Learning from Masters (not me, just what I seek)

Using archaeology to find out hows things “should be” done?  A response to a common question, by George Thomas Crawford

I am regularly asked about my connection to archaeology and my interest in primitive technology.  I’ve also been chided by some people in the primitive tech community on behalf of other archaeologists because they (archaeologists) are not all directly interested in the primitive skills.  There is so much more to the anthropology of material culture and our human past than just the replicative technology.  It just happens to be what I’m into.

Many of my anthropological colleagues are way smarter and more focused than I am and go in for chemistry, microscopy studies, site and landform formation, human-animal interaction, plant-use, kinesiology, geology and humans, climate change, genetics, biocultural evolution, and a slew of other cool stuff that isn’t generally covered in the popular press.

But on that note, I scan journals and the web for hints at solutions to my own replicating attempts and experiential archaeology.  These are the masters.  For example: A person who earned his keep as an archer 4,500 years ago will know an infinite amount more about bows, arrows, strings, and animals than I could glean in a lifetime of the modern world.  Lucky for me, this type of thinking ties directly to how I want to live.  That is to say, in a style that predates, in many ways, the horrors and unforeseen consequences of the Industrial Revolution.  Not as a seeker of some non-existent Golden Age but as a searcher for the truth.  We have succeeded as a species in our present form for only a very short time so far, though we think of ourselves as lords and masters of all we survey.  We even create institutions and religions to reaffirm this and place ourselves where we see fit in this scheme.

Moving on – I was given some excellent advice by an old professor when I was in college that guided my wild academic wanderings for many years. Unfortunately I expect this sort of thinking would not go far with many students today.  The advice is essentially as follows.

– Assume that most everything you will imagine as a young scholar has been thought about, examined, and studied by your predecessors.  This does not mean to lose hope, just realize you have a long way to go and a high hurdle to cross. You can’t stand on the shoulders of giants without a serious climb.

1) For a student who truly wants to learn, it is now your full-time occupation whether that is college or not.  Scholar is a job.  You have chosen to not just take up space in a classroom and have your named checked off as attending.  Those people waste all of our time and you know who you are.  Best of luck, just don’t bother us.

2) It is your responsibility to teach yourself as much as possible.  This is done by filling your spare time by exposing yourself to knowledge not mindless entertainment.  Leave that to the zombies and the drones of the world.

A simple way to learn is to park yourself in the library and to peruse journals.  Not starting with today, but starting with research from a hundred years ago, or preferably more.  I was advised (and I did this) to pick up the earliest bound volumes of Nature, Antiquity, and American Antiquity and flip through every issue.  Read the Table of Contents.  Now, pick at least one article from each and read it.  Really read it.  You may not retain all of this information but it sticks with you in some form.  You will begin to see trends in how we think and study and write about what we do.

3) Stop worrying about what you will do for a job after college.  People obsessed with this are the most unsuccessful people I know.  If you truly just want to make money, drop out of college NOW and go learn a trade.  Be a welder, mechanic, or a carpenter*.  If you don’t want to contribute to society in any real way or are just of a greedy or slightly evil turn of mind, try banking or investment.  If you just want to slide through without too much effort or reward, try the federal government or other forms of middle management.  I see too much vocational thinking in the quest for knowledge and not enough seeking.

4) Finally, develop a passion for what you want to learn.  Hopefully this is obvious and has already happened to you but sometimes we need to be told.  If we don’t love what we do, this short life will be a very unhappy one (by “do” in this sentence, I don’t necessarily mean “how we earn our money” but what we identify as; e.g., potter, woodworker, musician, or knitter).

And a final caveat: I don’t think I am in any position give real advice to others but I do feel that maybe I should answer some of the questions I’ve become so adept at evading.  Have a great day and hopefully a happy life.


*I personally think this is critical to become a well-rounded person anyway.

6 thoughts on “Learning from Masters (not me, just what I seek)

  1. I follow what you produce here with great interest.. No person on earth could possibly do as well or better.. All of your work is of the highest standard of quality and detail…Any criticism of your work or projects could be nothing more than petty jealousy..

  2. Good stuff as always George….. would have been really good to read a decade back, but heh, better late than never. Pretty sure I’ll be at WC. You?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.