Ever the Archeologist

The first thing I remember wanting to be once I grew up was an archeologist.  It was really the only thing I ever really considered becoming as a child, besides Tarzan, or maybe Johnny Quest.  But as far as an actual job—archeologist was it.

It all started with a fascination for dinosaurs.  I had the little plastic miniatures I played with.  I knew them all by name, better at 4 than I do now.  Somewhere along the way I learned that people who studied dinosaurs were called archeologists.  And so that’s what I wanted to be.  I understood it to be a patient, dig in the dirt, sort of job, with lots of travel to exotic destinations.  What 5-year-old doesn’t occasionally go for a dig in the dirt?

Soon afterwards, before I could read, I received a set of Childcraft Encyclopedias.  I vividly remember being especially enamored with the section on Ancient History and studying every detail of the pictures of the Pyramids of Giza, the Colossus of Rhodes, the Parthenon, and other archeological sites.  Soon after mastering Dick and Jane, I mastered this Ancient History section, made far easier by the mind-numbing number of times I requested it read to me by my parents and baby sitters.

Teresa, my neighbor across the street of my same age, had a huge oak tree in her front yard, and encircling that tree was a low wall about 2’ tall with a diameter of about 10’.  Between the low wall and the oak tree was a thick bed of tall, hardy monkey grass.  The wall was made of stones of angular shapes mortared together.  Every one of the stones were completely covered in fossils of shells.  There were several kids my same age who lived in nearly adjacent houses, and this huge oak with its comforting shade was a natural gathering spot for us.  My interests having an archeological bent, I was often examining all these fossils as they sat permanent and motionless, mortared in place, while an unrecordable number of made-up-on-the-spot games and fantasies were played out over the years beneath that tree.

Eventually, maybe inevitably, around the age of eight, I convinced my friends we were on an archeological dig investigating these shell fossils.  We gathered screwdrivers and hammers and a shovel from our garages and utility sheds.  We began to chip away at these stones with the intent of discovery, all the while I thoroughly enjoyed my position as Expedition Director.

Over a sweltering summer afternoon, we absolute destroyed that low wall of stone.

Remember at that age how easily you could become completely absorbed in an activity, oblivious to the ramifications of what you were doing, only much later to have a blinding flash of insight, “oh no, what have we done!?!”

Our once sanctuary was a mess.  Equal amounts of wall lay broken and scattered around the tree as jagged sections of wall remained standing.  And those staggered sections still standing were scarred with directionless chisel markings; once beautiful stones thickly decorated with ancient fossils were a desecrated mess; large and small chunks of stone lay strown all around.  The thick monkey grass was matted down flat and never again had more than a slight foothold on existence under that huge oak.

And remember how a sudden flash of insight would occur only minutes before parents were expected home from work?

I remember we numbly tried piecing the stones back in place, quickly realizing the futility, and then gathering the broken wall and trying to hide the stones in the already trampled monkey grass, all before quickly beating a path to our respective homes, returning all tools to where they originated (an act that would not have occurred had we not been guilt ridden), and seeking a purely innocent activity until the hammer dropped.

Somehow, for some reason, nothing was ever said about our afternoon of archeological destruction.  However, our sanctuary was no more, whether by guilt of association, theft of its unique beauty, or just kids growing up, we gathered there no more.

The result of my first archeological expedition was a disaster.  Those exquisite shell covered stone were stripped of their ancient history and beauty.  I destroyed that from which I’d hoped to learn.  But that lesson, along with many others, did lead me to understand, “First Do No Harm”.

Almost two decades later, my first real archeological discovery was purely accidental, when something I stumbled upon, and was curious enough to carefully uncover and inspect, turned out to be an Olmec head.  Without that early interest in dinosaurs leading to an interest in early man and ancient civilizations, which led to a deeper interest in history and geography, and on to other cultures, and so a deep desire to travel and see what else was out there…I wonder…If my early childhood fascination had been something other than dinosaurs, would this life have taken a different course.

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