(Former) Archaeologist’s Lament

imageZero Hour, another adventure/thriller television series with archaeological roots was cancelled last week after only three episodes. The pilot episode saw Anthony Edwards (of ER fame) as the editor of a sceptics magazine whose wife is kidnapped after she purchases a historic clock. When he takes the clock apart, Edwards finds a diamond upon which a map has been etched. He follows the map to a buried German submarine in the arctic, where he is pursued by a man who was somehow genetically engineered by Nazi scientists.

Though all of this sounds spectacularly interesting as a series concept, the idea was poorly executed as it suffered from less than believable dialogue and unusual casting. In spite of this, though Zero Hour had potential, it was more than likely doomed by its affiliation with archaeology.

Movies with archaeological ties generally do well at the box office.  Consider Stargate, Indiana Jones,Tomb Raider, The Mummy, and National Treasure. The same cannot be said for television shows of the same genre which are few and far between. Two of these are Veritas: the Quest, and  the British Bonekickers. In Veritas, a team of people search the globe for artifacts that piece together Earth’s great mystery, though what that may be is not revealed in the show’s short run. All that is known is that it somehow involves the group’s leader, and his son and deceased wife. In Bonekickers, archaeologists participate in episodic digs, some with ties to popular legends or high profile historical eras. The only other archaeology-types around are those on Bones, and that’s more forensic anthropology than archaeology per se. I dreamed of seeing the Primeval cast hunker down to an archaeological dig when they found modern artifacts in a dinosaurian era, or modern people digging up the remains of the Terra Nova settlement (though that apparently took place in a different timeline than ours) but, alas, that was never to come to pass.

Many play fast and loose with the term “archaeology”, such as in “Antique Archaeology”, the shop ran  by the American Pickers, for example.  Even worse is the Savage Family Diggers/ American Diggers franchise which sees ex-wrestler Rick Savage knock on people’s doors asking to dig on their properties for a percentage of the profit. While they may “save” artifacts from being destroyed or remaining forever buried and decomposing, they are, in effect, destroying archaeological sites. And while I readily acknowledge that laws in The States differ from those in Canada, the fact that they do they painstaking research to find the sites then do nothing to save the subtleties of the sites’ historic occupation, does little to elevate them from pot-hunting status. Yet they have been awarded their own series of shows which creates the illusion that what they are doing is lucrative and not at all deplete of morals.

Archaeology as a discipline is in danger of extinction. Even when I practiced it, the threat of satellite imagery and ground penetrating radar to document sites threatened to render those of us who saw it as a noble pursuit, obsolete. In his article entitled “Archaeology Is Not a Strong Brand”, Martin Rundkvist takes the profusion of available archaeology-named domains  to indicate that the word no longer packs significant punch. He avers that the “little regional bits of the past and archaeological practice” have rendered the word, and the discipline by default, unexciting. I maintain the reason for this could be the dearth of local archaeological projects in North America (certainly in central Ontario). I got out of the discipline because, though I loved it dearly and could imagine doing nothing else with my life, I could not make a living at it. I began my career making enough money to live comfortably, had the position remained opened twelve months of the year. Each year I returned to the field being offered fewer and fewer dollars per hour until I was earning little more than minimum wage 6 months a year (if I were lucky) and UIC was breathing down my back to get re-trained in order to dump my hard-earned degree and get a year-round office job. I chose, instead, to go back to school and complete teacher training. It took some time, but I have come to terms with perpetuating archaeology through my writing. I always fancied returning to the discipline in retirement, but I doubt I will be able to tote buckets of wet dirt at that advanced age. No, I must remain content with fanaticizing about fantastical archaeology, rather than practicing actual archaeology, barring my winning the lottery, that is.

About the Author

Elise Abram, English teacher and former archaeologist, has been writing for as long as she can remember, but it wasn’t until she was asked to teach Writer’s Craft in 2001 that she began to write seriously. Her first novel, THE GUARDIAN was partially published as a Twitter novel a few summers back (and may be accessed at @RKLOGYprof). Nearly ten years after its inception Abram decided it was time to stop shopping around with traditional publication houses and publish PHASE SHIFT on her own.

Download PHASE SHIFT for the price of a tweet. Visit http://www.eliseabram.com, click on the button, tweet or Facebook about my novel and download it for FREE!

Works Cited

Rundkvist, Martin. Archaeology Is Not a Strong Brand. Aardvarchaeology. 2 Mar 2013. < http://scienceblogs.com/aardvarchaeology/2013/03/02/archaeology-is-not-a-strong-brand/>. 12 Mar 13.

Musing about my muse.

James Scott Bell in his book Revision & Self-Editing, advises writers to cast their characters. “You may use any actor in history…and the reader will never know that’s who you had in mind” (108). Though this may be the first time I’ve seen this in print, it’s not a new technique for me. I’ve been casting my characters since I was a teenager. I’ve cast many of my favourite actors in parts including Michael Ironside, Nick Mancuso, Joe Flanigan, and Arnold Vosloo. I call them my muses, because as I imagine them in the parts, the scenes practically write themselves.

My latest muse is my current favourite actor, Robert Carlyle. I was first made aware of Mr. Carlyle in the role of Dr. Nicholas Rush on Stargate: Universe. I dearly love the entire Stargate franchise, but I found myself hard pressed to like the characters on Universe with one exception. I couldn’t figure out Rush, and that intrigued me. When the writers finally gave Rush a softer side, a history and a relationship, I was all that more intrigued. He quickly became my favourite character, the only one I cared about. I realize now that this was a tribute to the actor that played him, and not due to the writing behind the character. I was disappointed when the show was cancelled because it meant the end of Nicholas Rush. Imagine my thrill when I found out that Mr. Carlyle would be starring in the wonderful Once Upon a Time the following season.

In the time between Universe and OUAT I made an effort to see as much of this brilliant actor as I could. The Full Monte, Stone of Destiny, Eight Weeks Later, Eragon, Ravenous…The more I watched, the more I became mesmerized with the man and realized what an amazing actor he is. About the same time, I was looking to recast the character of Dr. Palmer Richardson, the forensic anthropologist that was married to my main character. After much deliberating (it’s hard to change the persona of a beloved character you’ve been writing about for most of your life), it was decided—Robert Carlyle would make an excellent Palmer Richardson.

When writing on The Next Coming Race, the novel that would be the debut of Mr. Carlyle as Palmer stalled, I felt a sense of loss. Here I’d just found a new muse and I had nothing to muse about. When the idea for Chicken or Egg came, it only seemed natural that I would cast Mr. Carlyle in that as well. This time it worked. I hear Mr. Carlyle as the voice of Dr. Nigel Trumble, the time-travelling mogul with a personal agenda, in my head. I’ve been writing at least a chapter a day ever since.

At this time in my writing career, my second and best writing attempt, Phase Shift, is currently under scrutiny at a publisher and I check my email several times a day with baited breath, hoping they are taking their time getting back to me because they intend to publish it and are compiling a list of changes before they do and not because its sitting on an editor’s desk somewhere waiting attention. I want to be ready with the next novel, or at least a part of it, should they want to see more. No matter which character they see, be it Palmer or Nigel, he will have a little bit of my current muse, Mr. Robert Carlyle, written into him. 

Works Cited

Bell, James Scott. Revision & Self-Editing. Writer’s Digest Books: Cincinnati. 2008.