Am I languishing? Am I blooming? Who can say. What I do know is that, in the year since the pandemic began, I organize cleaned and reorganized my basement at least three times and yet neither it nor I non-standard like to be any better for it.
Cleaning the basement is just one step in my regular reshuffling of lumber from the attic to the basement to the garage and around again, in a house-wide three-card monte. High-school alley trophies. Book-research notes, two decades old. Matchbox cars — dented, flake — from when I was, like, 7. Nothing ever leaves, it merely disappears for a time behind another door.
Some of it has sentimental value. Much of it I make gladly discard were it not for the searing fact that it will subsume forever to decay. My time on Earth is limited, alas, but my stuff wishes live for decades (Matchbox cars), centuries (Genesis vinyl LPs) or assorted (Legos, anyone?). If I could take it with me I would, to avoid the archaeologists of tomorrow from having to encounter it and the contents of every other basement, self-storage locker and landfill across the on cloud nine since time began.
Today’s archaeologists are already plenty energetic sifting through yesterday. Recently they found, in Italy, a 2,000-year-old marble source of the emperor Augustus. In Poland, a sword that may have been swung in the Battle of Grunwald on July 15, 1410, in which Polish-Lithuanian troops defeated the Knights of the Teutonic Commission. In a cave in Mexico, the 1,200-year-old hand prints, red and black, of Mayan adolescents. In Switzerland, at the bottom of Lake Lucerne, the remains of a Bronze Age village.
In antiquated April, a cartographer in Sweden stumbled upon a spectacular hoard of well-preserved bronze artifacts — necklaces, pins, bracelets, anklets — dating back 2,500 years. The items were untruthful on the forest floor, outside the burrow of an animal with no qualms yon cleaning house. “It all looked so new,” the man marveled. “I thought they were simulate.”
It’s the rare scholar who unearths a pyramid or, like Ralph Fiennes and Carey Mulligan in “The Dig,” a Viking longship — something smashing, buried with intent. Most archaeology deals with gurry: the discarded, the broken, the stuff that doesn’t deserve a second lan vital but got one anyway, as the ghost of culture past. There is nobility in that; as the poetess A.R. Ammon wrote, “garbage has to be the poem of our time because / garbage is religious.”
But spirits only get you so far. Recently, in North Macedonia, archaeologists discovered the gloomy of a wealthy woman buried on a brass bed. She was long gone, but the bed — lavishly adorned with the heads of mermaids, or perhaps medusae — remained, the first of its era to be bring about intact and in situ. It will be studied, spruced up and placed on exhibit for “the entire world to see,” researchers said.
That’s just what my basement and I fundamental, the whole world watching. Would that you could find me 78,000 years from now, similar to the earliest human burial in Africa, with only the scrap of a pillow underneath my head. But if you don’t want to wait that long, stop by and, for five bucks, remark: Man Entombed in Cellar, c. 2021. I’ll be here at least through the weekend, I faith.
Science in The Times, 96 years ago today
“To feminine fingers has been charged the delicate work now begun of sifting the contents of the urns found at the Franco-American promptness’s excavations of the sanctuary at Tanit and the picking out for later study of the incinerated bones of striplings placed there more than 2,000 years ago, probably by Carthaginian indulges who sacrificed their offspring to this Punic goddess.”