The Accumulation Of Relative Yesterdays

Digging for the past has timed out. Digerati are the gatherers now. The law of stratigraphy has held well for archaeology as a means and a concept: the vertical quest exposing time's layers to be read like a book of changes. The exactitude associated the act of going down, with that of going back and understanding human behaviour through geology. The Victorians took up barrow-digging and brought the old stuff home as souvenirs of a Sunday pursuit.

Then archaeologists called it a science, employed the same tools as grave-diggers—spades, buckets—descended six-feet under, and brought exactitude to the trenches. But even Schliemann's 19th century tunnelling through layers of dull—to him—prehistory, in search of gold was in some ways a prelude to what we have now, exposure to an accumulation of relative yesterdays.

We cherry-pick the past. Time-zone concerns are so over. Blogs are a hoard of content, only as fresh as the day they are retrieved. Archive photos and just-taken selfies get uploaded together onto timelines which run laterally. Half-forgotten news hangs around the Internet, and it surfaces—that old school term again—as new news to the fresh viewer.

So what is fieldwork now? Look to the new(ish) field of contemporary archaeology which has its 'excavators' channelling anthropology. These are surface workers, seeing escalating and myriad rates of change as lateral observations which connect a series of presents, which oscillate, and merge new and old. No hands get dirty in this type of dig. But what is dug up tends to linger under the fingers.