Yesterday's Magazette

12 – A Wannabe Archeologist


A Wannabe Archaeologist


By Carrillee Collins Burke

I wanted to be an archaeologist from the age of ten, shortly after reading my first National Geographic magazine. I was fascinated with articles on the history of ancient peoples and their burial sites. I thought digging for history would be the most interesting thing in life. I mentioned it to my parents, and got a negative reply. My father shook his head and said women didn’t do such things. A woman should be a wife and mother, or maybe a teacher or secretary. Archaeology was not a female thing.

Years went by, and I never changed my mind. So, finally, my father said if that was what my heart was truly set on then that was what I should do. He promised I would go to college and study in the field I desired. However, college never happened. In my heart, I had known when he promised that it would never happen. My parents had survived the Great Depression but their lives and cash flow would never recover. School expense was a struggle with four children; so higher education was out of the question.

But I never stopped reading archaeology magazines, and years later I watched television shows about the Peru mountaintop lines and drawings, Stonehenge, Easter Island and other sites. No one knew for certain what these sites and statues were all about. Fascinating stuff!

After the assumed UFO crash in New Mexico, the Peru drawings were surmised as possible UFO landing sites. And how about Easter Island and Stonehenge? Were they also built by UFO people? There are many ancient cultures we still don’t understand. Some have been more understood by recent diggings. Many Bible stories have come to life through archaeology digs.

Over the years I watched television programs of diggings and listened with great interest to archaeologists and professors discuss their theories of life as it might have been thousands of years ago. My desire to be part of all that never wavered. I continued to search the daily paper for a dig somewhere near me. A few times I called to ask if a “wannabe archaeologist” could join in the work, but I was always turned down.

Life went on. I married, bore a child, helped run a business, then my daughter grew up and married, and I found myself a grandmother. Around this time, I wrote a “bucket list” and, of course, an archaeology dig was on that list. I accomplished most of my wishes: I traveled to Scotland, my ancestral homeland, visited a foreign pen pal of twenty-nine years, published a novel, rode a horse (she bit me), finally got my driver’s license at age 50, and learned to play golf. Many items on my list had been checked off, but my lifetime uppermost desire had not yet been fulfilled.

Then on a dreary day when the television news was mediocre, an item of interest silently called my name. Someone had discovered four 5,000-year-old Adena Indian mounds on the outskirts of Athens, Ohio, where an apartment complex was to be built. The construction was stopped for two months, giving archaeology students from nearby Ohio University a chance to dig.  ccarchaeologist

I listened in rapture to the interview with the kindly archaeology professor, Mr. Elliott. Appreciating the attitude he showed about his students, I felt he might possibly accept me. I immediately mailed him a card, describing who I was and how I had always loved archaeology. I asked if I could please join his dig. I wrote that I would work hard and follow directions, and not be a bother. He answered on the front of my card, saying he would indeed accept me if I could work on Friday and Saturday the following week. “No need to answer. Just come,” he wrote.

I was on cloud nine! I called my sister, Janet, to see if she would like to join me. She said she would. Since I lived in Columbus, Ohio, and she lived in West Virginia, we met at a motel along Route 23 north of Athens that Friday morning and went immediately from there to the site.

When we arrived, I saw that one mound had already been lined out in several four-by-eight feet sites, approximately ten-feet deep. One student was working on a swinging box with a screen bottom that sifted the soil. There were other young people around, busy at work. Everyone reported to a young female student who recorded in a notepad the exact spot where something of interest was found. Some of the students eyed us at first but then went about their duties, ignoring us completely. There was one experienced eighty-five-year old archaeologist who had appeared at most Ohio dig sites. He gave instructions from the bottom of a deep pit. Janet and I were happy he was there. He made us feel young.

After getting my bearings, I located Professor Elliott and introduced myself and Janet. He welcomed us and gave us tools. One does not dig, per se, but scrape and brush, he told us. It was not as exciting as I had envisioned. In fact, it was a tedious, laborious dig for two “fifty-something” ladies on a 100 degree July day. However, we persevered.

Nothing of real interest was uncovered that day, except a few shards of pottery and burn sites (black charred spots) where small animals had been cooked. We broke for lunch around noon and had to quit at three because of the overbearing heat. Many of the students, mostly boys, took off toward Athens for either lunch or a nap. Janet and I, along with the girls and Professor Elliot, ate at a tiny drive-in for hot dogs and drinks.

Most students arrived on time Saturday morning. However, a few were hung over and useless from partying the night before. One student didn’t show up at all. One spent a lot of time behind a big bush, the designated bathroom. Another came late wearing only his flowered boxer underwear. He was ordered to work at the bottom of a ten-foot pit to quench any curiosity from the girls. Strangely, he was the one who discovered a cremation oven in a wall near the bottom of the pit. Very exciting, but a little sickening knowing what had happened there.

Janet scrapped out a flat, egg-shaped stone with a hole at the top where a leather thong would have been strung. The professor said it could have been a necklace. That was the most exciting moment for us. For several hours I took the job of shaking the sieve box. I did it because I thought I would be the first to see something of interest, and because nobody else wanted to do it. I soon discovered why. It aggravated muscles I didn’t know I had.

Sunday was the day Janet and I would go home. I hated for it to end. It was the most wonderful adventure of my life. Janet headed east and I headed north. My shoulders and arm muscles were stiff and sore. I could barely get dressed and my legs were so cramped that just stepping into the car was a chore. It took me a week to get back to normal.

The personalities of the students and the site itself were more exciting than anything that was discovered at the mound. That didn’t matter; I had actually worked on an archaeology site for two days and my lifelong dream had been finally satisfied.


Author bio: Carrillee Collins Burke has won numerous writing contests and her byline has appeared in many magazines. Her reminiscence, Country Girl, was nominated for the Pushcart Prize and was the basis for a book of prose and poetry of the same name. This article was a cash prize winner in a recent Doorways Memoirs contest.

Vol. 36 No. 2 – Yesterday’s Magazette – Spring – 2009

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1 Comment »

  1. Combining archaeology and UFO s how about this one… http://sarsen56.wordpress.com/solve-this/ufos-aliens-and-gold-memory-devices-entertaining/

    Comment by sarsen56 — February 26, 2009 @ 3:13 pm | Reply


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