What Is Archaeology?

By Owen Jarus,

idol2Archaeology is fundamentally the study of humanity and its past. Archaeologists study things that were created, used or changed by humans. They do this by studying the material remains — the stuff we leave behind, such as lithic tools, a simple hut dwelling, a skeleton covered with gold jewelry or a pyramid that majestically rises from a desert floor. Sometimes, archaeologists study contemporary societies in order to shed light on those that flourished in the past.

Archaeology is practiced around the world by archaeologists who work with people from a wide variety of other disciplines to help answer questions about who we are and where we came from. In doing so, archaeologists find evidence that sheds light on what our future may bring.

Who are archaeologists?

While archaeologists don’t use bullwhips or revolvers like the fictional Indiana Jones, they use a multitude of technologies and techniques to help solve mysteries of the past. Archaeologist Zahi Hawass, the former Egyptian Minister of Antiquities, said that people sometimes tell him that real-life archaeology, with its careful note-taking and lab work, doesn’t sound as exciting as what Indiana Jones does in the movies. He replies that, on the contrary, “to an archaeologist, yes, it certainly is!”

The term “archaeologist” is an increasingly broad term. While professional archaeologists may all share some general fieldwork and lab skills, they may have developed expertise that allows them to specialize in the study of certain types of artifacts or sites.

Underwater archaeology, textile analysis and the study of plant and animal remains found at archaeological sites are just a few examples. Some may develop language skills that allow them to record and translate texts found at archaeological sites. These language experts may not call themselves archaeologists but instead refer to themselves as epigraphers or another title related to the language that they study. Similarly those who specialize in the study of human remains often call themselves “physical” or “biological” anthropologists, rather than archaeologists.

As new technologies and disciplines appear, the skills that archaeologists develop will continue to grow. Some undergraduate archaeology programs offer only a small number of core archaeology courses and instead encourage students to branch out, taking courses from across many other departments at a university.

Archaeologists also tend to focus their studies on a certain part of the world, or a specific culture, such as Egypt, China or the Maya civilization in Central America. They may also focus on specific timeframes. For instance, an Egyptologist may focus on the Old Kingdom period (2649-2150 B.C.), the time period when the pyramids at Giza were built.

Archaeology deals with animals and plants in only so much as it helps us understand humanity. A dinosaur fossil, for instance, would not be studied by an archaeologist unless that dinosaur was dug up by a human and became part of an archaeological site under investigation (in which case the archaeologist would work with a paleontologist to study it).

Becoming a professional archaeologist

In North America and Europe, professional archaeologists tend to have a masters degree or doctorate. This wasn’t always the case. Howard Carter, the archaeologist who led the team that discovered Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922, had little formal education and learned various archaeological techniques by practice.

A large number of universities offer archaeology programs. The expertise they can convey to their students depends on the faculty and staff members who are available to teach.

Archaeologists can work for a wide variety of employers. These include museums, art galleries, universities, research institutes, government agencies (the National Park Service, for instance), cultural resource management firms (which often work with private companies and governments to survey and excavate sites before development), tourism companies (for instance, acting as highly educated guides) and media companies (helping to make documentaries and aiding in the publication of books, journals and magazines).

Opportunities for amateurs

There are many opportunities for amateurs to become involved in archaeology. Local archaeology societies offer chances for volunteers to become involved in excavation and lab work.

Overseas digs will sometimes also offer the chance for people, who are able to pay their own way, to volunteer and help excavate an archaeological site. Sometimes those who volunteer can get course credit at a university in return.

Archaeologists’ salary

It is hard to give an exact salary range for an archaeologist. In the United States and Canada, a junior field archaeologist (sometimes called a “technician”) who works with a small cultural resource management firm may earn a small amount of money, perhaps not much more than minimum wage.

On the high end, a tenured professor at a major research university may earn a salary that reaches over $100,000. An archaeologist who holds a senior management position at a university, government agency, large cultural resource management firm or large museum may also earn a salary that reaches into six figures. If an archaeologist succeeds in publishing a book that sells well (something that is difficult to do) that may raise their income further. Few, if any, archaeologists say that they went into the discipline for the money.

It does belong in a museum (or at least it should)

Archaeologists today, generally, do not sell the artifacts they dig up. In the past, this was not always the case. Over a century ago, antiquarians (sometimes little more than looters) would excavate artifacts and sell them. In the past, museums, universities, galleries and private individuals would sometimes help pay the cost of a scientific archaeological excavation and, in return, expect a share of the artifacts.

One of the few areas of archaeology where practices like these still, legally, occur is in the salvage of underwater shipwrecks. Some jurisdictions, which don’t have the money to pay for an underwater excavation, will allow a salvage company to excavate a site using professional archaeologists and scientific techniques. The salvage company in turn recoups their costs (and sometimes makes a good profit) by selling some of the artifacts. This practice is deeply controversial among archaeologists and a source of debate among lawmakers.

Another notable exception occurs in part of the United Kingdom where amateurs using metal detectors are allowed to search for artifacts, and at times own their finds, under a complicated system of laws. Again, the use of metal detectors by amateurs is highly controversial with many archaeologists saying that they damage archaeological sites and impede scientific investigations.

How did archaeology get its start?

In some ways, archaeology is an ancient discipline. It was not unusual for ancient societies to keep old material and take steps to preserve sites and monuments they deemed important.

In the early modern period, with the onset of the Enlightenment and subsequent scientific revolution, archaeology gradually became what we would consider “scientific” as methods were developed at recording sites in greater detail and determining the age of artifacts (for instance by studying the sediment in which they were found and analyzing how the style of lithic and ceramic artifacts changed over time).

Where does archaeology go from here?

As technology develops, new methods for studying the past have been incorporated into the discipline. For instance, as high resolution Google Earth imagery became available in the last decade, archaeologists (and amateurs) got to make use of this free (or otherwise very cheap) tool that allowed them to survey large tracts of land in areas that are sometimes difficult to access (such as Iraq or Afghanistan).

Where archaeology will go in the future depends very much on future technological advances and where humans will travel to in the future. With the development of techniques that allow astronomers to detect Earth-size planets it’s even been speculated that archaeologists will increasingly work with astronomers, physicists, biologists and other scientists, to search for the remains of non-human civilizations.

—Owen Jarus

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The Enclave Giveaway Winners!

HMClarke_TheEnclaveCongratulations to

Brandyn of Wisconsin and
Jessica of Indiana

for winning my THE ENCLAVE giveaway.

I will be sending the books soon and you should receive them in the next few weeks.  If you can read and either write a review or put up a star rating on both Amazon and Goodreads for THE ENCLAVE, it will be much appreciated 🙂

Congrats!

-HMC

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Book Review: Your First 1000 Copies

1st 1000 copies

Your First 1000 Copies – By Tim Grahl

In “Your First 1,000 Copies,” Tim Grahl describes a system that he has used in his own business for the promotion of authors and their book launches. He believes in the importance of an email list that was created with the permission of each email subscriber. He explains how these meaningful connections will work for you in the long run. He also gives his opinion on how social media is just one of many considerations when you become an author – but is not as important as most people think.

This book is filled with advice you can use with the knowledge that it has been tried and tested and only needs patience and a little hard work to accomplish. It will get most people out of their comfort zones and on track to book selling success.

After reading this book you will know how to effectively use your blog content to attract attention (without sounding like a pushy salesperson) and know who is an influencer and who you should contact about your book. You may even find yourself approaching bloggers and asking them if you can do a guest blog post or maybe even to review your work if you can come to an arrangement that can benefit both parties.

The one big takeaway that I got from this book is Tim’s underlying principle to be ‘relentlessly helpful’ to people.  This is a principle that I agree with.  You give out good karma and good karma will return to you.

And being ‘relentlessly helpful’ is a goal that Tim has met in this book.  I would recommend it to all Authors or in fact anyone who is trying to get their product or message out in front of people.  After all, if people don’t know you exist, they don’t know about your book!

-HMC

Get it on Kindle here

Get it in Paperback here

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Back of Beyond

Sorry for the lack of activity, but I had to travel to VA and then NC.  I should be back near a stable Internet connection on Friday 🙂  At least I can say I’ve been to Farmville now

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‘Bribe’ idea’s that can be used to build an email list

blog-hop-150x150During week two of the Book Marketing Challenge I have researched and come up with some ‘incentives’ that I can offer my readers to get them to join (and then enjoy) being a part of my email list.  I will list these here for anyone who is in need of ideas to kickstart their own email list.

Legitimate Email lists are a vital marketing tool in today’s world.  They allow permission for you to directly contact your readers while increasing the effectiveness of your message.  Every author (or anyone wanting to gain a following) should be working on building their email list, but how exactly do you go about doing that?

An important part of this is to include a link to your email sign up form or website at the back of your books.  Readers who have just finished a book are more likely to sign up to hear about new releases.  Also, place a link to your email sign up page in your twitter profile and FB pages – and anywhere else where you have a ‘presence’.

Exclusive or Advance information

Obviously I want to promote any new releases or events as much as possible, and where better to start than with a group of people specifically interested in what I’m up to?  I let readers know that by providing their email address they’re signing up to a service that’ll remind them about a product they enjoy.

If you want to go one step further then consider a policy of providing your email list with that information first. Let your fans know that before it goes on Facebook or is mentioned on Twitter, you’ll personally contact them with key updates. They’ll be the first to know when your new book is coming out, the first to have access to the synopsis and cover designs, and if there’s a book trailer coming out then they get the link before anyone else.  The further in advance you can offer information, the more desirable subscribing to your email list becomes.

Free content

Everybody loves something for nothing, and as a writer nothing advertises your work better than a sample.  You can offer a preview of your novel to subscribers, with the dual benefits of building your email list and getting them hooked on the story.  You could also offer short stories, poems or articles to email subscribers. This takes a little extra work, but it does allow you to use that ultimate buzz word: ‘free’.  This exclusive content is exciting for readers at the same time as its advertising your work as an author.

Competitions

Competitions allow you to attract a lot of subscribers.  An offer of one (or a few) of your books with the only condition of entry being an email subscription, and you can attract hundreds of people.  While you do need to offer something in exchange for reader’s email addresses people are generally quite free with them, so offering a reward as tangible as free stuff will really bring in the big numbers.

The size of your contest is up to you so you can get creative.  This can be such things as book giveaways, a chance to name a character, name a place in a fantasy world, or even a chance to have the winner themselves featured as a supporting character in an upcoming book.

Q&A’s

This is where email subscribers pose questions to authors either about their work or for advice on writing.  From the question list you can then choose three questions a week (or however many you may want) and provide your readers with the benefit of your wisdom. This won’t just invite people to join your email list but will foster close links between you and your readers.  Any reader who gets their question chosen will be thrilled, and budding writers who come to you for advice will be grateful for your time and insight.

Recommendations

Offer a weekly or monthly round-up of content you have enjoyed, whether it be books, movies, television, theatre, video games or some other art form (at the moment I’m doing book reviews).  Your email subscribers will appreciate this as there are few people whose taste readers trust more than an author whose work they enjoy. This is a way that will make you friends among fans and other authors (if you recommend them).

NB: However you advertise, collect and use your email list, remember that the platform is a privilege.  Be glad of the opportunity to address your readers directly and let it show.  If subscribers feel like you’re genuinely talking to them, and not just advertising your latest novel, they’ll appreciate it and won’t unsubscribe from the service.

-HMC

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The 3 golden rules of writing a science fiction book

By Robert Wood 

This article was originally published on Standoutbooks – This is a brilliant site for writing, book marketing and anything else to do with the creation and reading of books 🙂

sciencefiction

Science fiction is one of the most popular genres in literature, and certainly the one with the most cultural influence. So what is it about sci-fi stories that readers love so much, and how can authors use that knowledge to create their own sci-fi masterpiece?

In this article I’ll be exploring why sci-fi is so influential, and identifying the 3 golden rules that lead to a great sci-fi story. Of course before identifying what makes great sci-fi, we need to talk about what doesn’t…

Sci-fi isn’t fantasy with robots

Ask someone to name a work of science fiction off the top of their head and chances are they’ll say Star Wars. It’s got space ships, aliens, robots, futuristic inventions, the whole nine yards. The problem is that most science fiction writers would disagree, claiming the films belong in the fantasy genre. So what’s the difference?

Science fiction is just that, fiction about science. The science might be invented, and it might be of any stripe: political science, psychology and sociology, electronics, or the type with beakers and skeletons, but all sci-fi revolves around a central ‘what if..?’ question that addresses a deeper query.

It’s for this reason that many prominent sci-fi writers dislike the genre’s name, instead preferring ‘speculative fiction’. Sci-fi asks questions, it’s a fictive study of a central thesis. Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep asks ‘what if androids were as emotionally complex as humans?’ This thesis is used to explore how we define emotion and memory, and how we understand what it means to be human.

The ancestor of science fiction is H. G. Wells with books like The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds. Those books involved things that are very unlikely to happen or are actually impossible, but they are ways of exploring possibilities and human nature and the way people react to certain things.
– Margaret Atwood

The Star Wars movies, however, are not built on this kind of thesis. The story is of a (jedi) knight on a quest to save a princess. The castle may be a star ship, the duels fought with laser swords, but the futuristic tech is never used as a lens through which to examine our own world. That’s not to say that fantasy can’t comment on the human condition, or that it isn’t a valid genre with a lot to offer, but it does it in a distinctly different way to sci-fi. No matter how impressive, the aesthetic trappings of robots and aliens won’t make a fantasy story into science fiction.

Rule #1 – Know your thesis

With that in mind the first golden rule of writing sci-fi is ‘Know your thesis’. Just want to write about strange lands and weird characters? That’s fine, but it’s likely you’re writing fantasy in space. In H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine the protagonist encounters two races, the seemingly brutish, subterranean Morlocks and the beautiful but vapid Eloi. While many readings are possible it’s undeniable that Wells uses the two races to comment on the politics of appearance, and even labor. The protagonist’s constantly shifting understanding of the two races’ relationship provides critique after critique of the modern world.

Wells’ ‘what if..?’ is ‘what if our evolution continued according to our current social behavior?’ His conclusion is best left to the reader, but sufficed to say it’s not favorable.

So what’s the point of your world? What are you talking about? Try and take the ‘science’ of sci-fi as an approach rather than a topic. Use your world as a case study, almost an experiment, which will prove your point to the reader.

Of course stories are more than one thing, but keeping your thesis central has many benefits when writing sci-fi. Knowing the point of your fictional world will stop inconsistencies. In 1984 George Orwell provides detail after detail of the fascist state Oceania. Views on entertainment, dress, behavior and literature are scattered throughout, giving the reader the impression of a totally consistent world.

Orwell is able to create this impression because he has a clear idea of the philosophy behind the society from the start: ‘What if a government tried to cement power by eliminating choice?’ The details that follow are all accepted by the reader because they all serve this idea.

Clarify your idea. What’s your question, and what’s the answer? You don’t have to spell them out to the reader but you have to spell them out to yourself. Write them down and stick them in your work space. Every time you’re looking for details on your world or characters think how they would act in a reality based on that question.

Rule #2 – Do your research

Once you’ve decided on your question it’s time to look into the answer. Margaret Atwood has claimed of her novel The Handmaid’s Tale:

There isn’t anything in the book not based on something that has already happened in history or in another country, or for which actual supporting documentation is not already available.

Based on the question ‘what if the ability to reproduce became rare?’, among a few others, Atwood describes a futuristic society where women capable of giving birth are property sold to the highest and most influential bidder. She uses knowledge of fundamentalist religious treatment of women, as well as the history of slavery and war, to craft a world which feels real because it is built on a real understanding of misogyny.

Whether your thesis is ‘what if we met aliens in the fifties?’ or ‘what if we all went deaf overnight?’ there will be real information you can research to learn how similar situations have gone in the past. What happened in our own past when new cultures met? What is it like gaining or losing a sense? Whether the occupying force is aliens or mutated plants, as in John Wyndham’s Day of the Triffids, we have records of life under occupation. Accounts of the best and worst in humanity are available in myriad forms.

It’s the details that sell sci-fi. They make the world seem real, validating your thesis by ensuring the story constantly rings true. The more research you can do into your selected area the more ideas you’ll have. There are several types of lizard that disguise themselves as females to avoid alpha males and steal mates, types of birds that hide their eggs in other’s nests where they hatch and kill off the other chicks, and fish that pretend to be caves so prey will swim into their mouths. No matter how strange your aliens, monsters or other beings there are realistic details just waiting for you to find them.

So once you’ve got your thesis and you’re armed with real-life precedents it’s time to really be brave…

Rule #3 – Don’t be afraid of the new

Sci-fi asks big questions and knows what it’s talking about. It’s maybe the bravest genre, not just keeping up with its audience or period but forecasting ahead to the future. That’s why it’s essential to ask what’s new about your story. Is it the world you’re crafting, your position in time, your own voice?

It may be true that every story has already been told, but every day there are new ways to examine the human condition. What does social media tell us about humanity, and what might it look like in the future? It’s a sad truth of sci-fi that the exaggeration of yesterday is the truth of today. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (often described as the first sci-fi novel) explores the idea of creating unnatural life from a Victorian perspective and has many interesting and perceptive insights, but Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go is written from the perspective of a writer not just theorizing about cloning, but living in a world where it’s already been done.

What is new or unique about your questions?

Even if it’s just a new way of presenting your theory to the audience that’s enough, but identifying what you’re bringing to the discussion will help you place emphasis in the right places.

Appreciating your audience

Sci-fi is often the first foray into new ideas. Even as we explore the possibility of real artificial intelligence we already have vast libraries on the resulting moral quandaries, and writing on space travel predated actual attempts by centuries. A sci-fi audience is one with big expectations, and if you can understand what they expect and why it works they’ll be the most engaged fans a writer could ask for.

Writing other worlds or societies can be incredibly tricky, especially when it comes to setting aside your own experiences and biases. For some advice on writing the alien try our article Are you writing believable non-human characters? Or for tips on getting your readers to accept an unfamiliar setting check out Are you in danger of losing your readers’ suspension of disbelief?

Are you a sci-fi fan, or a sci-fi sceptic? What was your first sci-fi story and how did it influence your world view? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.