Idea Germ: Digging Up Bones

Documentaries are some of my favorite television shows. I especially enjoy documentaries on animals, history and true crime. Shows about archaeological digs and paleontology top my list of must-see programming, but I have to admit that I cast a jaundiced eye on some of the “finds.”

Years ago, I read that some mistakes were made when experts assembled a dinosaur skeleton or two. They even put the wrong skull on a skeletal body. Everything I thought I knew about what dinosaurs looked like was…sullied.

When the horror subsided, the revelation made me wonder what other mistakes have colored our view of the world’s checkered past?

For instance, you may see an archaeologist painstakingly unearth a large shard of pottery, show it to the camera and intone authoritatively, “This is a piece of a specific type of water jug used only in Pompeii’s surprisingly efficient kitchens.”

Really? What if you’re wrong? What if the ghost of the jug’s owner is hovering nearby, laughing her ectoplasm off because she used that jug for storing the doodoo her dog deposited during their walks through Pompeii’s poshest neighborhood?

Or the archaeologist holds up a small bit of metal and pronounces it part of a crude tool used by Early Man to skin buffalo. The archaeologist holds up a drawing for the viewers of what the tool probably looked like. Well, what if the archaeologist is wrong? What if the metal goes to a cracker tin the archaeologist doesn’t realize Early Man knew how to make?

There is no such thing as a Brontosaurus, you know. That was one of the mistakes of Early Scientists. I liked the animal just fine when I thought it was a Brontosaurus, and now I’m disillusioned about the whole dinosaur thing.

Which brings me to the idea germ. Generations from now, when our descendants dig up our cities’ remains and discover the de rigueur “time capsule” entombed in so many public buildings, will they know what the contents are? What will they think of a rotary telephone, should they find one intact?

“This,” the Archaeologist of Tomorrow intones as he carefully cradles the fragile item, “was buried with our ancestors’ dead. In the early part of the 18th Century, Man believed he could communicate with his ancestors using this device.” He doesn’t even get the century right.

Considering the fact that we currently manufacture plastics and other items that take a zillion years to decompose, I wonder what our descendants will make of the treasures to be found in the landfill.

Could an “O” from a giant, plastic Coca-Cola sign be identified as some type of portal? “We recently unearthed a perfectly preserved window used in the late 1900s for what was then called affordable housing.”

I don’t think it is safe to assume that technology will continually move forward and written and video records of our current mastery of this planet will always

No, it isn’t a Brontosaurus. It’s really an Apatosaur. Photo courtesy of Jim Daly of the UK on Stock .xchng

be available. What if the vital information our descendants seek is on a Betamax tape, or inscribed on the hard drive of a Coleco Adam? In 200 years, the fate of the world could conceivably (okay, barely conceivably) be decided by a series of text messages sent between two important scientists’ cell phones. What if the archaeologists don’t realize the batteries need charging and the devices need to be turned on?

In MEMORY’S CHILD, set well into the future, there is no technology left on the planet. No cities, either. Will our descendants know us only by our ruins, or by our time capsules and landfills? And, oh, yes, what about that “O” from an ancient Coca-Cola sign?

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