October 2009

There comes a time in the life of every blog when neglected and/or abused by its distracted owner, it gets the obligatory “apology” post.  After tantrums, tears, and accusations of infidelity by both sides, the blog and blogger make up and reaffirm their friendship, and then the latter makes some outlandish promise like one post for every week!  This is not quite going to be one of those posts…the truth is, not too much has been going on this semester, what with everyone buried up to their necks in schoolwork and research.  Posts are snatched-up flotsam from one’s stream of consciousness, and the typical stream these days runs like “read pp. 4-499, paper, library, pay bills, ugh, sick, cough, more reading, work, yawn, class, work, paper due, AHH!”  So you see that would not be very enlightening.  But I will do my best to catch us up.

(1) College Night at the Getty

"You know you're jealous"  - Sarah ButlerLast Wednesday we all went to the Getty Villa in Malibu for College Night, which is this really cool (read: nerdy) thing where college students from SoCal can walk through all the exhibits and take behind-the-scenes tours and enjoy free food and music after the museum has officially closed.  I was already there for a class beforehand, but everyone else came in a big bus that USC near the last minute agreed to fund.  The archaeology kids joined a tour for the conservation lab, which was sort of a cross between a high-tech chemistry lab, replete with hoods and industrial sinks, and the kind of warehouse you imagine the Mafia would use to store their antiquities and tie up political rivals.  Really heavy metal chains wrapped around this VW-sized metal platform with a bronze statue on it, and the conservator gave us a very detailed talk about the process of finding out which pieces were orginial and where it came from, what he did to clean it, and a wealth of information about the kind of background that conservators have.  Not too much of his work was cleaning; more than half is restoring art pieces, and then there are museum-related labors like setting up new exhibits.  All in all, a very interesting perspective.

As you can see from the picture above, we also spent some time talking to centurions and women (tavern wenches?  I doubt a proper Roman lady would be walking around) from a historical reenactment society (www.legionsix.org).  They were very in character and pretended not to know what Diet Coke was or where we hailed from, until someone make the connection between “USC” and “Troy.”  Ah, so we were from Ilium!  That was within the borders of the known universe.  However, a question about dates left them confusedly counting years of consuls and reigns since Julius Caesar.

(2) WIDLS (What I Did Last Summer, although I always hear “widdles” in my head) is past pre-production and on its way.  Mark your calendars for November 20, 2-3 p.m.  Sadly that’s the weekend a lot of people are going to be away for ASOR and some other conference, but there should be enough of us here to make a good showing for both New and Old World, at least 3 continents.

(3) Apparently a reporter from the L.A. Times came to the ARC lab today!  But I wasn’t there, so I will let someone else write about what went down.

It’s another lovely, unnaturally hot Sunday afternoon in Los Angeles. I could be doing so many things right now–napping, going to the beach, driving, shopping, reading, enjoying my life…

Instead, I’m plowing through tons of articles, books, theses, dissertations, etc. etc. in the hopes of finding more sources for my article (soon to premiere at AIA… be excited!)  I now have about a million more sources, which is great. Unfortunately, this means I now have to produce more content for my article–you know, actually write. Which honestly isn’t the most fun thing to do on a lazy Sunday afternoon, especially when various distractions keep calling my name (hello, facebook). I also have a plethora (flock? pack? orgy?) of books that I’m in the middle of right now. I don’t know why I can’t just read them one at a time–instead, I’m currently involved in the Koran, the Black Book, the Masnavi of Rumi, the poems of William Blake, and No Rest for the Wicked (yes, you read that right). Unfortunately, with so many options to choose from on a whim, my ability to focus on schoolwork/research/boring things is being severely limited.

In other news, student organizations are confusing and terrifying things. For the weird analogy of the day, it’s rather like trying to create a tame hurricane–once enough critical momentum is gained to actually create/organize/carry out events, the resultant disaster if said organization fails can be catastrophic. Or feel catastrophic, rather. I’m not sure who besides the ARC lab inhabitants cares if our events fall through, but boy, do I care. It makes me want to rip my hair out.

Wow, this is an overwhelmingly positive post.


On the bright side, I still wouldn’t have chosen any other major. And the STARC events (which ARE happening) are going to be awesome. And when this article is finished, I will be so proud and giddy that I’ll likely start skipping everywhere.

Perhaps my blogs from now on ought to have a purpose.

~Sarah Hawley

“I became an archaeologist because I wanted to drive around in a big Landrover, smoking, cursing, and finding treasure.” -Carmel Schrire

USC is a very driven school. It’s not any Dead Poet’s Society where students sit idly dreaming of Whitman, Thoreau & Co. Every week I am the recipient of the Intern Newsletter, a digest of available internships, paid and unpaid, for students all over the campus (but usually catering to business, comm, and cinema). At USC, it’s about the career, sometimes about the money, almost all the time about prestige. USC doesn’t hide this– their selling point is often the Trojan Family, an extensive network of diehard alumni who have been known to give a boost to young Trojans coming up. Funny, we basically threw that “money” thing out the window when we bcame archaeology majors.

Most of my friends (sans archaeology) expect to work at big companies upon graduation… or at least they did until the unemployment rate skyrocketed. The beauty of archaeology in these tough times is that we all expected to live in a cardboard box with our trowels and ground-penetrating radar anyway, so this economy stuff is just making funding that cardboard box just a bit harder. The competition for funding our dreams and research has become more competitive by a factor of however much NSF decides to cut. NSF is government-run, the same government who threw $80 million down a black hole to save some irresponsible banks. Now don’t get me wrong– There are hundreds, maybe even thousands, of digs that are going on at any given time depending on the priority a government dishing out cash places on cultural heritage, and the money caps of private organizations… And the money is coming from somewhere.

Going off of our accepted fates to live in a cardboard box, we have also always been warned of our cultural irrelevance, how if every archaeologist on the planet died at once, the world wouldn’t change (other than an impact on the mortuary services industry– how ironic). The cool part about being an archaeology major (aside from everything) is that, despite our “irrelevance”, our major trumps all other majors by way of “interestingness”. If someone you don’t want to talk to asks you what your major is, you don’t say archaeology (that might start conversations alluding to leather stetson hats and guns… or worse, dinosaurs), you say accounting. No one wants to hear about accounting. But for some reason, everyone at some point has wanted to experience the life on a dig, to uncover Agamemnon’s tomb (or something). So, even though we are one of the least legit sciences in the category of “relevance”, we are also the most appealing. The History channel and National Geographic love us. And that’s why we get funding– because we’re cool. I would like to meet the person who didn’t think their 6th grade history report on Egyptian mummies and ritual wasn’t cool.

And so, did I become an archaeologist as a conversation piece? Did I do it for the opportunity to martyr myself for cultural heritage? Well, none of the above. However, unlike becoming a doctor to help people and play golf, of teach because of a love of children (ha!) and impacting someone’s life, there’s really no other explanation than love. I have always loved the past. Ever since a trip to Chichen Itza, a Mayan site on the Yucatan peninsula, when I was 6, I have loved it. And in the end, that should be enough. And so I, and my fellow archaeologists, break the USC norm of trying to get a good-paying career in something “relevant” with high-returns.

Howard Carter examines King Tut

Howard Carter examines King Tut

~Sarah Butler

Guess who came to USC today?  Jane Goodall!  Yes, the one who sits in the wild and travels the world raising awareness for environmental issues.  She holds a professorship here, actually.  Bovard was filled to the brim this afternoon, not only with students and professors but also other educators and a good number of local kids.

She bore an uncanny resemblance to the huge wild-colored painting of her on one side of the stage.  While she was talking, there would be occasional creaks and program rustles from the audience but as soon as her story reached a point in dramatic tension, the auditorium would go dead quiet.  There were quite a few of those, from when she was a girl struggling to go to university (her family couldn’t afford college, but eventually she went straight to her Ph.D.) to the rehabilitation of black robins from 7 birds, 1 fertile female to over 300.  Her message was simple: don’t give up.  Even though she had to get a secretarial certificate and wait tables for tourists, she eventually made it to Cambridge and from there, revolutionized the way everyone thought about “man” and “tool.”  If we do not accept chimpanzees as human, we must simply redefine that term.  One of her biggest hurdles was the rigid academic language in which biology was couched; when her preliminary papers described the chimpanzees in terms of personalities and human emotions, they flat-out told her she had done everything wrong.  “Fortunately,” she said, “in my childhood I had a wonderful teacher who taught me that no matter what anybody said, animals do have emotions and they do love, they do care, they do get upset, just like humans.  That teacher was my dog.”

A practical tip from Dr. Jane: If a mother chimp is nursing a newborn and her other child interferes, throws a fit, and is acting in all respects like a jealous sibling but because of scientific rigor, you can’t say that, you get around it by saying, “The chimpanzee acted in such a way that had she been a human child, one would say she was jealous.”  Just passing on some advice!

It made me think, though, of how we say archaeology is the most scientific of the humanities and the most humanistic of the sciences and yet, the way we write (in American schools) about the archaeological record is so carefully devoid of our emotional, human responses to the objects under study.  That is, it is supposed to be.  When a researcher starts waxing imaginative on the powers of a pipe instead of stating “this pipe had ceremonial signficance, evidenced by patterns of exchange and…etc.,” he or she lays himself or herself open to criticism of the most damning kind: an attack on research objectivity.  All scientists accept that subjectivity coloring observations and analysis is inevitable, but few condone its ready adoption.  When archaeologists go out into the field armed with total stations and magnetometers and floatation screens, it is with the hope of furthering our understanding of ancient peoples through “hard” data for hard science.  Who is “us,” though, and who were the ancients?  We can never know who they were to themselves.  To us as people, they are as much a departure from our society, something to be viewed in reference and in opposition to the researcher’s universe, as a society unto itself.  Only the hardened factualist admits otherwise.  Is it really so bad to interject your own feelings and conjectures into a reconstruction of ancient lifeways?

Dr. Jane’s activism is informed by her perception of living creatures as emotional, social beings–the chimpanzees were given names and not just numbers as her superiors recommended, and she told a story about a zoo worker who slipped in the mud one day and was attacked by three threatened females until Old Man, a chimp he had groomed and been groomed by, headed them off as he dragged his bleeding self to safety.  He would later say there was no doubt that Old Man saved his life.  Stories like this, I feel, contribute just as much to our academic knowledge as MRI scans and DNA sequencing.

The talk ended with a question-answer session, with the kids asking the best questions as usual.  I mean, Jane Goodall’s views on vegetarianism and veganism (one young man actually had the audacity to ask if she had any positions for him) are very well and all for the factions, but it was refreshing to hear totally uncalculated questions like “Do gorillas have a favorite food?” and “The man in the beginning [Professor Craig Stanford] said you gave talks in 63 countries, so I was wondering how many languages you speak, and how did you learn them all?” (She speaks Swahili.)  She also put in some plugs for Roots and Shoots, her organization, and had a giant peace dove carried onstage and a teenage ambassador give a short speech.  The words “inspiration,” “empower,” and “thank you” were heard many times throughout the Q&A.

At the very end, there was a chance to stand in line and get her new book, Hope for Animals and Their World: How Endangered Species Are Being Rescued from the Brink, but the entire auditorium had emptied out early and now snaked around Tommy Trojan.  So I went to the ARC lab instead–it’s nice to think we have our own niche to make a difference.

~Tiffany Tsai