13.11.2005 11:56 - Archaeology Today
1982. Head set awhirl by "Raiders of the Lost Ark" in Lyme Regis Cinema, and a sugar-high from consuming far too many Slush-Puppies for my own good, I decide I want to be an Archaeologist.
Because Archaeology looks fun. Archaeology, as peddled by Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, seems to be one long round of exotic climates, mysterious tombs, ancient puzzles and stuff, with only the occasional breathless pause to write up the whole thing for "Archaeology Today". This obsession replaces my desire to be an Astronaut, a casualty of the space programme cutbacks, and to be a Film Special-Effects man, a career which was ridiculed utterly by my careers advisor at school. (I realise now that the careers advisor at my poxy little comprehensive generally ridiculed anyone who had ambitions above working in a bank, going into the armed forces, or going down the pit, the last one being the destination of many of my contemporaries. I think in my case he was just too lazy to find leaflets on going to film-school.)
Over the next few months I will read every book on Egyptology and Ancient Greece in the school and town Libraries. In my mind, I will gasp at the intricate work on the death-mask of Tutankhamen as Howard Carter raises his torch so that the fire glistens upon it, hear dark mutterings about the curse of the Pharoahs, accompany Champollon on his quest to decypher Heiroglyphics, hang perilously with Sir Henry Rawlinson (no, nothing to do with Vivian Stanshall) off ladders balanced on less than an inch of rock in an attempt to note down ancient Babylonian codices, and marvel with Sir Arthur Evans as he holds up the head of the Minotaur at Knossos.
And I shall find the truth.
The truth is, that the majority of people couldn't give a shit about the lot of the working Archaeologist. Archaeology is badly-paid, hard work, 90% of which consists of filling-in applications for grants to study something, which are often rejected by people who are worse-educated but better-paid, and then hard, long, back-breaking work carefully brushing the compacted dirt away from something, just in case it might be an important Roman artifact and not an old bone buried by one of the local dogs. It's a job with many disappointments, such as finding that some amateur treasure-hunter has, a week before you finally get to your planned dig site, gone over it with a magnetometer, dug up a couple of coins and then boasted about it in the pub afterward, so that next day your carefully-planned dig has been turned into a bombsite by treasure-crazed locals.
Builders hate Archaeologist's guts. I've heard tales of more than one Archaeological find where the workers have been paid "quiet money" so that the construction site won't be shut down for six months whilst people fanny about excavating things with small brushes instead of JCB's, and thus has some important find been buried forever underneath thousands of tons of reinforced concrete so someone can park his car.
Rarely do you get to uncover a pristine ancient Tomb, often you spend years arguing over the significance of a few pot shards in the letters page of the International Archaeological press, with someone who's never visited the site where you discovered them and is all too keen to brush them under the carpet to maintain their own pet theories (and thereby to get their grant to dig elsewhere ratified), and the only Archaeologists equipped with a bull-whip are very strange people indeed, whom it's best not to share a tent with.
And so, my dreams of being an Archaeologist were slowly crushed. I gave up and studied computing instead - with a brief return to Archaeology due to one of my lecturers being the top man in the country for computer-assisted Archaeological studies.
Then I discovered guitars, and the downfall was complete.
I finally got to Knossos this year. I walked through it in awe, and simultaneously near-to-tears thanks to the ever-present whining of my fellow countrymen, all there on a coach-trip. "Oh, it's all run-down and old, isn't it?", "That bloke on't wall, 'e looks a rairt pooftah - prince of willies, in't he?", "Seen that bird holding the snakes with her tits out, yet?", "Daddy, this is Bo-ring, I want to see where the Romans fed the christians to the lions".
These are the same people who crushed my dream of being an Archaeologist.
In front of Knossos, stands a bust of Sir Arthur Evans, the english discoverer of the Palace. He looks out over Knossos, and, unsurprisingly, considering his countrymen's reaction to the place, he looks somewhat resigned.