When you dig up the past, all you get is dirt…

Sex!

Sexy Archaeologists

Ignoring Captain Boner and the topsoil strippers for a moment, there’s something odd about this photo that I can’t quite put my finger on. It features this years winning entry to the ‘2009 Sexiest Field Crew’ competition – a global search led by sexyarchaeology.org to find the new vanguard of dirty pretty things destined to inherit the earth.

In search of this elusive ‘thing’ I passed it around a focus group of average archaeologists (i.e. the pub) and then afterwards we all went to mass. Debate hinged on that hingey looking contraption shaped like a seven. It generated some very strong opinions, especially among the British archaeologists, who felt that digging out of phase in uniformed spit layers was fatally flawed. If you haven’t already grasped the connections, they argued, between the different features in which the artefacts were actually deposited, sieving every single bucket of spoil to recover every single artefact is a pointless waste of time.

Stumbling home later that night, 5 pints non-the wiser, I reflected on our conversation. As fascinating as it was, we’d effectively taken a piece of pseudo porn and bored the arse off it. Perhaps sexyarchaeology.org was right after all: like a tedious, but factually correct MI5 dossier, archaeology desperately needs sexing-up.

And yet there’s another website that would beg to differ. No sex please, we’re britishwomenarchaeologists.org.uk have argued for equal opportunities and a fair working environment for all. The BWA maintain that one in three female archaeologists has encountered sexist comments in the work place. Respondents to their questionnaire reported an institutional sexism that barred women from heavy fieldwork thereby delaying career advancement. Some even claimed an insidious casting couch culture.

It remains to be seen how representative these views are of the wider profession, but the appearance of both these websites in the same year indicates that gender politics, with their obligatory facebook followings, are now on the agenda as never before. In the red corner, we have sexyarchaeology.org – with viz vest wonder bras and ripped denim short shorts (the tops saying ‘lets do lunch’ while the bottoms saying ‘you’re paying!’). And in the blue corner, we have britishwomenarchaeologists.org.uk – with floral patterned blouses buttoned up to eleven (the tops saying ‘stop looking at my tits you dirty bastard’ while the bottoms kneeing you in the knackers).

The Sexiest Field Crew competition demonstrates that archaeology is not immune to ‘raunch culture.’ In-your-face sexual images are now the common currency of a pornified economy, where the scope of feminine power is reduced to sexual allure. With ironic references to Salt Lake City, polygamous relationships and 12 inch tools, the clever graduate students in this photo still can’t escape the basic fact that they are trading on their sex. The BWA are a worthier organisation focussed on research and questionnaires, but in singling women out for special treatment because their ‘negative experiences can be isolated from wider support,’ they are making a similar claim for gender based power play. If there really were a glass ceiling in archaeology, you’d think it would at least keep the rain off.

Sexy archaeology is a nebulous quality; it’s the earthiness of physical labour and the thrill of knowledge wrestled back from the unknown. It’s the look in people’s eyes as you tell them what you do, and the look in your own when you’re actually doing it. Lets celebrate this without falling prey to reductive gender stereotypes or movements for affirmative action.

When it comes to being a sexy archaeologist, sex is completely and utterly irrelevant.

6 Responses to “Sex!”

  1. The Spaz

    >Completely missing the point the Spaz feels it funny and fun to address the "hingey looking contraption shaped like a seven."

    Yeah, complete and total waste of time to sift ever bucket of dirt. But that sieve is mostly used, at least in that picture *I'm assuming* for shovel test pits in CRM (cultural resource management). Basically, ever bucket has to be sifted though as it means the prospective and wonderful possibility of a budget and more work time for the field crew.

    As for the point of the article: Sexy Archaeology aims at attracting a wider audience to the very attractive, and yet sometimes overlooked, field of archaeology. Just another medium for getting the good word out.
    I love your second to last paragraph, "Sexy archaeology is a nebulous quality; it’s the earthiness of physical labour and the thrill of knowledge wrestled back from the unknown. It’s the look in people’s eyes as you tell them what you do, and the look in your own when you’re actually doing it. Lets celebrate this without falling prey to reductive gender stereotypes or movements for affirmative action." That's the point that sexyarchaeology.org is aiming at achieving.
    Arguably though, we aren't just focusing on "feminine power" as our facebook group (with many pictures of working men) and our competition/site show (we address many men's works in the field).

    The sexyarchaeology.org site is an archaeology news medium that puts forth the up to date information and articles, tackling current events, reviews, and educating the public in a fun and exciting manner.

    Its fun, I enjoy it anyways, and hope that people keep enjoying it for years to come.

    I'd also like to thank you for a very enlightening article as well as a very interesting review. Love your blog!
    –The Spaz

  2. Anonymous

    >Is it not the case that workforce diversification, on a whole, is central to all subjects or areas of employment etc.. It is our differences that broaden the possibilities in reading the world past and present; a quality that should be seen as a positive. It is a situation which encourages new debates and most importantly, readdress old ones.

  3. Craig A. Barnes

    >I'll keep this brief:

    I think that the desire to give archaeology (as a discipline, and a job) a "sexing up" comes from the fact that archaeologists still seem stuck in academic "grade school" (or primary, if you prefer).

    Archaeologists, or rather those whom I have encountered thus far at the functions for the Society of American Archaeologists, Canadian Archaeological Association, and the World Archaeological Congress, have largely expressed (or confessed) that they feel some need to seek validation in their work. That is, many of us feel like we have something to prove to both the arts and sciences, as well as to the general public.

    It is truly – as some have satirized in comic strip – a desperate mixture of "we're creative people; we're real scientists!; and , it's a real job, really!"

    The desire to overhaul the image of archaeology is, I agree, irrelevant to the actual pursuit of archaeology. I don't see too many dentists stripping to their skivvies for calendars, though when you make that much money, who gives a shit?

  4. Douglas Barder

    At first glance this post was passively amusing in a ‘only in america’ kind of way, but further in i’m sideswiped by a neofeministconservatism critique that made me choke on my cornflake. Wowee Mr Wilkins.
    At the very least i would have expected a kneejerk back(s)lash from the sisterpolice. Where has the pride gone?
    This then may be a milestone in the gender politic that should be marked and celebrated.
    A drink for mein host

    PS The Spaz – perhaps you are unaware of the offence some of us find in your adopted non de plume which is made worse by the poverty of your argument

  5. Brendon Wilkins

    Thanks Dougie. Was that you out on the lash last weekend… completely legless!?! This one too, crashed and burned. Though not before attracting the attention of the sisterhood. Unfortunately they wouldn’t come out on record, but we had a good bit of banter, until I went to far and they kneed me in the knackers (figuratively speaking of course).

    Not to worry. As our pal Terry Thomas is fond of saying: Ding Dong!

  6. Douglas Barder

    Hello Brengun
    Being a card carrying rationalist with mpb and having witnessed many a feminist knee, i should like to point out that i haven’t had a leg to stand on since 1943.

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