Kurt Thomas Hunt and “his crew” are redefining archaeology, and collaborating to bring excitement to this old-school profession. Hunt promotes his blog and his brand, Sexy Archaeology, through a variety of social media tools, including Flickr, Twitter and Google+. He even does a little e-commerce on the side…
Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you developed an interest in archaeology?
My interest in archaeology started when I was a child. Being a product of the early 1980s, it goes without saying that the Indiana Jones films had a massive influence on me. I was enthralled by thoughts of traveling the world searching for treasure. I dug up my entire sandbox looking for ancient ruins.
As I got older, I began to see that archaeology was nothing like what it is in the movies, it’s much more rigorous and scientific. While some people may be turned off by this, I found it even MORE interesting.
I received my BA in Archaeology from SUNY Potsdam and my Master’s at the University of Bristol. Bristol has a fantastic Archaeology for Screen Media program that allowed me to combine my interests in a both media production and archaeology. Now I’m putting some serious thought into a PhD. I figure if I’m going to go, why not go all the way?
You have a unique blog. Where did the “sexy” moniker come from?
I’ve always enjoyed blogging. To me there is something deeply appealing in writing a piece and having the ability to receive feedback from people from around the globe. Right about the time I started my Master’s, I found myself becoming increasingly anxious to share archaeological news with people and sort of highlight what I considered to be the best archaeology out there.
Sexy Archaeology, by my definition, is any archaeology which is excitingly appealing. It’s my brand, my seal of approval. It’s the discoveries and research that I feel should be basking in the public spotlight.
You find different ways to get your viewers involved. Could you tell us about the Sexiest Field Crew Competition?
The sexiest field crew competition was a lot of fun, and there was an enormous amount of positive feedback from it. The idea behind the contest was not only to promote the Web site, but get people involved in it.
Most archaeologists start out working summers on a field crew. That can mean long, hot days working with the same people. I thought the contest was a great way for archaeologists to get creative and have fun with their jobs and the people they work with. Judging by the feedback and the pictures, I’d say the crews really enjoyed themselves. I think there was something like 30 entries overall, which doesn’t sound like much, but when you consider that it was 30 crews from all around the globe, I think it’s pretty impressive.
You are currently soliciting on your site for various archaeologists of different backgrounds for an ongoing television series. Could you tell us about that?
The idea of creating an archaeology-based television show is something that’s floated around in my head for years. Like I said, my real interest is blending media and archaeology. I’ve been fortunate enough to find myself in contact with a few different production companies who share a similar interest. Executing that idea is a different story. I’m very critical of the way archaeology is portrayed in the media. Production companies are focused on entertainment and pulling in viewers, and they are endlessly recycling things like the search for the Holy Grail, Atlantis and all the 2012 nonsense. If I’m going to do anything, I’m going to place the science first. But it’s very difficult to find that happy medium between entertainment and education, especially when archaeology can often be a very tedious process. In the last few months, I’ve taken things into my own hands. I’m currently refining the concept I have for the series, and hopefully in the near distant future I can start making the rounds with it.
You currently have one of the (if not the) largest archeology groups on Facebook. Why did you start it, and what are your goals or intents with it?
The Facebook group started well before the Web site. The idea behind it was to assemble people under the same banner and get them networking. So much more is possible when people in the same field start networking. I’ve managed to meet dozens of very interesting characters through the group. I was in Reno for New Years and bumped into a couple members in a bar, had a great chat about what they were doing in the field. I know quite a few people who have come to the group looking for suggestions on field schools and employment and found the help they needed. That is exactly what I wanted to see- archaeologists helping archaeologists.
Where else are you online and how do you use that to communicate archaeology?
I have a blog where I unload all my non-archaeological thoughts. It’s a place where I can keep in contact with my friends when I’m traveling. I’m quite interested in non-science writing as well, so when I find a free chance I vent there.
One of my favorite things about your site is how daring it is… Why did you choose to take archaeology to this “level?”
One of the biggest challenges I encountered when I was creating Sexy Archaeology was finding a way to stand out among the already sizable number of archaeology-based Web sites out there. I knew that if it was going to succeed, my Web site had to be unique. Too many good news stories are lost in boring presentation or dense literature. I wanted to avoid that. I wanted to attract people to the news as much as my site. Therefore I knew that my little niche in cyberspace had to exist on a different level.
In your blog you mention how every archaeologist has a story to tell. What is one of yours?
I remember working in the southern Kenya Great Rift Valley in the hundred-degree heat. My back hurt from sleeping in a tent and hadn’t bathed in weeks; I was covered in dirt and sweat, struggling to take the next step. At one point I had to stop and ask myself, “what the hell I was doing. Is this really what I wanted to do with my life?” Then something caught my eye: a small, circular ostrich eggshell bead. I remember holding it in my hand, realizing that I was the first person to hold that artifact in tens of thousands of years. It put me back in the game. Archaeology is a lot of hard work, but when you find something like that, it really reaffirms your love for the field. I live for moments like that.
Who contributes to your site?
Sexy Archaeology owes a lot of people a big thanks for contributing their time and energy to the website.
Matthew Davenport (aka the Spaz) has been with the Web site since the beginning. He’s one of the funniest guys I’ve met and is just as passionate about archaeology as I am. Matt contributes stories when he has the time.
Matt Thompson from TheArchaeologicalBox.com has been incredibly generous in the financial support of the website.
Then there is David Connolly from BAJR, the British Archaeological Jobs Resource. David was a great help in promoting the Sexiest Field Crew Competition in 2009 on the ArcheoNews podcast.
Tim Taylor and the crew from both the UK and American Time Team series have also been a wonderful help.
I could never begin to list the number of people who send me links to stories or other websites. It’s a big world out there, I think without the contributors Sexy Archaeology would cease to exist.
You have something even more unique on your blog–a store. What all can folks purchase and what all is entailed on your end to maintain the store?
The store is in the midst of a massive revamp right now. Some archaeologists are very particular about their field wear so I’ve made it a priority to design something that people would actually want to sport in the field. The store itself is thankfully maintained by a third party, but a portion of every T-Shirt purchased goes in to helping pay the bills. So buy some T-Shirts!
What can we expect for the future of Sexy Archaeology?
Sexy Archaeology isn’t going away anytime soon, that’s for sure. When I launched in 2009, I wanted to give it a year to see how things went. If I enjoyed doing it and if it received a positive response then I knew that when the second year rolled around I’d really push it forward.
Now the time has come. I plan to have a lot more thought pieces this year. I think a lot of archaeologists are good about keeping up with the happenings in their field, but I’m not sure how many ever peel back the surface on some of the issues. I want to drive archaeologists to think a bit more theoretically and not just familiarize themselves with the big issues, but understand the implications our work may have and how it affects our field.
Aside from that, I’m going to be rolling out a podcast miniseries in the coming months as well as a brand new Sexiest Field Crew Competition for 2010 and some new T-shirt designs. I’m very excited about it.
What is your advice for folks interested in getting into archaeology and blogging?
Anyone with even the slightest interest should give it a go. So much of archaeology is made possible through the financial contributions of the general public (in fact almost all of CRM). Our careers depend on people remaining interested in our field. We as archaeologists have an obligation to the public: to keep them interested, to share discoveries and information and to educate. The more people we have involved in doing that, the brighter the future of archaeology will be.