I’ve spent the last few days pouring over field notes to find the provenience of the artifacts that I’m trying to study for my thesis. So far, I haven’t found anything of note. I’ve found fascinating details about which days the field school didn’t excavate, and I’ve found what day the cook got fired, but I haven’t found the provenience of some of the oldest osseous tools in Alaska.
This is troublesome to me on many levels. The first is that archaeological research demands precise data and spatial knowledge. The second is a little more complex.
I’m Native American (Raramuri Indian) from Mexico, but my family is…well assimilated. My great-grandparents knew their culture, but after centuries of Spanish rule and starting over again in the US much of my generation’s connection to our culture is lost.
I’m drawn to Paleoindian archaeology because I feel like I can find an emotional connection to my ancestors. I like learning about what my (many) great-grandmother’s life must have been like. The tools she used while she sat around her hearth, what she ate, what she touched, and how she lived left tiny marks on who I am.
One of my artifacts is a tiny needle with a finely drilled eye made on a fragile piece of bird bone. It was used and resharpened, and (allegedly) found right next to a hearth, its little broken eye providing a clue about why it was left behind. I can imagine my many great-grandmother (who in my mind’s eye looks a lot like my grandmother) sitting next to the hearth adding details to her daughter’s winter parka, or restitching her boots and talking and laughing to her sisters or aunts while she sewed.
It makes me incredibly sad and angry that someone could come to the place where she sat, and take so much time to reveal her world, and not bother to take some fucking pictures of her needle and to pause a moment to write down exactly where they found it. A crucial part of its information is lost, and might not be recoverable, all because some scientist decided it was more exciting to pull my great-grandmother’s needle out of the ground and show it to everyone and take credit for finding it, rather than treating it with the respect and reverence it deserves.
This stuff means more to me than science, and it hurts to see it treated carelessly.
Do archaeology right the first time so you don’t have to reconstruct the past through MAGIC. Context is everything. If the data is not recorded during the excavation/destruction of the site, it’s lost. Archaeology is not a reproducible science, it just happens to use a lot of scientific methods.