Archaeology and Life Suspended – Temporarily
By Nancy Velchoff, GSAR
It was difficult to sit down and simply write a blog for the GSAR website, but I felt compelled to at least reach out to our members, guests, volunteers, students, and supporters to let you know that we are all still here and working and conducting research and education from home. The effects of the novel Coronavirus COVID 19 (SAR-CoV-2) has forced millions of people to isolate themselves from family and friends and life in general has been suspended. So many of our friends, family, and neighbors are dealing with financial disruption or job loss. Countless people are faced with life-threatening situations, or suffering from illness, or worse, have had to face the detriment of losing a loved one, perhaps alone. The scale of human suffering which cannot be imagined, however, is measured by the media with statistical graphs and gruesomely corroborated by images of frantic medical workers and public safety officials risking their lives to save others. It is utterly terrifying to bear witness of our human fragility on such a global scale.
Everyone deals with crises in different ways. My personal coping mechanism is finding humor whenever possible, thankfully my husband and research partner has similar issues. Regardless, I am finding it unnatural to look beyond the horror and personal self-pity to examine the lesser war being waged on a totally different front. It is impressive how quickly self-preservation instincts kick-in among the human species when faced with faceless dangers that turn ordinary folk into panic-buying machines. The efficient stripping of grocery aisles down to bare bones bears likeness to Charlton Heston’s 1954 movie The Naked Jungle (great movie) (give yourself points for getting the movie reference). A neighbor gleefully posted photos of his personal stockpile of medical grade face masks, leaving many of us asking “why?”. Last night I found myself wasting precious sleep hours scouring the internet for toilet paper; not because we are out, but because I started to worry about that moment when we do run out. I mean, who would have guessed that toilet paper would become the hottest commodity since gold nuggets were discovered in California (see Goldrush) in 1848. The ability to adapt is what makes the modern human species of homo sapiens sapiens so successful in its survival.
Hiring a perfect stranger to shop for our personal groceries was something we rarely indulged, it seemed pretentious, and it was too expensive for our budget. This week, I asked my husband to set a 4:00 a.m. alarm because I was having zero luck in scheduling a basic grocery delivery. Getting up early is not the best way to demonstrate modern human adaptation during an ongoing crisis, however, it did reap some rewards such as a delivery date that was scheduled 2-weeks into the future with a major grocery chain that is still out of toilet paper, but I took it.
Now, by orders of magnitude, these problems are not only infinitesimal, they are ludicrous. In this current climate of COVID-19, the same could be said for those of us involved in non-medical research. Archaeology often gets kicked to the curb even without the onset of a full-blown health crisis. Our research laboratory along with most of our TARL family, were ominously told to shut down on Friday the 13th of March. We were soon joined by countless thousands of academic, professional, and independent archaeologists and now we are all treading indefinitely in unfamiliar waters. Archaeology has a place and time; it offers insight of our past and always brings optimism for the future. Archaeological research does not bring about medical miracles but is vital for understanding human behaviors. Archaeology gives us insight into the collective human experience, including past environments, natural catastrophes, and illness. Archaeology is not static; it is a constant; a constant reminder of our fragile humanity and a source of hope even when there is really very little evidence for its existence. Archaeology is what brings us together. Please take care of each other and look forward to better days when this crisis is safely behind us.
Nancy with pugs Ozzy and CoCo
(Not pictured Napoleon Bonapug [busy getting a drink of water] and Tom Williams, [just busy]