03 December 2011

Fictional Archaeology

I am, it must be said, something of a fan of fictional archaeology. In real life there’s oodles of paperwork, funding issues, and a metric ton of research that needs doing before you even contemplate going anywhere (and even then you risk being pipped to the post by some random metal detectorist having a lucky day); and once you get to your site, you then have to spend months, years, even decades carefully sifting though every minute particle in order to maintain a proper archaeological record of everything. Which is a good thing. Really.

Fictional archaeologists, however, have it much easier.

They often come from a family of archaeologists or similarly talented historians, linguists or adventurers – thus giving them a step up when it comes to knowledge, experience and contacts in the field. Little Lara Croft and Indiana Jones went out in the field with their parents, little Evelyn Carnahan had a childhood steeped in all things Egyptian (and a dad who was on the King Tut tomb expedition), little Nina Wilde, Ben Gates and Daniel Jackson were heavily influenced by their parents occupations.

While real life archaeologists have to have basic knowledge of assorted disciplines, it’s the fictional archaeologist who really takes this to extremes. There’s the acceptable archaeological skills – history, languages and assorted archaeological and scientific techniques, but your fictional archaeologist will be an expert in multiple disciplines: their in-depth knowledge of history covers all periods and includes knowledge of some of the most obscure things in existence, they know how to use and have access to all the latest gadgets to make finding and analysis quicker and easier, and languages? Well, you can guarantee that your fictional archaeologist is going to be a world-class expert in at least one long-forgotten barely-translated dead language and is also fluent in at least a dozen or so other more used ones.

But, fictional archaeologists also have pretty impressive skills in other fields and often have second jobs as international spies or similar. They will have picked up a wide range of combat related skills, extreme sports, computer skills that are just a bit scary; and the fictional archaeologist always has useful friends if they need emergency transport to some out of the way location or a favour pulled in high places.

When it comes to funding, they usually don’t need to worry about grants (unless it’s plot specific) – if they’re not independently wealthy, they get commissioned for their expedition by some wealthy benefactor or government organisation (often mysterious, probably wants to take over the world), or they have the ill-gotten gains of their last big haul to draw on.

They will always be the one to make an amazing breakthrough when it comes to finding the long lost site or artefact of legend. Doesn’t matter how many people have spent their life looking for the aforementioned objects of desire, it’s the fictional archaeologist who’ll get the essential last clue, or put the random pieces together, or just accidentally stumble on it while getting their morning cup of coffee.

They always find what they’re looking for, and it’s always in near-perfect condition. If aboveground, a lost city will have plenty of remaining standing buildings and a secret room somewhere that’s ceiling high in shinies. If underground, the entire complex will be intact with all devices still working hundreds of years past installation (we’d like their builder’s number.) Yes, there will be a few booby traps lying around (there’s always at least one), but your fictional archaeologist will, quite luckily, be the only one who can navigate them safely.

Any guardians, either living or undead, who might have issues with an expedition trundling in and nicking off with their heritage will cease to be a problem once the fictional archaeologist gets talking to them, as, guess what? Turns out your archaeologist is also destined by ancient prophecies (or that handy memento found at another site and worn for luck) to be the saviour of the ancient people/the world/all existence. If this doesn’t work, however, the fictional archaeologist will be the one who can out fight, out think and generally out manoeuvre the protectors who have trained for centuries to do their job.

Some fictional archaeologists work in partnership with museums and other organisations interested in preserving an accurate site or artefact record, but if a site happens to get accidentally totalled in the midst of an expedition, no one is going to make too much noise – especially if the archaeologist comes back with something impressively shiny. After all, it won’t have been the archaeologist’s fault, there’ll have been a crew of naughty tomb raiders, bandits or minions from a secret organisation set on world domination involved somewhere.

And bullet holes in things just add to the mystique. ;-)

(1) Tombraider pic from totalfilm.com
(2) Daniel Jackson pic from danieljackson.ashtonpress.net
(3) Mummy pic from from news.bbc.co.uk
(4) Indiana Jones pic from rottentomatoes.com

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