The Daily Beast, “a smart, speedy take on the news from around the world, combined with the depth and investigative power of Newsweek Magazine,” recently listed archaeology as one of the 13 “most useless” college majors.
I think the
word “useless,” in this context, is unfortunate and wholly inappropriate. What
the compilers of the list actually meant is that the job market for
archaeologists isn’t exactly booming (true enough) and archaeologists, when we
get jobs, don’t tend to make tons of money (also generally true). Does that
really mean that archaeology is a “useless” college major?
latest column in the Columbus Dispatch, I responded to the Daily Beast’s
bizarre characterization of archaeology as a “useless” major by focusing on the
useful knowledge that it can provide. For example, by learning about the
mistakes made by past civilizations, perhaps we can avoid repeating them.
consider the less tangible rewards of majoring in archaeology.
argue in my Dispatch column that archaeology could save the world -- or at
least our civilization's precarious hold on it, I freely confess that I did not
become an archaeologist to save the world. Nor did I choose this career because
I thought I’d make buckets of money.
In fact, I
chose to become an archaeologist because I was fascinated by the wonders of the
past and the prospect of making new discoveries that would shed light on how we
came to be what we are seemed to me to be a noble thing to which I could
dedicate my life’s work. After thirty or so years of doing archaeology, I still
believe I’m following a calling more than a career path.
course of my archaeological field school, I was the first person to put my hand
in an 800-year-old handprint impressed in clay in the wall of a room in an
Anasazi pueblo my team was excavating. I felt an electric connection with that
long vanished person – as if our fingers actually had touched across the
centuries. I feel something similar each time I lift an ancient stone tool or
broken fragment of pottery from the earth. I am engaged in making connections
with ancient people who have lost their voice and it is my privilege to bring
their stories to life again.
Princess of Pure Reason, in Norton Juster’s brilliant book The Phantom Tollbooth, tells the hero “whenever you learn something new, the whole world
becomes that much richer.” (And she didn’t mean monetarily!)
the world is richer for the retrieval of lost stories made possible by the
science of archaeology. It’s sad that The Daily Beast, despite having all the “investigative power of Newsweek Magazine” at its disposal,
doesn’t get that. I would bet that, unless archaeologists start getting better salaries, even if some of those stories lead to insights that
end up saving the world, The
Daily Beast still will be listing archaeology as a "useless major."