When people think of archaeology, their mental image is skewed. They either believe it to be some big, exotic adventure constantly or some kind of trickery. People tend to believe archaeological discoveries are nothing but adventures and proving outrageous legends because most of the “discoveries” that are being spoken of in the news and on the internet are the stories of these means meant for personal gain and not reliable stories that one can trust. These “discoveries” continue to be published because they are what is thought to be interesting and exciting. They are most closely related to what the average person associates with archaeology. The tall tales are what reach the public’s ear because they are fast and easy. People in today’s society do not like to wait for results. To have to wait for an article to pass through the long process of reviews and edits is much too long for the average person’s attention span. A quick Google search is the answer that most people’s hearts desire. When I Googled “current archaeological discoveries”, this was the first website on the list: http://www.archaeologica.org/index.html
This website was a sort of compilation of other sites that can be added by users. There is no way for average people to know if any of these sites have any credibility to them whatsoever. Anyone can contribute and people will take it as truth. Minds are very mold-able.
Perhaps the thing people associate the least with archaeology is sitting at a desk all day long. But, as I discovered, that is a very large part of archaeology. Archaeologists do not just run off to a site and start digging
around. There is a lot of planning and pouring over maps that happens prior to any survey of excavation. I sat at a desk for 3 hours staring at map after map after map comparing the areas surrounding the Ashokan Reservoir and seeing how the areas have changed over time. A large part of archaeology is understanding how large changes to areas can impact everything that has any sort of relationship to the area. The maps have to be overlaid and surveyed to note changes in towns, like if they move to a new location or if they are no more, and roads, and the like. What is now
underwater needs to be noted as well. After all these notes are made about the areas, you need to look at maps of public access areas and compare them to the topographical maps so you can see what possible sites are readily available for surveying and possible excavation. When you are first getting oriented with the maps, you get completely and utterly confused. However, the confusion aids your work, ultimately. It helps you work harder to try and understand just what it is you are looking at and for. Once you work passed this bewilderment, you get into a flow and can continue the work with slightly more ease. After
plotting all these sites and pouring over these maps, your brain does start to hurt, though. I found that listening to David Bowie and Elton John helps that particular affliction.
So many people are focused on the here and now. Our society is fast-paced and everyone lives for the present. However, history repeats itself. Everyone knows the cliché, yet few people actually take what it implies to heart. Even when people take the time to realize the relevance and impact of the past, very often they do not fully appreciate the extent that the past has to do with each and every day. Berneck and Polluck’s article states that the “relevance of the past…is evident in many facets of daily life”. Very few people realize the truth of this statement. Down to the very structure of our society, the past has influenced our lives. As cultures have evolved and adapted, their habits and ways of life have transcended generations. Without the innovations of agriculture, who knows how long we’d have been hunting for food. Ancient civilizations established governments. Without governments, our world would be in chaos. History and the past have shaped our present and future.
Now, it is the job of archaeologists to interpret the past so we can better understand out future. Many people do not understand this part of archaeologists’ jobs. The reason behind most ignorance, I feel, is that the do not want to believe that there is more to an archaeologist’s job than adventures and digs. There is glamour and razzle-dazzle in the concept of exotic adventures and getting down and dirty in digs. The blind romance is more appealing.
Furthermore, people do not understand the processes used to archaeologists to deduce information about the people and societies of the past. Culture History, Processual, and Post- Processual archaeology are obscure concepts that not many people pay any mind to when they attempt to understand archaeology. The general public finds many hypotheses made by archaeologists to be mere guesses not based on historical or scientific information. I do feel that most people relate Culture History to archaeology, but do not realize where the information is actually coming from.
Very few realize the science that goes into archaeology. The technology present at sites and in the labs is extensive and high quality. The instruments are precise and used for legitimate reasons in determining facts about artifacts and features found at sites. The concept of curses and black magic is much more associated with archaeology than science.
Pop culture certainly does not aid archaeology’s reputation, and the lies start early. In the children’s show The Suite Life on Deck, archaeology takes on its usual mask of guts and glory of gold objects in the jungle. The kids at the school go on “archaeological expedition” into the jungle to find a crown and ancient, royal tomb. The crown is taken from the tomb, and therefore loses the contextual significance that it would hold. This is never addressed though, and kids start learning early that what you can learn from artifacts is so much more important that finding something gold.
The unwillingness to separate from the mysterious and exciting world of adventures and journeys is what is holding back the public from understanding and truly appreciating archaeology for the art and science that is really is.