The difference between archaeologists and geologists...

I was meeting with the geochemist today about invoices and analysis of my strontium data, and he starts out with:

DC: Hey, you're an archaeologist, right?
KK: Uhm, yup. Why?
DC: I was sent a picture of this object. It's a North Carolina artifact. But I'm not sure what it is, so I thought I'd see if an archaeologist or a historian could tell me.
KK: Sure, there are loads of NC archaeologists in my department who could help you. What is it, ceramic, arrowhead?
DC: It's metal. Here's a picture.
KK: Wow, that's huge. And... conical? It looks magnetic too.
DC: Yup, it's definitely magnetic. We analyzed a bit of the artifact using the SEM and found out [some technical stuff I didn't really understand] about the metal.
KK: Cool. Well, no one in my department really does historical artifacts, but someone should be able to tell you what it is or who else to talk to. So you said it came from NC?
DC: Yeah, this woman sent me the picture because she thinks it's from a UFO.

At this point, I just burst into laughter. "A UFO" is totally not how I expected him to end the sentence "She thinks it's from..." He tried to explain a bit more, but I just kept laughing. Surprised at how funny I found it, he started laughing too. After I calmed down, he continued...

DC: We get this kind of thing all the time here, actually. Usually it's people thinking they've found some rare meteorite, but occasionally we get people who think they have a trace of an alien world.
KK: So this woman found a chunk of metal and thinks it's from a UFO?
DC: Yeah. Well, she says she found it, and then the government came and took it from her. But they gave it back, and she sent me a sample. It looks to me like someone dug a hole and poured in molten iron. But I don't know why anyone would do that.
KK: Hm, that is odd. Well, I've never seen anything like it on any historical dig I've been on, and it doesn't look like the slag heaps we get in Italy.

So I got him in touch with one of our NC archaeologists to see if they can sort this out. Doesn't sound like the woman who found the "UFO artifact" will want to hear that it's, for example, the poured foundation for a post. She wants the SEM to find out that it's metal that's out of this world.

I wish random people would email me asking me to look at the alien skeleton they just dug up in their backyard. That would be awesome.


Anonymous said…
I take it you haven't received one of the many "OMG I was digging a hole in the garden and found this dead baby/alien/new human subspecies/ancient Aboriginal remains/murder victim!!!!" calls either, what a laugh.

In case you're wondering, they are always a cat or a cow. (Although once it was a kangaroo...)

"It has horns. It's clearly not a person, don't worry"
"OMG it's a DEMON???"

Not making it up. Wish I was.
Annasbones said…
I think anything related to the fields of archaeolgy or anthropology are met with a lot of incomprehension by the general public, despite a genuine interest and curiosity in what it's all about.

When people ask me what I study I always want to say something like 'psychology' or 'marketing', because whenever I say either archaeology or physical anthropology I automatically get asked about egyptian mummies, creationism and aliens.. *sigh*

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