The archeologist enjoyed the quiet. It was a different kind of quiet than what one might find on an empty city square. This quiet had depth.
In a city or small town when the normal town-wise activity might calm to a lull as dissipating ripples on a pond, there was always the promise of its return. Regardless of anything that might have ceased to cause the temporary quiet, some new thing would appear to break the interlude and remind people of civilization’s ever-proximity.
No, the quiet of the high desert was different. The quiet here, though intermittently broken by the faint scrabbling of a mouse or rustling brush, held no expectation of civilization’s return. This quiet was permanent and only at its most skirting did the reminders of the outside world begin to slowly fade into existence. The archeologist could hear the desert’s emptiness and he heard it for hundreds of miles.
He stood a few paces in front of his slowly cooling truck resting his hands on his hips looking outward over the red and tan. The intermittent ticking of the engine as it cooled metered out time in irregular intervals. But soon that too would cease and the desert would return to its natural, silent state.
The archeologist raised his hand to his eyes as the sun peaked above a mesa. How far off, he wondered? 5 miles? 10? 100?
Where to begin? He had chosen this spot several weeks ago in his cramped office after looking over an old Geologic Survey map he had in his collection. This spot was special due to its proximity to an ancient river bed which implied a long-dead fertile plain which would have surrounded it on both sides. He now found himself on that plain casting about looking for even the faintest clue of long-dead human habitation.
No one from his department at the university knew he had come here. None of his acquaintances with whom he had passing conversations neither. The idea that no one on Earth knew he was here at this very moment in time only served to reinforce the unmitigated silence surrounding him. The quiet he perceived was more than simply an absence of sound, it was an absence of knowledge.
The archeologist set off at an oblique angle from his truck slowly making his way towards the riverbed’s faint remains. His gaze was trained downward as he looked for the tell tale clues of a long gone civilization. He couldn’t hope to find any real walls of a previous structure; mud walls would have long since evaporated by now in the ever-biting wind. No, his clues were more subtle.
He was certain to find the ancient markers of a long-gone civilization here. His career had been nothing more than example after example of how much we simply did not know about the world around us. Every year brought new discoveries and the invalidation of previous ‘theories‘ long-presented as unassailable “facts.”
It was now commonplace to find the existence of settled peoples prior to 10,000 BC, but it had not always been thus…
Of course many academics who had built their professional lives and published works on old conclusions would fight against such new evidence; but the evidence stubbornly remained just the same.
Why was it so difficult for people to admit that their old conclusions were in error or incomplete? The answer was obvious to the archeologist of course: PhD’s get paid to provide answers, not a shrug of the shoulders in rhetorical defeat. And with those answers, based on incomplete or misleading information, came the hubris that they were correct.
The archeologist was under no such constraint of a self-inflated ego. He was more than comfortable in concluding that he had no conclusion to make. He was at home in asking questions rather than providing answers. There was great freedom in saying, “I don’t know.”
And still the archeologist continued his slow walk. The only sound in the deep quiet was that of his well-worn tan leather boots as they crunched over the rock and dust. He enjoyed hearing his own footsteps on the desert floor. It provided audible evidence that he truly was here; truly was now. The imperceptible trail he left behind him was proof of his presence, the sound of the rocks as they scraped under his feet: further proof.
The archeologist slowed then stopped, looking behind him he could see the faint trail left behind him. He could see where he had been only moments ago; a signpost of his existence; a crossroads of time and space. But in time, those signs he left behind too would be corrupted with time and ultimately disappear. If someone were to discover his minor trace, what incorrect conclusions might the observer make of the archeologist’s presence? He chuckled to himself at the thought.
And then he spied it.
Regular angles and straight lines appear in nature and, to the uninitiated, could lead to incorrect, yet tantalizingly promising, conclusions as many before him had discovered. Not all regular angles are man-made but all man-made structures do have regular angles, lines and curves associated with them; the mind prefers them. But because of this, any newly discovered line or angle merits investigation, but it does not merit immediate conclusion.
As the archeologist widened his gaze beyond the ground immediately surrounding his worn and matte boots, he could make out the faintest outline in the dirt. It was nothing more than a slight rectilinear discoloration of the sand; all but imperceptible. But he perceived it. He glanced up instinctively looking to share his discovery, but there was nobody. He was alone, by positive choice. He then looked around to try to get a sense of the context of the area but he was simply too low to the ground. He was too close to it.
As his eyes followed the line it became more perceptible; now impossible to overlook. He mused on the idea that once seen, a thing is impossible to unsee. As his eyes followed the line up to its first 90-degree turn he could begin to make out the faint hint of squared stones just beneath the surface; an ancient foundation perhaps?
If this indeed were an ancient foundation or outline of a long-gone structure, there should be other clues that would support such a conjecture. He already had one: the dry riverbed nearby. Could there be other clues present? With this, the archeologist set to scanning the ground. Typically relics such as stone fire rings could be found within the structures themselves, or perhaps just outside its opening. As faint as the discoloration was, he couldn’t discern where the (possible) former structure’s main opening would have been. But he could judge its general center. Was there any trace of a fire pit there?
There was. All but invisible to most eyes; what would only have looked like a collection of stones scattered in a vaguely circular array, was present at his feet. The archeologist squatted down to put his hands on the irregular yet smooth stones.
Yes, these stones were different, to the layman they appeared as stones do. But to the archeologist, a man trained to know what artificiality looks like, saw purpose in the stones. He was now much more convinced than before that he had stumbled upon an long-forgotten site. This definitely merited further study.
The archeologist observed these sovereign yet integrated signposts today for a variety of reasons. His unique life experiences, innate and equally unique innate talents and his education all led him to the desert today. Yes, his formal education provided a starting point but he was wise enough to understand that education could be as much a trap in thinking as it could be leverage to new understanding. Simply regurgitating old ideas in new ways does nothing to advance knowledge; a break with the old must be made eventually.
Likewise, asking the same questions over and over again also serves no purpose. It had already been answered many times over that civilizations existed prior to ours, why continue to ask that question and find new ways to show it? Why not delve into the deeper questions that the answer requires?
Today, the archeologist’s discoveries were a success, but now the hard work comes.