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Archaeological Fun and Folly: The Life and Times of Richard Gomez

By Richard A. Diehl

Alabama Softball at its best.

Alabama Softball at its best.

“What do you do?” the elderly gentleman asked the mature woman sitting next to him at Ann Rhoades Stadium, home of the University of Alabama softball team. She looked him over, noting his battered sombrero, walking stick, and long hair before answering. Sensing he was well-meaning but harmless old rogue, she responded “Well, I’m an archaeologist. I study ancient Mesoamerican civilizations.” Desperate to continue the conversation, he came back with the question every archaeologist dreads: “What is the best thing you’ve ever found?” She lowered her eyes seductively and replied “Uh, let’s see, there was that really neat clay pot in a Toltec altar.” Incredulous, he retorted “What? You’ve never found gold diadems, or shrunken heads, or crystal skulls? What kind of a hick archaeologist are you?” Just then Jaclyn “J Train” Traina, Bama’s legendary pitcher/slugger, nailed one over the fence with two on base; ensuring that Big Al’s ladies stayed alive in the tournament. He got up to buy some popcorn and moved seats.

A dirt road too far, La Mojarra, Veracruz, Mexico

A dirt road too far, La Mojarra, Veracruz, Mexico

So, you ask, just what has Richard A. Diehl found since entering Mexican archaeology sixty years ago? The first things that pop into my mind are students; thousands of US and Mexican students in classrooms and a few score working with me in Mexico. The satisfaction of a rich, interesting life, advancing the “sum total of human knowledge” about ancient societies, as Professor Warwick Bray likes to say. Living in Mexico, as close to Heaven as I am likely to get.  All the friendships, food (good and bad), hangovers, road trips, memorable incidents that lead me to sleep many nights. The old trucks that died with me at the wheel, the boat I thought had brakes, the road up the mountain that ended just around the curve. Oh, and millions of pottery fragments (sherds in the lingo). I could try to explain these things to my inquisitors but that would not be what they want to hear.

The house floor that triggered thoughts about children playing 1,000 years ago and the burial that challenged me to reconstruct a young man’s battle-shortened life. Last but most importantly. the realization that humans are really all one vast family scattered across the planet and deep time. I could try to explain these things to my inquisitors but that would not be what they want to hear.

Screening soil with Carmelita, a student at the University of Veracruz, Matacapan, Veracruz

Screening soil with Carmelita, a student at the University of Veracruz, Matacapan, Veracruz

The house floor that triggered thoughts about children playing 1,000 years ago and the burial that challenged me to reconstruct a young man’s battle-shortened life. Last but most importantly. the realization that humans are really all one vast family scattered across the planet and deep time. I could try to explain these things to my inquisitors but that would not be what they want to hear.

The answers they might want to hear include Olmec stone sculptures, Toltec houses, tiny figurines used in household rituals, and ceramic kilns. The un-named ancient town lying above the long-buried mammoths where Mexico is building its new international airport (more about that in a future episode); beautifully painted pottery made in Honduras that ended up hidden away inside a Toltec house 1,000+ miles away and a 2,500-year-old agricultural field buried under volcanic ash. These and so many other things lie along my mental trails over the decades.

Do I really need a new sombrero? Uruapan, Michoacán, Mexico

Do I really need a new sombrero? Uruapan, Michoacán, Mexico

Upcoming episodes in this blog will reveal how these experiences and others molded me into who and what I am today; a garrulous, 80-year-old white Gringo who enjoys telling and hearing stories.

Future blog entries will deal with many characters I have encountered along the way. Some deserved sainthood, a few flew the Jolly Roger, and most were merely human like you and me. I will never fully identify the living, be they innocent or guilty. I plan to address current events when the past can provide a useful perspective on the present. That, after all, is how knowledge of the past can serve those of us alive today.

Mostly, I will have a light-hearted and nostalgic romp through the secret closets of my memory. I hope you will join me. 

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