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Study Archaeology? We Don’t Dig Dinosaurs

The reasons people choose to go into the field of archaeology are diverse. There is a need to get to know the people who came before us. This is a brief account of one such experience. Please note: This is a non-academic view!

A seemingly insignificant and dingy tobacco pipe with a not-so-shoddy paint job is where it all started. It was a fragment of an unknown history, and its possible story is what captured my imagination and opened my eyes.

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Our home was a typical New England style Victorian, a hundred or so years old and apparently unaware of the secrets it was hiding. Our house was on a corner and our backyard was often full of local children passing through to avoid the horrifically long thirty-second trek to the other side of the property. That busy backyard was where my “Homemade-by-Dad” sandbox lived.

One breezy spring afternoon, in typical after-school fashion, I had finished my juice, cookies and dreaded math homework and ventured out into the backyard to be entertained and consumed by the quaint, wooden sandbox. This particular day, I wandered outside of the sandbox with my navy-blue and silver, kid-friendly shovel and began digging up the surrounding dirt. Hoping to find dinosaur bones, I dug a six inch deep trench along the side of the box.

To my despair, my quest for T-Rex remains turned up no such luck.  As I began filling in the trench, something caught my eye. It was peeking out of the dirt.  It was not a bone, but it intrigued me just the same. As I dug around the treasure, I knocked it with my little shovel and a small sliver of dirty whiteness fell off. I knew I had to be careful. It took me a good while to free my prize from its muddy resting place, but in the end, it was all worth the effort.

What had emerged was a tobacco pipe with a stolid, white painted exterior. I have to admit, I was a bit disappointed but when I turned the pipe over, the fascination began to well. On the other side was the portrait of a young woman painted so brightly and full of life. I was not sure what this pretty piece of porcelain was, but I was fully aware that it did not belong hidden under the sandbox for not a soul to see. I wanted to share my find and quickly ran into the house to show Mom.

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She looked at it and snatched it swiftly from my hands. “That’s someone’s dirty old trash!” she shrieked, as she tossed it into the garbage with the remains of my after-school snack. I was not too upset, but I found myself wondering about the person who painted it. Who were they? Why was the pipe under my sandbox?  Was it a hundred million-trillion years old? These were the questions plaguing my eight year old mind.

To this day, I know nothing about the pipe. I do think about it occasionally and find myself wondering what the story might be. At the ripe old age of eight, I started to wonder about the world before my arrival. The unknown has held my attention and has kept me in awe, ever since.  I was propelled into the realization that the entire world has a history. I am just a small piece of this vast puzzle. I know that my own house has a story to tell and best of all, the ground beneath our feet holds, quite possibly, the best stories yet to be told. That unknown that is hidden away is what makes me tick.

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Julie St Jean
Julie St Jean
(United States) is a Zooarchaeology Consultant based just outside of New York City, USA. Julie’s geographic experience includes excavating in Southern England, Southwest USA, Northeast and mid-Atlantic USA as well as analyzing faunal assemblages from Post-Medieval Scotland, Roman England and Medieval Italy.
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