Name: Sarah Butler
Major: Archaeology, East Asian Area Studies
1. What is your title at USC? I am an archaeology and East Asian Studies major, and the scholarship officer of the Society of Trojan Archaeologists. I am also a research associate in USC’s Archaeology Research Center.
2. What is your area of expertise? I wouldn’t call myself an expert on anything, but I tend to know more about Asian archaeology than any other region. My personal research has ranged from Native American rock art to Near Eastern bronze weaponry, and I’ve gained a lot of important skills from those projects that I can use in the future.
3. When and where was your last dig? I am going on my first dig ever this summer near Xi’an, China, which is the ancient capital of China, but we’ll be excavating a Neolithic site (about 6,000 years old). I’m so excited to get my hands dirty!
4. How long have you been an archaeologist? I’ve loved ancient history and archaeology since I was a kid, but I took my first course in archaeology in spring of 2008.
5. Why did you become an archaeologist? Archaeology uses lots of ways of thinking– science, religion, art history, linguistics, and just about any other field you can think of. I like knowing everything, and archaeology lets me use many different thinking caps. I’m extremely fascinated by past cultures, and my imagination mixed with my love of other cultures and desire to know everything really cemented my love for archaeology. I also like adventure!
6. Describe your most exciting day as an archaeologist. While working on taking pictures of rock art in the area with my colleague and mentor Lucy, we went on a trek and did a little bit of bouldering (climbing on giant rocks). It was very hot, and I was carrying a big backpack. I was beginning to think that we would never find the art that we were looking for… But as we climbed up a flat rock, we found some really cool basins that had been rubbed into the rock with smooth rocks nearby. It was obvious that Native Americans had made food here. We also found a cave with a lot of rock art in it. It’s finds like these that, when you can connect yourself with the people who were there before you, make archaeology really rewarding and fun.
7. Describe your average day. I’ve never been on an excavation, but similar to what Sarah Hawley said, it’s probably going to be very grueling. When I am working in the lab, I can be there until midnight some nights writing, researching, measuring, mapping– you name it. Archaeology takes a lot of dedication, but the minutes tend to fly by and I don’t feel it at all until the next morning when I am dead tired.
8. What is the most important thing to remember when doing archaeology? Like I said before, archaeology takes a lot of dedication. Sometimes you can get caught up in all the work and lose sight of why you are doing what you are doing– to find out the truth, and to understand the people who made a certain pot or statue. That is what keeps most of us going, even though it is a lot of work.
9. Why is archaeology important? “We learn about human systems of trade, economics, politics, and art. We discover parallels between the past and the present, and the ways in which ideas and traditions travel and evolve over the years. We are living out a continuation of everything that has happened before, and so we can always see ourselves in the people of the past.” – I couldn’t have said it better myself.
10. What do you see as the future of archaeology? Archaeology adopts a lot of tools that are not necessarily made specifically for archaeology but still have a use. Because so many new ways of doing research and new tools are being developed, it’s hard to say where we will be in five or ten years. I hope that as new minds emerge into the field and new ways of thinking about things come up, we will be able to have really great discussions about our past. Because we need these new minds and a constant flow of conversation, I hope that all these new tools will give young people the opportunity to experience and get involved with archaeology.
11. What do you usually wear on a dig? The same things you would wear on a hike– boots, LOTS of sun protection that doesn’t make you hot and allows you to move around freely. Some countries have laws telling you what you can and cannot wear, and it’s very important you respect those rules too.
12. What is your favorite part about being an archaeologist? Mystery! Adventure! Getting to know people, both your fellow archaeologists and the people of the cultures you study!
13. What qualities must an archaeologist have? Passion and curiosity.
14. What would you like people to know about an archaeologist that most people are not aware of? We don’t excavate dinosaurs, and none of us carry a whip!
15. What is the most interesting place your work has taken you? Sedona, AZ. It’s a popular vacation spot, but there is so much archaeology there it is unbelievable. To me, it is amazing that people lived on high cliffs in such a hot, dry place because I know I wouldn’t be able to do that.