Diggin’ Up Bones**


Thomas Jefferson liked having these around the house.

Sophie Pollitt-Cohen writes:

This Friday, I was struck by the N.Y. Times article  article “Time Conspires Against the Search for a War’s Fallen.”  This sounded like it would be right in my wheel house, and indeed it was.  “With time running out to crack the case of the missing soldiers,” Dorreen Carvajal wrote, “the United States fields teams of military researchers to search for the remains of World War II troops, but it has limited resources.  So much of the detective work has fallen to amateur sleuths in Belgium, France, and Germany who hunt for makeshift graves and the ghosts of war.”

First of all, this is awesome.  Where I live, I can’t dig up anything, because it is probably illegal.  Also, the only thing I would find if I dug in Riverside Park is the bones of Blueberry and Pecorino, two mice I carried there in a blueberry box and a cheese box, respectively, and then released to freedom, after their parents had about eight gajillion babies and then they all ate each other until only these two survived.

Nowadays, it’s hard for regular people to borrow cool parts of history for themselves, especially if by borrow you mean steal. In the middle ages, people were all about taking antiquity for their own fun.  In medieval Rome, it would not be uncommon to hear someone say, “Oh, what’s that?  You like the marble structure of my hospital/church/palace/miscellaneous building?  Thanks, I got it at the Colloseum.”

Even Thomas Jefferson, my second favorite founding father, was in on this.  He used his own money to send out Clark, of Lewis And, to find a whole bunch of fossils, and TJ just kept them on display in his house.  A lot of people made fun of him for being more into paleontology than what they considered his real responsibilities, and they called him Mr. Mammoth.  I find jokes about Sally Hemmings to be lame, but you commoners could insert one here, if you must.

What’s so cool to me about this article is that it says most of this discovery work is done by “Amateur Historians.”  That is what I am!  What do you think all this stuff I write about is?  And I just gave you all a Sally Hemmings joke for free, so clearly I am not a professional.

I had not before considered that “every identifying badge or medal answers a question for a family.”  Clearly they know their family member is dead, but there is something very human about wanting the body of a lost loved one.  It has been important to people for thousands of years.  In the Illiad, King Priam begs Achilles for Hector’s body back.  He clasps the knees and kisses “those terrible, man-killing hands that had slaughtered Priam’s many sons in battle.”

On a lighter note, I just went digging in my closet, and I found my favorite moccasins.  They’re the brand that Lindsey Lohan and Kate Moss have, so they are kind of an international treasure of fashion.  Maybe I am more of a sleuth than I thought! 


**The title of this is taken from a great country jam by Randy Travis , which you should download immediately.

2 thoughts on “Diggin’ Up Bones**

  1. Great post and source article. I grew up in the same small town as “Randy Travis: Country Music’s Finest,” and on my last visit was able to see a house my family built in the late 1700’s. It still had bullet holes from General Sherman, a scratched pane of glass from generations of newly engaged daughters testing their diamonds and, believe it or not, 200 year old corn cobs used to insulate the walls. I’ll bet “history” is close to us, it’s just hard to see. (Mammoth. Ha.)

  2. I remember digging in the yard with my little sister as children, which is a pretty common pass-time in the South. We thought everything was a treasure or relic because a mere month under dirt with tarnish and age just about anything to look ancient.

    You are a great writer and I look forward to more blogs from you.

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