In early April, a cartographer in Sweden stumbled upon a spectacular hoard of well-preserved bronze artifacts — necklaces, brooches, bracelets, anklets — dating back 2,500 years. The items were lying on the forest floor, outside the burrow of an animal with no qualms about cleaning house. “It all looked so new,” the man marveled. “I thought they were fake.”
It’s the rare scholar who unearths a pyramid or, like Ralph Fiennes and Carey Mulligan in “The Dig,” a Viking longship — something grand, buried with intent. Most archaeology deals with rubbish: the discarded, the broken, the stuff that doesn’t deserve a second life but got one anyway, as the ghost of culture past. There is nobility in that; as the poet A.R. Ammon wrote, “garbage has to be the poem of our time because / garbage is spiritual.”
But spirits only get you so far. Recently, in North Macedonia, archaeologists discovered the grave of a wealthy woman buried on a brass bed. She was long gone, but the bed — lavishly decorated with the heads of mermaids, or perhaps medusae — remained, the first of its era to be found intact and in situ. It will be studied, spruced up and placed on exhibit for “the whole world to see,” researchers said.
That’s just what my basement and I need, the whole world watching. Would that you could find me 78,000 years from now, like the earliest human burial in Africa, with only the scrap of a pillow under my head. But if you don’t want to wait that long, stop by and, for five bucks, behold: Man Entombed in Cellar, c. 2021. I’ll be here at least through the weekend, I hope.