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402

AMERICAN ANTIQUITY

[ VOL.25, No. 3, 1960

ARCHAEOLOGY AND THE PUBLIC IMAGE


ROBERT ASCHER ABSTRACT The archaeological content of ten years of Life magazine is analyzed in an attempt to identify what may go into formulating the public's images of the archaeologist and his goals. The four themes which appear in the 34 Life articles are: chance nature of archaeological discovery, role of the archaeologist as an expert, emphasis on technical knowledge and skills, and heavy use of superlatives. Analysis of other mass media, including fiction and cartoons, might lead to the identification of other themes. The image of archaeology presented by mass communication is considered important in a science so dependent upon public cooperation. A. V. KIDDER identifies two popular images of the archaeologist in his 1949 introduction to Amdsden's Prehistoric Southwesterners from Basketmaker to Pueblo: the hairy-chinned and the hairy-chested. Kidder's description of each type is as follows:
Happily, the hairy-chested variety rarely occurs save in the rotogravure sections of the Sunday papers and in the advertisements of a certain well-known brand of whiskey. There one sees him as a strong-jawed young man in a tropical helmet, pistol on hip, hacking his way through the jungle in search of lost cities and buried treasure. His boots, always highly polished, reach to his knees, presumably for protection against black mambas and other sorts of deadly serpents. The only concession he makes to the difficulties and dangers of his calling is to have his shirt enough unbuttoned to reveal the manliness of his bosom. The hairy-chinned archaeologist exists, for the greater part, in the Saturday Evening Post and Colliers, usually as the father of a beautiful girl in jodhpurs. He is old. He is benevolently absentminded. His only weapon is a magnifying glass, with which he scrutinizes inscriptions in forgotten languages. Usually his triumphant decipherment coincides, in the last chapter with the daughter's rescue from savages by the handsome young assistant.

Kidder concludes that there are, in reality, some of each kind, but that neither the treasure-hunter nor the epigrapher attains the goals of archaeology. The public's image or images of the archaeologist, his work and his goals, are not wholly trivial. Those unfortunate enough to have witnessed a site cluttered with telltale holes might have reflected upon the motive of those responsible. Somewhat dependent upon one's disposition, words like curiosity, treasure-hunting, ignorance, or wanton destruction might account for the circumstance. Clearly, motivation will differ from case to case. One might, however, ask a further question, and perhaps a more important one: What images must the public have of archaeology to thus treat its data? It would be difficult to find whether Kidder's impressions about public belief are correct without Roper-like machinery. Another approach, however, is open. If it is granted that a major source of learning is via mass communications, it might be possible to consider at least some of what the public has an opportunity to learn about archaeology. Such an approach cannnot yield what the images are, but they might provide a glimpse of what goes into formulating them. Curious as to what the results of such an approach might be, I read every article on archaeology in Life

magazine in the ten-year period 1946-55 in an attempt to identify major themes. Life was chosen for two reasons. It has the largest circulation of any weekly magazine and it prints a relatively large number of articles about archaeology. According to A Study of Four Media, conducted for Life by Alfred Politz Research, Inc., Life attained in one quarter of 1953 a cumulative audience of 73,050,000 people, over 60 per cent of the U.S. population. In the ten-year period considered, Life's semiannual index listed 34 titles under archaeology of which 33 are pictorial essays of the type peculiar to Life. Twenty-three are concerned with Old World archaeology, of which three, 16, and four, can be considered Biblical, Classical, and Prehistoric, respectively. Eight articles deal with the New World, three with Mesoamerica, two with the Paleo-Indian, and two with the Southwest. The remaining three, although concerned with particular times and places, are largely methodological. One is about underwater archaeology (July 27, 1953), another about areal photography (June 25, 1951), and a third concerns the construction of a model from the Tepexpan skull (November 3, 1947). It was possible to identify four major themes. Theme 1. The way of discovery. In more than half of the archaeological finds reported, the discoverer is not an archaeologist. The non-professionals include a housewife (June 16, 1951), a sand salesman (September 19, 1955), schoolboys (February 24, 1947), a village priest (December 6, 1948), a professional photographer (November 21, 1949), farmers (September 5, 1950), a group of Sunday spelunkers (October 20, 1952), shepherds (June 15, 1953), and a pipeline welder (July 12, 1954). In those cases where archaeology is planned, the particular recovery reported is often unwittingly stumbled upon. Archaeologist Zakaria Ghoneim, for example, falls headlong into an Egyptian tomb (June 21, 1954) and Coon is so surprised at seeing skeletal remains at the base of Hotu Cave that he collapses (May 21, 1951). Discovery appears to be a matter of chance. Since this is so, anyone is capable of discovery and the non-professional may participate in the grand adventure. Theme 2. The expert called in. Adventure exits after the initial discovery is made. In some few cases, as for example, when the site is opened to public digging at the price of one dollar per pit (January 21, 1952) or when a town digs a Lake Dweller site (January 26, 1953), the community becomes archaeologist without professional aid. More often, however, it is at this point that the expert enters. Thus, the British Museum excavates at Sutton Hoo (June 16, 1951), and the Dominicans piece together biblical fragments (June 15, 1953). The expert's job, if little else, is depicted as time consuming. The British Museum's task lasted twelve years, and the Dominicans will have to labor for ten. Theme 3. The techniques in detail. It was noted that three of the 34 articles are devoted to method. Concern with how things get done are not limited to these instances. Life devotes much attention to instructing its audience on the details of baking tablets in an oven in order to be able to clean them sufficiently to read (March

FACTS AND COMMENTS 15, 1948), on how steeple jack-like methods must be used to get into position to make casts of the Darius inscriptions (May 23, 1949), and how wet sponges are used to soften age-brittled parchment fragments (June 15, 1953). Most of these procedures are described in a series of detailed pictures. Theme 4. The firstest with the mostest. The modifiers which Life employs in describing finds are chiefly superlatives. Discoveries are the largest, as in the case of a Greek vessel (August 2, 1954), the cheapest, as in the case of the $8.65 paid to stone cutters to open the way to an Egyptian boat (June 14, 1954), or the earliest, as in the case of the Midland skull (July 12, 1954). It would be unfair to leave this brief thematic analysis without mention of Life's contribution. This contribution will be obvious to anyone who has ever paused long enough to glance through Life. The full-page color reproductions of the Bonampak murals (November 21, 1949), for example, are unsurpassed in scholarly and popular journals. Life goes further than this. Its pictures of the Montignac cave paintings (February 24, 1947) and those of the early Christian vaults below St. Peter's Cathedral (March 27, 1950), are original documentary contributions.
CONCLUSIONS

403

Life's coverage of archaeology spans a wide range in both space and time. This is more likely due to chance than to any concerted effort. Since the selection of what is to be printed is probably based on what is newsworthy, it is not surprising to find heavy use of superlatives. It would not be unreasonable to conclude that a reader of Life might form the impression that the ultimate aim of archaeology is the discovery of the earliest, the biggest, the most. Life's concern with how things get done is also a case of selection. Here the selection involves the realization by the magazine's writers that its audience might be more concerned with the technology of science than with its ideology. Emphasis is centered upon objects and not what historical and cultural inferences might be based upon them. Since technique is always depicted as the special alchemy of the expert, it might be concluded that to be an archaeologist, is to have knowledge of technique. The dissociation of archaeological discovery from the expert work which follows it, integrates well with both the presentation of archaeological goals and what it is to be an archaeologist. As has already been pointed out, anyone can make a discovery since it is largely a matter of chance. The discoverer achieves both the goal and the adventure of archaeology. The professional may achieve both insofar as he makes the find, but he must share a place in the sun with the public. To be an archaeologist, more often than not, is to be an expert technician on call. Life was chosen for analysis because of its large circulation and the number of articles on archaeology that appear in it. No claim is made that archaeology as depicted by Life is representative of other mass media or even of similar media. In fact, a cursory examination of

some archaeological articles in the more sophisticated magazines like The New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, and Harper's suggests a number of other possible and even contradictory themes. "Pot Hunters" which appeared in Harper's (August, 1954), for example, emphasizes the cooperative role that the public can play in the archaeological endeavor. A New Yorker "Reporter at Large" article (October 30, 1954) follows an excavation in London and focuses on careful excavation, scholarly interpretation, and public enthusiasm. Fiction is clearly as amenable to analysis as non-fiction. Here, the depiction of archaeology may be expected to vary widely both between and within media. Humor in the form of cartoons and articles might also be scrutinized. An example of how skillfully and sympathetically archaeology can be treated in fiction may be found in Oliver LaFarge's recent story in the New Yorker (January 10, 1959). H. F. Ellis' "Letter to Posterity" in the Atlantic Monthly (November, 1955) in which the author imagines various ways his skeleton and ballpoint pen might be interpreted by an archaeologist in A.D. 20,000 is an example of how entertaining archaeological spoofing can be. If mass communications contribute to the formation of the public images of archaeology, it might be useful to consider more fully the information they dispense. This is especially true for a science so often dependent upon public cooperation.
UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA

Los Angeles, Calif. January, 1959

THE VEHICULAR SLIP


JAMES B. SHAEFFER ABSTRACT The small agricultural slip formerly used with horses or mules for dirt removal on farms and railroads is an efficient and inexpensive device for two or three men with a pick-up truck to use for moving back dirt. ONE OF THE PRINCIPAL excavation problems for the small archaeological party is the disposal of the dirt resulting from the dig, especially when large areas are opened. If sufficient funds are available, dirt moving machines are always preferable as a time-saving method. When insufficient funds or other circumstances prevent the use of machinery and sufficient time and labor is available, dirt may as easily be removed by wheelbarrow or other containers. However, much excavation is conducted under circumstances which preclude these optimum conditions. Then some other means of dirt removal becomes desirable. There are several requirements for mechanized dirt removal on the average small dig. The means must be economical to purchase and operate; it should be easy to transport by pick-up truck or station wagon; it should occupy a minimum amount of storage space; and efficient