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  • Writer's pictureIsabelle Johnsen

Field Friends Forever

Yes, this is about to be a cheesy post. But it’s going to be honest nonetheless. I dedicate this post to my special Minoan goddess and archeological soul mate, Renee, who is always there for me no matter what.

Renee and I at the Athenian Acropolis

Although it's great to have friends with different interests and career paths, I also believe it's very necessary to have close friends in your specific field. Yes, this seems obvious, but for archeologists, I feel as if it is even more vital than other fields. Why? Because pursuing a career in archeology is extremely mentally, financially, and physically taxing in a way that other people just don’t understand unless they are also going through it too.

Under normal circumstances (aka pre-Corona), a career in anthropology or archeology is freaking tough! Not only do you have to get your BA, MA, speak several languages, and possibly get a Ph.D., but you are also competing in an extremely competitive (and currently shrinking… AHHHH OH GOD) field. This holds true for both public archeology and academic archeology. Did you know that more than 400,000 anthropology degrees have been granted since 1920, and that over half of these degrees were granted after 1992 (The number one lie people believe about a career in archaeology | Succinct Research)? American Universities grant around 8,300 Anthropology BAs a year, while they grant 1,100 MA’s and 440 Ph.D.’s a year. This, obviously, means a TON of people are interested in anthropology and archeology. Unfortunately, there just aren’t enough jobs for these people. To put in this in context, there are only around 11,030 archeologists currently working in the United States (The number one lie people believe about a career in archaeology | Succinct Research). Of that large group of students who studied anthropology or archeology in some capacity during college or grad school since 1992, only 4.5% of them are currently working as archeologists (The number one lie people believe about a career in archaeology | Succinct Research). THAT'S INSANE! LITERALLY, THINK ABOUT HOW SMALL THAT PERCENT IS!

If you are an aspiring archeologist, you're probably thinking ‘why the heck are you telling me this? Now I am freaking out.’ Or at least that's what was thinking when I read these facts. But I am not regurgitating statistics from another blog just to scare you, I am just pointing out to you that OUR FIELD IS SMALL! Because it is this small, this competitive, and this demanding, it is much more likely that your friends and family won’t understand the psychological pressure you're under.

If we simply crunched the numbers to make all of our career decisions, nobody in the United States would ever try to become an archeologist. We all have a chance to achieve our dream job, but it’s going to take a lot of hard work no matter what job you want to do. Aspiring archeologists have to work hard intellectually, physically, and dedicate a lot of effort towards growing their professional network”- The number one lie people believe about a career in archaeology | Succinct Research

Research like ours can be extremely isolating and demanding, but also rewarding. For me, if I am really into the topic I am researching, when I find pieces of evidence that connect to my research question I feel like a wisdom GODDESS. Genuinely, very few things make me as excited as discovering some piece of evidence that potentially no one had previously noticed. However, over the years I have noticed that it’s really hard to explain this feeling and passion with people who don’t care about my research or don’t pay attention.

I used to (and still occasionally do) take this lack of interest in my research and my work from my friends and family personally. Somewhere along the line, I got the idea in my head that if they didn’t respect my work or what I wanted to do then they must’ve not respected me. I had to change my mindset. What helped me do this was finding friends with whom I could share my ideas and helped me nurture this passion.

Most of my friends and family just don’t get ‘it.’ It is my unexplainable desire to time travel to prehistoric times and feels connected to people who only left behind sherds and scapes of their existence. But I learned that that is okay! Just because they don’t read every essay doesn’t mean they don’t respect me; I realized that I was taking it personally because I felt that my passion isolated me. I was missing someone to relate to. I used to be angry at my friends and family for not showing interest in the details of my research. But why was I so angry?

I used to let my passion isolate me and I internalized this difference of interests as ‘no one understands me.’ Several years of expensive therapy and the stories of some very inspiring mentor figures have helped me understand that it’s OK for my loved ones to not understand my research. That doesn’t mean they don’t support me. However, I do believe that it taught me the importance of nurturing relationships within my own field. Through nurturing these relationships, I discovered that not only do people understand me but that my passion for archeology could grow even more powerful. I discovered I don’t need everyone to get ‘it’ to feel like my research is important, I just need SOME people who can understand it, respect it, challenge it, and nurture it.

3 archeological buddies
Kofinas Mountain on Crete

My first archeology friend changed my life in so many ways. I met Renee when I was a sophomore in college. She is different in every single way than me; except our unrelenting desire to learn everything about Prehistory that we could. When we met, during an after-hours lecture the Classics department organized, we both walked away from the meeting with snap judgments of each other: I thought she was a nerd and she thought I was a hungover party girl. We never imagined we would be as close as we are now. After that initial meeting, we met again in the office of my mentor who had invited both of us (plus another lovely archeologist Chelsea) to work with her on her publication of the ceramics of the House of the Frescoes, Knossos, Crete.

In the semester leading up to our Knossian experience, Renee and I started to grow closer. We were taking the same class which was taught by our mentor, and since we were going to Knossos together, we felt obligated to study together. Three nights before the first test, Renee showed up at the library with a plethora of notes, flashcards, data charts, you name it! I showed up empty-handed.

Renee and I in Crete
Renee and I

That first study session I felt a feeling I hadn’t felt in a while: understood. Renee and I talked for hours about how cool the burial styles changed by region in Prehistoric Crete, how pretty the material culture was, and how excited we were to go to Knossos. After that first study session, we began to do everything ‘archeology’ together. We checked each others’ grant papers, we studied for tests together, we had long nights in the library memorizing the ceramic-based chronology of Prehistoric Crete.

I will shorten the story by just saying that after Crete, Renee, and I became inseparable. We turned from ‘archeology class friends’ to, what I now call, archeology partners. I coined the term with Renee because I knew she was more than just a best friend, she was my non-romantic life partner. She understood me in a different way than everyone else did. She saw me differently than everyone else did, she saw me as the archeologist I wanted to be rather than the student with wild, unrealistic dreams.

Renee and I hiking to a peak sanctuary
Mount Juktas, Crete

“Archeology is not the career for everybody. It is hard work. You don’t get paid a whole lot. Few people actually understand what we contribute to society. Nobody thanks us for the work we do. You have to be passionate about what you do if you want to become an archaeologist. But, all the archeologists alive today would still be on our parents’ couch if we let the horrible odds of success or the difficulty of the journey shape our decisions. You never know what you could have been unless you apply yourself, go all in, and take a shot in the dark. That's how all of the archeologists working in the United States got where they’re at today” The number one lie people believe about a career in archaeology | Succinct Research

Now, Renee is not the only friend of mine who is studying or is an archeologist. I am so fortunate in that I have met several people who understand me on the level Renee does and encourage my passion for the Ancients in a similar way. But Renee was my FIRST friend I had met that understood this side of me. She changed everything. She made me feel less isolated, and she made archeology feel less like a crazy dream of a young college student and more like a reality. To this day, I credit my budding career to my mentor, but also Renee, who continues to push me to make my applications perfect, to apply to digs, and to keep going. She comforts me when I get denied from a program, or when I feel hopeless about my career (for example when I read the blog about the stats of archeologists in the US while writing this).

I hope this blog post reaches some little freshman baby archeologist out there that feels alone. Even if your friends and family don’t want to listen to your rant about how Indiana Jones is an inaccurate portrayal of archeology or why conical cups on Bronze Age Crete are the ancient forms of a red solo cup, it doesn’t mean that you're weird or that they don’t care about your work. It just means that when you find your ‘archeology partner’, which I believe we all do eventually, it’ll feel that much more special.

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1 Comment

Kitty Gruber
Kitty Gruber
Apr 09, 2021

Ohh you both look so cute! 🥰


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