A weakness of mine is that the memories of a few embarrassing events in my past sometimes come back to haunt me and make me cringe with self-loathing. Very likely, I am the only person in the world who ever thinks of (or even remembers) these events, but I just can’t help feeling bad about them. Two of the worst have to do with archaeology and English, and so I thought I might as well dump them on you, Dear Reader.
1. Summer of 1993. I am 21, working my second season as a field archaeologist, and I’ve just learned about context-stratigraphic excavation and documentation methods à la Edward Harris. A group of urban archaeologists from Norwich come to Uppsala for a two-day seminar about these things. I am the youngest and most enthusiastic member of the audience. I am also one of very few audience members who speaks fluent English. And English has a strange effect on me: I am loud and talkative in Swedish, but for some reason become doubly so in English. The result is that (as I recall it now), almost every minute of the first day when the Englishmen are not speaking is filled up by my questions and happy blathering. At the time I am not insensitive to the fact that my colleagues don’t like this much, but I can’t help myself.
One of my colleagues later tells me off angrily. When the Englishmen visit our dig a few days later I apologise for my behaviour, and the guy I talk to, named Phil someting?, just laughs amiably and says that they are in Sweden to answer our questions, so I needn’t worry. Thanks Phil, I needed that! (And come to think of it, many of the other people in that conference room are now among my best professional friends. Seems they forgave me, after all.)
2. Circa winter of 1994/95. A green doctoral student, I attend a guest lecture by a highly regarded English osteoarchaeologist. After his somewhat nature-deterministic talk about early hunters in the Levant, I put up my hand and make a friendly but mildly critical comment including the words “Unlike you, I care about the meaning of the decoration on those pots — which I suppose makes me a bit of a wanker”. At the mention of the word “wanker”, the speaker (who has until then been nodding encouragingly) suffers a full-body spasm, turns crimson and gives off an involuntary falsetto shriek. I didn’t feel embarrassed at the time, but I do now.
There you have it. These are the demons that haunt me.