|When I was a kid there were all sorts of things I wanted to do when I grew up, but more than anything I wanted to be an archaeologist. The fact that I didn't become one just confirms a fact I have come to realize with increasing certainty over the years if you really want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.
Sadly, I didn't become an archaeologist, but you already knew that. Despite all my childhood dreams of digging around in mountains of dirt and sand for really old stuff the only digging I have done is in a garden and with wildly different results. Regardless, I still love archaeology and I try to keep up with what is going on in the archaeological world. I subscribe to magazines, receive numerous newsletters, read scholarly papers, and even chat online with like minded enthusiasts. Sometimes, I even get to chat with real archaeologists, which is cool. The real archaeologists tend to be easy going people with good senses of humor who are very tolerant and very interesting. Most of the non-professionals are sincerely interested and perfectly nice people who like to share and acquire knowledge with others. Occasionally, however, we get the worst kind of dilettante, know-it-all, arrogant smarty-pants who blathers on endlessly as if he were Indiana Jones and belittles the ideas of others. When these guys show up they really annoy me, and when they annoy me I have no choice but to ruthlessly toy with them.
One such fellow was online the other day and was particularly nasty to one person who asked what I thought was a perfectly legitimate question, for someone who is interested but unschooled, of the real professional archaeologist who was there. Before he could answer the question, this mean guy typed in a paragraph at the speed of light in which he berated the gentleman for asking such a stupid question and being in a chat room where he obviously had no business whatsoever.
The question had to do with the possibility of sophisticated or advanced civilizations that may be hitherto undiscovered that might have been around far early than currently known. It seemed like a fair question to me and I was interested to see how the archaeologist might respond. Unfortunately, the nasty guy beat him to it.
“Aren't you being rather close-minded for someone who has declared himself an adherent to the scientific method?” I asked. “I always believed that an open mind was essential to any scientific discipline.”
“That's right,” typed the archaeologist, bless his little heart.
“An open mind is one thing,” typed Mr Smarty-Pants. “An empty one is something else.”
OK. Now I was really mad. I just really don't care for mean people.
“You are rude and presumptuous,” I typed. “Archaeologists are finding evidence of older and older civilizations all the time in places like the Middle East and South America. They just found the ruins of a pretty sophisticated civilization no one knew about in Peru that is estimated to be at least 8,000 years old. Who's to say that is the oldest one?”
“The estimates are wrong,” typed the mean jerk.
“No they are not,” typed the archaeologist. “They have been carbon dated several times by independent scientists at different labs.”
I was beginning to fall in love with our professional friend. I figured he was as annoyed by Nasty McNasty as much as I was.
Someone new piped in. “That can't be right,” he typed. “The world is only 6,000 years old.”
Alrighty then. I couldn't fathom why someone who believed that the world was only 6,000 years old would waste his or her time on a sight where people discuss the science of digging up stuff a lot older than that, but whoever it was was being perfectly polite so I didn't ask.
“I suppose you people think that these so-called civilizations were settled by aliens, too,” typed the nasty guy, “even though no one has ever found a shred of evidence of any kind of advanced technology.”
“Tell you what,” I typed. “Take your Ipod outside, drop an ice house on it, cover it with about half a mile of solid granite then come back in 20,000 or 30,000 years and see what you've got left. Better yet, have an object hurtling into the atmosphere from space land on your laptop at temperatures hot enough to turn sand into glass and then go looking for the motherboard.”
“She's right,” typed the archaeologist. “A cataclysmic event that occurred prior to any of the 5 ice ages over 2 billion years and the ice itself could quite literally obliterate all hard evidence of an entire civilization no matter how advanced, ” That statement was enough to make me propose marriage to the guy.
“But the world is only 6,000 years old!!!!!!!” typed the third party.
The big numbers were obviously too much for the poor guy. I kind of felt sorry for him. But I wasn't going to argue with him. He was being polite.