These Bones by Cycy Smith

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SUMMARY: A run of bad luck on an archaeological dig may herald something far more sinister

‘Why does everyone think being an archaeologist is such a glamorous job', wondered Ellen Saunders, putting a hand to her aching back. She had been mattocking away at the side of the trench for two hours now, after some bright spark finally noticed that it had been dug two metres too short. She had been on this dig for only three days, but already the bad weather and lack of organisation was getting her down. And sleeping in a tent in a muddy field was doing her sore muscles no good at all. Unfortunately, she had no choice. Two weeks field experience each year was mandatory if she wanted to pass her course. At least this time there are some compensations, she thought, as a shadow fell across the trench. Wiping her hair out of her eyes with a muddy hand, she looked up to meet the eyes of James Stringer, archaeology's newest golden boy. Tall, tanned and blond, Stringer was the exact opposite of the usual eccentric media archaeologists and was being credited with renewing public interest in the field. His smiling, handsome face had been on the cover of both tv guides and archaeological magazines for months, since his new show Dig! started to become a Friday night must-watch. Unlike previous shows, Stringer wanted to focus on the ‘fun' side of archaeology and regularly showed footage of the students and volunteers debating with the supervisors in the pub, or having impromptu parties amongst the tents at night. Of course each of these activities was scripted and arranged to the last detail, but the reality tv spin had the public lapping it up. Ellen had managed to get a place on the latest excavation by getting her mother, an ex-glamour model from the 80s, to pull her strings with all her remaining media contacts, but she hadn't expected to actually have to do any work. This was the closest she had been to the star in three days, but it was clear from his expression that he had barely even registered her presence. Cursing the mud that covered her hands and clothing, Ellen offered him her most flirtatious smile, but he was already turning away to consult with the trench supervisor.

James Stringer was more than aware that he was considered a media slut by the more serious archaeological community, who thought his good looks and populist approach were devaluing a serious academic field. More than once he had been accused of caring more for fame than pursuing the best archaeological practice. In fact this was unfair, for James had a passion for archaeology that was often misunderstood by his critics. He had started his show out of a general desire to open up archaeology to a wider audience, and had only insisted on footage of the archaeologists socialising as a way of making them seem more approachable. He tried as hard as possible to follow the correct guidelines when running a dig, but the presence of a film crew and the need for important discoveries to be made on camera made this nearly impossible. Too often finds had to be reburied and ‘discovered', a trick he had always hated when it was used on other shows.

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