Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Archaeology and the psyche: part two ― taking care of the equipment

Gravel truck
photo: Charles01
I have some friends who used to be in the gravel business. They had supplied the gravel for the construction of Calgary's famous Centre Street Bridge. In those days, the gravel was delivered to the site by horse and cart. I learned that the money was made not so much from the sale of gravel, but its delivery, and the key to success was in keeping all of the trucks in good running order at all times. The mechanics were the most important people in the business. Of course, having equipment in good working order is one thing, using it is another. For reasons that I cannot fathom, one of my friends once asked me to help load  a large drum full of who knows what into one of their sheds with a bulldozer. As I had never driven one before, he showed me how to operate it. Well, knowing and doing are two different things, and I nearly took out the shed when I clipped the door frame with the bucket. Still, it was fun and after driving the thing around the yard for a while before attempting the job I wondered if I might ask another friend if I might try driving his Centurion tank one day. After nearly demolishing the shed, I decided that being a tank driver was probably not a good activity for me.

While a field archaeologist uses a trowel to excavate a site, the tool that is used to interpret what is uncovered is the mind. So you would think that this tool, too, should be kept in good working order and that it should be properly calibrated so that the answers that it gives are accurate. I always used to zero my digital scales at the Nickle lab before weighing a coin and I knew that the room's air flows would effect the third decimal place so I never bothered with such a finely tuned measurement: whenever the air conditioner cut in, the scales would note the event. When I thought about this series, I couldn't recall ever reading anything about psychology in archaeological interpretation. I checked a few books and found nothing. Looking on the web, I was only able to find Digging deeper in the archaeological psyche which dealt more about motivation than about interpretation and leaned more toward Freud than Jung. Still, it broke the ground a bit and gave me a few ideas.

You would think that Jung would rate fairly high in something about the "archaeological psyche". After all, Jung originally wanted to study archaeology but settled on becoming a medical doctor instead. Now there's twist ― I'm sure that in most cases it is the other way round. In most university psychology courses, Jung is merely used as part of the history of the subject. A casual observer might think that this is because Jung is outdated. Actually, it is because Jung is extremely difficult. Jung was aware of the problem himself and had his various assistants contribute most of the chapters of Man and his Symbols because he was aware of the great gulf between himself and the public. I don't think the plan worked very well. You can detect  a few times when the Zeitgeist or the collective consciousness crept into the work, especially with the fragmentation spoken of by Aniela Jaffé and her really bizarre bit about "Roman" coins, which are actually Celtic and the designs of which she compares with art drawn by someone on LSD. There is absolutely nothing in this that is even partly correct -- not even the order of them based on their distance from Rome, which, even if were put in the correct order would mean nothing at all as they were all based on Greek coin designs, anyway. Wolfgang Pauli would have said "It's not even wrong".

I really think that everyone should approach Jung from his own writings first, and only then look at the other authors. Do not start with Mysterium Coniunctionis, but pick The Undiscovered Self, granted, the latter's social concerns deal much with the Iron Curtain and worries about the atomic bomb (it's from 1957), but it is up front with this and not so allusive as Man and his Symbols. Then tackle his paper On the Nature of the Psyche. It is bound, in the Bollingen series title, with On Psychic Energy which precedes it, but read the other paper first. I think that in recent years most people have started with Man and his Symbols and then have gone on to On Synchronicity ― not a good plan. Alternatively, try Joseph Campbells' compilation, The Portable Jung. You will need to read On the Nature of the Psyche a few times, but it is well worth it.

Let us say that you are in charge of putting together an archaeological team. In order to start with the best equipment (the core archaeologists, themselves), the very first thing you should do is to have all of the potential candidates take one of the personality tests based on Jung's original work. The "big two" are MBTI and HumanMetrics. Aim for getting two people to be joint heads of the team, one an extravert, the other an introvert. Be careful, though, there can often be sexual attraction between these two types so you want to avoid that. One obvious way would be to pick people who are of the same sex (and both heterosexual), or are of different sexes (and are both homosexual). While you could use the free online tests, it would be best  to pay for the service and thus have these companies supply competent people to interpret the results in accordance with your needs. This sort of thing is common in business, because it can be of great. practical. use. About the worse way to go would be to pick people based only on their academic qualifications and their publishing history. You would probably do better with a lottery! Try to have all of the core personnel come from very different academic and social backgrounds. It really doesn't matter who you pick for support staff other than that they are efficient in what they do. You will thus end up with a relatively objective "think tank". Such teams are actually quite rare as think tanks are too often constructed to a specific end. You want the opposite of that: you are not trying to design something pre-determined, you are trying to get people together who look at things differently. The past is wild and unpredictable and archaeologists are often accused (with considerable validity) of only finding what they are looking for. Stick with the companies who use the method above. I had dealings, once, with a company who used another company who were a front for Scientology. It was a complete disaster and ended up with a virtual mutiny among the staff.

When we had our business, I had my staff put in eight hours each day, but two hours of that was for their breaks. Pushing people too hard results in lower productivity and can result in too many "sick days" and a lack of enthusiasm. Unused to two half-hour coffee breaks, they all returned to work afterward with considerable energy and enthusiasm. I have tested these things and they work. Our productivity soared as a result. It might shock you to know how little work is actually accomplished in the average office.

The extravert will have a natural ability to deal with the material, and the introvert will have a natural ability to deal with meaning, but what if you are just one person looking at the evidence of the past? Imagine that everything has been dug up and recorded and it is your job, alone, to make sense of it? I'll have some answers for you tomorrow ― things that have worked for me.

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