I went on my first dig when I was 16. My second aged 18 and then a third at 19 before going to University. From day 1, I realised that the world of archaeology was full of bat-shit crazy people. Most are lovely, but some are pretty nasty.
During these early days and the subsequent 7 years of higher education study, and then the following 17 years of working as a lecturer, senior lecturer and then professor in UK higher education, I’ve met many difficult individuals and challenging times alongside considerable personal and professional support and kindness. However, to my knowledge, there has been only one person who persistently and consciously tried to destroy both my personal life and my academic career at the same time (as opposed to those who have tried one or the other).
I don’t want to go into the details of who, when and how, nor give details of the effects. I will say that for a long time my health suffered, I feared losing my employment and losing my family and friends. In addition to much else, I’ve lived for years dreading a repeat of the person’s behaviour.
That is, until now. Things have changed because I’ve just heard they are now dead.
This gives me no joy of course. In many ways, I’m indifferent. In other regards, I’m shocked since they weren’t that old. In other regards, I’m very sad because I’m very sorry for the person’s friends and family. I’m certainly not glad: I’ve never ever wished anyone dead in my life.
However, now they have passed away, I must confess that I’m extremely relieved. I created a meme that attempts to sum up my rather stark and raw feelings at this time: the anger at remembering their actions and a determined and steadfast relief that they are no longer around to repeat it.
For those of you unfamiliar, the meme’s text and image come from the Monty Python film: The Meaning of Life. It is from a dinner party scene at a point where Death himself loses patience with the pompous, self-indulgent, stupid and ill-informed views of the American and English dinner guests whose souls he has come to reap. Even when they are told they are dead, they can’t accept it and have to waffle on.
“The salmon mousse!”
This post is my way of dealing with this bizarre news. Why not? This is a personal statement (an ‘archaeorant’) worthy of blogging about, because this is my blog and my rules.
I read many, many headstones and behind the formulaic epitaphs, names and dates, behind the symbols and the offerings, I wonder how many people really miss the dead. There are extreme cases where headstones are desecrated by those angry at the deeds of the deceased during their lifetime, but so often we let the dead off easily. They are regarded as beyond reproach, worthy of a burial, worthy of a headstone, worthy of polite words and beautiful ornamentation.
Maybe this is right and ‘respectful’, but maybe this is a double-edged sword. Honouring the dead with a respectful burial is also a way of shutting them up and shutting them out too. I wonder whether, in some situations, polite words and noble materials afforded to the dead can be means of social forgetting their horrible deeds, failed relationships, and nasty words.
So when I next see on a gravestone the words ‘In Loving Memory’ or ‘In Remembrance’, I will listen out for the barely audible whisper of an imaginary translator who might tell me what the survivors really thought of the dead. For many memorials that whisper might be a cacophony of dissonant feelings and words from different mourners. For others, it will be a single loud voice screaming out about love and loss. For others it might be a stony silence of indifference. But how many gravestones should be translated to say ‘WELL YOU’RE DEAD NOW, SO SHUT UP’?
Perhaps this will be my epitaph too!?