The archaeology of werewolves

Archaeologists and werewolves have a lot in common, even beyond the way that both groups have a reputation for tearing through the underbrush, and doing inscrutable activities that confuse and concern the neighbors. Both groups have rules.

In older movies and fiction, werewolves generally were depicted as loners, only constrained by the state of the moon and metallic silver. More recently, werewolves have been written as living within the hierarchy of the pack, with alphas, betas, and all the strict, sometimes harsh, traditions of any culture. This is certainly the case with Rhiannon Held’s werewolf packs, divided into regions, and bound by rules of courtesy, history, and strength.

These days, werewolves can’t just go running around, doing whatever they want.

 Lady’s Children is out today!

Lady’s Children is out today!

And neither can archaeologists. Popular representations would have you believe that we go wherever we want, pillage whatever treasure is the current object of our obsession (and it’s always obsession, in fiction—seldom the adventure of scientific inquiry with its rigorous application of methodology), and then either save the world from an unspeakable doom or sell the artifact to save (fill in the blank).

If you’ve read my Fangborn books or my Emma Fielding books, you know my take on it: It just ain’t so. Rhiannon Held is also an archaeologist, and she brings her expertise to bear in her new collection of urban fantasy/werewolf stories.

One of the fun things in Rhiannon’s latest collection, Lady’s Children (stories from the world of Silver) is to watch a werewolf pack deal with the frustration of archaeology’s real-life rules when they ask human archaeologist Faith to examine a property to determine whether werewolves lived there long ago. In “Contested History,” Faith has to explain to them that there are legal restrictions on what she can do at her level of expertise, and how carefully they must work—the rules of her scientific “pack.” Yes, she explains, we look for artifacts, but if we don’t record exactly where they were found, and with what, we won’t get the answers we’re looking for. It’s the information, with the artifacts, that tell the whole story. Faith encounters all of the problems of a contract archaeologist: dealing with the landowners, working with a demanding (and carnivorous) set of employers, and struggling with an inexperienced crew, new to the dirt and tedium and personnel conflicts--just like real archaeology.

(One of my favorite scenes was an example of what we used to call “aerial archaeology.” Instead of describing a site that was surveyed by plane or satellite, we used it sarcastically when a new crewmember pulled an artifact out of the ground (losing its all-important context), and ran around, waving it in the air. There’s a skill involved in to trying to teach a new student, and it’s even harder when the student is an impatient and belligerent werewolf.)

There are significant pay-offs in each group learning the other’s culture—and I won’t give any spoilers—but they are as real and subtle as any real-life excavation. You don’t always find what you expect, but you need to be open to all the interpretations suggested by the data. Even if you’re a werewolf.