All of us have had really good days and really bad days at work. On some of the really bad days, people stop for a moment and ask themselves a key question: “What other job or career might make me happier?” I have asked this question too. One of the answers that came to my mind many years ago was advice columnist. Many of you remember the most famous syndicated advice columns in your local newspapers: Ask Ann Landers (Ann Landers), Dear Abby (Abigail Van Buren), and My Answer (Billy Graham). While cruising around the worldwide web earlier this summer, I ran into an archaeological question so astute that it deserved an equally astute answer. The exact wording of the question, the name of the person who asked it, and its location on the web have left my memory. However, the essence of the question—and what it might look like in a syndicated advice column—has been on my mind for weeks. Here goes:
Ask the Old Archaeologist
Dear Old Archaeologist:
I have permission to hunt a very special corn field for Indian relics. This field has been deeply plowed every year (without fail) for the past 100 years. I started surface collecting in this field way back in early March 1955 and hunted it for relics every weekend from March plowing to the onset of cold weather in October. When I first started hunting this field, I found large numbers of really amazing relics. Why I could easily bring home 100 perfect arrowheads and even more broken ones every weekend back in those early days. There were so many other nice bifacial tools too—drill bits, endscrapers made from spent arrowheads, and numerous flint spear points that were 6 inches long. Some other fellas and their kids may have had permission to hunt this field off and on over the years too. It has been 58 years since I first started surface hunting every weekend in that great old field. However, something is terribly wrong now, and I don’t understand why? I can go to that old field every Saturday now, walk back and forth through the corn rows, and find nearly nothing in the way of quality relics. Once in a very great while, I might find the tip of a broken arrowhead, and that’s about it. Do you have any idea why my wonderful relic field is no longer producing the types and numbers of nice Indian relics that it once did? It has me really concerned and upset. Please help me.
The Old Archaeologist Answers:
You certainly do have a serious problem Worried. You have been hunting this field too frequently and for too many years. It is a well-known archaeological fact that Big Sandy, Eva II, Morrow Mountain, and Snyder points (as well as many other bifacial tools) mate in late March and lay their eggs from early April to early May. You arrived to surface collect every March when the ground was first plowed. This turned up numerous, whole, male and female artifacts that were easily found and collected. You most likely collected both male and female artifacts in very large numbers at that time of the year and removed them from the field before they were able to mate. Whole adult artifacts are only able to mate and lay eggs that will hatch while still in the ancestral fields where they were hatched. Consequently, large numbers of female artifacts were gone from the field (framed in the den at your house) and unable to lay their eggs in that field each year. In addition, many attractive artifacts persist for a considerable period of time in their larval stages. If you removed the few remaining larval artifacts from the field each year before they reached maturity, the overall artifact populations were adversely impacted by your direct removal actions and were indirectly impacted by preventing these young artifacts from becoming breeding adults. Thus, your actions severely reduced the artifact populations in your favorite surface hunting field over time.
Now that you understand how your actions have been affecting the artifact populations in your favorite field for the last 58 years, it is possible to rectify the situation. The cultural ecology of the field must be restored!!! The few remaining adult artifacts must be allowed to mate on site, lay their eggs, and produce numerous larval artifacts that will survive, become adults, and eventually breed. This means you and other artifact collectors who live in your area need to immediately cease surface hunting for artifacts in this field until the various adult projectile points and bifacial tools that may still be present can reproduce in sufficient numbers to restore their natural population levels.
It may take a decade or more for the cultural ecology of your field to reestablish equilibrium at a level that can produce and sustain large populations of artifacts. When the populations have stabilized at high levels in the future, it is further recommended that you and your fellow collectors avoid surface collecting during those months of the year when the artifact reproduction cycle is running its natural course, and you should give sufficient time for larval artifacts to mature into adult projectile points, drill bits, endscrapers, and knives. This occurs during the period from March to early October of each year. Whenever you and your fellow collectors do surface hunting in this field again (from middle October to February of each year), try to avoid taking every whole adult artifact you see so large adult mating populations will still be present when late February comes. Limit your harvesting to no more than 20 percent. Follow this wise advice from The Old Archaeologist, and your favorite field should be teeming with collectible ancient artifacts for many decades to come.