by Tracy C. Brown
The Archaeology in Tennessee blog has been going full steam for nearly three years and with no end in sight. Everyone in our household loves music―classical, rock & roll, pop, opera, disco, bubble gum, rhythm & blues, country, bluegrass―you name it. Dad and mom have been music aficionados for decades, and our two children have continued the tradition by playing violin and viola for many years in the award-winning string orchestras of the Oak Ridge school system. Music is all around us and everywhere. Considering this omnipresence, it has occurred to me on several occasions that the Archaeology in Tennessee blog ought to adopt an official theme song. On and off, I have been listening for just the right song for the past three years―something special and spot-on that embodies the sometimes very serious and sometimes quite whacky personality of the blog—but also captures what it is truly like to work (and play) in the unusual little world of professional archaeology. No matter how much I listened, no song ever seemed quite right. That ended today, and the blog now has its theme song.
Before you play the song at the end of this post, I would like to lay out a bit of the thinking behind the choice of this song and how it relates to me personally, the blog, and the world of professional archaeology. Unfortunately, those of you who are incessantly focused on presenting a very cold and clinical view of American archaeology to the public and private sector business world, so people will one day respect archaeologists as professionals in the same sense that they respect attorneys, medical doctors, engineers, and corporate executives, may not like this way of thinking. However, I hope you can find a way to adjust. Here are some thoughts related to the theme song:
(1) After receiving my graduate degree in anthropology/archaeology at the University of Tennessee (Knoxville) in 1982, I was burned out on too many years of school and too much archaeology. Along the way I had accumulated a great deal of unhappiness and disillusionment about the weird little world of professional archaeology and the many things that were just plain wrong—morally and socially unconscionable—within the “system” nationwide. I was upset about it too. Therefore, right after my graduate degree was in hand, I intentionally gave up my long-held Ph.D. dream, decided to leave American archaeology cold turkey, and insisted that I would never come back to it again. (Normally, I am not a quitter. In fact, throughout my professional career, I have been the one person who doggedly stayed to finish the job when the other 99 people wimped out early.) Some of my professors and closest colleagues probably thought I had lost my mind for laying it all aside. Nonetheless, the sense of putting a lot of space between me and American archaeology, starting all over again, working in a new professional arena, and just having some time off from the incessant archaeological grind was both scary and exhilarating. It all felt so right—a little bit crazy too—and my emotions really did echo in all of that newly empty space between me and American archaeology.
(2) I came back to American archaeology, slowly at first, in 1995 as part of my newly found environmental protection career, which began in 1987), and have not looked back since that time. Some fortune and blessings fell my way, alleviating some of the old concerns that I had had about American archaeology and the “system.” It was not necessary for me to live as a modern-day gypsy like so many people in CRM do, and my jobs were always very high-paying jobs with a full range of benefits. I indeed had the time of my life and enjoyed American archaeology once again. You might say that I was fortunate enough to have my archaeological cake and eat it too in a way that many American archaeologists never have an opportunity to do.
My advice to others (in all things) would be to do something I failed to do at the start of my college days. Think twice. Think twice about studying archaeology and working in archaeology. Make sure it is what you really want to do with your work life. Find out all you can about the anthropology/archaeology discipline and the ”cursed system” before jumping into the pond. Ask yourself whether you can live physically and emotionally with the many unusual ways it can impinge upon a normal life and family life. Ask yourself if you can move frequently all over the nation and enjoy a feeling of not being rooted in one place. If you grew up dirt poor like I did, ask yourself if you can enjoy a life of poverty or the always looming shadow of the poverty wolf scratching at your door. For those of you who are already in the American archaeology pond, “think twice” before making major career and professional decisions. If you fail to do that, things can get crazy fast. Always think carefully and twice in all that you do.
(3) It sometimes concerns me that many professional archaeologists have tunnel vision and are out of touch with both themselves and reality. One really could ask the question: “Who do you think you are?” If you sit back and “think twice” about a lot of things in American archaeology, you become aware that the true circumstances, social problems, and systemic problems in American archaeology are grossly incompatible with the numerous hyper-inflated egos one encounters. One of the chief problems is that many American archaeologists have deluded themselves into thinking that they have a level of control they do not really have in the context of American society as a whole. A clinical psychologist would call it a unique form of dissociation. The notion that Ph.D. archaeologists garner special status and deference in our society as a whole is more a dream than a reality when it comes to American archaeology.
In the private sector business world, archaeologists (regardless of their college degrees) are often thought of as occasional “necessary evils,” and real respect and appreciation for what we do is often minimal at best. I know because I have worked there and seen it first hand. Private developers still ignore us and destroy archaeological sites on a grand scale—–while we look the other way as if it is not really happening. We are, more often than not, absolutely powerless to stop them.
In addition, professional archaeologists have waged an often vicious but highly unsuccessful war against private citizen artifact collecting for the past 60 years. The original goal was to bring an end to artifact collecting and thereby protect archaeological sites from context-destroying digging. It may have worked to some degree with federal and state properties. However, by any reasonable measure, this effort has been a miserable failure overall. With the advent of the Internet, the hobby of collecting Native American artifacts (and all of the buying, selling, trading, and digging that goes on with it) has grown by leaps and bounds over the past 20 years and is still growing. This is what artifact collectors all over the nation tell me. So, after looking at all of this, why do professional archaeologists really think they are in control? Where did we ever come up with that delusion?
(4) Some of us might not have known it at the time, but we were really going out on a limb when we got involved in professional archaeology―just like many of our heroes did in the decades before us (Jimmy Griffin, Tom Lewis, Madeline Kneberg, Lew Binford, and many more). Like gibbons swinging from tree to tree, we all wanted to be just like them and be out on that tree limb with them. The Archaeology in Tennessee blog is one of my tree limbs, and I enjoy going out on the limbs. American archaeology is all about living out on the edge in ways that people in most other careers rarely experience. Just like medical doctors, we are professional archaeologists 24 hours per day all year long—–throughout every year.
(5) Do you remember when you were a member of the liddle peeple? We were all little people at one time, and many of us enjoyed playing in the dirt. It looked like fun! It was no mere coincidence that we entered the world of professional archaeology. We loved the subject matter and were attracted to the mystery of it all—–like iron filings to a magnet. When you were young, they called it passion. Working on this blog and my own private research projects has reignited my passion for archaeology, which is why I am often writing an informative post or researching some topic just for fun. Some of us need to find a way to reignite our lost passion and think of archaeology as being fun again. It is the F-word. The F-word is key: FUN! It was no coincidence that we got into archaeology. It was an irresistible attraction to the subject matter that we loved—and it was fun! I plan to have fun with archaeology on the Archaeology in Tennessee blog and through the Oak Ridge Archaeological Research Institute (small scale and pretentious though it may be). I have a lot left to do, and I can die in peace when it is done.
(6) I know. I know. You think I am more than a little bit loony after reading this, but you have to remember that we all had to be a bit crazy to go into American archaeology like we did. Click on the following URL to listen to our new theme song for the Archaeology in Tennessee blog: