became a participant observer in hopes that it would give me an edge in deciding who and what to publish.

I learned to talk the talk and walk the walk well enough to appreciate the contributions of each field and really like many of its members. Some would welcome me into their tribe. But my heart still belongs to archaeology. Here are four reasons why:

Surprise. Archaeologists never know if our conventional wisdom about the past is stable. I’ve seen more universally accepted theories overturned in the past three decades than one would find in any other field. The first archaeology book I published confidently demonstrated the primacy of the Clovis theory. Today, it’s laughably wrong. I’ve helped deflesh a few sacred cattle in publishing— Steve Lekson’s Chaco Meridian theory and Terry Jones’s Polynesians in California hypothesis among others. When I teach undergraduates, I always discuss newly published findings that upend longestablished theories about the past with surprising new data.There’s a different one each week. I can’t think of any other discipline in which The Canon is so fragile and transitory.

Vastness. Archaeology is about everything. To be a good archaeologist, you need to be equally conversant in physics and public policy, materials and mythology, history and hermeneutics, oral tradition and organic chemistry. I haven’t played in any academic sandbox where the need for transdisciplinary work across sciences, social sciences, and humanities has been so acute. No one can be expert in every field that archaeology touches. There are just too many moving parts for anyone to play puppet master.

Sociability. As a result of its vastness, archaeologists have to play well with others. Given the long-standing acrimony between various moieties in the archaeological tribe, that statement will cause a snort or two. But, for example, one of my contacts in nursing research describes her field as, “they eat their young.” Archaeologists are sociable animals in comparison.And how could we not be? Anyone who has been on a field project knows who snores, who puts ketchup in their ice cream, and who needs to shower more. We have the dirt on each other. We need each other and those many outsiders too much to be snarky. It’s the ultimate group endeavor.

Finally, it’s magical. We invent entire social worlds out of bits of old broken dishes, scraps of discarded bone, microscopic starch molecules embedded in ancient hearths, stone walls robbed of every stone. The archaeologist’s skill at reconstructing the past out of almost nothing is nothing short of magic. Even when we’re wrong, it’s still a pretty decent parlor trick. No wonder snake oil salesmen, charlatans, and religious fanatics mishandle our methods and twist our data attempting to prove their outlandish theories. It’s too remarkable to pass up and sounds too convincing to disprove.

It’s surprising, vast, sociable, magical. That’s why I love archaeology.

Rick Butler

Rick Butler is a graduate of DePaul University (B.A. in Anthropology, 2011) who is currently preparing to apply for graduate study in archaeology.

I love archaeology because the tangible evidence of our history fascinates me. The ability to sift through layers of time in the form of soil and discover pieces of our past long since forgotten is a unique experience that greatly expands our knowledge of human culture and history. When I was seven years old, I began digging up my family’s backyard, marveling at the small treasures I would find. Every old toy, every bottle, every shard of dishware was an amazing new discovery. This childhood pastime was not like digging for gold or some monetarily valuable treasure; it was the delight of holding these items and feeling a connection to the past of that place— a connection to the people who had lived there before me. It was in these moments that I first realized my childhood home was not merely the place I lived, but a structure that had been there long before me. My house had housed numerous families who filled their lives with countless moments both routine and meaningful. The remnants of some of those moments fell to the ground and were lost to time, waiting until I came along and uncovered them.

That tangible connection is one of archaeology’s great strengths.It takes the physical evidence and uses it to answer questions about the way people used objects, utilized their environment, and lived their daily lives. While the historical record is a truly valuable resource in understanding humanity’s past, it relies on witness testimony, information that is acquired through first- or secondhand sources and then transmitted by an author who may or may not apply their own perceptions and biases. Just as historical documents can enhance archaeological research, archaeology enriches the historical record. It can verify and expand upon the accounts of historians and shed light on how events of the past occurred.

But where historical texts often recount major events such as wars, political intrigue, and the rise and fall of empires, archaeology can examine how ordinary people lived during these times. The day-to-day existence of people— how they lived, what they ate, the tools they used, and how they experienced their culture— are all in the scope of archaeology. I love that in archaeology a garbage pit is as valuable as a treasure chamber because a garbage pit can tell you a myriad of details about the people who used it. The “how” is something I love. It is one thing to understand the “what” of history, to know significant events and their dates. But I find myself more compelled by the culture of a place and time— all of the little details of life left in the footprints of material things waiting to tell a story about their former owner’s experiences.The objects that play a role in our lives, however seemingly mundane, tell a story about us.

Archaeology looks at the things we leave behind and reconstructs who we were; it can revive some aspect of our lives after we have been gone for generations. This is possibly one of the things I love most about archaeology. Most of us will never be mentioned in the annals of history, but we will all leave some material goods behind. The archaeologists of the future may one day discover some object that we possessed.This long buried item will tell them things about our lives and the times we lived in, and through that we will be connected to those people and their time. All of these are reasons why I love archaeology, but it is important to mention one more reason: it’s fun. Whether working in the field conducting an excavation, cleaning artifacts in the lab, or spending time in the library researching documented sources, I cannot think of an academic pursuit or profession I would find more fulfilling. That is why I love archaeology.

Julia Carvajal

Julia Carvajal received her bachelor’s degree in anthropology (CRM) from California State Polytechnic University of Pomona in 2010. She works as a field technician for a variety of CRM firms, mostly in California and Nevada.

I love archaeology because it is a combination of all things I enjoy: culture, the past, traveling, new experiences, and hard work. I have been a professional archaeologist for two years, but it’s been my passion since my first field class as an undergraduate at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, in 2007. I have always been fascinated by culture and the past because they open doors to the unfamiliar, shedding light on how people once lived. Traveling to changing landscapes allows me to meet new people and have experiences that help me grow personally. Hard work has been an important component of archaeology for me; I want to deserve the privilege of learning the fascinating aspects the past has to offer. The work is definitely not for the faint of heart. Long hours, extreme weather conditions, and chaotic schedules can be a real challenge sometimes, but I wouldn’t change my career for the world.

I love archaeology because it exists everywhere and I get to travel all over the country to be part of recording the past. In my experiences, I have explored California to a great extent, allowing me to learn firsthand how archaeology differs throughout the state. I have worked in other western states as well, each opportunity allowing me to see how archaeology is conducted and analyzed differently based on the environment, the available natural resources, and the other challenges for different people who occupied those areas. Traveling to be a part of unfamiliar archaeology helps me to appreciate the differences and similarities in cultures and the true ingenuity the people of the past had to survive in varying environments.

I love archaeology because it brings people together from all walks of life. I love to come together with people of all ages with shared interests, whom you can bond with over similar experiences and who can teach you new things about your field. Not only do I get to spend time with other archaeologists, but I also get to work with other professionals I never would have expected, like construction workers, biologists, and geologists. The privilege to work with native communities also reminds me why protecting the archaeological record is so important. Interacting with these professionals helps to form a better plan for the work we are trying to accomplish.

I love archaeology because there is always something new to learn. Whether it’s how to keep your sidewalls looking great or a new colleague sharing their specific archaeological interests, there is so much depth to archaeology that continuously fascinates me. From the people and places to the methods and theories, archaeology is a continuously evolving field that keeps my mind open and always moving. The different professions we work with help us to incorporate varying factors in our attempt to recreate the past, and in return archaeologists can teach others appreciation for what we are trying to do.

I love archaeology because it’s hard work. I get asked a lot why I chose to become an archaeologist. My answer is that I always knew I wanted to be part of the process that preserves the past from being lost. That process happens to be hiking up to 12 miles a day in the middle of nowhere to find and record sites, monitoring for hours around heavy machinery, digging in difficult terrain, and taking extensive notes and doing a lot of research. But at the end of it all, I have walked through forests and deserts with views that bring peace to the weary surveyor and where history has been hidden for countless years. I have heard stories and songs of people’s ancestors and have been to sacred places where people once carved the images of things that meant the most to them. I have read the documents of miners who have claimed their land and have seen structures long abandoned. We can all relate to people who are long gone through archaeology. I love archaeology because it connects us all.

Meg Conkey

Meg Conkey is Class of 1960 Professor Emerita of Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley.

I love archaeology because it is always changing. Of course, I also love it because it means being outdoors a good deal of the time, it means travel, it means collaboration, and it means puzzle solving. My first archaeological experience was basically something of a lark, an adventure put together with some college classmates to do something one summer that might link my then-interests in ancient history and ancient art history and to appease my parents who really wanted me to get a paying summer job. Fortunately for me, both my undergraduate institution (Mount Holyoke College) and a family friend stepped up and paid my way to Jordan, via England, Greece, and Beirut. It was from the start an adventure, a novelty, involving travel and new cultures; it was an opportunity to try something new. It has been that way ever since.

But, when I say that I mostly love archaeology because it changes, because it has changed, and because I feel connected to many of the changes, this is more complicated than all of the fun parts. The timing for my time as an archaeologist could not have been better. It started with my becoming a graduate student at one of the “hot beds” of the New Archaeology (University of Chicago) in the late 1960s, with exciting and impassioned graduate student colleagues.We not only envisioned ourselves as agents of hopefully radical change, but also bonded both there and with other archaeologists (students and young professionals) in “making waves.” The circle of friends and colleagues that emerged from this— and from subsequent intellectual adventures in archaeology— is one of my most cherished features of being an anthropological archaeologist.As the eldest of five daughters, I guess I always had a special interest in “the social”—both in being social and in studying what “the social” might have been all about in the human past. With a strong emphasis on collaborating, on connecting with others in the field, in scholarly activities and events, and with an awareness and commitment to “group,” I have long found archaeology to be such an engaging world, unlike many of the fields that are more individualistic and even more “I centered.” It’s hard to be a single researcher in archaeology, and it has gotten even more collaborative over the past decades. I love team-teaching and I love collaborative writing projects from which I learn so much. I have been fortunate to have colleagues with whom to do such things!

But I was also fortunate to participate in the early stages of what became post-processualism, to once again be engaged with a rethinking of what we do as archaeologists, with what kinds of visions of the human past we are creating and what the impacts of our narratives are and have been. Some of my previously relatively untapped concerns with social issues, with inequalities, and with gender justice seemed to “fit” with the changing landscape of archaeological practice and archaeological theory. And these were all collaborative projects and engagements. At the same time, I was able to embark on a field project that was so off the mark and also somewhat marginal that I loved it— it was different, it might not succeed, but it was an adventure that I could share with family, with an excellent cadre of graduate students, and with the support (if not of a somewhat quizzical nature) of colleagues in France: our Between the Caves open air survey project in the French Pyrénées.

In the end, what I have loved most has been the increasing expansion of archaeology’s conscience: our evolving ethics, our engagement with more and more stakeholders and our attempts to democratize archaeology while maintaining its rigor. We study change; I embrace the changes that have fueled my archaeological passions.

Thomas Emerson

Thomas Emerson is Director of the Illinois State Archaeological Survey and Adjunct Professor at the University of Illinois.

Archaeology is a passion that only came slowly into my life. I am always amazed at people who tell me that they always wanted to be archaeologists. Growing up in northern Wisconsin I wanted to be a forest ranger, when working in construction with my uncles I wanted to build houses, and when I joined the Navy I thought perhaps I would make a career of it. Going to college I found myself interested in so many disciplines it was hard to choose a major.I was fascinated by history but not by being a high school history teacher.Almost by default I ended up with a double major in political science and sociology (emphasis in criminology).Graduating in the immediate aftermath of the Tet Offensive, I found myself in Vietnam.It was only after returning to civilian life that I discovered anthropology. But I was attracted to ethnography, not archaeology. It was a rude awakening when I arrived at the University of Wisconsin to find that ethnography (at least as I envisioned it from reading the classics of the late 19th and early 20th centuries) was distinctly out of fashion.To suggest I was naive about the discipline is an understatement.But it did not take long at UW for me to become immersed (given my interests in history and human societies) in archaeology and ethnohistory.

Why archaeology? Who isn’t drawn by the allure of making new discoveries, the desire to create histories of unknown people, to be tested daily by perhaps unsolvable mysteries, to face ever-changing challenges and obstacles, to work as part of a collaborative team, to contribute to our understanding of past human societies, or even to help today’s world better cope with change? As I write, I realize these reasons sound highly ambitious! Few of us will discover the unlooted tomb of an Egyptian pharaoh or a lost Mayan city. But we still, in our everyday work, have the ability to rewrite history albeit on a less grandiose scale. You think not? Perhaps it is perspective— let me provide some examples from my own experience.

When I was in graduate school, my colleague Larry Conrad became aware of a large Mississippian town about to be destroyed by strip mining. With no laws to protect the site, we created a not-for-profit organization and used its field schools to salvage hundreds of houses and pits. Later, I was surveying along the Missouri River when we noted human bones at Crow Creek. Ultimately we excavated over 500 men, women, and children who had been massacred around A.D.1300. It changed the way we think about the scale of violence among precolumbian peoples. Digging in the American Bottom, we excavated rare examples of 12th-century female statues.Using mineralogical sourcing, we demonstrated that these stone statues were made at Cahokia rather than in Oklahoma as previously thought. Using the same technique, our team recently demonstrated that many Ohio Hopewell pipes were made in Illinois rather than in Ohio. These studies totally reversed models of exchange. While at the Illinois SHPO, I had the opportunity to initiate the writing of new state laws providing protection for burials and archaeological sites for the first time. Back in the field, we have just completed five years of excavation at the East St. Louis Mound complex, revealing over 1,400 houses and demonstrating conclusively the urban nature of Cahokia. And the list of examples could continue— some the results of individual effort, some serendipity, but mostly the results of hard work by many collaborating individuals.

Archaeology provides opportunities for an individual’s actions to make a difference, whether it is adding a bit of knowledge, saving an important piece of history, or changing peoples’ perceptions about the past for the better, and in the long run isn’t that what we all want to do— to contribute, to make a difference?

Jessica Goodwin

Jessica Goodwin is a master’s student in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the University of Idaho.

I love archaeology because, mainly, it allows me to live out my selfish childhood dreams while (hopefully) making enough to live happily and still contribute to society in an important way. By selfish childhood dreams I mean, of course, going on adventures, finding amazing things, and, most importantly, getting dirty. At this point in my career, the fact that archaeology contributes to the greater good has been beaten into my head by every mentor and teacher to the point that I dare not question it; yet its true value is not lost on me.

I cannot pinpoint the exact moment I decided I wanted to be an archaeologist, but I was young ... too young to really know what archaeology was. Sometime after learning about ancient Egypt in 6th grade, I became enchanted with history.I read countless historical novels and loved nothing more than getting lost in an ancient, forgotten world. By the time I got to high school, history was still my forte, yet I don’t think I knew much about archaeology beyond what I’d seen on TV. Suddenly, in 2008, high school was over and I had to go off to college.Without hesitation, I chose anthropology as my major and archaeology as my minor. There was never one moment of doubt or uncertainty in this, and unlike many of my peers, I never changed majors. Every year, I was able to explore more, take more specific, advanced classes, and work or volunteer in areas where I received hands-on experience. When I did my archaeology field school the summer before my junior year, I was ecstatic because I knew I had chosen the right thing— this was my path. In that sense, I was fortunate; there are enough problems, fears, and uncertainties to deal with at that age without adding on the big decision— what should I do for the rest of my life?

Now, still in my early twenties and having hardly dipped my toes into the pool of my future, I am starting to experience a deeper meaning in my career. Sure, I absolutely love getting paid to hike, explore places that most people don’t know exist, and put my knowledge of tin cans to use in a (somewhat) meaningful way. I am also still an academic, pursuing my own scholarly interests for most of the year and spending the summers in the field. I am one of a small and privileged group of people in this world who get to discover history in a deeply personal, direct way. Every time I hold an old object in my hand, I can close my eyes and try to connect with those people who last touched it. These moments have led me to discover even more significance in my profound love of archaeology.

I can justify my career choice in many ways, but most sincerely in one respect. By doing archaeology, I am in fact dealing with the impending confrontation with my own inevitable mortality. It is not death that I confront, but the thought that one day I will die, and eventually every thought and everything I ever did will fade away as well. All the pain and all the joy will die with me, and so what was it all for? What was the point of pulling my hair out to write a thesis that only a handful of people will ever read? And please, tell me how recording this non-diagnostic flake will make any impact on my, let alone anybody else’s, life? Eventually, the existential crisis gives way to acceptance (crossing my fingers!).Yet I am comforted by the thought that someone may, in the future, find meaning in my life, try to see the world the way I saw it— for this is what I do when I do archaeology.I love archaeology, and with it I embrace the forgotten and the lost, the sorrow and the joy of the past.

Kathleen Kawelu

Kathleen Kawelu is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo.

I love archaeology because it enables me to give back to my community through advocacy and mentoring. However, that’s not why I got into archaeology to begin with. Like so many archaeologists, I was drawn to the discipline because I enjoy learning about cultures and the fascinating ways that people make sense of the world around them and act upon those understandings. Trying to comprehend the hints of past lives left on the landscape is incredibly challenging.The fieldwork necessary to locate these past activities is physically demanding as well. These aspects of archaeology combine to create a perfect amalgamation which exercises your mind and body, and I love that.

I went into archaeology as an undergraduate looking to understand other cultures, and it never occurred to me that I could look at my own culture, Hawaiian culture, anthro - pologically— that is, until the later years of my college studies, when I began to look more critically at the discipline and its relationship with native peoples. It was then that I decided that my participation in archaeology would focus on Hawaiian culture, which turns out to be a pivotal step in the path that got me to where I am today.

Remembering where you come from and giving back to those communities that nurtured you is a value held by many cultures, and in Hawaiian culture this message is emphasized. Growing up in Hawai‘i I learned early on that this includes not only the community of family and friends who care for me, but also the land, ocean, biota, and ancestors as well. Therefore, the teachings gained from past generations through various means such as stories, crafts, chants, genealogies, dance, and cultural sites serve to nurture us. Enter archaeology. By protecting cultural sites from indiscriminate destruction due to land development and other activities, we act to protect these sites, but more importantly we protect a means of connecting to our ancestors. In this way, archaeology can contribute to contemporary Hawaiian communities because the discipline’s preservation ethic overlaps with Hawaiian cultural values of aloha ‘aina, love and respect for the land. In caring for these places, we nurture not only today’s Hawaiian people, but future generations as well.

I currently teach at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo, in my hometown. I’m incredibly grateful, and lucky, to have secured a teaching position in the very community that helped me to get where I am today. When I entered the field, “doing” archaeology meant summer fieldwork and getting dirt under my fingernails; it was for my own benefit. Currently, “doing” archaeology entails teaching about the discipline, trying to instill an excitement for archaeology in my students, and stressing the need for more Hawaiian and local students in our field. My passion for the discipline is now focused on mentoring a new generation of practitioners and on the potential benefits to Hawaiian communities that can come from archaeology.

I find great joy in working with other institutions and individuals to encourage students to take up the kuleana, responsibility, of doing archaeology. Seeing students literally skip down the hall in excitement, after getting word they were accepted into a graduate program in archaeology, reminds me of my own passion for the discipline. My colleague Dr. Peter Mills and I were thrilled about the interest shown by our students in attending the local Society for Hawaiian Archaeology conference last fall. That so many students, only half of whom are pictured here, would dedicate their free time to attend a professional conference was very encouraging. My support for the field also comes from an appreciation of its ability to critically reflect on itself and to work to make positive changes in the practice of archaeology.Really, there are many reasons why I love archaeology, and it’s this enthusiasm for the discipline that I hope to instill in the next generation of archaeologists.

Alice Beck Kehoe

Alice Beck Kehoe is Honorary Fellow in Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee.

I love archaeology because it is outdoors, down and dirty. Growing up a “nice girl” in the 1950s, I wanted to slip out, feel free, unconstrained.My parents saw I did well in school, was polite and obedient, and so when I rolled off on the heavy Schwinn they bought me, they never asked where I went. We lived just north of the Bronx in Westchester— still full of marshes and woods, and I explored them, found ruined cabins, walked along dunes and estuary. Then when I was fourteen, my ninth-grade science teacher suggested I go to a Saturday science career lecture on archaeology at the American Museum in New York (for a class assignment on “my science career,” I focused on archaeology). My first trip to the City alone! Junius Bird lectured, with slides of his wife Peggy and little sons at Huaca Prieta, the boys in the backdirt with their toy trucks. A revelation: I could be an archaeologist; wives could go into the field!

My first field experience was at eighteen— Angel Mounds, that year devoted to an eroding Yankeetown burial site upriver.Wonderful view. Slow steady troweling. The field assistant, a medical student, telling us not to worry about eating sandwiches with unwashed hands— it was clean dirt. No crowds, no pollution, no parents. Fried baby catfish on rye at the roadhouse. Archaeology— I’m loving it.

Back at school— Barnard— the intellectual excitement of archaeology complemented the physical pleasures of outdoors and slow steady troweling. Richard Woodbury was my principal teacher, a modest, kind man who understood science well, along with Nathalie Woodbury, his wife, who taught at Barnard— a role model of a fine critical intelligence literally wedded to an excellent field man. Nat wrote a recommendation for me for my first job, assistant at the Museum of the Plains Indian in Browning, Montana, on the Blackfeet Reservation. Mentioning that I could cook, she guessed correctly that the director behind the job ad might be a young man lonely for a wife. Tom Kehoe fulfilled my hope of emulating the Woodburies by partnering a good field man. Besides our projects at bison drives, tipi rings, and boulder effigies, and my excavation of a fur trade post, we did some ethnography, and Tom got us to Europe volunteering one summer at Solutré (horse drive), and later with colleagues he met through museum groups.

Meanwhile, the intellectual side of archaeology became increasingly interesting. To put it bluntly, why in my generation were so many archaeologists declaiming theory instead of working inductively from field data? Why were statistics privileged over logical argument? This was Binford’s heyday; I began reading history/philosophy of science to assess his claims. From that standpoint, I did ethnography on SAA, as did Nat Woodbury. Sociology of science, especially the Edinburgh School (Barnes, Bloor, Shapin) let me continue loving archaeology in spite of seeing rampant ego trips at SAA. My 1989 sabbatical at Edinburgh, researching Daniel Wilson and prehistoric archaeology in its societal context, encouraged by Barnes and Bloor, yielded my 1998 Land of Prehistory and validated this turn to studying the discipline.

I love archaeology because the archaeological record is, as Derek Turner observes, not manipulable, a major difference from most other sciences (Turner 2007:24). I value my independence; I love that the past sits there, partially retrievable but independent. I love that we can never know the whole past; seldom can we definitively reach an unassailable interpretation, yet we can work out chains of signification from data to conclusions compatible with richer ethnographic and historical knowledge. I love that there’s no limit to how widely we may search natural sciences and humanities for relevant information. Thinkers without borders, that’s us.

For me personally, growing up when gender set powerful boundaries, archaeology liberated me. It let me be physical instead of ladylike, think like a scholar instead of living as Mrs. Consumer. And I could take my kids into the field.

Ashley McCuistion

Ashley McCuistion is an undergraduate at Virginia Commonwealth University and writes a great blog “Digging Anthropology: Tales from the Sandbox” (

I love archaeology because it reveals the footsteps of those who came before us and allows us to tell their stories. I began my journey as an archaeologist only a year ago, when I applied for my first field school at George Washington’s Ferry Farm in Fredericksburg, Virginia. I was uncertain of what the future held for me at the time, and knew only that I wanted to pursue some kind of career in anthropology.I took a few archaeology classes that year and was captivated by the indiscriminate honesty of the field and the excitement of uncovering the many secrets of the past that lie just beneath our feet. I expected that field school would be a good learning experience for me, but I could never have imagined that it would have such a profound and lasting effect on my life as a whole.

I learned to like archaeology in the classroom, but I fell in love the moment my shovel first hit the soil. Ferry Farm is a fantastic place to begin a career in archaeology. With the helpful guidance of my wonderful field directors, I learned everything I could possibly hope to know about excavation, and the more I learned the more I wanted to learn. One of the things I was most moved by in terms of where I was digging was the fact that Ferry Farm, while being best known as the boyhood home of George Washington, has a history that dates back over 10,000 years. As I stood on the hilltop that overlooks the Rappahannock River, I could imagine what the world must have looked like to the countless individuals who had stood there before me. Prehistoric groups frequently inhabited this land, which had yet to be modified by the brick and concrete that dominates the world today.George Washington played there and witnessed the city of Fredericksburg grow just across the water, not knowing that he would one day become the Father of Our Country. Nearly a century later, in the cold winter of 1862, Union soldiers would stand on that same hilltop and prepare for a battle that would devastate the city and cost many of them their lives. Echoes of these individuals remain in the earth, waiting to be uncovered and interpreted by those who discover them. I love archaeology because it allows me to hear those echoes and share their stories.

It is difficult for me to define in words what I love about this field. It is simply a feeling–an emotion that stirs deep in my core every time I hold an artifact or pick up my trowel. I have always had an insatiable desire to understand the past and a longing to be a part of it. Archaeology offers a unique glimpse into a world that existed long before any of us were born and allows us to follow the movements of past peoples by examining the impressions that they unknowingly left in each layer of the earth. By following these movements and studying the artifacts that are recovered through excavation, I feel connected to those people, and by sharing what I’ve learned I feel I can give them a voice.

Another reason I love archaeology is that it is an honest science, dedicated to finding the truth as it is written in the soil.History is often biased and most accurately reflects the views of those who wrote it, not necessarily what actually happened.Archaeology reveals the true history of the world and speaks out for all individuals, not just those worthy of being mentioned in the history books. I love archaeology because it reveals the footsteps of those came before us and allows us to tell their stories. Archaeologists are time travelers, detectives, scholars, and advocates for truth, and I feel so incredibly fortunate to have found my niche in this world alongside them.

Bernard K. Means

Bernard Means is Instructor, Anthropology, at Virginia Commonwealth University.

I love archaeology because I get to share my passion for exploring the past with my students and colleagues. I’ve been long fascinated with the idea of traveling into the past, and I grew up avidly reading H. G. Well’s Time Machine (and many, many works of much more dubious value) and watching Kirk, Spock, and McCoy from Star Trek journeying to Depression-era New York city or shooting it out with gunslingers in a faux Tombstone, Arizona. Archaeology allows me to indulge my passion for journeying to past times and places in a multi-layered fashion.I can study American Indian village sites from six or seven centuries ago in southwestern Pennsylvania and reconstruct the nature of the villagers’ social organizations as they changed over the years. Or, I can move back closer to the present day and uncover the rich history behind the work relief archaeologists who excavated these villages during the Great Depression. The history of archaeology is itself something that fascinates me— not just the great names we all know, but the “ordinary” men and women who followed their dreams to record and excavate sites large and small. It is this interest that led me to join (and now chair) the Society for American Archaeology’s History of Archaeology Interest Group.

Although it is a shop-worn and tired cliché, I became aware of archaeology’s very existence by watching Raiders of the Lost Ark— the thrills and chills of that movie were safely enjoyed from the back of my parent’s car at a Tacoma, Washington, drive-in theater. My own archaeology adventures have been slightly more mundane— no Nazis or melting faces— but there have been boulders! I’ve climbed boulder-strewn hills in southern India, looking for traces of the so-called “Forgotten Empire” around its capital city of Vijayanagara. I’ve also been lost in the humid swamps north of Richmond, Virginia, and traipsed through the scorching desert outside of Gila Bend, Arizona. What other profession allows one to get paid to walk across varied landscapes rich in history and culture?

My current archaeology adventures focus on collections of records and things stored in museums and places of heritage.These items derive from the sweat and labor of others working on active, ongoing investigations, and excavations that are decades old— with New Deal-generated collections being central to my own research. I am a strong proponent of researching existing archaeological collections and try to pass this perspective on to my students. Collections-based research has also been a great way for me to introduce my students to the kinds of questions archaeologists can ask— and in a way that is accessible to me and to them from a financial and time-management perspective. In an affordable fashion, my students can do their own original research and present it at many of the wonderful local, regional, or national venues available to archaeologists, young and old.

Today I teach archaeology at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU). As was true for myself, many of my students come from the lower end of the economic spectrum and are often the first members of their families to attend college. I find it immensely satisfying to help guide them into their chosen profession. Currently I am also director of the Virtual Curation Laboratory at VCU, which was established with funding from the Department of Defense’s Legacy Program.My dedicated team of VCU students has created 3D digital models of artifacts, ranging in age from a million-year old Acheulian handaxe found in South Africa to a fragment of a World War II German bomb collected in London, England.My students and I are using our “futuristic” laser-scanning technology to bring the past alive to a wider audience in the classroom, at archaeological conferences, and across the endless realms of cyberspace.

In short, I love archaeology because I am able to bring the past to the students who will explore that past in the future.

Robert W. Park

Robert Park is Professor of Archaeology and Associate Dean of Arts at the University of Waterloo.

I love archaeology because it has allowed me to have a career that has required thinking about and doing some of the most interesting things I can imagine. In fact, archaeology has allowed me to continue pursuing some of the interests that first intrigued me from a young age and, in thinking about what I’d say in this essay, I came to the conclusion that an awful lot of the things that still appeal to me about archaeology resonate with things that I first liked as a child and as a young adult.

For example, most of my archaeological fieldwork has been done in Canada’s High Arctic, and the logistics of doing research there are both complicated and highly technological.But that’s one of the childhood-related reasons why I’ve loved doing archaeology: the inner adolescent in me still relishes the adventure of traveling in small planes and helicopters, camping in remote locations on the tundra, and watching polar bears in their natural habitat watch us while we’re doing our excavations.

Further, like a lot of kids, when I was young I loved taking complex things apart and then putting them back together, attempting to get all the parts back in the correct place and order. It occurs to me that the experience of archaeological excavation and analysis is a lot like that. Excavation is definitely a process of taking apart something complex— an archaeological site— and analysis involves taking all the bits and pieces learned through excavation and attempting to put them back together, in a virtual way, into a functioning representation of some aspect of an ancient society. Alas, I still often end up at the end of the puttingtogether part of the process with some extra parts that don’t seem to fit, which means, just as it did when I was a child, that I have made some mistake in the putting-together process.But that’s both frustrating and challenging— if doing it were easy, it wouldn’t be as appealing.

Finally, my specific interest in archaeology itself dates back to when I was around eight years old, when I was forced to stay home from school with some mild but contagious childhood illness. My mother went to the public library to find some books to keep me amused and one of them was about Howard Carter and the discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb. I found it fascinating and then proceeded to devour every book I could find on ancient Egypt and other archaeological topics— there was simply something amazingly compelling about learning about ancient and very different ways of life.I mention this because my love affair with archaeology is constantly being renewed by interacting with students who clearly feel the same way about archaeology that I did at their age— their enthusiasm for the topic renews my own and makes teaching archaeology incredibly rewarding.

Thus, I’m still having fun doing something that excites and fascinates me on a personal level and that also contributes in a concrete way to improving our understanding of something that is valuable to humanity as a whole: the long-term history of our cultural diversity.

Anna Marie Prentiss

Anna Prentiss is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Montana and the incoming Editor of The SAA Archaeological Record.

I love archaeology because it is the one discipline that can permit me to study ancient cultures and evolutionary processes while also having a positive impact on contemporary society. But I also love archaeology because of a range of intangibles that are more difficult to convey. In order to help get there, I begin with a short story.

We were in the field at Bridge River, British Columbia, in 2004. It was early July and roasting hot.The forests on the nearby mountainsides were literally on fire and waves of smoke drifted across the site. There was discussion among some locals that climate change and its resulting droughts, beetle infestations, and fires could eliminate much of the region’s lower elevation forests. Our excavation strategy that year was to excavate narrow test units (50 x 50 cm) into deposits thought to contain hearth features with dateable material as indicated by magnetic susceptibility testing. Some of these units were quite deep, requiring field school students to stretch downward from the surface into the site’s strata to collect the desired sediments. One student, who had been consigned to a particularly deep and challenging unit, raised himself from his small window on the ancient past, sat up in the grass and gazed at the surrounding landscape. Trees were exploding on a nearby mountain. Wiping sweat and dirt from his face, he grinned and said, “It doesn’t get any better than this.”

My student’s experience at Bridge River encapsulates some of the best aspects of our discipline. The Bridge River project was designed as collaboration with the local indigenous people, descendants of the original site occupants. The Bridge River or Xwisten people were interested in learning about their past from archaeology, and they had a variety of needs for archaeological information. They, along with the greater St’át’imc Nation were at the time locked in a legal negotiation with BC Hydro over compensation for impacts of past damming of the Bridge River. Like many First Nations groups, they were also desperate to impart appreciation and knowledge of their traditional culture and language to the younger generation. Finally, Xwisten leadership sought sustainable employment opportunities for their members.Archaeology was one way to help them get there. Drawing from the efforts of my students, we were able to develop a new chronology for village establishment and growth that tied critical developments to regional cultural and ecological factors. Our research outcomes were used in the BC Hydro negotiations and they helped provide a foundation for Xwisten’s award winning heritage education and tourism program.Probably the best part for me was simply witnessing the wonder in the faces of the young children as they saw for the first time the long-lost house floors of their ancestors.

Archaeological research spans the ancient past to the present, and research has significant impacts on a range of contemporary discussions, whether adaptation to climate change or indigenous histories and land rights. We are encouraged to think creatively about the past, to propose new ideas about life experiences of the ancestors, to examine complex ecological processes in human adaptation, and to model the grand cultural transitions of human history in the longue durée. Archaeology has its own long history of debates over appropriate theory, and these on occasion have been more than a little vitriolic. And yet archaeology has always been about a very real empirical present, the archaeological record. The archaeological record is a place we can visit, record, excavate, describe, measure, and ponder. It is a place where we engage with evidence for past realities in a physical way that other disciplines can rarely even approximate.And so, for me to truly answer why I love archaeology, I must return to that hot smoky day in British Columbia where all of these linkages between human past, archaeological present, and visions of the future suddenly clicked for an undergraduate field school student.

Christina Perry Sampson

Christina Perry Sampson is a Ph.D. candidate in anthropology at the University of Michigan.

I first loved archaeology in the field. It was a simple enough attraction because I love to work outside: in the blazing hot desert valley and hills of California; in Atlantic coastal forests thick with oak trees, vines, and wriggling creatures; in the still-brisk winds of early spring in Michigan. And if the immersion in nature was not enough, there was the draw of experiencing history in new ways. Since my first survey through the Rio Grande Gorge, I have enjoyed exploring the places once inhabited by those past peoples I wanted to study. When these adventures were also filled with the unique, vibrant joy of camaraderie in the field, it was easy for me to love archaeology.

Fieldwork was rewarding even in its challenges. After years of heading the wrong direction on city streets and highways, archaeology gave me a new motivation to orient myself in space and to grasp the contours of the landscape in ways that had not been intuitive for me. Trying to keep multiple transects straight as I set locations for test pits in an old growth forest winding along a marsh, I learned how to utilize a compass, GPS, maps, and a walkie-talkie all at once, and soon enough I was comfortable finding my way. Chasing tumbled layers of ditch fill and post molds down a test pit in Appalachian North Carolina, I found myself imagining the sequences that created those two-dimensional profiles, and I realized how much archaeology had compelled me to think differently.

These experiences also impressed on me the potentially diverse educational benefits of archaeology. As a student who had once been drawn primarily to narratives of human behavior, I can see now how exposure to a field that integrates science, history, and social theory could have broadened my perspective early on. When I introduce lithic reduction and principles of mortuary analysis to visiting middle school students, I try to emphasize these connections between method and knowledge, an aspect of archaeology that made my love for it both immediate and lasting.

Sound and innovative methodologies have allowed archaeologists to press beyond the aesthetic appeal of artifacts and the sensory experiences of exploring ancient sites. There are infinite links to be made between material traces and their implications for the past, and I now love the diversity and ingenuity of these approaches, too. We emphasize the difficulties inherent in archaeology from the first introductory course: our fragmentary record, the disruptions wrought by rivers and rodents, the inability of sherds and bones to simply speak to us. Some strategies for working around these limitations have become standard, from extrapolating rim circumferences to sourcing lithic artifacts to stone outcrops via chemical composition. Then there are even more novel methodologies that are ever emerging, attesting to the skills and creativity of researchers in our field.

Often these approaches have introduced me to disciplines and techniques beyond what I once expected to encounter, as when I am driven to comprehend the principles of geophysical prospection or to grasp the ecology of oysters. When I was in high school, I decided to become an anthropologist because I wanted to study culture, which I first understood as comprising all the beautiful, peculiar, and remarkable things people do. Through archaeology, not only did I come to realize the great depth of our behavior and its traces, I also learned how I could marshal evidence from fields like geology, zoology, physics, and chemistry along the way.

Like the field itself, my love for archaeology goes in many directions. I am animated by fieldwork, intrigued by complex inferences, gratified by the idea of piecing together unwritten histories. I love that I can do this work in the company of so many intelligent, convivial, and dedicated fellow archaeologists.And as the weather here in Michigan slowly begins to brighten, I am looking forward to another summer out in the dirt and sun.

Margarita Sánchez Romero

Margarita Sánchez Romero is Senior Lecturer in the Department of Prehistory and Archaeology at the University of Granada, Spain.

I love archaeology because I have always been fascinated by the relationship between people and objects; material culture is a unique way to understand the lives of men, women, and children, and the a means to connect with people not only as members of a group, but also as particular individuals living in particular circumstances.

Objects have not only an economic value, but also significant emotional meanings. If we were forced to save only a few of our own things, they would probably not be the most economically valuable, but those with the most emotional meaning. And even if we cannot attribute our modern ideas about emotions to past societies, at least we can guess that many of the things that come to us from the past, whether from domestic or funerary contexts, were imbued with emotions, feelings, and/or creativity from those who made, used, or maintained them.

Through objects, we show who we are, the different faces of our identity, how we see ourselves, and how we want other people to see us. An ornament that shows the transition from childhood to adulthood, a dress with gender connotations, a figurine that symbolizes beliefs, a bone in the context of a ritual, a tool that made work possible— all these remains give us a much richer and more nuanced understanding of the past than socioeconomics alone.

I am convinced that archaeology has a distinctive social nature; archaeologists work in order to produce knowledge about past societies, and that knowledge also has broad and deep connections to our present reality. In my case, I work with those groups usually forgotten in archaeological research: women and children. If we do not include them in our archaeological discourse, we are not only faking our history, but also denying these people their history and genealogies.In such an important task, to try to reach understandings that go beyond the material facts, we need to have a strong theoretical and methodological framework; we need to be honest and explicit in how we make links between our theoretical premises and the material culture we work with.

During the last few years, I have been exploring the multiple dimensions of the discipline; from fieldwork to political administration, I have been able to explore the possibilities of a science attempting to remove and transform the status quo.In an excavation, you can check the adequacy of methodology and create new ways to observe material culture— it is exciting and intriguing, as you only get a single opportunity in this destructive process. On the other hand, work in the lab and the office allows you the time to think about the objects, bodies, and places you have been working on.

And then dissemination, either in academic publications, in lecturing with your students, or in other spheres with the general public— all our work must be directed at this major and big responsibility: to spread knowledge. And, finally, political administration: taking care of the relations between cultural heritage and society. From this position, you can understand how important it is not only to create an adequate legal framework for the preservation of archaeological remains, but also to explore the ways in which we help people to identify with landscapes, monuments, or sites— and the ways we use archaeology to construct present and past identities, and therefore relationships.

Laura W. Steele

Laura Steele has honed her interest in archaeology working as a field technician and is currently in the M.A. Program in Anthropology at Eastern New Mexico University.

I love archaeology because it takes me to sequestered spaces and gives great rise to the imagination. As one of my professors once said in an introduction to archaeology course when I was an undergraduate, “You can’t be one of those people who needs to look in the back of the book to check your answers.” I have always been in favor of the imagination and jigsaw puzzles. As I see it, by doing archaeology I am given the liberty to let my imagination run wild (the Solutrean Hypothesis) to try to solve one of the greatest puzzles of all time: human existence.

Archaeology is romantic; it is the ruthless swashbuckling pirate of disciplines that unabashedly steals scientific means to achieve its ends. I love being able to apply the phenomena of physics, theories of biology, and laws of chemistry to validate broad overarching ideas concerning the development and processes of man. As Boris Pasternak stated about literature, it is “the art of discovering something extraordinary about ordinary people, and saying with ordinary words something extraordinary.” Archaeology gives us the gift to say something extraordinary about humankind through the analysis of ordinary objects. We take the most ordinary things that at one time or another might have been incidental or stupendous and look at them as if they were tiny treasures, or messengers, linking us to our enigmatic past.

Let’s not forget the adventure tied to our grand scheme. No one gets into archaeology because they have a low need for novelty, or a lack of questions. Herein lies the conundrum: once you start down the dark path of asking questions, forever will your destiny be dominated by larger and more complicated problems. Thus, you become entrapped by the lure of solving small mysteries of what it means to be human prehistorically— what things or ideals are present during the time and how they were being utilized. Although we are entangled (I’m picking up what you’re putting down, Hodder), I have never heard anyone complain about finding a Folsom point or a Mayan tomb, for that matter. They are, respectively, residual materials of different but equally fascinating systems. Archaeology allows us to reconstruct a picture of one small aspect that reflects one facet of life. I can take comfort in knowing that the processes in which I participate are never lost, long after I have gone the way of the Dodo, someone will be finding my material footprints to reconstruct my life and saying, “She must have been a belligerent alcoholic, look at all of these beer bottles.”

We all love archaeology for the adventure. No one ever criticized Harrison Ford for trekking across a barren wasteland on a hunch of finding the key to our civilization, or for being a whip-toting, revolver-wielding, fedora-wearing badass who fights to keep rare antiquities out of the hands of villains and in museums for the world to share. I love archaeology because it lets me be that whip-toting, revolver-wielding badass fighting to preserve culture and reconstruct past lifeways from bits of retrospective data, if only in my mind.

Science, and archaeology included, can never explain everything, and I will never presume to comprehend how things have come to be, but I can try to elucidate the process. I love archaeology because it allows me to do just this in good company or solitude wherever I am. Very little else brings me the same kind of joy as finding an arrowhead, bone awl, or ancient hearth and letting my mind plummet into the depths of time. What I’m saying is that I love archaeology because I am a hopeless romantic who is also a scientist, captivated by the past.

Clare Tolmie

Clare Tolmie is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Iowa and Senior Archaeologist at Midwest Archaeological Research Services, Inc.

I love being an archaeologist because of the constant opportunity to learn something new. People past and present always surprise us— every archaeologist has their “what the heck” moment in the field or laboratory. As a CRM archaeologist, the variety in sites and time periods results in the opportunity to learn about various facets of the prehistoric past, be it subsistence, land use, or shifts in settlement focus. For the historic period in North America, I can examine nineteenth-century landscape reorganization, the development of transportation networks, and the wide array of data on the abundant material culture. As a nontraditional graduate student, I have to master the latest information on Paleolithic subsistence and the Middle to Upper Paleolithic transition (and I get to participate in excavations in France!). Archaeology provides me with a means to grow intellectually as new data and new theoretical approaches to the past emerge. In addition, I value the opportunity, in a small way, to add to that knowledge and to our understanding of how people lived their lives

I love archaeology because it is fun. Fieldwork is the opportunity to spend time outdoors, to watch the change in seasons, and, perhaps, to find something interesting. It is a chance to explore parts of the country that I would otherwise never see and become familiar with the histories and prehistories of different parts of the world. Sometimes I have to remind myself of this, usually on days in the field when the weather is bad and the survey area barren of any debris less than 50 years old. Or when counting small bone fragments for weeks on end (a recent project) or avoiding areas of “quicksand-like acid material” on one project. Working with my fellow Martians (as we employees of Midwest Archaeological Research Services call ourselves) always involves much discussion, banter, or wild theorizing about finds. It is hard not to enjoy working alongside others who share common interests and research goals, even when the corn is pollinating ... plus, they are archaeologists because they love their work, too.

Probably the most important aspect to me is the opportunity to connect to people in the past and people in the present.After all, archaeology seeks to reconstruct how people lived in the past, how they organized their lives and interacted with each other on a large and small scale. As an archaeologist, I am in direct and indirect contact with people in the past, as I collect the remains of their past behavior in the form of lithic debris or blue shell-edge whiteware. The fun of analyzing a site to understand the way people interacted with each other and their environment is one of the most fascinating ways to earn a living. Archaeology gives us a direct link to people’s lives in the past, albeit filtered through taphonomic processes.I also love to talk about archaeology to living people— teaching students, talking to passers-by at a project site, or giving site tours at more formal excavations. I’ve learned a lot from talking with people about the local landscape and history.

Since I was a young child in the UK, I’ve never thought of being anything but an archaeologist. I was always interested in history, and archaeology is a career that combines an interest in history with a more “hands-on” or perhaps “shovel- ready” approach. It is also an avenue to explore the lives of a far broader range of social strata or cultures than the pursuit of history itself. Ground-truthing, if you will, but giving a voice to those outside the history books.

I count myself extremely fortunate to be able to follow a career in archaeology. I intend to continue to enjoy direct contact with the past in the field until my knees give out. But I’ll never stop enjoying it all.

Davina Two Bears

Davina Two Bears is a Ph.D student at Indiana University, Bloomington.

Ilove archaeology because it is another way to learn about the history of my tribe, the Diné or Navajo, and other Native Americans and to share that history. As a child born and raised in northern Arizona, I realized that my ancestors had lived in America for a very long time, and that made me proud.

I often daydreamed about how life was for Navajos and Hopis, before Anglo-Americans came into our homelands. I thought how my life was so easy compared to my ancestors because I could turn on the faucet for water or hop into a car and travel quickly to wherever I needed to go. But what about my ancestors— how did they live? I recall literally feeling sad that I was born in the twentieth century because I knew that if I were born just a couple of generations earlier, I’d be able to speak Navajo and live off the land like my ancestors did. I often felt robbed of that opportunity. I listened attentively to my mother’s stories of how she used to cook an entire meal and frybread on a woodstove by the time she was ten. She told me of my great-grandfather Ashiihi and how it would take one week on a horse drawn wagon to get to Flagstaff, Arizona, from Birdsprings on the Navajo Reservation.

As a child, my mother attended the Flagstaff Indian Pow Wow with her grandfather Ashiihi, a major event for many tribes and tourists throughout the Southwest in the 1940s_1970s. Since my great-grandfather was a medicine man, the Flagstaff Indian Pow Wow was the place to trade with other tribes for all his medicinal herbs and animal parts. I often fantasized about doing some archaeological testing in the former Flagstaff Indian Pow Wow grounds to find the place where my mother and great-grandfather camped and to reveal other stories buried in the ground. The stories of my mother’s childhood fascinate me, and she experienced many historic moments that I never will, but with archaeology and oral history, a more intricate history of my people appears— breathing life into the hundreds of historic archaeological sites across the Navajo Reservation.

Navajo history is embedded in the landscape, and in working with the Navajo Nation Archaeology Department for 14 years, I experienced firsthand that history within the majestic country that comprises Dine Bikeyah, or Navajo land. My happiest memories of working in archaeology include traveling all over the western Navajo Reservation and walking the land, identifying and recording archaeological sites prior to development projects; seeing how the ancient people, as well as my Navajo ancestors, used the land; and interacting with local Navajos on a personal, daily basis. I traveled to many places and met many Navajo people on the Navajo Reservation, who I never would have known had I not worked for my tribe as an archaeologist. Another happy memory was teaching curious and vivacious middle school students in Tuba City, Arizona, about the Archaic people who once lived in their community 6,000 years ago. Public outreach and teaching about Native American history is something that I truly enjoy and feel strongly about, and being an archaeologist allows me the opportunity to do so— not only with Navajos but even with students here in Indiana, where I currently reside. Connecting what I find on the ground with oral history, documenting and analyzing archaeological sites and artifacts, and writing about what I learned is a process that brings me joy. I desire to do more of that on the Navajo Reservation and to continue with public outreach and teaching about archaeology and Native American history.Archaeology is a challenging field for Navajos to participate in because of our taboos against disturbing places where people once lived; but I think that by becoming an archeologist, my research, combined with teaching, will help me to contribute to the longevity of my tribe and to Native American history for all to appreciate.

John C. Whittaker

John Whittaker is Professor of Anthropology at Grinnell College.

I have always loved archaeology, which creates and shares understanding of the past. As a kid finding fossils and 19th-century bottles in our woods, archaeology was about adventure and discovery. These are still important themes, especially to the non-academic public, although the profession’s narratives of discovery are strangely muted, as if having fun was slightly disreputable in a scholar. As I pursued an anthropological education and eventual career, I realized that what I loved discovering was different ways of life, the almost infinitely varied but sensibly patterned ways we humans put our lives together. Growing up as an awkward youth at the end of the civil rights and anti-war era left me aware that there was much wrong with the society I lived in.Exposure to other societies offered not so much answers as recognition that there were other ways worth learning from, and that most societies struggled with the same issues and generally made life work for most members most of the time. A deeper tolerance for other people within each culture and appreciation of the diversity of cultural solutions to human problems seemed not only a basically good path, but also one that anthropology was uniquely suited to promote.

Adventure remains. Even student jobs excavating in dusty deserts and sweaty cornfields beat pushing a mop or shuffling papers indoors. Now I get my share of dull grading and useless committee work, but not all of my career is behind a desk. Field science is a source of anticipation and social connection— my friends in chemistry and physics don’t tell exciting stories about their research, but almost everyone is amused by the biologists’ and anthropologists’ experiences with snakes, odd foods, and unfamiliar people. Then there are the unusual skills you acquire. I work with prehistoric technologies. Some of my best friends are non-academics who share odd passions for flintknapping and spearthrowing, and these skills enhance my value as a classroom performer, as well as my research. Taking students into the field involves teaching them many skills. Only some are archaeological.The curiosity to wonder what is beneath the grass, coupled with thoughtful excavation procedures and the ability to think through hypotheses and findings to interpret what you see, applies beyond the site. So do the ethical obligations of being part of a team working and living together, seeing the work through even when it is tedious and conditions are far from pleasant. Knowing how to change a tire, cook an enchilada, swing an axe, take a clear photo, disdain scorpions, and talk pleasantly with suspicious landowners does not handicap you in other pursuits either. The field is where you teach students that there is a world beyond classrooms and electronic screens, if they want to find it.

Archaeological research is interesting to others, too. I freely admit that my obsessive analyses of small bits of stone are beyond tedious, but again I have the advantage over most academics when I talk about my work in the right way. The old lady who works the garden next door in Iowa actually wants to hear where her squash came from and how people in the southwest grew corn without the rains of the Midwest.My hunting friend found me because he wanted to learn to make arrowheads and asked for some fairly technical articles after I explained recent work with genetic information from prehistoric turkeys. It is no coincidence that thousands of people pick up arrowheads from fields, or that millions visit Stonehenge and Mesa Verde. They all want to connect with the past, understand something of an alien way of life. We archaeologists have a privileged position— we get to see things and go places that most people do not and share what we learn in a field that has enough glamour and excitement and general interest that it can support ludicrous movies and the History Channel.

I still love archaeology because I see in us a mission. Archaeology has been a tool of colonial appropriation, but a modern archaeology, properly used, turns that around. We have the unique skills to interpret the evidence, actively creating a shared past that all of us can use in many ways, from prideful identity, to scientific contemplation, to reverent awe, even for fantasy and entertainment. The very existence of a field of archaeology, researching, teaching, says that those around us are in fact interested in the past and want to know what we can tell them. Archaeology says that there is yet much we can learn from those broken pots, that those dry bones lived lives that were both humanly like us and fascinatingly different.We speak for the value of diverse cultures, for remembrance of the ancient messages, for the voice of those who can no longer speak themselves. American archaeology says that America did not begin with Columbus, that those who dwelt here earlier are also a part of us, as important and worthy of understanding as the ancient Greeks, the Pilgrims, and George Washington. This is the archaeology I love to share.

Justin Woods

Justin Woods is a junior at Harold L. Richards High School in Oak Lawn, Illinois. Justin met with Jane Baxter to discuss careers in archaeology and left the meeting with some advice and an assignment to write this essay for The SAA Archaeological Record. He happily obliged!

I love archaeology because the rare opportunity it provides is unlike any other profession out there, and it offers a chance to uncover history. To see something at an exhibit in a museum is an experience most of us have had at least once, but what many people fail to realize is that many of those items were found by archaeologists all around the world.

The most amazing part about the whole field is that it’s not just finding the past; it’s also the journey to uncovering the artifact and finding out where it came from, who owned it,and how it got where it had been lying for so many years. The ability to recover and restore these lost and forgotten artifacts is unique in that very few jobs in the world allow for such an experience. However, finding the items is a long and arduous process. I love that! Some see it as a daunting task, but I look at it as a challenge: strive to finish a dig successfully, but, if not, go back the next day and keep working.

I love to enter a place that has long been abandoned and forgotten and try to imagine what life could have been like back then. To have a career in a field like that is something I dream of doing. There are thousands of years of history just waiting to be uncovered, and as we grow into the technological age, it helps lead us in the search and discovery of many artifacts. As in King Richard III’s case, the person might be buried beneath us. That is why I love archaeology.

Many items found have given us an idea of what type of methods and machinery ancient people had. What tools might an artisan have used back then? What weapons did a warrior have for hunting? I find that fascinating. We think of archaeology as looking to the past, but I find myself wondering what future generations might think of us.

From Rome to ancient Greece to Lucy in Africa, history is just sitting there in the dust and dirt of the world, waiting to be uncovered. For me, I see this as a challenge: to try to find out what items, people, and creations have been lost to time.To find out how our species came to be what it is today is something I strive to look for in the past. It’s not just the physical part of archaeology either; it’s the anthropology that is the most intriguing. What made some of the ancient people, our ancestors, build what they built and travel how they traveled. The small questions like these make me want to search for the answers.

The opportunity to travel and visit places you may have never gone— whether across the globe or in a different part of our country— is another reason why I love archaeology. Very few professions allow for such, and with archaeology, I find that it offers the best deal, doing what you love, and being able to see different cultures and people that you may have never seen before in your life. Archaeology is around us everywhere.Who knows what else we might find in the future? Or where it might be. It is all the unknown questions that float around in my mind that pull me towards this career.

Finally, another reason I love archaeology is the people you meet along the way. So many people you work with share common goals, and in a field like this, you can’t do it unless you love it.

Norman Yoffee

Norm Yoffee is Professor Emeritus of Near Eastern Studies at the University of Michigan.

As the cast member playing Pete Rose put it on Saturday Night Live a few decades ago (in a comic book Spanish accent), “Baseball been bery bery good to Petey Rose.” The actor playing me might well say, “Archaeology’s been very good to Norman Yoffee.” Let the actor continue: Yoffee was lucky to have gotten his first job as lecturer in the Department of Anthropology, University of Arizona, in 1972, joining a distinguished, hard-working, and extraordinarily collegial subdisciplinary band (no neo-evolutionary taxonomy intended) of archaeologists. Thanks to a generous reduction in teaching load his first year, he managed to finish his dissertation and ascend to the rank of assistant professor.

His first lecture in Mesopotamian Archaeology was a catastrophe.He had never taught anything, having had a variety of fellowships, not teaching assistantships— since the Department of Near Eastern Studies at Yale, which had its own captive NE archaeologist, taught only one undergraduate course in Egyptian archaeology. For his first real class, Yoffee prepared meticulously for a week, eventually typing up his notes, which he assumed would carry him through two or three lectures.Unfortunately, he basically read his notes, which lasted about 20 minutes. In a panic, he announced that he had forgotten the rest of his notes in his office two floors above the lecture room in the Anthropology building. He then left the room to get the scribbled outline he was going to use to prepare his next week of lectures. He took two steps into the hall when he remembered that the scribbled notes were at home. He re-entered the lecture room and announced that class was dismissed for the day, so see you next time. He then went up to his office to wait for the expected visit from the department head telling him that his contract was voided and that he should find something else to do with his life.

Among the students in his first year of teaching at Arizona are now two “Distinguished Professors,” one museum curator and professor (now retired!), a head of a region in the National Park Service (also now retired!), and other successful professional archaeologists. In his career, Yoffee was fortunate to have learned from brilliant, energetic, irreverent, and congenial students at Arizona and Michigan (and some other places, too). He is proud to think that his teaching has led, in some smaller and larger ways, to their career development and in less tangible ways, to a sense of curiosity about their world.

As a Fulbright professor in Sydney, Australia, in 1985, Yoffee was asked in an interview what was the most unexpected thing that happened to him in his career. The answer was, of course, that he never expected that an academic life could result in so many bonus miles. He was invited to Australia to teach and also to comment on a panel at the AAA (Australian Archaeological Association) on “trends towards social complexity in prehistoric Australia and Papua New Guinea.”

Now it is common in archaeology for organizers of panels at the SAA and advanced seminars (such as at the SAR) to enlist a discussant from outside the region being explored to comment on the (hoped for) importance of the research to those not inculcated in the region’s mysteries and therefore relatively unbiased/ unmired in intra-regional debates. Apparently, Yoffee was solicited to come to Australia because he was perfectly unbiased: he knew almost nothing about prehistoric Australia or PNG. Further lack of knowledge afforded him trips to Brazil, Taiwan, China, India, Israel; Yoffee has also gained bonus miles by lecturing in distant universities on subjects on which he actually professes knowledge (or at least on subjects for which he has a lot of slides).

Because of all the great archaeological students and amenable colleagues (and omitting the dysfunctional ones), Yoffee blushes to confess his love of archaeology. And for those students at UNLV, UNM, and ISAW/NYU who now work with him after his retreat from Michigan, excelsior!