Take That, Lara Croft! More Popular Archaeology Myths

A while back, we dusted off some common archaeology myths and showed you whey they weren’t true. Here are a few more to add to the collection.

As we pointed out in our previous article on archaeology myths, archaeology isn’t all fun and games. Sure, it’s a great job, especially if you like to walk and dig holes all day, but it’s a job nonetheless. Though it has its charms, it’s usually no more glamorous than digging ditches.

Lara Croft, as thrilling as she is, was invented to appeal to teenage gamer boys, not to represent a real archeologist. And no, field archaeologists aren’t digging for dinosaur bones, gold, or oil — you can’t imagine how tired they get of hearing people ask that. While we’re at it, here’s the truth about a few other myths.

Myth 1: You have to have an advanced degree to work as an archeologist.

This is an archeology myth, unless you want to work in management or as a Principal Investigator. All you really need to be a field archaeologist is a love of the outdoors and the willingness to work hard, for long hours, often for less pay than you’d like. Even volunteers have made huge contributions to the field.

Plenty of people without college educations work as field technicians — or, as they’re fondly called, shovel bums. A college degree helps (it doesn’t even have to be in anthropology), but it isn’t absolutely necessary, except on some government projects.

Myth 2: Archaeologists are always associated with a college or university.

Actually, there are far more qualified archaeologists than there are academic positions. In the 1970s and 1980s, archaeology students were advised to go to grad school so they’d be ready to replace their profs as said profs retired. This turned out to be one of the biggest archaeology myths ever.

Why? Because many academic departments just phased out those positions instead of restaffing them. Fortunately, legislation enacted in the mid 1970s to protect cultural resources on federal property provided thousands of new jobs for field archaeologists, in both private industry and the government.

Myth 3: There’s archaeological proof that aliens visited the Earth in the past.

No, there isn’t. This archaeology myth is actually more along the lines of an archaeological hoax, like Piltdown Man, and it’s damaging to the field. The “Chariots of the Gods” nonsense of Erich von Däniken and his ilk is all based on misinterpretation of evidence, incomplete data, and just plain invention.

Every single example of “ancient astronauts” in the archaeological record is easily explainable as something else, if you’re willing to listen. While there are some fascinating mysteries out there, Ra wasn’t using the Great Pyramids as landing pads for starships. Honest. (It makes for a good movie, though).

Myth 4: Archaeologists get to keep the loot they find.

The truth is that the “loot” belongs to the organization that sponsors the dig. After the project is over and documented, the artifacts are generally warehoused in a storage facility, or placed in a museum setting where other researchers can access them for further study. So much for that archaeology myth!