Am I pining? I bloom Who can say that. What I do know is that in the year since the pandemic started, I have cleaned and reorganized my basement at least three times and yet neither he nor I seem to be better at it.
Cleaning the basement is just one step in my regular shuffling of things from the attic to the basement to the garage and back again, in a house-wide three-card monte. High school track trophies. Book research notes, two decades old. Matchbox cars – dented, broken – since I was 7 years old. Nothing works anymore, it just disappears behind another door for a while.
Some of it has sentimental value. Much of it I’d like to throw away if it weren’t for the searing fact that it will take forever to expire. My time on earth is unfortunately limited, but my things will live for decades (Matchbox cars), centuries (Genesis vinyl LPs) or longer (Legos, anyone?). If I could take it with me, I would save tomorrow’s archaeologists from having to come across it and the contents of every other cellar, storage cabinet, and landfill around the world since time began.
Today’s archaeologists are already busy sighting yesterday. Recently they found a 2000 year old marble head of the emperor Augustus in Italy. In Poland, a sword that may have been used in the Battle of Grunwald on July 15, 1410, in which Polish-Lithuanian troops defeated the Knights of the Teutonic Order. In a cave in Mexico, the 1200-year-old handprints are printed in red and black by Maya children. In Switzerland, at the bottom of Lake Lucerne, the remains of a Bronze Age village.
At the beginning of April, a cartographer in Sweden came across a spectacular hoard of well-preserved bronze artifacts – necklaces, brooches, bracelets, anklets – from 2,500 years ago. The items lay on the forest floor in front of an animal’s construction, without hesitation about cleaning the house. “It all looked so new,” marveled the man. “I thought you were wrong.”
It is the rare scholar who discovers a pyramid or, like Ralph Fiennes and Carey Mulligan in The Dig, a Viking longship – something great that was buried on purpose. Most archeology deals with garbage: the thrown away, the broken, the stuff that doesn’t deserve a second life, but still has one, as the spirit of the past culture. In this lies nobility; As the poet AR Ammon wrote: “Garbage must be the poem of our time because / garbage is spiritual.”
But ghosts only get you so far. Recently, archaeologists in North Macedonia discovered the grave of a rich woman who was buried on a brass bed. She hadn’t been there for a long time, but the bed – richly decorated with the heads of mermaids or perhaps Medusa – remained the first of its time to be found intact and in situ. It’s being studied, spiced up, and exhibited so “the whole world can see,” researchers said.
That’s exactly what my basement and I need, the whole world is watching. Could you find me 78,000 years from now, like the earliest human burial in Africa, with just a piece of pillow under my head? But if you don’t want to wait that long, stop by and see for five dollars: Man Entombed in Cellar, c. 2021. I hope I’ll be here at least the whole weekend.
Science in the time, 96 years ago today
“The female fingers were entrusted with the delicate work of sifting through the contents of the urns found during the excavations of the Franco-American expedition in the sanctuary of Tanit and the cremation of the burned bones of children who were housed there more than 2,000 times Years ago, probably from Carthaginian mothers who sacrificed their descendants to this Punic goddess. “