Image by Joseph Hewitt of Ataraxia Theatre.
Archaeology is a famously ghoulish pursuit whose practitioners are always on the look-out for dead bodies to gloat over. If we can’t find a grave, then at least we’ll try to get hold of animal bones from kitchen middens and sacrificial deposits. I’ve seen desperate Mesolithic researchers cackle with funereal glee over the toe bones of long-dead seals. Osteologists are of course the worst necrophiliacs of the lot. But nobody’s immune. There’s an anecdote going around about my old favourite teacher, where he lifts a pelvis out of a Middle Neolithic grave, licks his lips while turning the charnel thing over in his hands, and exclaims, “Now this was a very beautiful woman!”.
Less well known are the constant zombie encounters that archaeologists have to put up with. It’s not that we excavate a lot of zombies. Soft tissues decay rapidly, and once the main ligaments have dissolved, the zombie can’t really move any more. A de-fleshed zombie doesn’t automatically turn into an animated skeleton: those are mostly superstition. And cremation pretty much puts a dead guy in his place. No, the dead don’t rise much from the kind of sites we usually dig, unless you run into the rare lich king or barrow wight, or work in Egypt. Instead we tend to get a lot of recent zombies shuffling around our working environment.
It starts already at the university. Many lecturers turn into zombies scant years into their tenure, and non-zombies are rare among the adult education students in the night classes. I lost count of the times I had to flee from slavering carrion hordes down the nightmarish Modernist corridors of the South Buildings during my years at the University of Stockholm.
Then you’re on your first training dig, and your co-workers turn out to be zombies. I remember this one excavation at Sanda in Fresta where a group of Samhall special-needs workers were employed for heavier tasks. They may have looked like park-bench drunks, and that confused me at first since I thought they were the main site staff, but soon it was all “Braaains… Braaains… Got a ciiiig’rette, buddy?” It’s simply stressful, what with all the digging implements around. Imagine what a zombie can do with a fyllhammare pointed hoe, right?
So you go on to grad school, and you need access to data and finds from old unpublished excavations. And sure enough: the retired fieldworkers controlling access to the stuff have all turned into zombies. How can you have a rational conversation about site plans and documentation methods with an old guy at a provincial museum when he’s trying to gnaw your arm off? It’s ridiculous.
Actually, museums are really the worst places for this. In the exhibitions, in the offices, and of course in every nook and cranny of the stores: it’s zombies, zombies, zombies. Those damp concrete tunnels beneath the Museum of National Antiquities… I shiver to think of them. At the very least you always have to get past some semi-decomposed colleague with a key card on a lanyard around her excarnated neck, rasping, “Wearrr glovessss when haaandling the fiiiindssss… Raaaahhh…”
As a profession, archaeology is second only to mortician work in popularity. I mean, most jobs don’t involve any handling of dead bodies at all, which means that you’ll have to get your kicks strictly in your free time. But nevertheless, before heading into the archaeology business, I think you should ask yourself, “Do I really want to be chased by zombies at work on a regular basis?”. Consider your alternatives. In the movie industry, for instance, the zombies are just normal people in scary make-up. You can have a cup of tea and a chat with them between takes. And you won’t have to endure the smell. Think about it!
And check out Joseph Hewitt’s open-source multi-platform robot game, GearHead!
In other news, the past three months were the best 2nd quarter for traffic I’ve seen so far as a blogger. Thanks guys!