Armchair archeology

Since I don’t have the training (or really, enough interest) to participate in field archaeology and anthropology, I am limited to what I can gather from what has been published.  This is a more hazardous endeavor than it would seem.

For one, there is a difficulty that papers and reports are published over time, and the newest results take time to disseminate. In popular opinion,  the latest and most sensational news is mingled..or mangled…with outdated results to give a thoroughly confused picture.  Many people have so little sense of the geological or archaeological time scale that they cannot tell the difference between ten thousand years ago and a hundred million, and so imagine cavemen being chased by dinosaurs. Since filmmakers are generally more concerned with drama than fact, they have perpetuated such images, which make it into the public consciousness somewhat more easily than the impenetrable prose jargon employed by professional archaeologists.  Filmmakers are scarcely the only culprits. Many authors of simplified introductions to strictly human prehistory freely mingle artifacts from widely separated times and places and discuss them together.

Academic dispute is a second difficulty. It may take years of advanced scholarship just to be able to read the papers that are written.  Some Important findings may be buried in obscurity, while others are cited over and other.   Authors have a tendency to describe the same things using different words, and use the same words for different things, and the disputes about the meaning of artifacts are wondrous to behold.  A glance at the professional literature of archaeology might well bring the response:  Here there be monsters.

When I read about an archaeological site, I want to know..where did these people come from? Where did they go? Who was there before? Who was there after? Who were their neighbors? Did they talk with, trade with, mate with, or fight them? And, if these questions have known or suspected answers, how do we know?


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