On Archaeology and the Trials of Surveying

This post is a response to a Blog Azeroth Shared Topic suggested by Ringo Flinthammer, "Digging Archaeology".  We'll overlook the pun just this once, Ringo. 

Back when I was in first-year University, I took an Archaeology class.  It was an introduction to the subject, painting it in very broad strokes, but I managed to learn a couple of things between naps:

1) Archaeology is very pain-staking and methodical.  It is a science where the context of where you find something is every bit as important as what you find.

2) Fedoras are not required and bull whips are actively discouraged.  This point was stressed on the first day.

3) There are rarely Nazis involved.

4) Archaeology is not nearly as exciting as you want to believe it to be.

5) Running around willy-nilly digging random holes and taking the stuff you find to the nearest shady, back-alley antiquities dealer to sell for lots of money is a good way to get yourself arrested.  This is particularly true in some countries like Greece or Egypt which are rather sensitive about these sorts of things.  And it invariably ends in a dark room, sitting at a table with a single bare light bulb above it and getting some rather severe looks from gentlemen who think that their priceless cultural artifacts do, in fact, belong in their country and would like nothing better than to arrange for you a first-hand experience of what it would be like to be stuck in a tomb for four thousand years.

Sorry, where was I?

Oh, yes, Archaeology!  The new secondary profession in World of Warcraft where you run around willy-nilly and ... dig random... uhh.... and ... err... priceless cultural artifacts... umm... sold to any vendor who happens to be standing near you... err... Oh dear.

I was very excited about the idea of Archaeology when Blizzard announced that it was going to be added with the Cataclysm expansion.  I am a bit of a lorehound, and I loved the idea of a secondary profession that added to the story of the game in an interactive way.

I have been playing with Archaeology very casually since it was released.  Very casually indeed, actually, since before this Shared Topic popped up my main character's Archaeology skill was a mere 6.  I decided that it was a good idea to actually play around with the profession a little before writing a post on it, so rather than running a heroic or doing Tol Barad dailies, I popped up my in-game map, and headed to the nearest dig site.

I'll say up front that I'm not really a fan of the main mechanic of Archaeology, Survey.  Running around following a big arrow that Blizzard dressed up as a surveying instrument isn't really my idea of fun.  It's somewhat diverting for the first little bit, but gets old very quickly.  The concept that there is no competition and that each person's digsite is their own is fabulous, however, and well implemented.

The problem is that it's not fun.  There are benefits to the profession, like a wonderful epic trinket, vanity pet and a mount, but getting them is an exercise in tedium.  It's much like fishing, really, and there aren't many people who find fishing a fascinating and engaging thing to level up, either.  I am spending rare and valuable leisure time playing this game and I want to be entertained while I'm doing it.  If I wanted to be bored doing a repetitive task I could do the household chores I've been desperately trying to avoid and make my wife happy, while at the same time saving fifteen bucks a month.

As well, the profession also disappoints in an area that was supposed to be it's core strength:  Lore.  The idea behind the profession is that each artifact that you complete tells you a little tidbit of the overall story of Azeroth.  The Archaeology interface has a huge area for the detailed lore that is supposed to make this profession irresistible to Warcraft lore nerds and completionists.  Except that it doesn't.  As Windsoar pointed out, the information that is given on most of the items is nothing more than a blurb.  Not really much more than what you would expect to get from a fortune cookie, if the Smithsonian Institute delivered Chinese food.

Where is the story?  Where is the lore?  Where is the context?   Some of the flavour text is interesting or funny, but there is so much more they could have done.  Why not tell a story of past Dwarven or Troll cultures through these artifacts?  Why not add some mystery, or an interlocking story that is told through the discovery of these different objects?  Blizzard has always had story-telling as their most important competitive advantage, and I feel that they have missed an extraordinary opportunity to offer a unique and engaging way to interact with the overall world history.  At least for now.  The nice thing about this profession is that Blizzard can add more to it any time they choose to tell whatever story they want.  Here's hoping that they decide to tell a tale that's more important than a bed-time story in the future.

The other issue I have with the Archaeology profession is that it really isn't archaeology.  Let me explain. Actual, real-world archaeologists attempt to discover information about past societies by studying the physical remains that they leave behind.  A digsite is excavated layer by layer, carefully extricating each artifact and then placing it within the proper context so that conclusions can be drawn from what you find and where it was found.

OK, fine, but this is a game, right?  Yes, I'd agree with that.  But this thought struck me as I was staring at this digsite:

"Ummm, aren't these Trolls still using the stuff that I'm finding?"

The study of a living culture and the artifacts that they are using is, in fact, Anthropology.  But more importantly, when you then take those artifacts of a living culture to a museum or, say, a shady back-alley antiquities dealer, that process then becomes what is known in the scientific community as stealing.  I find it very odd to wander into a Troll village and start digging up and taking their historical artifacts.  It would be like someone coming into your house, lifting up the stack of newspapers that you carelessly left on the coffee table, yelling "Eureka" as they pick up the TV remote that you forgot was under there, and then selling it at the nearest pawn shop as a historical treasure.

So Blizzard has implemented a new profession that more accurately should have been called Thievery with Shovels.  But that's OK, really, since the entire game is based on getting stuff from other people who are currently using said stuff.  At least with Archaeology we don't have to bring nine friends and kill anybody to get it.

Philosophical and semantic arguments aside and getting back to the World of Warcraft for a minute, Archaeology is an interesting profession, and I'm intrigued to see what Blizzard does with it in the future.  The implementation is solid, the potential for advancing lore through the flavour text is there, and while the actual game play is very grindy and repetitive at least there are some rewards at the end that are worth getting.  In contrast, the only thing you get by leveling fishing is more fish.


  1. Hehe, I don't know how you did it, but you've actually made an article about archaeology interesting and fun to read!

    I spent some time last night working on my archaeology and I have to say it's one of the most boring things a person could have done on a Friday night. Luckily, I had a bottle of wine to keep me company. :P

  2. archaelogy really isn't fun in it's current incarnation. Truthfully, I'm not sure this profession *can* be made fun.

    It could be made easier though. Thank you for a wonderful post on the subject. Twas humorous!

  3. "So Blizzard has implemented a new profession that more accurately should have been called Thievery with Shovels."

    Sadly, that's kind of the way archeology works in real life too - finders keepers type thing. The British and French were masters at it.. which is why the british museum is so awesome ;)

  4. I think this article pushed me over the edge to actually try it out. I hope this is more enjoyable than constant raid wipes (like we are experiencing now).

  5. @Janyaa1: Yes, a bottle of wine makes anything more pleasant! And I think we need to find you something better to do on a friday. :)

    @Windsoar: Thank you! After I wrote the introduction I kept re-reading it and breaking out into giggle fits. I actually had a hard time continuing the article because I kept getting distracted. I eventually had to just kinda start over and then marry the two parts together.

    @ladyerina: I don't think there is any way that Blizzard can make Archaeology "Fun", but I think they missed a great opportunity to make it at least "Interesting".

    @Angelya: LOL, true enough. I guess in my mind I was thinking of the modern science of Archaeology, rather than the heyday of the 'Intrepid British Explorer rescuing artifacts from the heathens'. But very good point. :)

    @Mstrkrft: Honestly, not the reaction I expected from this post. :) I feel that it is much less interesting than constant raid wipes, but is is also significantly cheaper in terms of repair bills. :)

  6. @Fannon: I was kind of borderline on whether to start it and i was trying to decide on fishing or arch. In the end I chose Arch cause of the BoA epic weapons. BUT from what I hear, it is near impossible to even acquire them.

    I am the type of person that LOVES leveling, but I despise doing professions like fishing, cooking, and most likely soon enough Arch. Last night I got up to 75 in Arch...any tips or blog posts that have a great guide on how to get the most out of Arch? I think I read somewhere that it is best to survey till 100, then...? That's where I am at. :)

  7. Mstrkrft: Ya, you get skill points just for surveying until 100, so it's best to just collect fragments until then. You don't waste any, as they carry over.

    As for guides, I have read a few, but honestly I haven't been paying much attention to it until very recently. However, here is what I've found so far:

    WoW Insider:


    WoW Digsite:
    Female Dwarf's list of Archaeology rewards:
    Hello Tauren's guide to Archaeology:

    A quick Google search will give you lots more as well.

  8. Thanks for the tips Fannon! That WoWInsider post had everything I really wanted to know about the profession.

    Back to brainless flying.

  9. Ahaha. That's so true! Loved your fitst analogy explaining Archaeology - I'm doing a double major of Ancient History and English Lit at uni and I did a few subjects of Archaeology in my 1st and 2nd years and lol; it was exactly the same! "No, they are rarely sitting conveniently out in the open, you need to dig. No, there are no Soviets and no Nazis! No, you can't bring guns to the digsite and NO, Lara Croft does not exist!"