Archaeologists often pride themselves in being interdisciplinary. We study objects, landscape, geology, environmental science, biological science, chemistry, art, history, craft production, literature, physics, philosophy, agriculture, husbandry, and the list can honestly go on and on and on.
One thing we don’t do so well with is admitting that a non-archaeologist may have valuable insight into our problem.
Or consulting with that person once we’ve admitted they have valuable insight.
Before the annoyed comments start, let me say that there are plenty of archaeologists who work with non-archaeological specialists in order to answer questions they have about one thing or another. Museums have consulted with craftspeople to produce replicas of objects, partly to have a replica, but more importantly to understand the process of creating such an object and the possible debris that gets left behind. Many will also consult with biologists and chemists on things like animal and plant remains, environmental factors, or the chemical signature of metals or ceramics or any other object we may find.
In general, though, archaeologists tend to consult other archaeologists rather than branching out of their field, even though doing so might give them answers they couldn’t get elsewhere. How often to archaeologists specialising in metallurgy actually consult a smith? How often do those studying glass consult with glassblowers? Or those looking at assemblages of domestic animal bone consult with those in agriculture? It happens, but probably not as often as it should.
As someone who studies beads, I should be working with those who make beads, those who sell beads, those who deal with beads on a daily basis. Is the system of bead usage going to be exactly the same as in the past? No, but those currently involved in bead manufacture and trade certainly possess knowledge that I currently do not, and that knowledge could be valuable when looking at systems in the past.
And there should be absolutely no stigma in academia associated with such a collaboration. My PhD in archaeology looking at glass will not make me a master at glassblowing. A specialist is a specialist is a specialist, whether they are associated with an institution or are largely self-taught. Not all specialties come in the form of a degree – they come with experience. The sooner we recognise that experience as valuable, the better our own research endeavors will be.
Incidentally, if there are any people connected to beads in any way, I would be more than happy to speak with you!