Monday May 7, 2007
I heard on the radio that in a recent survey, archaeology was found to be the number three most favoured career choice amongst school-age kids in the UK, after footballer and whatever the second one was. An archaeologist was interviewed about this surprising find and said, somewhat gloomily, that these kids obviously had never been on an archaeological dig, because archaeology is, most of the time, a painstaking process.
Speaking personally, my only experience with archaeology was in Lithuania, where I spent a month with a group of Lithuanian friends digging in the grounds of a spectacular house in the forest at Verkai, on the hills outside Vilnius. We spent days and days just digging, digging, digging. We discovered a wall which – this was a high point – turned a corner. And we turned up several bottles of pickled fish. I was pleased with the pickled fish, but I was told that they were of no archaeological interest whatsoever. Having almost no Lithuanian language, I never discovered what the wall belonged to.
But sometimes, archaeology is more exciting than this. A few weeks ago, archaeologists in Mustang, Nepal discovered a cave decorated with Buddhist murals dating from the 12th century. In true Indiana Jones style, a local shepherd led the group of archaeologists and mountaineers to the remote cave. After hacking through ice to find the entrance, they were rewarded with the astonishing sight of almost perfectly preserved artworks, the largest up to 25 feet across. A cave nearby contained a collection of manuscripts which are now being catalogued and, presumably, will be translated. The BBC website has the story and a picture of one of the murals.
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