There are real archaeologists and there are real cool archaeologists. Lara Croft and Indiana Jones are amongst the latter. You don’t have to punch Nazis or do wire work to be real cool, but you do have to enthusiastically support awesome characters who introduce xenophobic American youngsters to the wider world, the value of an education and who model tenacity, courage and resourcefulness. Okay, point taken in Erik Vance’s solid article from iO9. His conversations with real archaeologists reveals that many feel Croft & Jones types are bad for real archaeology, for a variety of interesting reasons. But come on – these movies/games/books/comics got me interested in travel, languages, history, etc.. Seriously, who would go see a movie or play a game about proper archaeological techniques? (As a TV show, yes, definitely – have done, will do, many times – that’s different.)
This library is not for grumpy buzz-killing literalists. This library is for archaeologist-hopefuls brimful of curiosity, and who want to get out there and save the world. Step one: go to university and become an archaeologist. Step two: master all of the various subjects on this list. We note a few books that are a good place to start right now*.
* “Right now” = the only good time to start anything. “Later” never comes. That’s the first rule for the adventurer, and don’t you forget it.
Get some science under your belt. Of course, most of this you will learn at university, but while you’re waiting for your acceptance letter, give yourself a head start.
Follow the character Dr. Hannah Green thru Death by Theory and Dug to Death, novels that will teach you the basics of archaeological technique and theory. Adrian Praetzellis wrote these books to help students get a handle on some of the more difficult aspects of the profession. Instructive and entertaining: perfect for the novice.
For a general survey, you’ll want to go with The Archaeology Coursebook: An Introduction to Themes, Sites, Methods and Skills from Grant, Gorin and Fleming. Yes, it’s just a textbook, not super sexy for our purposes, but if you want to breeze through your studies, start putting this stuff into your brain.
Let’s get out of the library for some of the physical stuff. None of those archaeology books will teach you how to throw a punch. In fact, no book will teach you how to throw a punch. Can’t help you here; learn how to box or kung fu or something. But you’ll also need to have a modicum of physical conditioning, not just for knocking out cultists, but for all the hiking and climbing… and swinging from ropes and crawling thru lava tubes and jumping from ledge to ledge, etc. etc.. This is not cosmetic; this is purely functional. Check out something like Convict Conditioning from Paul Wade for your strength/fitness. It’s all bodyweight exercise – perfect since you’ll usually be on the move – and you can start at the lowest level of fitness, in case you really have been spending all your time in the library. Also, go running a few times a week. You don’t need a gym; you’re not a bodybuilder. You’re not even necessarily an athlete (well, Lara Croft is), but you will be durable as hell after building yourself up with these workouts.
You notice how Indy and Lara never get lost? They may have learned the basics of orienteering in the Scouts (Indy did, anyway), but even when they don’t have access to a compass and their map is a 600 year old piece of parchment with skulls on it – they still seem to know exactly where they are and what direction to go. This is not a superpower; indeed, these characters are beloved of us precisely because they are normal folks like you and me. (“Normal”. You know what I mean.) No, this seemingly magical navigation is a skill, and Finding Your Way Without Map Or Compass by Harold Gatty is where you can learn this skill. By paying attention to surroundings and using all five senses, you can get from A to B, even when your GPS conks out and some asshole French treasure-hunting collaborator has torn the important bits out of the ancient manuscript.
In order to be an effective Adventuring Archaeologist, there are two languages you must know: ancient and modern. You must be able to read any engravings you find on any surface in any temple – mostly just the verbs and proper names – and you must be able to work your way below the surface of any culture you visit. Both of these things require language skills. For the first, you could drop $150 on a used copy of The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the World’s Ancient Languages. If you’re Lara Croft, you can afford it. If you’re like the rest of us, you might have to just pick one of the regional groupings and start there. They have 4 separate volumes: Europe, Asia Minor, Asia & the Americas and Mesopotamia, Egypt and Aksum.
For the modern language, at the very least you will need to work your way through Spanish, Chinese, Hindi and Arabic, not forgetting to pick up a few different variations each of Chinese and Arabic. Learning French couldn’t hurt either – mostly because you need to know what that one guy is saying sotto voce to his cohorts (when he’s not speaking Hovito. Which you should also learn, on account of what happened last time.) That should cover around 2.5 billion people with whom you can now converse in their own tongue You should constantly be acquiring languages. Books are helpful, but even more helpful – since these are not the languages you will find written on temple walls – is an aural method. Try Pimsleur. Very practical design, you need 30 minutes of listening/response time, which is probably exactly how long you spend driving or jogging to your archaeology classes. Just start chipping away at it, and in no time you’ll be sweet talking your way past the guards in front of Qin Shi Huang’s tomb.
Right alongside your language skills, you will need cultural-adaptation skills. Well, that’s not too hard, actually: be infinitely patient, listen well, ask “how?” rather than “why?”, and don’t punch anyone who isn’t trying to kill you. To help you mentally prepare for wherever you’re specifically going, take a look at the Culture Shock! series. It’s designed for people who are relocating to a place, but you are no tourist: it’ll do. Of course, this series is most useful if you know ahead of time where you are going. You won’t always have that luxury. Over time, on the other hand, you can become a Swiss Army knife of cultural adaptation, as you digest this series one adventure at a time. You’re going to need friends wherever you’re going, so it would behoove you to show the respect of giving a damn. For example, know whether to kiss someone in greeting or bow from six feet away; it’s hard to recover from mixing those up. Always remember: you are the foreigner, and you must adapt.
Puzzles and codes of various types may pop up in your adventures. The only thing you can really do to prepare for them is to familiarize yourself with the classics. The Greatest Puzzles Ever Solved from Tim Dedopulos will cover ancient and modern from around the world, everything from logic to riddles, while Dominic Olivastro’s Ancient Puzzles focuses more on those of a mathematical bent. Don’t neglect the math; numbers are an obvious way to scare away the weak-willed. In the way of codes, Simon Singh’s The Code Book: The Science of Secrecy from Ancient Egypt to Quantum Cryptography will give you a nice survey not only of the history but the mechanics of many important coding techniques. It’s not that you will run into these exact puzzles or codes in your adventuring, but they will develop your mental inventory of possible approaches.
I hate to be so on-the-nose, but in looking for something that would cover a wide variety of physical skills that you could conceivably need on your various adventures, I couldn’t find anything more comprehensive than a few offerings from Quirk Books. The Indiana Jones Handbook, The Action Heroine’s Handbook and the Action Hero’s Handbook will all give you a solid start with things like horseback riding, escaping being tied up, eating food that no one bothered to kill before they gave it to you, and the like. As with the fighting skills mentioned above, you will need real world experience to do any of these things well, but having at least a rough outline in your head is better than pulling a Marcus Brody and just pleading for help in an open-air bazaar in Cairo. Remember your scout motto: Be Prepared. These books give you step-by-step instructions and clear illustrations. Some of the skills are not relevant for our purposes, but who knows? You could end up having to fly a lead-lined refrigerator thru a nuclear wind (WHICH WOULD TOTALLY WORK, BY THE WAY)- may as well stick the landing. The bullwhip stuff is in there, of course, and the fast-draw gun-fighting.
This might look like a lot, but you have plenty of time to work on all this while getting your PhD in archaeology. During that process, you’ll probably spend a good amount of time out on actual digs. That’s when you’ll start putting your language, code-breaking and running wall kicks to practical use.
Be intrepid. Be respectful. Don’t trust monkeys.