Old ruins, new world
Lest we remember
Editor Simon Denison
In many of the great cities of the world today you can still find whole streets devoted to one trade, as they were in medieval times. It would be nice if this lingering tradition were encouraged more. In fact it might be taken further and we should now be looking at whole cities rather than certain quarters given over to a single trade.
This would serve to cement societies fragmented by globalisation and make contacting the right person or group not such a lottery-though everyone in Taxi City will probably still be called Aardvark. It would also mean that the whole neighbour problem could be overcome at a stroke, and instead of discussing the weather we can get straight to an over-the-garden-wall analysis of matters of common interest. So welcome to Archaeology City.
Most travellers would arrive at one or other of the two stations, the terminuses Postquem and Antequem. No visitors can leave the station precinct without having to cope with hucksters playing their age-old game of guessing whether what's under or over a coin is earlier or later than the date of the coin. But don't worry if you get it wrong, for archaeologists nearly always do - in fact the terminuses post quem and ante quem are every archaeologist's Waterloo. So out onto the main street for a tour of the city.
Immediately you will see that most people keep their eyes on the ground. This is not unfriendliness, but the result of years of fieldwalking. There's quite a lot of litter since it is only picked up by students of rubbish disposal patterns, and they tend to miss out on collection day because they keep changing their databases. Any hole in the ground or service trench has an eager crowd around it debating whether the next section to be removed should be that brownish layer or the slightly greener one over there.
In very dry weather crowds turn out to look for parchmarks in the parks. Panoramic viewpoints are occupied by urban plan analysts. Citizens photograph the ground not the buildings, and so Boots's photographic department has big trouble when films get muddled since one shot of the ground looks horribly like another.
The main quarter contains the post-excavators. There are buildings with different areas here devoted to radiocarbon dating, thermoluminescence dating, GIS, electron microscope analysis and so on, each with their rows of acolytes peering into their processor screens. The casual visitor not paying enough attention tends to trip over a cable and bring the whole place to life as the screens go blank.
More fun is the intertidal archaeology quarter. This is obvious because everyone is wearing waders and the shops open and close in six-hourly cycles. Here you will note how traffic islands are revered - many are decorated with seaweed. Underwater archaeologists can be seen flippering along in an adjacent quarter.
Experimental archaeologists gather in an area not recommended to the casual tourist. Here flint knappers ply their trade. Trees are in a terrible state - where there are any - since they are regularly mangled by the efforts of mock Neolithic clearers. Watch out for stray ballista bolts, javelins etc, and avoid all the experimental kilns as they tend to explode. Transport is by experimental carts that often collapse and tip travellers into the road. The city casualty centre is located in this quarter and numerous finger bandages, slings and eye patches are visible.
Forever in exile, the actual digging archaeologists live in a tented quarter on the outskirts of town. Few of them bother to get changed in the evening and can be seen as foul-weather-garmented figures bent over their Terry Pratchett novels and spooning up cold baked beans from jaggedly opened tins. These truth-seekers spend their leisure hours watching the X-Files on TV.
One way or another you'll certainly be invited down to the city's pubs in the evening, such as the Troweller's Rest and the Redundant Footnote. Here you will find archaeologists dreaming up schemes - like the creation of cities populated only by archaeologists - that are reduced to dust come the next morning. But that's no problem since dust is our business and groundless speculation our stock in trade.
CBA web:Jan/Feb 2005