“Goonies never say die”; or why I became an archaeologist

Dear readers,

You may have noticed I have been falling behind on my posts. This has to do with a little my work load lately and my struggling to come up with topics that I can write interesting posts about. This lead me to think about how I got to where I am now and where it all started. The best answer I could come up with is a couple of cultural touch stones, wandering around in the woods, and high quality edutainment. All of that boiled down to curiosity and a love of adventure.

Not the woods behind my house, this is somewhere in the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia

I spent a lot of my child hood wandering around in the woods near my house, or with my dad and uncles when I was but wee, or with my scout troop when I was just slightly older. It gave me an appreciation for nature and helped me develop a sense of direction.  This ability to keep maps of a sort in my head based on where I have walked has come in handy while making actual maps for work. It also has made me feel most comfortable out in nature and made me want to keep spending time out there.

Indiana Jones for its plethora of shortfalls in its on-screen depictions of archaeology doesn’t stray too far from the earliest incarnations of the field. This took a few forms but started with things like collecting curios from far off places the older and more obscure the better. This is where the Elgin marbles and Victorian Egyptomania stems from, for example mummy unwrapping parties (warning there are human remains in this link, also its exactly what it sounds like). This may also be one of the causes of the surge of interest in the occult in the Victorian period. In the early 20th century archaeology was sort of organized treasure hunts during which archaeologists sometimes took notes, if you were lucky.

VHS cover of the movie

Indy may be a terrible archaeologist by today’s standards, but he at least had, ostensibly, academic interests in the artifacts he was chasing to save from the villains. I don’t think that I made the association at the time but that social responsibility to share important artifacts and protect them from people or groups who would use them for selfish purposes (i.e. propaganda or profit) has stuck with me. Generally, I’m not fighting Nazis, but I feel like I fight ignorance through both CRM and public outreach activities.

Goonies was another formative cultural touchstone for me. Simply it keeps the adventure theme going, and I love an underdog. For the younger folk, not into 1980’s movies, the movie is about of group of kids (the Goonies) that are being forced out of their homes by developers. The kids find a map that leads them to buried pirate treasure. Along the way they overcome puzzles, booby traps, and gangsters on a journey of self-discovery. There are many iconic scenes and characters. You should definitely find a copy and watch it as soon as you can [https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/goonies].

My copy of The Goonies

The tag line of the movie is “Goonies never say die”. The expression goes along with the gallows humor and grim determination that seems pervasive among archaeologists. I have talked about this previously in my first post, but the work conditions in archaeology can be absolutely miserable. Sometimes is 35 degrees, half your unit is frozen, the other half is flooded, wind gusts are hitting 40 mph, and all you want to do is get somewhere warm and have a beer or three with your crew mates; but you keep digging because you care about being a steward for the cultural resources wherever you may be working. I’m not sure if that’s just me or all archaeologists, but I don’t think it’s an uncommon sentiment.

One of the spreads from Eyewitness Books “Early Humans” (1989)

In the early 90s when I started being conscious of the things around me there were a lot of high-quality science entertainment TV shows and books; The Magic School Bus, Bill Nye the Science Guy, and Eyewitness books. The Eyewitness books are still around. I don’t know what they look like now, but I still have my copy of “Early Humans”which the closest thing to a general archaeology book as the series has.  Each double page spread is set up like a museum exhibit and is excellent gateway exposure to the material culture of whatever topic in which you might be interested.

The science books and shows gave me the idea that nothing was unknowable through science. This combined with the adventures that Indiana Jones promised in archaeology and a healthy appreciation of history that developed more as I got older lead me to the academic fields I studied as I progressed through school. When I found out that archaeology would let me work with my hands outside, and still be intellectually challenged I was hooked.

I was lured into archaeology with the promise of adventure and (intellectual) treasures, and I have found both. The day to day life of a CRM archaeologist may not be particularly exciting but occasionally, you get a cool project or get to work somewhere beautiful and it makes it all seem worth it. There are days when I wonder what it would be like to have a normal 9-5 desk job and hobbies outside my field of study, but then I decide that that would be boring, and I would hate it. I prefer a challenge, and I hold out hope that one day I might get to punch a Nazi.  

Goonies Never Say Die,

Tom

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