Some of the most accurate descriptions of archaeology that I have come across appear in "Angel Underground" a detective novel
by Mike Ripley published 2002.
Mike Ripley's lead character Angel describing the staff on an excavation
"There is always one called Dan. Go on any dig site and yell "Dan" and you'll get an answer. Bet you there's a token American as well.
There'll be at least three paid-up members of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan club, an ex Hell's Angel or two, fifty per cent will be
vegetarians and the number of left-handers will be twice the national average. If you're lucky, two out of twenty will be able to drive."
Describing diggers smoking habits
"These days it's all Health and Saftey legislation and stupid, petty rules like no alchol on site, no loud music (in case you don't hear the bulldozer coming up behind you) and having to wear hard hats and luminous 'viz vests' in fluorescent yellow. Some sites even insist on a no smoking policy, though not many as an archaeological dig is about the only workplace left where the non-smokers are in the minority and they have to go outside and stand in the rain during tea-breaks. The only time the rule is usually enforced is if you had to take samples of say, soil or burned mortar or charcoal or the ash in a cremation urn burial, which was fair enough. I have witnessed more than one Iron Age cremation where the dearly departed appeared to have put on weight in the two thousand years since they were planted in the ground."
The same charecter describing an evening out with diggers
"On site they would talk about archaeology and little else. Off site, with a pint of cider inside them (it didn't take much), they would still talk about the archaeology but with all the added gossip they'd been storing up about how badly the site was run, who was digging which feature wrong, who was sleeping with whom, why there wasn't more money in the geo-physics budget, why the previous site they were on was always better, why the project manager was always a congenital idiot. They could always be relied upon to bitch and be indiscreet. Any group of archaeologists in a pub anywhere can come up with more grievances than the International War Crimes Tribunal in the Hague, and quicker."
Mortimer Wheeler in "Archaeology From the Earth" published 1954 pg 149
"A drawback to the kind of labour that usually comes to the field -archaeologist today in Great Britain is that it is often unacquainted with pick and shovel and has to be taught ab initio ; it consists of unemployed or unemployable invalids, garage-hands, drapers' assistants, university students and the like, to whom picks and shovels are encumbarences rather than instruments."
Peter Ackroyd in "First Light" published 1989
"These three stood apart now as Mark continued to address the band of voluntary helpers who, otherwise unemployed, felt themselves to be taken up in a great adventure. There were twenty of them - most of them young, but there were two or three middle-aged men among them who had gone to the local archaeological unit with a kind of desperation. Now they were working again and, just as importantly, working their way into a past which belonged to them as much as anyone else."
Francis Pryor in "Seahenge" published 2001 Page 28
"This was our self-contained world for the summer. We baked in the sun, froze in the cold, and soon grew extraordinarily weather beaten. Most of us wore heavy boots, tattered shorts made from cut-off jeans, and old T-shirts that might once have been coloured. Nowadays, when I look at photos of the team, I'm surprised by how little our appearnce has dated, when compared with the images in the glossy magazines of the time, which invaribly appear extreme and ridiculous. A 1970s field archaeologist could readily slip unnoticed into a twenty first-century team. "
A tounge in cheek (I assume) reply to a request for advice to a first time digger taken from the BRITARCH mailing list
"To be a definitive 'digger', you need to:-
- Buy a pair of German issue army boots
- Grow Dreadlocks
- Smoke Roll ups
- Drink Tenants Special Brew
- Wear Kaki army trousers
- Moan about your bad knees and knackered back
- Sleep with a WHS trowel under your pillow
- Doodle on your context sheets and occasionally fill them in with incomprehensible drivel
- whinge about the weather, being too wet or too dry
- Write your name on your hard hat
- Develop a healthy loathing of developers
- COMPLAIN ABOUT PAY AND CONDITIONS (which is, before anyone slates me, entirely justifiable)
If you pull this off...No one will ever suspect your NEW!!!"
Further comments on the same mailing list
"a pair of canvas gardening gloves and most important of all a good gardeners kneeling pad!
Sound sensible advice, but totally lacking in street cred for the new digger. What you really need are the safety boots, falling apart through long use, torn jeans (in my day the number of patches, also falling off, scored points but this seems to be a dying art), the worn down trowel in the back pocket, and a well-worn high viz waistcoat, preferably with the name of a well-known construction company on the back to show you've been around a bit. A safety helmet covered in company induction stickers is another good points winner. Turn up with a pair of gardening gloves and a kneeling mat and everyone just knows you've never done it before."
Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Waterson