TOPAZ JONEZ

First thing’s first…it says here you’re a fan of archaeology. How did you begin working in that field?

My family definitely instilled a love of the old and archaic in me when I was younger but, it never felt like I actually had a shot in the business. Or, well, I didn’t, until I reconnected with a professor and friend of mine that I hadn’t seen in quite a few years.


Reconnected?

He used to work with my parents. And, I guess by proxy, he worked with me when I was too young to really understand what “work” was.


How did you start out coming to these digs?

At the time, my father was working on a dig in Egypt, and as you know, a lot of the digs in Egypt are nothing shy of fonts of knowledge! My family and I were living in Nigeria, so it’s not like we were terribly far from the site…I started small by helping pack lunches for the crew. One thing led to another, and before too long, I went from just being the lunch lady to actually learning on-site. It was amazing.

So the pyramids were just a regular family holiday excursion?

Oh, definitely. I think every family has a weird monument site they travel to at least a couple times in their lives, though…it doesn’t necessarily HAVE to be as large as the pyramids, you know. Even something small like a local waterfall park has be a wealth of knowledge into the past.…although, we still did go to Disneyworld, sometimes. That’s a kind of knowledge all its own, if you ask me. [laughs]


Any chances of people excavating old amusement parks in the future?

Ha! I’d imagine there’d be movies based on it if we did. Just think about it…a strapping and handsome explorer with his dashing lady sidekick, swinging on vines and desperately trying to flee from the possessed mascot costumes of the damned, all hungry for fresh meat…

Profile interview by Topaz Jonez for

JESPIONNE

What is the most exciting part behind an excavation?

You know that old saying “it’s not the journey, but the destination,” right? Well…what I do is exactly that. It’s not the huge thrill at the end of the dig that feels really good, but actual steps and making small discoveries that start piling up into something big…as soon as you break new ground with your discoveries, you feel this thrill rush through your body as you start to realize “hey, maybe we’re onto something here!” and throughout the rest of the dig, that energy never leaves.

How often do you end up being hot on a trail?

See…not as often as the movies would let you think. What we do in terms of preserving these artifacts and excavating them in the first place…that takes months, years, lifetimes even…Some of the projects I start during my own lifetime will be picked up and handled by future generations of archaeologists because of just how expansive history is. Artifacts that have piled up over the thousands of years the planet we call home has existed are sleeping and waiting for us to find them. They were deemed useless when society chucked them aside, but that’s no longer true…they’re something marvelous and beautiful.

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What is your opinion on the future of archaeology then?

Despite having lived around these things for literally my whole life, I really am like a baby in the grand scheme of things because I pretty much just started on my own. It’s such a field full of wonder and potential that it feels like we’ve barely scratched the surface as to how all of these unique cultures that currently inhabit our earth formed…but I can’t say the rest of the world feels the same. There seems to be a waning interest in what we do, especially in the more specialized fields such as excavation, but hopefully we can make huge leaps and bounds discovery-wise before the passion is truly snuffed out. Even if we made just a little bit of progress into discovering the secret of who we really are and how we came to be…I won’t be fully satisfied, but it’s something.

What do you feel is the biggest threat to your practice as a whole?

Money is definitely the first thing that comes to mind. There’s too much of it in the hands of the undeserving and too little being spread across too many different fields of study, some not enriching in the slightest. But on a more close-quarters front? Anger, war, hardship…it feels like every day is a fight for survival in terms of both preserving this field of study that I hold so dearly and when it comes to keeping the people we work with safe. There’s a lot of danger out here and in the villages nearby, and we need to protect everything that needs to be protected, especially the people who allow us this insight we probably don’t even deserve. There’s so much at stake here.

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What is your experience with the everyday obstacles of where you started your work?

It’s really no small secret that my father was killed in a genocide during one of his expeditions. That’s something I’ve had to come to terms with, and also was a very harsh lesson that I had to learn on the job…these kinds of things can happen in an instant. As much as I’d like to think we as a species have grown and moved past a lot of the cruelty that ailed us in our history, a lot of the problems of yesterday still affect us today.


What did you do after the attack?

As sad as it is to say…they weren’t the only casualty. I…and all of the surviving members of the screw scattered, since that seemed to be the safest course of action. I went to South Africa, and leave everything behind after that genocide, and thinking about how much information we lost…that really stings. The only thing I managed to grab was my old professor friend’s notes, but kept them locked away for a long while, until they resurfaced in my life again.

So that seems to be an ongoing theme? Buried lessons and finding them again when they’re most needed?

Of course! Such is true for all of us, I’d say! However, a lot of us don’t even realize that it’s the pattern we all live, or some of us just prefer to let sleeping dogs lie and have our secrets stay buried. To each their own, I guess.


How did those notes resurface, as you put it?

You know how it goes…sometimes, something is so painful to look at you want to just let it gather dust, locked away in the back of your mind…or in my case, in your mind and in the back of my room. It eventually reached the point that I had to grow up and face the music, and let myself delve back into these long-forgotten notes I had just grabbed on a whim. I recognized them as my professor’s right away. His notes were so detailed, so comprehensive, that I could see all of the dig sites he had been to and recorded information on so clearly even though I had never been there before myself…it was amazing and I couldn’t believe I had let this information waste away for so long.

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Is this the same professor from Oxford?

It is. After I found those notes, something in me told I had to reach out to him because everything within me told me this was the right path for my life to take. I was around seventeen at the time, so as soon as we were able to meet up, he wasted no time getting me ready to start my career. It was a whirlwind, sure, but one I’m glad I braved through.


What were you doing previously, you know, anything in school? Drama club?

No, not at all. I can’t see myself ever being in drama club. [laughs] I loved running, track, cross country, anything that involved me running until my feet and lungs felt numb. The more I did it, the more involved I got with it and the better I got. Before too long, a scholarship for track dropped right in my lap, and that was such a happy accident if you ask me. I was just running to help myself get so numb I felt something again.

Iwas just running to help myself get so numb I felt something again.

After you graduated, did you initially plan on working with the companies you are now, like Unicef?

Oh, of course. Everything within me says it goes hand-in-hand with everything I do already. My passion, when you get right down to it, is preservation, and it doesn’t matter if that means protecting ancient ruins or protecting people whose lives have been flipped upside down by hardship. It’s not the inherently-restless need to create something just to create it, or the overtly-selfish desire to destroy something to destroy it. It’s a gentle kind of touch you can offer to the world, one that allows us to appreciate everything we already have. At the end of the day, it leaves the world a better place, even in small ways, and allows us to address concerns with society before they spiral out of hand.

What does it take to do what you do?

It takes an immense amount of courage to stand up to the people who are wrong in the world, even if you fear what might happen from it. It takes the humility to realize that that this is something much larger than yourself at stake here, that we need to stand up and speak for those who cannot do so themselves. It takes the drive to want to protect and preserve what we have now so when we leave it behind, our children and their children can learn from our mistakes and improve their own lives, even amidst chaos. Sadly…the world might always be in chaos.


What are some goals you have to preserve your home?

I don’t even know where to start. There’s so much to do, and I feel really small when I think about everything that needs to be done. But hopefully…I can put my nose to the grindstone and do whatever I can to make our world a better, happier, and safer one.

But I will say this: I feel a really powerful duty within me to investigate everything our world has to offer so we can protect it. There are warlords and criminals needing to be put to justice, and their crimes are happening right before our very eyes. Take it from someone who finds hidden things for a living…some people are rather good at trying to hide, but they can’t hide forever.


Well, hopefully, you’ll be able to find what you’re searching for here at Jespionne.

Thank you, I look forward to uncovering what you guys have waiting for me.

S ome people are rather good at trying to hide, But they can’t hide forever.

LIVE FEED

PHOTOS

Eight Mummies Unearthed in Egypt in Amazing Dig /Ancient Ruins Discovered in East Africa / Temple of Hatshepsut / Cape Town shoreline / Radcliffe Camera at Oxford / Hygiene Improvement at Unicef / Necropolis / Khaled Desouki / Stringer / AFP / Patil Makarand / Jallanzo / H. Barrison / Angelina Aspen / Lonely Planet / UNICEF Photography


TAGS

CNN / OriginalPeople / Ancient / News24 / Britain Express / Unicef / Independent / Egyptian Tomb / Cape Town / Radcliffe Camera / Oxford University / Luxor / The Temple of Hatshepsut / Unicef / Egypt / Pyramids / South Africa / Cape Town / Penguins / Angelina Jolie / Clean Water / Omar Al-bashir / Hissene Habre / General Idi Amin Dada of Uganda

March 5 th, 2018

INTERVIEWS