9 things cultural resource management archaeologists and the homeless have in common

What do cultural resource management archaeologists have in common with homeless people?Lots.

When we first met, my wife was appalled by my lifestyle as a weekend-warrior archaeological technician and graduate student. I worked Friday through Sunday as a tech for the state transportation department and Monday through Thursday as a TA for the University of Idaho. I used to carpool with some other students/archaeologists from Moscow, Idaho to the site. We parked at the closest communal lot— behind one of our favorite bars. We’d meet Friday morning, grab coffee and head to the site for a 10-hour workday. Each evening, we’d hang around the bar “studying” while enjoying drinks and dinner. Then, when we were too drunk to “study” anymore, we’d just concentrate on drinking until we were ready to go home. Some of us actually went back to our apartments and slept. Others just staggered to their car or truck and slept there.

Whenever I made back to my place, I just brushed my teeth and passed out on the ground in a sleeping bag (I was worried about staining my sheets beyond repair). My clothes stayed on unless they were wet. If they were wet, I just hung them up to dry overnight and put the same clothes on again the next day. The next morning, I woke up and did it again until the weekend was over.

This arrangement lasted for over 6 months and I loved every day of it. We actually made some pretty significant discoveries and added to what is known about the Archiac period along the Clearwater River. And, we all got great work experience. My wife knew about all of this when we met and she still married me. Talk about a jewel in the rough.

What do the homeless and archaeological technicians have in common?

My story isn’t too uncommon. Most archaeological techs live a similar lifestyle, which most Americans would consider unconducive to civilized society. In fact, many of these behaviors are quite similar to the lifestyle of our homeless. People tend to shun the homeless while failing to recognize there is only a short drop between being homeless and just another member of the working poor (or an archaeologist).

Here are some of the similarities I’ve noticed between homeless in the United States and archaeological technicians. You might be either an archaeologist or a bum if, like me, you’ve ever:

1)  Worn the same clothes (underwear included) for over 5 days at a time— It’s gross to other people, but archaeos don’t change their clothes every day. We just wear the same scruby garments day after day, even if they’re caked with filth and mud. In my old age I’ve begun changing my underwear and shirt every day, unless it’s a 10-day and I don’t want to bring that much gear.

Dirt, mud, tideflats slime, sweat, hazmat soils, sand, agricultural fertilizer, water. Our clothes get coated in all kinds of crap and we still keep wearing them the next day. It’s just our way.

2)  Slept in your car for a significant period of time— This is so common I don’t even want to bring it up. Techs regularly find themselves with nowhere to live and end up sleeping in their car. Some of the more creative among us actually plan on living out of their car by bringing along a tent and mapping out campgrounds.

Some of us like the freedom of being a modern-day nomad. If you do, please comment below and explain its benefits. I’m not judging but sleeping out of my car for days at a time doesn’t seem that cool to me anymore. And, it’s a shame we don’t get paid enough and companies don’t budget enough to afford hotels between workdays.

3)  Had store employees treat you with contempt— We come into the store covered in dirt and smelling awful. Most of the time we don’t have company clothing that would put us on the same level as construction workers, which companies don’t seem to mind— they even respect construction workers. They scowl and act snide until we explain we’re archaeologists, not homeless people. Then it’s all questions about dinosaur bones and Indian graves after that.

Archaeologists look like homeless people when we’re in the field and much of the time we’re treated that way. I have a whole list of stores located across the country that I boycott just because I got the bum treatment at one point in my career.

4)  Used camping supplies to cook your food while living in an urban area— Who uses a camp stove to cook their meals even though they’re living in a city? Archaeologists, that’s who. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve kicked back and drank a brew while heating my Ramen over a camp stove in the parking lot of a seedy motel.

Homeless would probably use camping supplies if they had access to them. Maybe we should donate our old gear to them.

5)  Had someone offer you a dollar and you happily accepted it— It’s bad enough we look like and get treated like homeless people, but, depending on how you feel about the homeless, it’s even worse when we start acting like them too. I’ve never had anyone offer me money while adorned with my archaeo gear, but I know quite a few people who have actually accepted charity cash that was offered because some kind person thought they were homeless instead of an archaeologist.

6)  Had other store patrons move away from you because of your body odor— This actually worked in my favor when I was working at a site in downtown Seattle and was taking Metro to work every day. Nobody wanted to sit next to someone that was covered in coal oil and stunk like rotting fish. When I got on the crowded, rush-hour bus, the crowd parted like the Red Sea.

Nobody wants to sit next to a table of stank, muddy archaeologists. I’ve seen families eating at a restaurant ask to be reseated just because they didn’t want to be by us.

7)  Regularly eaten at a soup kitchen— Another sad but true phenomenon. I’ve been damn close to visiting the mission for a meal, but had too much dignity (or stupidity) to actually do it. Nothing against any of you that have visited the mission for food. I know a lot of self-respecting archaeologists that had to get a free meal at the soup kitchen when they were between jobs.

8)  Drank many a 12oz, 22oz, 40oz, or 750ml bottle of the following beverages— Old English 800, Bull Ice, Colt 45, Milwaukee’s Best/Ice, Keystone Ice, Steel Reserve, Natural Light, Mickey’s, King Cobra, Hurricane, Ol’ Grand Dad, Old Crow whiskey, Southern Host (I don’t know what this one really is. Whiskey?) Monarch Gin, Castillo Gold Rum, Popov vodka, and Idaho Silver (vodka, rum, whiskey, it doesn’t matter which version).

If you’ve imbibed any of these, don’t feel bad. I’ve had my share of all of them.

9)  Been afraid of going for a job because you worry about failing the drug test— Even though the nation is slowly breaking away from drug prohibition, specifically weed, I know a lot of archaeologists that worry about the day they get drug tested at random. I’ve also met techs before that are afraid of applying to certain employers because they might get randomed. That’s pathetic.

I have a cousin that sells drugs in rural North Carolina. I asked him why he didn’t look for a job even though he was homeless— crashing on the couches of his friends and relatives until he wore out his welcome. His reason: Because he knew he wouldn’t pass a drug test??!!!?!? That’s a pretty poor excuse for not moving forward with your life.

Archaeos out there: If you smoke weed you need to drop the pipe and get with the program. If drugs are illegal where you work and using them is keeping you from attaining your dream, you need to stop smoking. Random testing is here to stay. Stop smoking and start working.

Okay, I know the title of this post is pretty misleading. Most of these things are characteristic of the working poor around the world. There are also a lot of other things we all have in common with the homeless including, but not limited to, the desire to find something better for ourselves, dependency upon the kindness of others, and a desire to be at rest as much as possible.

Then again, arch techs have too many things in common with homeless people for us to feel good about the status of our industry. We all need to strive to do better for the most vulnerable in our industry.

Write a comment below or send me an email.

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