Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Indiana Jones, eat your heart out!

I've just got back from a really inspiring lecture and I thought I might tell you all about it. Mostly because this is more fun than staring my thesis - but also because I desperately want to share the joy I just felt at spending a couple of hours with a world renowned archaeologist Dr Warwick Bray, Emeritus Professor of Latin American Archaeology at the Institute of Archaeology, University College, London.

Dr Bray came to the department today to talk about his early career at the University of Sheffield archaeology department in the early 1960s and his subsequent work digging and surveying the landscape in Colombia. I knew it was going to be a great talk because we'd had to bring the slide projector out of retirement for him - and I wasn't disappointed. Right off the bat there was an anecdote about his first lecture, on the first archaeology course ever run  at Sheffield, how he'd never forget it because on that morning his wife went into labour and they shared the same taxi - with him getting out at the department and her continuing to the hospital. It did teach him early on, he said, that one could give a passable lecture on something, whilst thinking about something completely different.

Warwick Bray
Emeritus Professor
Dr Warwick Bray
After many beautiful pictures of pottery, golden artefacts, worked Colombian landscapes and grave shafts - some of which disappeared several metres into the ground and were accessed via a bucket on a winch - we all went to the pub, as archaeologists are wont to do. Other wonderful snippets of information included how him and his colleagues were banned from a hotel in Panama for creeping into the kitchens at night to deflesh exotic roadkill and how local youths, on seeing how interested the team was in dead animals, started to bring along live ones for them. Subsequently, they had to deal with a gift of a live and angry anteater was -  wrestling it into a sack and driving it 20 miles away was apparently the solution. This was truly the stuff of Indiana Jones-esque legend!

At a time when funding for archaeology in the UK is diminishing in a misguided austerity measure, with universities closing departments and students picking university careers based on their money earning potential (who wants to do archaeology when you can do law?) rather than personal interest, it struck me as important to remember how exciting archaeology can be. Sure, there are a few more health and safety concerns these days, but there is still good work to be done - and if we can muster even half the energy and enthusiam of a gentleman like Bray, we'd stand a bit more of a chance of saving it.

PS . I recommend reading this oral-history account of Warwick Brays early career, if you're interested.

1 comment:

  1. That's a nice blog by Teething problems. I could imagine how interesting it would have been to listen to Dr Bray about his career. Thank you for the news.

    Las Vegas Implant Dentist