Wonderful things – an AWRF session with David Veart

You only get one go at life – you might as well do something you love …

Festivals, like life, are all about choices.  Should I turn left or right; become a librarian or an astronaut; eat sushi or icecream; stay for this session or head to that …

Today, I stayed.  It was a tough choice: I had thought I would catch Emily Rodda, but I will also be seeing her tomorrow, and given that I spent a large part of my pre-teen years thinking I would be a famous Egyptologist in the manner of Howard Carter (without the vengeful mummy curses, obviously), I figured a bit of a look-in at the Schools Programme session with New Zealand’s very own answer to Indiana Jones might be interesting.  This last-minute change of plan thing can be fraught with peril sometimes, particularly if you haven’t read the book, but today I scored bigtime.

When he was 10 years old, David Veart got sick, and ended up having to stay in bed for three months – as often happened in those days.  In the end, all he could do was read, so he did, and eventually there was nothing left to read.  Then one day his father appeared with a book.  David showed us a picture of the front of that book, and believe me, looking at that cover kids these days would have to be pretty desperate to even consider it … Called Gods, Graves and Scholars: the story of archaeology, it was exactly what it seemed to be.  The chapter that set the tone for the rest of David’s life (with a couple of detours through lawyering and teaching) was the now-famous story of Howard Carter and the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun.  I remember reading that story myself – Lord Carnarvon and Carter, the poor Egyptian village, the steps down into the rubble, clearing away the layers, and finally breaking through to find a wall, Carnarvon’s impatient question – Well, can you see anything? And Carter’s eventual, spine-tingling reply, “Yes, wonderful things!”

The difference between David Veart and, say, me is that I thought I knew that you simply can’t be an archaeologist in New Zealand.  We are too young.  And everything cool has been found.  Not true, says David: New Zealand is also full of ‘wonderful things’.  And he spent the rest of the session telling us about the wonderful things.  There was a funny and clever story in the middle of the session about a guy called William Rathje, who uses traditional archaeology methods and theories to study modern society (ie. rubbish dumps and other people’s wheelie bins), and some talk about how much of archaeology is “sitting, looking and thinking”.

It wasn’t so much a slideshow of stuff, however, as a truly inspiring way of thinking about our land, and our responsibilities.  Using a series of photos as an illustration of how modern-day archaeology works (with enough technological toys to keep the innovators as well as the traditionalists happy), David took us through the steps and in the process left me, at least, with one of those perspective shifts that are truly the best result of unexpected choices made:

We’re the last ones – we who came to New Zealand have travelled further than anyone else, later than anyone else, to the last place on earth that could be settled.  And because of this, we are the only ones on earth who can still find and study the first ones, our first people …

You never know what’s under your feet.

A winner of a session for me, and all because I chose to just sit still.  I hope the kids got as much out of it as I did!