The Not Quite Adventures of a Professional Archaeologist and Aspiring Curmudgeon

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Nut Jobs and Magic Stones

When I was a graduate student, I walked into my adviser's lab. My friend Dusty was sitting in the lab, grinning, and as he heard my footsteps, he looked up and said "Oh, missed the show!"

"Huh?" I was ever-such the quick wit back in those days.

"Check this out. So, this guy comes in and tells Mike", that is Michael Glassow, our advisor and one of the current elder statesmen of Californian archaeology, "that he has historic-era Chumash effigy stones."

"Yeah, so?" I asked. Effigy stones are simply small scultped stones, typically they are effigies of animals (but it has been argued that carvings that some more abstract ones may be images of spirits or gods and could be included). Ethnographic and archaeological information indicates that they were used for religious and/or magical purposes. While it's always cool to find one in a site, they aren't that rare, and the claim that someone has a stash of them isn't too outlandish.

"Well," Dusty was grinning ear-to-ear, greatly amused, "this guy was claiming that these were carved to resemble Portola."

Portola was one of the more adventurous Spanish explorers to travel California. The Portola expedition laid the groundwork for the California Mission and Presidio System, and provided more information about the lives and culture of the Native Californians than any previous expedition. However, there is absolutely no reason why any self-respecting Chumash would be carving a stone into an effigy of a grungy, road-weary Spaniard. I could only ask "Are you serious? Was HE serious?"

"Fuck yeah, he was serious. He brought them in a metal briefcase, and he opened it up on that table," dusty indicated the table farthest from Mike's office door, "and showed them to Mike."

"Yeah, and?" I was curious as to how Mike had acted. The image of Mike, who is the one living person who I can easily imagine as a dignified Roman senator, dealing with this wingnut was forcing involuntary giggles out of me.

"Well, you know Mike. He was very patient, listened to the guy, and then picked up each stone and looked at it. Then, when he was done looking at them, he said," Dusty took a breath and then gave his best impression of Mike's deep and calm voice, "'well, I don't see any indications of carving. These appear to just be smooth rocks.'"

"How did the guy react?"

Dusty began laughing and shaking his head. "He was calm at first, and aksed if Mike was sure that he didn't see anything. When Mike said that he didn't, he said 'yeah, well, to be fair, it's not really visible under normal light. The effigy was meant to be looked at only in the light of the full moon.'"

"Yeah, and what did Mike say?"

Dusty was having a very hard time not laughing now, "he said that he thought it was unlikely that there was anything there. So, this guy put the rocks back in his briefcase and stormed out." Dusty was shaking his head while laughing. "It was fuckin' great!"

Being known as an expert has many advantages - the esteem of your colleagues, the attention of the curious, and the ability to make your voice heard. It also has it's downsides, one of which is that you attract all sorts of whack-jobs and wingnuts.

No comments: