Am I an archaeologist?


bookworkI almost don’t feel like an archaeologist anymore, because I haven’t been in the field since my third child was born, and he’s in high school now. As a single mother, it was too much responsibility to have three children overseas with me (and their nanny) and also be looking out for a crew and a team of undergraduate volunteers. I was having nightmares about one of the kids getting sick and having to be evacuated, so I’d have to choose whether to leave the kid or the team. Today, maybe there would be more support for that; fifteen years ago, I didn’t see a clear path forward.

But yeah, I’m still an archaeologist. I’m still doing archaeology, sitting here at my desk. This year, I’ve got a contract for three children’s books. I’ve already written one, and it’s with the illustrator (more about that later). The second book deadline is in mid-March. So that’s mainly what I’ll be working on this winter. I’ll be posting about that until the mid-point of this three-month blog.

The working title of this second book is ONE DAY EVERYWHERE. It’s a picture book, with fifteen double pages. Each spread – each two pages – shows a different time period, and we get to see what was happening in eight different places around the world. That’s a total of 15 times 8 = 120 panels! If I’m going to be done in time to sketch, write captions, and revise, I’ve got to finish the research for these panels by the end of February, a month from now. I’ve already done forty of them, so I have eighty to go. I should research about three panels a day: that’s a lot! And (as you will see sooner or later) that’s not the only project I have going on right now.

Luckily, I don’t have to hold office hours, grade papers, or take care of small children anymore. I can pretty much work straight through the day uninterrupted: a great gift!  

Each panel shows people living their ordinary lives (if there even are people living there yet) but that means I need to know exactly what they ate, what clothes they wore, what their kitchens and bathrooms looked like, what kind of houses they lived in, what work they did all day, and how they cared for their children. I need to know how they tied up their donkeys, whether they ate breakfast, and if anyone knew how to read or write. All of that is archaeology. I find out most of it by reading the reports of archaeological excavations of these places, or books written from those reports. Sometimes I can use written texts to fill in some of it too, or look at the ethnography –  how the people who live there do things now. Like most archaeologists, I’ll take information however I can get it.

Today, I’m figuring out when people started to use wheeled wagons in these eight different places – France, Chad, Iran, India, China, Indonesia, Georgia (the state, not the country), and Peru. I’m also still trying to figure out what my main point is; right now I’m thinking about how international trade makes all these places richer, but I don’t really think that will end up being the main point of the book. I’ll be hoping to finish this one by around mid-March (in my mind, the deadline is my birthday, March 14th), and then I’ll start work on the third book of the series, I’LL TRADE YOU (more about that later).

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