Will there be archeologists in 500 years? Will they be needed?
Here’s a theory —
The primary purpose of archeology is to reconstruct events. Archeologists have jobs because recording methods have been historically poor — the movable type printing press was only invented 500 years ago, the photograph has been around since the early 1800s, and film has been with us since the late 1800s.
This means that there’s a lot for archeologists to do. They have to piece together clues to recreate history when our records are not complete. However, has the breathtaking pace of technology in the last 50 years ensured that records will be complete from here forward?
Consider the “Mesoamerican ballgame” from ancient Mexico in which participants tried to bump and cajole a ball through the hoop mounted on the wall without using their hands. The essence of this sport has been extrapolated from the discovery of The Great Ballcourt and its accompanying carvings.
A lot of work went into this discovery and explanation, since the court and the carvings were really all the archeologists had to go on. This type of thing is why archeologists have jobs — they have to piece together the evidence, develop a theory about what happened, and then supply evidence for that theory.
Conversely, consider this year’s SuperBowl. This event was written about, photographed, and video recorded in every possible permutation. It was documented in too many languages and formats to count. Additionally, the larger context of the game of American football has been similarly recorded. We know all the rules, all the teams, all the players, and how it has affected culture since it started 100 or so years ago.
So, in 500 years, there really won’t be any guesswork about the 2005 SuperBowl. It will exist for all to see without the need for archeologists to piece much together.
It’s not only the technology — we also feel the need now to create records of events much more than the Mayans did thousands of years ago. Back then, the idea of archeology was probably pretty silly. While they had a relatively advanced society, I doubt the Mayan people had the time or the wherewithal to sit around, ponder, and investigate those who went before them.
But today we do — we’re fascinated about the past and obsessed with discovering the truth of it. That, and the easy availability of ways to record current history, has put us in the interesting position of putting archeologists out of business. We are creating a record that will leave no mystery, no questions, and no real need for investigation.
Anyone disagree? Comments are open.