Are Archaeologists Honest with Themselves?

Sometimes you run into an amazing little post on another person’s blog and say, “Doggone it!  That’s really good!  Why didn’t I write that?”  The brief post I have in mind is entitled “Creative Juice: The Honest Man is Always a Child,” and it was written by Mr. Matt Appling on his amazing and deeply insightful The Church of No People blog.  Please click on the following link, give it a careful read, and come back to this post:


Most of the archaeologists I have ever known are truthful with others in the overt and conventional sense.  In a report or an oral presentation, if they say an Adena point was found at specified GIS coordinates on an archaeological site, one can take that fact to the bank.  However, for many decades, I have seriously wondered whether American archaeologists (and other people who have an interest in American archaeology) have the ability to be truly honest with themselves in the sense that Matt Appling discusses in his blog post—or do we instead whisper little untruths into our own ears about the importance of archaeology in American society to get our conscious selves through a mind-numbing day of finescreen sorting down in the archaeology lab?  Just to make it through to 5:00 p.m. Monday-Friday, do we pretend that the American people as a whole love what archaeologists do for a living, all the while knowing deep inside that if the public really loved archaeology it would make tons of funding available to archaeologists?  How many other untruths do we archaeologists salve ourselves with throughout any given day just to feel as if we are doing something truly useful—something our own culture really appreciates and values?

The key problem here is that the truth sometimes hurts, and people run from things that hurt.  Living a lie is often easier than facing the truth.  Indeed, the truth is sometimes just more than the human psyche can take emotionally, so we compartmentalize an inconvenient truth into a nice little wooden box, drive in nails to secure it, and store it away in some unlit warehouse with millions of other nondescript wooden boxes.  Remember that huge government warehouse at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark?  As long as the box is filed away there, we never have to face and deal with the inconvenient truths inside it.


In my undergraduate and graduate school days (40 years ago), I was known for asking very difficult questions in casual conversations about American archaeology—and people really disliked it.  Can you say:  “Tracy’s here!  Run for the doors!”  I was often accused of being “too negative.”  However, I asked those questions back then (and still do today) because we never solve problems in life by running from them.  Pretending that they do not exist is just a form of running away.  A really good house must be supported by a strong foundation.  The strongest foundation for any enterprise begins with building blocks of truth.  If we are ever to deal effectively with the many problems and concerns that exist in American archaeology today, we must pull out our claw hammers, open up our stored-away crates, and honestly face the many inconvenient truths that we have avoided for so many years.  Go read Matt’s post again—let us all do it.  Let us be like a child again and release the painful truths about American archaeology that lie within us.  No more running from the truth—turn around and face it with the childlike honesty that abides within each of us—even if it hurts.  Then find ways to address these painful truths.  Always build on a solid foundation of truth for the future.

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