Friday, July 2, 2010

The Volunteer Experience at the Indian Queen: "Why we do what we do..."

This blogpost was written by Olivia Lane, who volunteered her time to help us out in the field this past week. Thanks Olivia!:

Finding the remains of lives long past is a humbling experience, and I would like to thank the State Highway Administration’s Cultural Resources department for allowing me to participate. Sifting through the dirt taught me, contrary to my recent college experiences, that not all PhD’s are afraid of getting dirty. Some actually enjoy their work, and the opportunity to share it with others—mud included. The artifacts uncovered at the site challenge the validity of word-count value of even the best photograph. There is something almost sacred about discovering and holding a tiny piece of a past life in your hands. A shard of pottery with an intricate, hand-painted flower design speaks to the eternal human need for aesthetics and beauty. A child’s marble tells of a simple childhood full of companionship and games. A pig’s jaw bone with teeth intact announces what may have been for dinner.

These artifacts can tell us as much about ourselves as they do about their previous owners. What things will we leave behind, and what will they say about us? Our legacy is everywhere—from plastic water bottles and McDonald’s® wrappers to outdated electronics. But uncovering these items may not hold the same value as the items unearthed at the Indian Queen Tavern, nor will their discovery be as difficult. The trash of the modern world is everywhere, and the half-life of a Dunkin Donuts® Styrofoam coffee cup is much longer than that of a hand-made children’s toy.
Archaeology may be partially about uncovering and preserving the past. It may be partially about learning about the details of the lives that came before us. But to fully understand the field, we must understand that we are finding out about ourselves. As technology and science advance at rapid speed, many things in our lives may change. Our basic needs never do. If we choose to focus on the similarities uncovered in Bladensburg, we may still have a fighting chance.

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