Sunday, 8 June 2014

Hair today (an archaeological scare story)

"Dr Russell I presume?" The two people I had agreed to meet in the busy university reception hall approached in what was rapidly becoming a very Livingstone-style moment of recognition. "Yes, hello". We all shook hands. "How did you...?" I began, somewhat perplexed. The first smiled: "well, you do look like an archaeologist".

I never really know how to respond to statements like this - is it a good thing that I (or indeed anyone) actually look (or looks) like an archaeologist and, in any case, what does an archaeologist look like? Shouldn't I be wearing khaki-coloured shorts and a pith helmet in order to more properly (and authentically) fit the pop culture stereotype?

Feeling this wasn't evidently explanation enough for their rather extraordinary display of recognition, the second added "it's the beard"

Ah well's the beard. Every archaeologist, male or female, evidently has one for purposes of professional identification, a sort of brand-logo for the otherwise career-ID-challenged. Of course, now I think of it all pop-culture archaeologists from Indiana Jones to Lara Croft, via Howard Carter and Mortimer Wheeler has one (er...don't they?) and even the female of the species have names like 'Mary Beard', evidently in order to disguise the fact that they are otherwise challenged in the hairy chin department (like Frank Beard, the drummer and only member of countrythrash-blues hairy sexist mash-up that was 80s band ZZ Top to not actually sport a beard)...

It's hard to place the point at which the beard became such a clear and present marker of archaeo-identification, especially, when you look long and hard at the history of the profession, it's clear that few practitioners ever really sported one (and certainly not, as I recall, any of the women). Perhaps, as it's more a cultural marker of two clearly defined ends of the male social spectrum, the hyper intelligent and socially inept brainiac (egg-head or boffin) and the down and out alcoholic mess - both sometimes rather startlingly combined within the single archeo-male stereotype - that it has unconsciously (like the pith helmet, which few ever really wore) become the short-hand for the archaeo-academic. 

Whatever the origins of the fuzzy-face archaeo-indicator, given the prevalence of facial furniture evident across the whole spectrum of the male celebrity today, especially now that every (male) TV presenter seems to be sporting said hair from the well-trimmed and curiously coloured variety,

to the more gravitationally challenged, 

can it really be said (if it ever truly was) to be an exclusively archaeological phenomenon? Furthermore, whereas (in the good old days) the beard was a marker of the evil doer, the cad, bounder and all round bad egg,

today (and especially after this year's Eurovision Song Contest) the beard would appear to have transgressed all simplistic social codes, so that everyone has got one.

Needless to say, at the end of the meeting, so as to avoid all future confusion, I went home and shaved.