Going on an Expedition (National Geographic Expedition Week)

When I found the crack-den, I knew I was in trouble.

Who climbs up a nearly 2,000 year old aqueduct, opens a hatch, and climbs down inside to make a crack-den? The evidence was clearly littered around me – pipes, needles, an old lawn chair for that homey feel… all 13 metres up in the air, in a field not far from the GRA, the modern Roman ring road. At this point, I had to ask myself, ‘is measuring the depth of plaster in this aqueduct’s water-channel really worth this?’

I was on my first real expedition. I’d been on excavations before, but this was the first project where I’d designed the research questions, got my sorry butt out to where the structures were, and began my research (I was doing a quantity-survey of the materials, and hence manpower, required for the construction of the Aqua Claudia and the Aqua Annio Novus, to explore the economics of aqueduct construction, for my MA thesis- turns out, ca 30,000 men over six years). Every archaeologist has stories like that. On another occasion, a venerable and noted archaeologist took a group of us to see a particular aqueduct dam on the outskirts of Rome. Down the path we trotted, following his lead… and around the corner, in a clearing, stood a four-poster bed, complete with pink duvet. The city council of Rome had banished the prostitutes to the periphery, and we had come across one’s… boudoir.

These memories bubbled up when I received an e-mail last week, from National Geographic. Turns out they are having an ‘Expedition Week‘ November 16-23. On tap:

  • The Expedition Game This original game mirrors the Expedition Week theme and challenges players to find priceless artifacts and earn virtual cash to fund more ambitious expeditions. During each night of Expedition Week program, secret codes will be revealed.
  • March of Explorers Timeline From the National Geographic archives, hear historic audio clips of explorers, view photos of personal items and discover what made their expeditions so significant.
  • Interactive Panoramas Explore Egypt’s Giza Plateau with interactive 360° panoramic images of iconic locations like the Sphinx, and the Great Pyramid.
  • Plus behind-the-scenes trivia, videos, photos, and more!

I’m particularly interested in the Amazon Cities’ blurb:

Over the centuries, explorers have traded tales of a lost civilization that once thrived amid the dense Amazonian rainforest. Scientists dismissed the legends as exaggerations, believing the rainforest could not sustain such a huge population. Now, a new generation of scientific explorers armed with 21st century technology have uncovered remarkable evidence that could reinvent our understanding of the Amazon and the indigenous peoples who lived there. Re-examine 16th century Spanish conquistador Francisco de Orellana’s search for this “lost civilization” of ancient Indians. More like Los Angeles than New York City, the Amazonian matrix of settlements was spread out rather than condensed in a vertical orientation. Using CGI and dramatic re-creations, we reimagine the banks of the Amazon 500 years ago, teeming with inhabitants living in the Lost Cities of the Amazon.

…and the blurb about Alex the Great:

Alexander the Great is one of history’s greatest warrior kings, and he was the leader of the most powerful nation in the ancient world. Although Macedonian by birth, he would die a pharaoh of Egypt, and his legacy would shape the Egyptian empire for the next 300 years. The location of his tomb has eluded archaeologists for more than 2,000 years. It is a hunt characterized by speculation, controversy and political wrangling. Now, for the first time, we join a new generation of experts using innovative research and thinking to retrace this pharaoh’s journey through Egypt, in search of Alexander the Great’s Lost Tomb.

No doubt, expedition stories from lost cities in the Amazon are going to be a great deal more exciting than a crack den aerie. I’ll be getting a sneak preview of some of those programs, and I hope to be able to review them before they air.

All of this makes me thing of ‘Learning from Las Vegas‘: the idea that archaeologists, as much as their work is about the past, are also crafting experiences for people in the present: an experience of the past (which is especially important given that today’s economy is in many ways, an experience economy). This is the ‘romance of archaeology’, and if it sells our work to the laypeople who pay for it, well, all the better.

Of course, that day we discovered the boudoir, romance wasn’t really on anybody’s mind…


Just started playing the expedition game. While it was fun creating my character ‘Howard Aardvark’, so far the game play is rather like those ‘eye-spy’ or ‘where’s waldo’ books. You have to find a list of items in an image, and if you do, you recover the lost statue of Minos or what have, and are rewarded with cash you can then spend on outfitting your avatar.

While I appreciate that a points-system is often used to reward game play, and promote further play, does National Geographic really want to be complicit in what seems to be a game promoting archaeology as looting?

2 thoughts on “Going on an Expedition (National Geographic Expedition Week)

  1. do they still do these weeks? I do voluntary work on old historic ruins and have found a few remnants of peoples pastime. Not very pleasant

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