An Archaeologist’s Best Friend

Marilyn said it was diamonds. Some people say it is canines. Still others, that dirt is an archaeologist’s best friend.

I admit to having a complicated and intense relationship with dirt. Sort of like that boyfriend you had in your 20s…..And while I admit I am professionally and affectionately bound to dirt – there are 5 universal and, surprisingly, little known laws of dirt which will forever preclude it from being my best friend no matter how intimate our relationship.

1) Dirt is an abradant.

It takes only a few grains – just one or two tiny little specks of dirt – trapped between the underwire of your bra and your tender skin to completely abrade the epidermis (and often the dermis) leaving you raw and bleeding. These dirt grains are unsympathetic to your plight or the measures you take to prevent this intimacy. I excavate in long-sleeved shirts buttoned to the collar, neck wrapped with a scarf, gloves tucked into my sleeves, shirt tucked into my pants, pants into socks, etc. and still, at the end of the day, I go home with dirt rash.

2) Dirt is a colourant.

Dirt stains. I am not talking about the piddling dust your 5-year-old gets on his clothes at the play ground, but real, honest to goodness, dirt. Dirt that gets ground into your pants when you kneel for 3 hours exposing a pot with a paintbrush. Dirt that has the ability to transform a turquoise pair of hiking socks grey after a few hours screening. Dirt that will leave its mark on you no matter how many times you wash your excavation clothes. Red dirt, grey dirt, black dirt. It doesn’t matter…..dirt is an equal opportunity colourant.

3) Dirt is nomadic.

At 4:30 am, the beginning of the work day, I am clean and the dirt is where it belongs –  on the ground. By 9 am breakfast break, I am blowing mud out of my nose. How this happens, no one knows.

4) Dirt is a spice.

I defy any archaeologist, anywhere, to eat a meal in the field which is not flavoured with dirt. Actually, during the field season, I cannot even eat a meal in a restaurant which does not contain hints of mud and a scent of dust. I find this one of the most insidious behaviours of dirt; even when I try to get away from it, have a civilised meal, it follows me and infects my food. I believe this phenomenon is related to law number 3.

5) Dirt has a cruel sense of humour.

Dirt plays games with archaeologists – cruel and tortuous games. Inevitably, in the penultimate week of the season, right before you need to back fill everything and close down the site, dirt chooses to reveal its hidden treasures. A season barren of finds suddenly becomes rich with tempting possibilities…….for next season. Money, time, and the limits of the firman preventing examination of this wealth immediately. The catch is that dirt, in the off-season, plays with the archaeologist – moving the finds so that weeks are wasted excavating in the recorded location only to rediscover them in an adjacent grid or diminishing them so that the walls of a structure turn out to be a few stray mud bricks.

Dirt is a wicked playmate!



Filed under Archaeology

2 responses to “An Archaeologist’s Best Friend

  1. Sissy

    Thanks for the ‘dirt’ on dirt!

  2. Hilarious and so true! Thanks.

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