Romance and Archaeology: Take Care

Like cake and ice cream, donuts and coffee–romance and archaeology. They do go together in so many ways. Archaeology evokes visions of hidden temples, sexy Indiana Jones alpha male types, yada yada. And so, many a romance writer ventures into the exciting, thrilling, adventurous world of the archaeologist. Except, it’s not. No, really. Except when it is. See, I spent my twenties and thirties studying and then working in the field (that girl with the curly hair up there is me at 21, “babysitting” the director’s kids). Even though it’s been a while, I know some things are still true, and I’d like to share them with anyone thinking of incorporating archaeology into their romance. Of course the average reader won’t know it if you make a huge blunder, but they might “feel” it somehow. It may not quite ring true. Here are a few things I’ve seen that you can avoid!
1. Archaeologists get “excited” by minutia. Sure, they’d all love to stumble upon a lost city in the jungle, but most are researching a very specific area–the pottery of one site and one period, the bones of one animal found at a site, etc. Everyone on a research project (dig), except for new students, is a specialist.
2. It takes all types to excavate an archaeological site. This will vary, depending upon the continent/period, but you could expect botanists, geologists, architects–you name it.
3. The ancient Egyptians built the pyramids. They really, really did. Don’t go there.
4. The greatest percentage of archaeologists are not exclusively field archaeologists. They usually teach. In the US, there are also state archaeologists, and sometimes they teach.
5. It is absolutely, positively illegal, immoral–did I say illegal–to take antiquities from a country and “bring them back home” without a permit from the original country’s government. So you don’t dig up a vase for your museum and bring it home. The stuff stays in the host country, and you go (with permission) and study the stuff there.
6. Most stuff you dig up is broken. I mean, really broken.
7. Stratigraphy is very important. Look that up.
8. Art history and archaeology are not the same. The study of the artistic history and styles of statues, pottery, yada yada–is art history. In Classical archaeology, this line used to be more blurred. It’s not so blurred now. In the US, the two have never been considered the same. Well, for the purposes of this discussion.
9. All places that have been populated by humans have remains. This includes the great civilizations that inhabited what are now Iran, Iraq, Russia, China, India, sub-Saharan Africa, etc. All archaeology does not take place in Greece and Italy, and England.
10. Spelling–it varies, but generally speaking, if you’re talking about Classical lands, use archaeology. If you’re talking about the US, use archeology.
11. Underwater archaeology–it’s extremely specialized, and all the above applies to it as well. Including the part about the “home” government owning the stuff.
12. Be aware that when you go to do your research, there are good sources (good ones like Archaeology Magazine online or the Archaeological Institute of America) and bad ones. And by bad, I mean the ones with an agenda. They want to interpret the Bible literally (I’m not disparaging those who have this religious belief). They believe that aliens taught humans how to build things. They want to show that some races are superior. Look for serious journals and books by folks who teach at major universities.
13. Most of the time (away from the classroom), archaeologists spend their time researching, writing, and perhaps pouring through remains in a not-very-glamorous storage area.
14. Money is tight. If you controlled, say, a government research funding organization and had to choose between money for cancer research, improving our schools, or funding a dig abroad, where do you think you’d put the cash? Most digs are on a shoe-string budget, and many don’t get off the ground for lack of funding. Almost all are associated with a University. Ie., don’t have your crew staying at a resort…
15. A faculty member sleeping with a student could get him or her fired. It may make a good cougar story, but at least let the faculty member be aware of the risks.
16. Any questions I haven’t covered?


8 thoughts on “Romance and Archaeology: Take Care

  1. Lesley says:

    Great post! I love archeology! Always thought it would be so exciting to study Mesopotamia. If only things weren’t so tumultuous in that part of the world.

  2. vivian Arend says:

    No more questions since I picked your brain about everyone of these a few months ago. and now anything I got right is because of you, and anything I got wrong–is my mess up.

    You rock!

  3. Kate Pearce says:

    yup its not always that exciting-having spent weeks of back breaking work looking for specks of carbon and teeth enamel in 6 ft of mud in Wales, I know of what Ms Ciar speaks. You have to enjoy painstaking, slow moving work. I did enjoy it myself though 🙂

  4. Great post, Ciar! My cousin went on an archeological dig in Israel (If I’m remembering correctly) and it was with a university professor and small group. Think through the university itself. And it definitely didn’t sound glamorous!

  5. ciarcullen says:

    Ah Kate, I envy you in that mud. I always ended up in parched places.

  6. anny cook says:

    What a wonderful post! Thank you so much for your pointers and insight.

  7. ciarcullen says:

    Thanks, Anny. And folks, I’m here all night–that is, always ping me for info if you need help with this topic!

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