I recently posted a rash of pics I’ve taken of birds encountered whilst visiting ancient monuments, historic buildings, and archaeological landscapes. Someone asked ‘why?’ Well, I’ve been exploring avian dimensions to mortuary practice and commemoration in cemeteries, monuments and landscapes frequently via this blog. I’ve called this, among other things, ‘cemetery ornithology’: Here are my key past blog entries on this theme:
Sometimes this involves exploring how have been birds incorporated into, and represented on/through, mortuary practice and commemorative media. On other occasions, it is about the avian presence within or upon archaeological monuments and mortuary environments, whether by design or accident. Elsewhere, it is about the dialogue between architectures built to contain birds and those deployed for the human dead.
Yet one of the key points I want to make here is that, ornithology and archaeology intersect at the far more simple level: observing, appreciating and researching how birds live in and around the same biodiverse historic landscapes that millions of visitors also explore archaeological remains.
Yes, there are many examples, as with my recent visit to Tintagel, Cornwall, where the richness of the natural landscape is explained and explored for visitors alongside the archaeology, as discussed here. Yet it amazes me how often these are bifurcated concerns: birds and archaeology are treated as separate fields or pursuits.
For example, it amazes me how surprised and derisive students can be when I point out the topography, including vegetation, the animals – and yes also the birds – we encounter on field trips together. Despite my fairly limited knowledge of flora and fauna, this regularly happens with colleagues too who, over the years, have repeatedly shown an enthusiasm to actively distance themselves from showing interest and enthusiasm for non-archaeological observations in the field. Birds are so abhorrent to’serious’ archaeologists, perhaps regarded an unnecessary distraction from ‘serious’ archaeology.
Why is this? How can archaeologists feel so content visiting, photographing and describing tombs, ruins, lumps and bumps they encounter, yet feel so uncomfortable in talking about birds?
You know what? I wonder whether it is a desperate attempt some archaeologists have to distinguish themselves from ‘nerds’. Yes, there are archaeologists out there who genuinely believe they are cool.
The bottom line is this. Young or old, male or female, whatever their ethnic background, archaeologists are colossal nerds. To find birdwatching or trainspotting (and yes, I like the occasional steam train and diesel too) laughable is like a black-burnished pot calling a crow black.