7 Things That Scare Archaeologists

Mummies, mole people, and cursed mysterious artifacts. Yes, archaeology has its fair share of Hollywood created horrors. For the most part, they’re quite entertaining, but if you want to know what really scares archaeologists, keep reading.

1. Missing Labels

You start off really excited because something amazing has landed on your desk. You can’t wait to find out where it’s from. As your opening the bag, you’re thinking, “This find could change everything!” Then you realize something is very wrong. You frantically check everywhere, I mean EVERYWHERE, and nothing. The label is missing. The horror!

2. Lost Trowel

You set it down for just a few moments. Then something distracts you. Someone needs help with a measurement or you really need to go the bathroom. When you come back, it’s gone. You search and search and it’s still nowhere to be found. Who would do such a thing? Or what…


3. The Deadline is Today

You made sure to double and triple check. It wasn’t supposed to happen this soon. You swear it must be a dream. You open your calendar and the shock takes over you. They’re here.

4. Trapped

It can happen in so many ways. Perhaps, they said they just needed to borrow your ladder for a second. It doesn’t matter that you’re five meters deep and your trench is off the main excavation. But it’s been and hour and no one has come back. Or you realize your gas light is flashing and you’re not even on a real road. You don’t remember the last time you saw a gas station. Either way you’re trapped.


5. All the Food is Gone

You’re starving. The day was brutal and you barely could get a bite in. There was no time for breakfast and you had to drive someone to who knows where during lunch. You are briskly walking because dinner is about to start and then it happens. Someone stops you and desperately needs your help. You’re the only one who can fix the problem. You hurry to help them and it feels like hours are going by. When you finally finish, you race to dinner and see the unthinkable. No one is there and there is no food in sight.


6. A Strong Gust of Wind

You have everything laid out like you like it. It’s finally all organized. You even have some makeshift paperweights. Everything is going according to plan, when all of a sudden a strong gust of wind comes in and everything is flying everywhere. You try to grab what you can, but almost everything is out of your reach. And then just like that, everything settles and it looks like nothing happened, except that your stuff is everywhere.


7. Deleted all the Photos

It’s been an amazing day. You’ve made great progress. You keep uncovering feature after feature. You get through photographing a record number of artifacts. Then you see that there is a crappy photo. It brings down your high. You know it shouldn’t, but it’s eating at you. So you do it. You go to delete that one photo, but then something goes terribly wrong. In an instant, they’re all gone. All of them.



*Special thanks to Brooke Norton for brainstorming with me 🙂



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  • The archaeo-tourist, who is paying to be there and helping to fund the dig, steps EXACTLY where you said not to step and breaks a piece of pottery from the neolithic era. The scream you hold in probably raises your blood pressure beyond the healthy limit…but you hope the selfie they were taking was worth it.

  • You open up a test unit on the most significant location within a site, and the yellow jackets who just happen to live next door don’t approve of their new neighbors and show their displeasure. Repeatedly.

    • We had to open a trench right next to a very large and active beehive. Definitely not as bad as yellow jackets, but there was always this lingering uncertainty if they were going to get feisty. It (only) happened twice. Thanks for sharing!

    • Double that to we allergic to the evil striped burrowing harbingers of pain and psychotic breaks as we panic on where we put our EpiPens, and did we train everyone on the crew how to stab with a horse needle!

  • A large, ignorant grazing herd of cattle loping insistently towards your site. Next morning = collapsed side walls, patties in open units, pin flags completely gone, and unit lines scattered for 25 miles across the prairie.

  • Two things that happened on a site where I worked. 1) You arrive on site, and see that your portaloo has been tipped over into the ditch, again. 2) You arrive on site and see that about 50 holes have been dug into it during the night. Your site has been looted by nighthawks…

  • You are on the circuit and the firm has organised accommodation. The loon behind who organised it sees nothing wrong with having 2 or 3 diggers share the same bedroom.(Holiday cottage) What is truly scary is going into your room and finding a fellow digger having a bit of solo fun. Somethings cannot be unseen

  • I experienced #6. A dust devil descended on a site were we had spent most of the day bagging artifacts. Everything flew up in the air, including my straw cowboy hat. We found most of the bags that day. For several days other survey crews would drop off one of our bags they had found on the mesas, accompanied by ‘humorous’ remarks about keeping track of our assemblages. One day someone saw a white thing that had been under a cow that had just stood up. There was my hat – flat as a pancake!

    • I feel you Roger. We had strong winds come out of nowhere (mixed with sand of course) and a newly cut stack of labels went flying everywhere. We were still finding labels weeks after. Thanks for sharing!

  • You are doing a phase one and the landman did not inform all land owners properly so they are happy about your project so you are met by the land owner with a gun and he is not afraid to use it. We got out of there fast

  • When you have had to walk to an isolated site and each of the crew has carried their own water and early in the day someone with very questionable oral hygiene grabs your water starts gulping. Very tough decision… Drink from your “contaminated” jug or suffer potential dehydration. Scary very scary.

  • Pretty grim, but beheading is now on my own list…being an archaeologist is my life’s goal achieved, but because of war and ISIS and etc., visiting those countries as an academic and researcher (or even a tourist!) is unlikely to happen in the next few decades.

  • I think there is another hotly debated and often ignored issue: biscuits. And project managers who dont believe in the importance of providing them or, if they do, bringing crappy biscuits….

  • I’ve been IN the porta loo when a gust of wind threatened to tip it over. I never got out so fast. And then it DID tip over.
    Blue lumpy gunk everywhere!

  • When my field director discovered he misplaced the excavation block and midway through the dig decides to reset it by rotating it a few degrees to get it right. Epic paperwork cluster f*ck resulted. Last straw for most: There was a mutiny among the field crew who could not bear his incompetence any longer and massive drug use ensued. Saddest outcome was for the cultural resource as usual.

Smiti Nathan

I’m an archaeologist that travels around the world for both work and pleasure. I have a penchant for exploring ancient and modern places and the people, plants, and foods entangled in them. I write about archaeology, travel, and productivity.



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