Zelia Nuttall – Lonely Daughter of Culture


The newest newsletter of the History of Archaeology Interest Group features a short biography of Zelia Nuttall by Peter Diderich. She was one of the earliest female archaeologists and a pioneering scholar of Aztec, Maya, Olmec, and other cultures.

Hopefully Zelia will be featured on Trowelblazers at some point, but I was so seized by this quote by DH Lawrence about a fictional Mrs. Norris, based on Zelia, and the fantastic image hosted by my alma mater, UC Berkeley, that I had to combine the two.

May all of us who muse on the hard stones of archaeological remains take our inspiration from Zelia, and retain a strong sense of humanity & humor.

“Found any gold?” Piggott in the Pub

The Sutton Hoo Belt Buckle, courtesy of the British Museum.

Stuart Piggott is my academic grandfather–the advisor of my advisor–and I’m sad that I never got to meet him, because all the stories I’ve heard about him are great. I was particularly delighted to find this story, in his own words from The Pastmasters:

My memories of this extraordinary occasion (working at Sutton Hoo in 1939 with Charles Philips) are those of mixed feelings of inevitable excitement at the splendour of the finds, and a sense of frightened inadequacy in making the drawings to record the burial deposit, in which every feature was unique and startling, and where no precedent existed to guide us. We had to keep the sensational nature of our finds secret, carrying back the most valuable pieces to the pub in Woodbridge where we stayed, and locking them in a suitcase to await Kendrick’s next visit to transfer them to the British Museum. Coming home one evening and making straight for the bar, I was met with the inevitable hearty greeting,

“How are the diggings, ole chap? Found any gold?”

“Yes, weighted down with it”, I answered, covertly grasping in my pocket the box containing the great belt-buckle, over 400 grammes (16 ounces) of solid metal.

“Ha! Ha! Jolly good. Have a drink?” I accepted, knowing the truth would not be believed.

I have to wonder how many finds got lost back in the day after a good evening in the pub. Raise your next pint to Professor Piggott, and his ridiculous goldy gold belt buckle.

Meg’s Papers: Just for Fun

I smiled when I read the title of the article on the manilla folder. On the outside, in Meg’s rounded, near-cursive print: MEG’S COPY, PLEASE RETURN. I cracked the folder open and the faint gray type was only just legible, the edges of the book were still visible from when someone copied the original article, many many years ago. Since then the article has been copied over and over again, for the yearly iterations of our introduction to theory class, the class that gives us the indelible stamp of Berkeley archaeology: 229A. It’s also one of the few articles that has made me laugh out loud–Kent Flannery’s Golden Marshalltown. I removed the staple and programmed the copy machine: Flannery_1982, single-sided, output to pdf.

I’ve been back in Berkeley for just over two weeks now. I hit the ground running–I rented a place to live, moved in, and presented my dissertation research to my department in the matter of days, finished up an article with the inimitable Stu Eve, and now I’m holed up in the library. On occasion I’ve been helping Meg Conkey clean out her office after she retired, converting the stacks and stacks of archaeological ephemera she’s collected over the years into pdfs.

It’s a little humbling, looking at all the authors and article titles and fascinating research that I’ve never heard of–or that I have never heard of that particular iteration of. So much diversity in the literature that it feels like we might not actually have made much progress in archaeology, we might just be writing the same things over and over and over again. I get to watch the progression of archaeological publication–hand-written notes, to typed pages, dot-matrix, then laser printing! and finally, pdfs. Monographs of all sizes and colors (particularly annoying for the copier) and notes from lectures given decades ago. Nice notes at the top of the page, marginalia, and occasional backstage-passes to legendary moments in archaeology:

I find these moments so delightful and such an intimate view into a long archaeological career.

But I have to wonder how much I am duplicating efforts, just how many scans of Flannery_1982 we need in the world. I know there are other departments with treasure troves of scanned material and it seems absolutely ridiculous that we have to have our separate stashes, especially when all the state universities are technically owned by the public anyway. It’s frustrating, and I know it will change soonish…but it’s like using a mimeograph in the digital age. Can we have the academic literature Spotify yet?

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