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Dug to Death: A Review

Method and Mayhem in New Zealand

About.com Rating 4.5 Star Rating


Adrain Praetzellis. 2003. Dug to Death: A Tale of Archaeological Method and Mayhem. Altamira Press, Walnut Creek, California.

Adrian Praetzellis Loves Fieldwork

You could almost scrawl that on a highway overpass, it's so clear. In Adrian Praetzellis' book Dug to Death, newly out in paperback, he describes in deeply affectionate fashion some of the myriad ways that things go horribly awry--and, pretty well, actually--on an archaeological dig in New Zealand.

The Plot Thickening

The plot (for this is a murder mystery, after all) concerns an archaeological dig in advance of a development project, a golf course. Between the covers you'll find lots of whacked-out characters, some I know I've been in the field with. You'll also find lots of method discussion and diagrams on topics such as stratigraphy and the Harris Matrix, the difference between content and structure, and just what the heck site formation processes are.

There are also a lot of very familiar situations involving site visits, tolerant lab directors, ruthlessly driven graduate students, oblivious developers and (mostly) gormless site directors. Oh, and of course, a couple of (recently deceased) corpses and a ghost. Excavating at the Wallace Site--that's Wallace, not Wally, which we're told means 'bumbling loser' in New Zealand English--has its difficulties.


A glossary--actually four glossaries--are provided, to define such terms as vernacular architecture, dirt, midden, oral history, post hole paint, and whinge, all of which are required on almost every archaeological dig you'll ever be on. An index is included (you won't find those in your typical mystery novel) and an introduction and a chapter for further reading. In which, and I swear I didn't notice this until now, he plugs this website. Now cut that out, Praetzellis, this is supposed to be responsible journalism.

Crafty Bits

What Praetzellis has crafted in this yakkety little murder mystery is an entertaining exaggeration of what field work can really be like. If you want to be an archaeologist, if you really want to know what being an archaeologist is all about, you should go on a field school. And take this book with you. It'll give you a clue as to what else can go wrong.

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