Those Haunting Memories

A weakness of mine is that the memories of a few embarrassing events in my past sometimes come back to haunt me and make me cringe with self-loathing. Very likely, I am the only person in the world who ever thinks of (or even remembers) these events, but I just can’t help feeling bad about them. Two of the worst have to do with archaeology and English, and so I thought I might as well dump them on you, Dear Reader.

1. Summer of 1993. I am 21, working my second season as a field archaeologist, and I’ve just learned about context-stratigraphic excavation and documentation methods à la Edward Harris. A group of urban archaeologists from Norwich come to Uppsala for a two-day seminar about these things. I am the youngest and most enthusiastic member of the audience. I am also one of very few audience members who speaks fluent English. And English has a strange effect on me: I am loud and talkative in Swedish, but for some reason become doubly so in English. The result is that (as I recall it now), almost every minute of the first day when the Englishmen are not speaking is filled up by my questions and happy blathering. At the time I am not insensitive to the fact that my colleagues don’t like this much, but I can’t help myself.

One of my colleagues later tells me off angrily. When the Englishmen visit our dig a few days later I apologise for my behaviour, and the guy I talk to, named Phil someting?, just laughs amiably and says that they are in Sweden to answer our questions, so I needn’t worry. Thanks Phil, I needed that! (And come to think of it, many of the other people in that conference room are now among my best professional friends. Seems they forgave me, after all.)

2. Circa winter of 1994/95. A green doctoral student, I attend a guest lecture by a highly regarded English osteoarchaeologist. After his somewhat nature-deterministic talk about early hunters in the Levant, I put up my hand and make a friendly but mildly critical comment including the words “Unlike you, I care about the meaning of the decoration on those pots — which I suppose makes me a bit of a wanker”. At the mention of the word “wanker”, the speaker (who has until then been nodding encouragingly) suffers a full-body spasm, turns crimson and gives off an involuntary falsetto shriek. I didn’t feel embarrassed at the time, but I do now.

There you have it. These are the demons that haunt me.


13 thoughts on “Those Haunting Memories

  1. the speaker (who has until then been nodding encouragingly) suffers a full-body spasm, turns crimson and gives off an involuntary falsetto shriek

    He sounds like a wanker.


  2. It seems that people who behave as you did in memory #1 often end up better off, better educated and, well, more wise.

    Thinking of some of the stuff you have confessed on your website and on your blogs, it surprises me that you should even remember those ’embarrasing’ moments anymore.

    On behalf of everybody who witnessed mentioned sidesteps, I hereby forgive you completely for being young, rude, bawdy, thoughtless and inconsiderate.

    (This should clear the way for lots of future wank!)


  3. Martin, as young dog you could obviously not watch your tonge. You even happened to confess a pervert weakness for decoration on pots, which you obviosly didn’t have.- But what was it you were trying to say? I’m curious.
    I think you have developed more than all right since those days. In the last few days you have even given a partial answer to the ancient question: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?
    Wikipedia tell us that it is ‘a Latin phrase from the Roman poet Juvenal, variously translated as “Who will guard the guards?”, “Who watches the watchmen?”, “Who shall watch the watchers themselves?”, or similar’.


  4. Savon: The 36? Are you referring to the truncated cube and the truncated octahedron, both Archimedean solids with 36 edges? Or to people who will turn 36 on their next birthday?

    JG: The speaker made the intentionally provocative remark that while he could suggest no interpretation for some decorated pottery, he really didn’t care about the decoration as it most likely had no adaptive significance. Myself, I’m content to know that a group of prehistoric people managed to survive, but I am not very interested in how, in the details of their economy. A session title at a Mesolithic conference a few years back put it brilliantly: “What did they talk about after dinner?”

    As for Juvenal, I thank you for that fine compliment. All I have to do now is figure out a way to make the watchmen pay me to watch them. (-;


  5. My man, if you don’t have anything worse than that to be ashamed of, perhaps you should consider converting to Catholicism, a sainthood will be assured. :-p


  6. It’s easy to keep the number of shameful memories down if, like me, you stay sober all your life and don’t subscribe to a belief system involving the concept of sin. (-;


  7. Martin, there is an many thousand years old tradition from jewish area about 36 men. Gershom Scholem, an authority on jewish mysticism, has written about them in “The tradition of the thirty-Six Hidden Just Men”. The men are hidden, but they are necessary for the good to survive on our earth.


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