Archondia Thanos, Honorary Research Associate and Lecturer, University of Sydney
Why do you think archaeology is important?
Archaeology examines all aspects of the human condition. That is why it appeals to so many people. It allows us to understand the human journey through time, what has brought us to this particular point of our story as entities of the world and where we may end up hundreds of years from now. It is a great teacher. The future always seems to have happened before to some degree. We (as a society) think we are so clever and original but our basic issues still remain the same. Archaeology strips back all the paraphernalia and gives us the ability to determine the raw reality of how we operate. It is an incredible testimony of human life.
When did you know you wanted to be an archaeologist, and what was it that made you want to be one?
There was never any one point which determined that I wanted to be an archaeologist, it just happened. I was very fortunate as a child having lived in Greece to have been surrounded by so many old and curious things. I believe it was a very organic process for me and very much a part of the living pulse of the city, village and communities that I lived in.
My siblings and I would often play amongst various ruins around my father’s village and we had crazy imaginations. It was so much fun letting one’s imagination run riot whilst you were having races in the belly of an ancient amphitheatre which was overgrown with weeds and grasses and not a fence or guard in sight. At some point though the questions became a little more pointed and real, so I suppose that was the hook.
What skills or capabilities do you think are important to being a good archaeologist?
The most important thing one has to possess to be a good archaeologist is curiosity. The other things are patience, logic and (dis-) / belief.
What advice would you give to someone interested in this career?
The best advice I can give is to be realistic about your expectations. In a world where the humanities are being derided as soft or irrelevant one will have to fight an uphill battle to secure funds to conduct useful and good work. Be prepared for long hours of library time and quiet; to fight with institutions that have forgotten their responsibility towards nurturing and promoting new scholars entering a hugely competitive field; and to struggle for full time work. These are things that are not to be taken lightly. One cannot live on the love of a subject alone. It has to be sustainable.
How do archaeologists spend their time?
Most archaeologists spend their time in the library reading through various journals and manuscripts so that they can lay the ground work for their ideas and compare them to those of other scholars. This is followed by planning strategies to secure funds and permits for the projects that they would like to undertake. After that, well, if they get the appropriate permits and moneys, then they spend their time digging and analysing the subsequent finds. Then it is back to the desk to write up their findings which will then have to be published and presented at conferences.
What’s it like living in the ‘dig house’ during a dig?
Every dig is different – sometimes you stay in a house, other times a tent or an old school, or a shipment container or an old bottle factory. It can be very amusing when some of the younger students turn up and they had something totally different in mind. Sometimes you get a cook, other times you get someone who thinks they can cook and so on and so forth. It is pot luck many times so you have to keep repeating the mantra “be prepared for the unexpected”.
Starts are usually very early in the morning and work can continue until very late in the evenings. You are normally on very limited time, so it is crucial to get the most out of your working day, however there is always time for exploration and fun. This normally occurs in the middle or towards the end of a project.
Which parts of your job do you love, like, not so much….?
One of the best parts of the job is the thrill of discovery. After hours and hours spent in some pretty tough conditions performing the most mundane jobs, the reward of a good find at the end of it is just the ticket.
Another true gift is being able to spend time with the locals that you are working with and getting to know the cosmos that they occupy. This is one of my favourite things in the whole world. I have had phenomenal experiences and met the most extraordinary people during my time working and travelling. It is an education that is unparalleled. It makes one understand how miraculous the world is and how awe inspiring the human spirit can be.
What’s been your worst experience in archaeology?
My worst experiences in archaeology have been appalling weather conditions and traumatic injuries people have been subjected to. Also, being caught in a place of conflict is dire and heart breaking.
What are some words you would use to describe your experiences as an archaeologist?
Humbling, courageous, surreal and many times hilarious.
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