Friday, December 21, 2007

Excavation adventures in the Valley of the Kings
While the boy-king's discovery massively raised the profile of archaeology, generating a widespread popular interest in the subject that persists to this day, it at the same time created a false expectation that what archaeology is primarily about is digging up graves full of stupendous gold artifacts.

Don't get me wrong; I am as mesmerized as the next person by the Tutankhamun treasures. Nor am I immune to the excitement and mystique of tomb archaeology. To work in an ancient burial chamber, as I did in KV56, is a magical experience, tapping into those deep-seated childhood fantasies of exploration and adventure, of burrowing down into a secret, hidden world and finding wonderful things concealed therein.

At the same time, it has always slightly saddened me that while our team made hugely significant discoveries in terms of the stratigraphy and topography of the Valley of the Kings, and the lives and activities of the workers who labored there, it is the gold jewelry that always seems to get people excited at dinner parties.

It's a pretty good article. I liked this part:
15 centuries before the birth of Christ, a workman has finished his shift in the tombs and, sweat-drenched and knackered, has squatted down in his shelter, taken a refreshing swig of beer and cleaned off his paint brushes by smearing them across a piece of rock, just as decorators and DIY-ers the world over do every day.

His name is lost, his face is lost, everything about him is lost save for that single fleeting instant of his existence. And now that instant has popped up in our own age, as though e-mailed to us across the millennia.

It's often the simple things like this that make fieldwork so interesting. Gold and stuff is neat, but it's not something we regular Joes and Janes can relate to. It's when we find something fairly simple that we can easily see ourselves doing that makes that connection to these long-dead people.