Some Archaeological Ramblings: “No. I Do Not, and How Big is Yours?”

by Tracy C. Brown

Golly!  Am I ever glad to be retired—finally. If I had known 46 years ago what I know now, it is highly unlikely that I would have ever pursued an education and a career in American archaeology. Most likely, I would have settled for a B.S. degree in geology and maybe an M.A. in education—and set my eyes toward finding a steady, reliable career as a journalist, church pastor, environmental geologist, or high school earth science teacher. Fortunately, just in the nick of time, I bailed out of archaeology for many years, beginning in 1982, and later had a 27-year run as an environmental scientist doing work on well-funded federal environmental projects. The work was relatively steady, and I was paid very well for what I did—with wonderful fringe benefits.  It was great!!!

As a teeny bopper (wet behind the ears) way back in 1971-1972, I had a true passion for the subject matter of American archaeology—and I still do. However, I never dreamed that so many other factors would intervene on my early plans to be a professional archaeologist. For example, I did not know it would be so very hard to one day get a job with the title Assistant Professor in the department of anthropology at an American college or university. Yes, if you want to do that today, a Ph.D. in anthropology from Harvard University, the University of Michigan, University of California (Berkeley), or some other such stratospheric place really is your best option if that is what you want to do. The colleges and universities that can afford to pay you really well in terms of salary and benefits look first to hire new professors from just such places.

No. Suicide is not an option for you if you have a new Ph.D. from some lesser university, and you cannot find a job as an Assistant Professor. No one should ever sacrifice their life because of anything to do with American archaeology. Far better and happier things to do for a living—and play—are out there on the American landscape. Go find them. I did——and I did not have to get more college degrees to do it.

Furthermore, so long ago, I had no idea that a time would come when so many archaeologists could not find steady jobs, or they would have to live like American nomads as CRM archaeologists. You know how it goes—a three-month CRM job in Ohio and another six-month job with another CRM company in Louisiana—forever and ever on the road—and just how will you get that U.S. mail forwarded to the six different places you will live in next year. It goes on and on like that with low pay until you either die fairly young like my old friend Harley Lanham did, or you quit and do something else happier, easier, and more profitable. If you try to start an archaeology blog, forum, website, or Facebook page on-line, CRM archaeologists really wish this on you deep down inside:

M-a-a-a-a-a-n. I don’t wanna read stuff like this. Why don’t you turn it into an open-jobs-in-archaeology bulletin board? I need work m-a-a-a-a-a-n. My trowel’s gonna rust before I find my next short-term job.

Then—for me—came the totally unexpected or not-well-thought-out things. They might come your way too. Therefore, if you are thinking about a career in archaeology, please listen closely while I tell you about some of them. You might want to consider such things as part of your own life planning.

Archaeological fieldwork? I was an excellent and highly dependable fieldwork guy who was not a slacker and always went the extra mile to help my fellow excavators in the field. My fellow fieldworkers and I always got along very well and happily with each other in the field——no interpersonal drama——no trouble at all——no complaints. However, much to my surprise, I was one of those people who discovered along the way that I neither liked nor enjoyed doing archaeological fieldwork. If you are a young person and are thinking about a future career as a professional archaeologist, I strongly suggest that you take an archaeological field school course as early as possible, preferably in your freshman year of college, if they will allow you to do it that early in your anthropology curriculum. If you find out that you do not enjoy doing field archaeology, then run away fast. Do not waste your college money on more archaeology courses. Try out some other aspect of anthropology or switch to another college major that shows potential for a happy work life.

Then there was coping daily with a chronic disease I never really expected to have—but later understood had been present for a very long time. I will not write anymore about that disease and the coping here, but I may do so someday in another blog post.

I have a hyper-sensitivity to poison ivy. The poison ivy, often present on archaeological sites, made it clear that archaeological fieldwork was no place for me. I had to get injections and take pills for the big breakout caused by poison ivy roots in my excavation squares at the Icehouse Bottom site (40MR23) in 1977.

Dr. Terry Ferguson’s horror story football hand, courtesy of Big South Fork archaeology and poison ivy, was about all I needed to see beyond that experience at 40MR23. Terry lived right next door to me at one time in west Knoxville. I was lying on the sofa in my living room one weekend afternoon when he came over to show me his super-swelled hand. It looked just like an NFL-regulation football wrapped in Caucasian skin. I had never seen anything like that before that precious moment, and I have never seen anything like it since that moment.

The late archaeologist Bob Pace, a friend of mine for many years, was doing a Phase I survey for my company on the proposed site for the Spallation Neutron Source on the Oak Ridge Reservation in summer 1997. I was the archaeologist on staff at my environmental services company, and my boss ordered me to go out and supervise Bob and his field assistant. At one point in the survey, Bob tried to climb up a short cliff by grabbing onto huge, thick, old-age poison ivy vines with super-large leaves. I tried to keep him from doing it——all the while frantically thinking:

Bob!!!  What in the hell are you doing!!! You’re gonna get Ferguson Hand. Oh my God!!! I may have to see another Ferguson hand!!!

Bob told me later that he was one of that wonderful group of nonallergic people who never get poison ivy breakouts. I am not sure that I really believed him—and kindly asked him to avoid coming too close and asked him not to hand me anything. The oil in poison ivy spreads on the same model as radioactive contamination.

One day I paid a visit to my medical doctor, Dr. Tom Jenkins, in Oak Ridge. I was there for something simple like renewing a prescription. It was warm weather, and I was wearing shorts that day. For no apparent reason, Tom looked down at my knees. He wanted me to stand up and then lie down—and he then examined my legs and knees in various manipulated positions. He then said:

Yep. You have definitely got it. No doubt about it. Well, I’ll tell you one thing for sure. With this particular biomechanical syndrome, you sure as hell better not take any job that requires you to work bent down on your knees a lot—like laying flooring. You’ll be one physically messed up man in your later years.

Field archaeology is a down-on-your-knees job. Fortunately, I was long out of most field archaeology by that time and working an environmental office job here in Oak Ridge. Getting out of hard-core field archaeology (long ago) had been the right medical thing for me to do.

As some of you know, I am the President of a small organization called the Oak Ridge Archaeological Research Institute (ORARI). Retired scientists here in Oak Ridge create small businesses or small organizations like mine, often working out of their homes, to extend their scientific research or engineering efforts into their retirement years. ORARI allows me to do some of that now that I am an old guy. The ORARI website is at the following safe link:

With the possible exception of construction work, I have long suspected that American archaeology is the only field of endeavor where nearly everyone is sniffing around more or less constantly for their next archaeology job. It also may be the only field of endeavor where people measure themselves against other people in the discipline according to the criterion of penis size.

Yes, American archaeology is the only discipline I know of where both the male and female practitioners have a penis. Both male and female archaeologists participate in this tried-and-true penis measurement exercise——so sorry to say. I have worked with all sorts of other people in all sorts of different scientific disciplines across my long scientific career here in Oak Ridge. I have never seen any of this penis size stuff going on with my nonarchaeology colleagues——never.  What do I mean by this?

Every few days, a person who has never visited the Archaeology in Tennessee blog or the ORARI website shows up for their first visit. (My WordPress statistical packages tell me so by where certain people head to first). The first place they head to is any clickable tab that indicates or suggests active archaeological projects. Why there? Such visitors are archaeologists wondering if I might have a current or upcoming archaeology project that is hiring new people——and they need a job——often desperately.

The next tab these same people head for is the “My Profile” tab to see if I am anyone important in American archaeology——all the while wondering if their archaeological penis is bigger than my archaeological penis. After reading my short biographical sketch, they immediately bypass the links to my archaeology resume, my environmental science resume, and my Linked In page——and head straight to my publications list. You see. In American archaeology, the importance or unimportance of a person is judged by the size of their archaeological penis. The archaeological penis is a person’s publications list. He or she who has the largest number of archaeological publications——with the highest project complexity and the best quality reports——published in the most highfalutin places——has the biggest archaeological penis. Just like the pubescent kid caught masturbating by his mom, each of these archaeologists would quickly say:

Oh…….uh…….I was just looking to see if you have published something really interesting that might be useful for my research.

Sure you were. That is what they all say, but you are not fooling me. I have been around American archaeology and American archaeologists far too long across my lifetime. I know how you think and the things you most value. Archaeological penis size is one of those things you most value. You use the results from the Archaeological Penis Comparison Test (APCT) to feel good about yourself and to give yourself a little pat on the back when your archaeological penis turns out to be bigger than that of another archaeologist. If another archaeologist has an archaeological penis that is big enough, and you are not deeply jealous of it, you might even say to yourself:

Hey! I might need to get to know this person a little better.  He might be useful to me someday.

Ah-h-h-h-h!!! Now we have come to another repetition of that key word——useful. Unfortunately——today——many so-called archaeological friendships, if you can call them that, are based on one-way human usefulness. That highlights the other thing I know about numerous professional archaeologists. They tend to be takers and users who suck a person dry for information and data pertinent to their own research, while being extra careful to give little back in return if you need something from them for your own research. Then, when the person is sucked dry like a candle fly under a spider, they will throw him or her away like a piece of trash. One would sincerely hope that human relationships (professional or otherwise) could be based on something better, less shallow. and more virtuous than that kind of behavior.

But hey, you guys know me from my past writings, and some of you know me personally. You also know that I have had a longstanding love—hate relationship with many things in American archaeology, so none of this should be surprising to you. I strongly suspect that many archaeologists have their own unique and quite personal love—hate relationships with many things in American archaeology. However, unlike me, you are careful to keep it clammed up inside of you for fear that even the slightest open expression of it might cost you your next job in American archaeology——and maybe your entire future career in American archaeology.

I wish it were not so for you, but that happens because American archaeology has so few practitioners—and nearly everyone knows everyone else in at least some capacity——-be it small or large. Furthermore, the small size of the archaeology discipline creates what amounts to a perverse system of classic European feudalism/manorialism in professional relationships where finite research territories are laid out and practitioners play the roles of  lords, vassals, and serfs. The Ph.D. archaeologists are the lords over their research territories, which are often vigorously defended in low-down ways. The M.A. archaeologists are their vassals. The vast numbers of so-called “common people” with B.A. degrees (or less) in archaeology are the serfs, often unkindly and disrespectfully referred to by the lords and vassals as mere “dig bums.”

I have never liked the term “dig bum” and see nothing funny or endearing about it. Its use is disgusting——plain and simple——like the n-word. I love, respect, and appreciate every kind-hearted person with a B.A. degree (or less) who does professional work on archaeological sites. Perhaps that is because I grew up as a poor kid in a rundown urban neighborhood on the wrong side of the railroad tracks. Every fiber of my being revolts at the existence of this Medieval social system in American archaeology in these post-modern times—and because of that (among other things)——I chose long ago to have zero part in it. My fundamental mindset is egalitarian in nature. I do not respect or bow down to college degrees or professional titles——nor do I expect their holders to bow down to me. I appreciate people for whom they are (the content of their characters)——not by what title they hold or what college degrees they possess.

I appreciate individual freedom and independence. I value the ability to speak out independently and publicly about archaeological issues that concern me. I do not like being tied down by another person’s sense of their own importance or some overpowering personal agenda they might be pushing. Up until a few years ago, I spent my entire life worrying about all of the weird interpersonal and social crap that goes on in American archaeology——and sometimes hating myself for putting up with it——and I reached a point where I refused to do that anymore. I have decided to just relax and be comfortable being me. If you do not like that, as my close friend Dr. Patricia Cridlebaugh used to say, “…then that’s just tough darts on you.”

Just to quickly help you out and reassure you, neither the Archaeology in Tennessee blog nor ORARI has any open archaeology jobs——so you may kindly move on down the road until you find one. I feel sure a good one is out there somewhere, and it was made just for you. I wish you the very best of luck in finding it. If I can be of any reasonable help to you sometime, please let me know. Just click on the “Contact” tab in the black strip above if you would like to get in touch with me.

Finally, I can reassure you that your archaeological penis is far bigger than mine——no reason for you to even do the APCT with your publications list and mine. I do not care how big or how small your archaeological penis is. Archaeological penis size and today’s Medieval archaeological subculture of selfish taking and using are just not my thing. If I like you personally and you ever need a real archaeology friend based on something more genuine, loving, and profound than simply taking what you can and using people, you know where to find me.

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