Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Humor in Archaeology

Many Americans see academia as dry and formal, elite and lofty palaces of higher thought staffed by dedicated monk-like professional educators who wouldn't know a good joke if it hit them in the face with a pie.  People whose sense of humor was removed in early childhood. But maybe its just that their sense of humor is on the dry side, with a hint of subtlety foreign to the average American who, in general, like their humor broadly expressed.

This was illustrated in a recent article in the NY Times about an archaeological dig in Gabii, Italy, which is 12 miles away from Rome. The architecture revealed is from approximately 300 BC and is significant because so much of the evidence we have about Rome comes from the Imperial period or by writers of the Imperial period looking back to a Rome they idealized as being simple and unpretentious, inhabited by equally humble and unpretentious Romans. (1)

There are several surprising things about this dig, which the article goes into, but one in particular stands out: whereas in Rome history is layered like a cake, with levels going down a very long way, in Gabii, once the city had its day, it was covered over and forgotten. It is currently lying on undeveloped land. So no Medieval or Rennaisance buildings needed to be moved or conserved. No local pope had robbed the buildings for their materials like happened in Rome. No persnickety Romans to complain that the dig is disturbing the tourists. So this is very lucky indeed, if one is an archaeologist.

But getting back to the topic of our post, on the humor of academics, or at least of archaeologists, the article quotes Christopher Ratte, director of a museum of archaeology in Michigan, who expressed surprise that one could "break new ground" in an area that was so well-researched.

Get it?

 An archaeology dig "breaking new ground"?

I bet no one has ever used that joke in Archaeology before.

NY Times Article on the dig at Gabii


1. This is extremely doubtful. That Romans were ever modest, noble, and filled with a self-effacing humility is a little hard to believe.

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