ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Archaeologists of the Future

Updated on January 5, 2012

How Fragile Thou Art

As humans, we like to think that we'll be remembered, that archaeologists will dig up part of our life, meticulously piece it together like the fragments of an ancient Grecian urn and marvel at it, saying "This was Bob, a type of human referred to as a car salesman, who owned a dog and wrote poetry between football games" or something to that degree. Most people have probably seen or been an integral part of the creation of a time capsule, and a good deal of people have considered what the archaeologists (or historians) of the future might think when they look back at our time and dictate the nuances of it to students in classrooms. Sometimes we can't help it, we look at something that's gone horribly wrong (or horribly right) in the world, shake our heads, and ask: "What will our great grandchildren say?" Will they see the effort that people like me have made to change things, or will they just see the entire sum of humanity as bad, like the greedy colonists who wiped out the Native Americans, or those who could choose, choosing to drive vehicles with steadily lower fuel efficiency even decades after the first warning signs were issued about global warming.

The answer to that question isn't one that's easy to come by. It's hard to say what historians will make of our time. History is, after all, written by the people in power, and no matter what anyone might try to tell you, it is never immune to bias.

But opinions won't matter in the end, right? There will still be traces of our everyday lives to study and understand and use to clear up any falsehoods, right? Your kindergarten classroom, the city hall, the church down the street- these will all be meticulously dusted out of the relics and studied, won't they?

Well, only if there's a catastrophe of sufficient magnitude to wipe out the human race and, somehow, not damage anything important we might happen to leave behind. But Despite anyone's theories, personal or otherwise, let's come back to this and consider the most likely scenario faced by archaeologists of the future.

First, we have to consider what most archaeological data is really based off of- garbage. That's right, even our ancestors were messy, and picking through the heaps of stripped carcasses they left behind or the stretches of fragments left over from flint napping has taught us a lot about the lifestyles of ancient humans. Only later, and only in the ruins of extinct civilizations do we find actual records preserved (like the Sumerian clay tablets) because there was no-one to take care of them, convert them, destroy them, or otherwise reinhabit the region.

What does this mean? Well, for starters, (and assuming technology and civilization continue to progress without interruption) it means lots of interns digging through landfills centuries from now and analyzing anything and everything that you (or anyone else) has ever thrown in the trash, but with the eye of a scientist. Heck, it's already being done now- more for training purposes than serious historical interest, but the fact is that it has already started. After all, where better to look, if everything else is labeled as "historical" or privately owned or completely paved over and otherwise inaccessible. This brings up the future of something that just might change the work of future archaeologists from garbage-cataloging to something more sanitary- data excavation.

The new antiques?
The new antiques?

Data Excavation

Software is going to be a tricky one to preserve, especially in the case of older data. Information is produced at an insane rate worldwide (think of all the blog posts, all the forums, all the art, all the image boards) but it's so ephemeral that it's lost almost as quickly as it is produced- and that's not even including the data that's been crowded out by digital obsolescence. Case in point: How much data on wax cylinder has survived to our time and been converted over to a digital format? How much data on early records? How much on 8-track, VHS, BETA, etc? Sure, we'll always have Elvis and Sinatra, as well as the words of poets like Alfred Lord Tennyson recorded with the original Edison equipment, but what about all those other nameless artists and speech-givers whose last audiotape was eaten or recorded over with a grainy feed of Britney Spears? What about all those struggling musicians who worked so hard to get their album to 8-track, only to have it go out of style like last-week's breakfast? Some might say that in this fashion, digital obsolescence is an almost Darwinian force, similar to natural selection, where only the most popular survive.

Luckily, like with the advances in medicine we've achieved over the decades, the odds for survival and growth of any given piece of information are getting better. The internet is an incredible repository for data- it's vast, nearly infinite, limited only by the amount of ones and zeros we can compress into a physical cubic inch, and as we, as a species, continue to see any data, be it blog posts or just random funny photoshops from an imageboard as being more important to preserve, the data available therein will only continue to grow.

In that case, consider the archaeologists of the future as data miners. Digging through blogs and emails caught in the darker recesses of the internet might some day prove to be just the thing to unearth the facts needed to shake up the views of historians that look back on our time and reach whatever far-off conclusions they might be inclined to make about our society, our culture, and even our world as a whole. The possibilities for centuries old blogs are endless- consider the impact the ramblings of a madman might have on our world today if they were uncovered engraved in an ancient clay tablet long forgotten in the bosom of Sumer. Just because it's ancient doesn't mean it's gospel, right?

But is it really that simple? Now that the tendrils of the internet reach to almost every corner of the globe and information is archived as if it were everything but sacred, will archaeologists finally be able to look back and see the whole story without having to guess or draw assumptions? Maybe, but only in the best case scenario. We are a great civilization, but great civilizations have fallen before, and the data we hold so dear is so ephemeral that it is almost as fragile as the ancient Grecian urn mentioned at the beginning of this piece.

Consider the effects of, say for example, a nuclear exchange. Sure, the cold war is a thing of the past, but since the invention of the atom bomb, it has been another formidable and very real doomsday threat hanging over our heads. Unlike other disaster-causers, though, nuclear weapons are especially dangerous to data in that they generate electromagnetic pulses (EMP) which can literally fry electronics and make any data contained therein irretrievable well beyond the blast radius of the weapon itself. Since the internet is kept functional by hardware, (and isn't just a "series of tubes" that just "exist out there") this could even mean a collapse of the internet, making data retrieval that much more difficult. Of course, entrepreneurs have already seen a market in this, and complete protection from electromagnetic pulses may be a technological advance totally taken for granted within the timeframe of our lifetimes, so this threat is questionable at best.

Which brings us back to the catastrophic, fall-of-our-grand-civilization discussion. Barring the unlikely event of total planetary obliteration, what might be left for future archaeologists to find? It's difficult to say for certain- there are just too many factors to consider. First and foremost, we have to consider the method: that is, what could cause civilization to collapse utterly again? Then- consider the time frame: how long will the ruins sit exposed to the elements before they are uncovered again? Paper and hide (i.e. leather) only last so long, so barring the occasional steel tablet inscribed with the questionable words of someone who already expects the end of the world to come, knowledge itself might be hard to come by. Long term storage of data is even questionable- would it last? Could it be recovered? Again, it's difficult to say. Our storage methods are still so new (comparatively,) and evolving every day, but when older compact discs burned from a computer start to "forget" files or simply cease to function after ten or more years, the outcome is questionable to say the least.

This leaves a lot of room for debate- few things are foggier than trying to predict the thoughts and opinions of people who haven't even been born yet, especially when the landscape of crawling time between us and them is so vast and full of potential, both good and bad. It's difficult to say what the future will bring, whether the world might fall apart tomorrow or persist on into eternity, but self-preservation is a very human instinct, and the more time we have to advance and be human, the more we'll produce that can be found and studied by the archaeologists of the future, whenever they may come.

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • profile image

      Tokyojb 

      7 years ago

      It'll be the Singularity that gets us if anything does.

      If there is an AI that can enhance itself, there will be an AI+.

      If there is an AI+ then there will be an AI++

      Ever seen Battlestar Galactica?

    • profile image

      lexysb6 

      8 years ago

      I have wanted to be an archeologist since I was 12. This article is one of the most interesting things on my favorite thing electronics.

    • Queendenise35 profile image

      Denise Swoveland 

      9 years ago from Defiance,Ohio

      I always have a love for archeology. I think mankind will find unique ways to preserve knowledge of the face of potential nuclear holoclast. I beleive give humans creativity to save our most precious parts of our civilization.Welcome to the future of archeology.

    • profile image

      stephanieflood 

      9 years ago

      Hey there! I've been a journalist making observations on people for a while, and I've recently turned to anthropology and the study of mankind's evolutions for answers to why this world is the way it is. I would say: keep digging in your archeological pursuits. You've got really great opinions.

    • Kitchy Wytch profile image

      Kitchy Wytch 

      10 years ago from Alabama

      Oooh! You lucky thing, you! I went to university and studied anthropology but had to drop out a year and a half before my degree because of tuition increases. BOO!

      So, I hope you tackle more subjects like this one!

    • Earl S. Wynn profile imageAUTHOR

      Earl S. Wynn 

      10 years ago from California

      I'm glad you enjoyed it! My mother is an anthropology instructor, so I grew up in her college classroom, and I have to say it's probably one of the more interesting disciplines I've run across! Thanks for the comment, as well as the praise!

    • Kitchy Wytch profile image

      Kitchy Wytch 

      10 years ago from Alabama

      I really like your writing and the way you think. Archaeology and Anthropology are passions of mine and believe it or not, I was just thinking about this very thing a few days ago.

      Your perspective and insight is very interesting. Thanks so much for sharing this!

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)