All true technophobes believe that the arrival of the computer era signified the beginning-of-the-end of society as we knew it to be. And we were right. The image of technology as a watershed, an indicator of transition, a benchmark of before/after comparisons continues even now, long after the initial shock of digital introduction. One can argue that the shifting is not so black and white, that it is a morphing rather than a sudden change into a new environment. However, for me and my experiences on this excavation, computers still signal the arrival at an end point.
Archeologists live for the dirt. The process of scooping, lifting, sorting, sifting and categorizing layers of earth is what energizes us. Tactile, sensory-based, muscle aching, sweat inducing projects that reveal mind-bending mysteries: that’s what gets our juices flowing! Data entry? You can almost hear the gears grinding to a sudden halt at the mention of the phrase. And you can practically smell the smoke at the excavation this week. All fieldwork has closed down. The cover has been put on the sandbox. Toys are being packed away. The queue for the computers is a kilometer long. Digital programming is de rigueur. The playing has ended. Now we must actually work.
Recording and organizing the information collected is of vital importance to any scientific endeavor. Long-term assessment, so imperative to genuine discovery, cannot occur otherwise. But sitting in front of a monitor ain’t so much fun.
At least for most of us. There are a few natural geeks who were hired on by the excavation, as well as a handful of volunteers who have assisted along the way. But for those of us who love dirt under our fingernails and sand in our nostrils, this last week of computer work is tantamount to torture. It signifies the end of the colorful searching and the beginning of grey wires.
I know I should be more appreciative of the advantages that technology has brought to archeology. And when sitting in my apartment, writing about the system as a whole, it makes such sense that computers are integrating with the discipline. I had planned on writing an entire article about the types of programs we use and the amazing opportunities for analysis that they afford us. It is truly phenomenal what is being done now.
But all I can think of is the dirt and how much I miss it already. I imagine a few centimeters below where we stopped and wonder what is waiting for us next season. I actually fall asleep trying to make sense of the Rubix cube like wall collapse I was working on last week. Reading the dirt is like reading a book: the objects you find are the characters, the plot evolves as the artifacts interact. Who wants to put down an engrossing story? How awful is it to close the unfinished book and shelve it for a full year before being allowed to pick it up again?
That’s where I am right now, emotionally Uggh. The computer is a useful tool but also a sign of sad transition. It amazes me how little time it takes me to get attached to patches of soil and how long the attachment then lasts. Can you believe I still dream of my squares in Ashkelon??? I wonder how intense my Giza infatuation will become. Right now it feels like I was forced to press the pause button on a really great movie…..and then the batteries in the remote died. New batteries will come after some time, but the wait is gonna feel like forever.