It rained a lot last night here in Calgary, to end a wonderful Mother’s Day spent with my children. We ate, we talked, we laughed and we played games. What more can a mother ask for? And this morning … we woke up to snow on the ground. It’s gone now as the sun came out. But it’s a good reminder that we are not done yet, and although Spring has officially started … Calgary gets the memo late!
I was sitting on the couch late last night stitching one of my rocks while the TV was on and a series of programs played on. I love these programs: “Mysteries of the Abandoned”, “Unearthed” “What on Earth?”. They tell stories of abandoned buildings and try to find out what happened and why they were abandoned. Some of them have horrific stories attached to them from the time of World War II. Some of these buildings are stunning! Some are mysterious. Some stood the test of time. Of some, there’s little left.
My favourite from last night was all about the 1646 BC massive volcanic eruption, perhaps one of the largest ever witnessed by mankind, that took place at Thera (present-day Santorini), an island in the Aegean not far from Crete. The explosion, estimated to be about the equivalent of 40 atomic bombs or approximately 100 times more powerful than the eruption at Pompeii, blew out the interior of the island and forever altered its topography. Possibly as many as 20,000 people were killed as a result of the volcanic explosion. Just as happened at Pompeii centuries later, a settlement on Thera known as the town of Akrotiri was buried under a thick blanket of ash and pumice. Quarry workers, digging out the pumice for use in the manufacture of cement for the Suez Canal, chanced upon some stone walls in the middle of their quarry. These eventually proved to be the remains of the long-forgotten town. Archaeologists from France and later from Germany did some preliminary excavation in the second half of the 19th Century but it was not until 1967 that systematic excavation began at the site in earnest.
The site has yielded some surprising information. Most startling of all is the fact that no human remains have been found at Akrotiri, unlike Pompeii and Herculaneum where the dead were buried in the midst of their daily activities. At Akrotiri, it was obvious that people had begun to do some repair work to their dwellings, probably in response to minor earthquakes or volcanic damage. However, before the major eruption, at least some of them had the time to pack up their families and most valuable possessions and leave. Huge pottery containers and large household furnishings were abandoned in their haste to depart but it seems clear that most people got away safely, were buried elsewhere, or were swept away by the tsunami waves that might have accompanied such a massive eruption. This is from an article from the Canadian Museum of History.
Not sure why I am telling you all this, except that it fascinates me. And of course, now I want to visit! It also brought to mind my childhood and some dreams that never came to be. My first choice of career, when I was young, was to be a flight attendant. I had a doll dressed like one, and I thought the uniforms looked cool and the possibility of traveling for free was a bonus! That went by the wayside when I flew with my family from Buenos Aires to Santiago, Chile, and witnessed the flight attendant having to clean after a man who got very sick. (I almost joined him). Yeah … not so glamorous after all. Crossed that one out! I must have been about 8 years old.
And then came Archaeology. I was about 12-13 years old at the time. I had read in an old magazine found at my uncle’s (I think it was an old National Geographic) an article about an archeological site somewhere in Egypt and the discovery of old bones and coins and pottery shards. I think my “romantic” old self loved the idea of being in an archaeological site wearing khaki coloured clothing in the middle of a desert with a brush in hand, painstakingly removing sand and debris from old bones, old wood, old whatever … you get the idea. It sounded glamorous and like fascinating work. That did not pan out either after someone pointed out the bugs, less than glamorous accommodations, the heat, the lack of bathrooms … BUT, I think it left me with my love of rocks, abandoned sites, and old buildings. Things that I find myself going back to all the time when making work.
What makes your heart pump with excitement? And what brings back memories of childhood? What informs the work that you are currently doing? I hadn’t thought about that desire to be an archaeologist in a while, but all of a sudden, last night while watching TV, there I was once again: young, idealistic, and romanticizing a profession that is probably not that glamorous and a lot of hard work.
Share your thoughts. I’d love to hear from you.
Until I write again, keep creating,