November 22, 2012

A few thoughts on fieldwork

Filed under: Uncategorized — acagle @ 11:17 am

While nobody is listening. . . . .

I wrote this on my other blog earlier this evening:

Reading some of Neil Peart’s “Ghost Rider” just now a certain passage struck me:

The solitary traveler is frequently invested by others with an aura of romance, myth, and desire. So many people feel trapped in the workaday predictability of their lives, and their frustrations and dissatisfaction can be simultaneously stimulated and soothed by a non-specific fantasy of “getting away”. But like all fantasies, this dream vision remained free of consequences, and that alone was the deep, cold distinction between fantasy and reality: No consequences.

One might substitute ‘archaeologist’ for ‘traveler’ there. Seeing them (us) on TV or reading about “the adventure of archaeology” certainly can make life in the field seem romantic and dashing with all sorts of interesting things happening literally every minute of the day. And we certainly use that on occasion to impress people, at least to a limited degree (I’m not above admitting that one reason I do this is to imbue myself with a little of that Indiana Jones swashbuckling demeanor, however misleading). But it misses all of the stuff that really goes on out here: the heat, the dust, the flies and mosquitoes, the often bad food that causes altogether too many varieties of gastrointestinal distress, and the monotony of digging through a bunch of uninteresting sediment, dumping it into a basket, and hauling it off to the screens for 8 hours a day. Not to mention the jet lag and being away from friends and family for weeks, maybe months, at a time. And, well, danger to life and limb, not from curses or terrorists or Nazis or whatever, but. . .well, okay, it’s the roads mostly.

Nevertheless, it remains a very rewarding endeavor and I’m glad I kept my resolve and came out again. Just being in a strange place with only the stuff you carried with you and spending most of your time intent on a single project gives one a certain amount of perspective on that “workaday predictability” you left at home. You appreciate what you have there all the more, but you also tend to give it its due which is: it’s just stuff, it’s not life.

1 Comment

  1. Years ago, in the insurance business, I tried to get disability income insurance for a private firm. They mostly made their revenue from checking out prospective building sites for various protected items like lithics or old wells or whatever. I had to get a reading on his job to get an occupation class multiplier for the premium. Couldn’t spend less than fifteen minutes with any underwriter because they were fascinated by the entire picture. Kept talking about it, and probably did so with friends and family.
    The romance is there, believe it.

    Comment by Richard Aubrey — November 24, 2012 @ 6:59 pm

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