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Underestimating complexity of a field you're not an expert in. There should be a word for that. - Pat [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
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Underestimating complexity of a field you're not an expert in. There should be a word for that. [Jan. 13th, 2016|02:16 pm]
Pat
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So, there's this bill:
http://www.firstcoastnews.com/story/news/2016/01/12/bill-would-issue-archaeology-permits-any-citizen/78704806/

No.
This is bad. This is very, very bad.
This is an idea that can only be born of extreme ignorance.

We were just discussing recently the tendency of people who aren't involved in a particular discipline to underestimate its complexity. (I have actually had people I actually work with make the assumption that I must be wasting most of my time because all my job really entails is administering a couple of tools and occasionally copying files from one place to another.)

Anyway, I have also heard, on more than one occasion, in defense of citizens being allowed to dig up artifacts, that "collectors and dealers keep just as careful records as archaeologists do." Which is the kind of thing that can only be said by someone with absolutely no idea what archaeologists actually do.

Despite some people's belief to the contrary, the difference goes far beyond whether something ends up in a museum or a private collection. (Thank you, Indiana Jones.)

So, say you found a lithic point (i.e., an "arrowhead"). You carefully mark down its location, and how far down you had to dig before you got to it. Great, good for you, you're an archaeologist now, right?
Well, what about a few other questions:

What was the tool used for? Is there any protein residue on it? How did you avoid getting your own DNA mixed up with it? When was it originally formed? When was it last repaired, or repurposed? (Did you even know that was a thing?)

What was around it? Were there any organics that could be dated? How about charcoal? Fire-cracked rock? Insect parts? Which parts? What insects? Were there other lithic pieces around? Any debitage? How was it scattered? Was it from the same source? Were there cores or broken parts around? How many scrapers or grinders or utilized flakes? (Do you even know how to recognize the differences?) What about ecofacts?

What about the sediment itself? Was the stratigraphy disturbed? How much bioturbation was there?

What about macro-botanicals? Any bones? From what animals? How about plants? Do those species still inhabit that region? To what degree is the difference?

What about the sediment layer itself? Can you date the soil the artifact was in? What were pollen concentrations like? How much did they vary in earlier or later layers or modern counts?

Are you beginning to get an idea why context is important - indeed is *the* most important thing?

Each one of those questions will tell us about the area, the people that lived there. All of those questions will reveal all sorts of specific information that archaeologists can use to piece the whole puzzle together. All sorts of information that is now destroyed because you wanted to dig up an "arrowhead" that you can show your friends or maybe sell on ebay for $20.

And all those questions? Those are just the ones that I thought of off the top of my head, based on my own limited experience. And guess what? I'm barely an amateur. More like an enthusiast. I am nowhere near qualified enough to be considered an archaeologist. And if you didn't think of all those questions, and come up with a couple dozen more, or notice right off the flaws in mine, then you aren't either.
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