Recently, I went to the see the movie National Treasure starring Nicolas Cage. The trailers caught my attention. It was a cross between the Indiana Jones and the Da Vinci Code. It was the kind of movie that appealed to me as a bottle collector and digger. The major focus of the plot is on Cage finding the world’s greatest treasure. I found myself hoping he would stop to check for old bottles along the way. The heck with gold and silver for me the real national treasure lies entombed in a dump or privy.
The audience, along with Cage and cast, were witness to the theatrical unveiling of the National Treasure. Together, we shared the experience of the being the first humans to set eyes on it in over two hundred years. There is something indescribable about being the first one to discover an artifact since its original owner discarded or lost it. Whether trained archaeologist or simple weekend bottle digger, the feeling is the same – there is an undeniable connection between the finder and the owner. How does one capture that feeling and put it into words or images? Clearly it is not the object(s), nor the value of the object(s) which play centrally into the experience but instead it is something mystical. I have on my shelves and in my heart many memories of such experiences.
Early in my digging career, I was scratching around in a dump which belonged to a local doctor of yesteryear when I uncovered the top of a human skull. I was quite freaked out at first but as I uncovered it, the story it told was not one of murder or mystery but of anatomy. The skull cap was all that was there. It had been sawed off around the circumference of the head above the brow. It was unceremoniously mixed in with barrel hoops and old bottles. There was a jolt as I uncovered it which stopped me in mid-swing of my digging tool. The connection I felt was more with the doctor than the donor.
I think some of the more memorable finds have been those that I have found simply sitting on top of the ground. It is so strange to think the item has been just sitting there for a hundred years without being noticed. One of my favorite medicines, an emerald green “From the Laboratory of G.W. Merchant” was one of those finds. It sat there in full view covered only by a few leaves. I recall staring at it in awe, half buried, but plainly in sight and glistening. I remember kneeling down for a closer look. The scene was one which I did not wish to disturb by removing it from its nest until the full impact of the discovery had sunk in. I looked around for the house from which it had been discarded and wondered about the day it had been deposited here.
I can think of no other experience in my life that parallels that feeling of discovery. It is very different from the feeling one gets from invention or creation of something new. It is different from discovering an old bottle in a antique mall or shop or at a show because part of the experience is the context in which the object is found. It is that context, one of having been left untouched, which adds to the feeling. It is that element that connects us with the other party-the previous owner or loser of the object. It is the connection with the past. The world prior to our being born is unknowable except by second-hand experience. One will never be so close to knowing the past as one is when uncovering or discovering one of these treasures. Because of this, my favorite pictures about digging stories are those that show the bottle in situ, “in the natural or original position.”
Of course it is fun to brag about the great finds one has had. Bragging about bottle finds is somewhat analogous to telling fishing stories. But it is not stories that keeps me returning. It is that journey back into time. For that reason, if no other, I wished Cage would have lingered a bit more as he rushed through each stage of discovery. It is sort of like when I am digging. The mission is not simply to get to bottom. Get the treasure. There need to be those moments of reflection and connection. For me, the pleasure is in the. Archaeologists take this to the extreme in hopes of maximizing their interpretation of the past. Lest you get the wrong impression, I do not linger over every shard or else we never would get home.
At the end of the movie National Treasure, forgive me for giving away the plot here, Cage, after finding the world’s greatest treasure, simply gives it away. I liked that part because it gave the importance to the experience and described that feeling well. For me as a bottle digger, it is similar and that is the National Treasure.