The design of life in which we search for ancient clues

There’s that moment in Raiders of the Lost Ark where Indiana Jones reverts cleanly back into his archeologist-archetype and is standing at the edge of his dig site as his friends work below – completely oblivious to the fact that he’s in the midst of his enemies and is in danger.

That moment is about discovery and it supersedes all else. It’s the moment of pure Indiana Jones. Do you remember it?

That shot is the best of the film because we are all children there along with him – no war or theft. Not even drama. Just… awe.

Oddly, this image came to me recently during a field trip with Little Bean to the State House in Concord as my daughter crawled around on the marble floor, under a bench. She wasn’t misbehaving or having a tantrum. Quite the opposite. She was exploring, much to the amusement of the political passersby who most likely had rarely seen such a display in their midst. 

And like that famous character from a movie she had not yet seen, she was doing archeology. 

Little Bean on the steps of the State House.

As in all things when it comes to Little Bean, my perception of reality is different from hers. Mine is encumbered by experience, cultural manners and the nagging voice inside my head that is concerned about embarrassment. Meanwhile, she – and perhaps most kids her age – is driven by curiosity.

She was searching for fossils. She cared not one whit for the elegant and highly mannered surroundings of a state house full of representatives and senators and lobbyists upholding decorum. 

Nope. None of that. Fossils.

This had been a trip long in the making. Several weeks ago, we received an email from State Representative Katherine Prudhomme O’Brian, a fan of our field guide to famous boulders around New Hampshire. Her husband is a geologist and they thought my daughter might be interested in seeing the fossils embedded in the marble in the state house floor. 

Who knew? We certainly did not. 

So, after some negotiations, we found ourselves being shown around the building by Rep. O’Brian and Margaret, a wonderful tour guide from the visitor center. Along the way, we ran into executive councilors. Little Bean sat in the governor’s chair in his chamber. We checked out both chambers, along with the underground cafeteria and the long tunnel that connects the state house to the lawmakers’ offices. All heady, important, sometimes solemn stuff.

And though she dutifully took pictures, asked questions (“Is the state house dome made of real gold?” Yes, as it turns out, gold leaf) and made me proud of her proper behavior, all those “important” things had very little impact on her imagination. 

But the fossils! I could see the fire in her eyes each time she found one, like a switch being flicked on. 

Her response made me think of that quote by pop philosopher Jason Silva who said of architecture, “Everything we design is designing us back.” How many shiny shoes of important people have walked right on by those fossils? How many designers of law, have failed to grasp the design of life literally under their feet? How could anyone think fossils in marble floors wasn’t important? Maybe the most important.

“She was engaged. She was searching. She was Indiana Jones-ing.”

Rep. O’Brian understood. So did Margaret. Because when my daughter stopped at a new fossil, they stopped. When she crouched down for a picture, they waited. And when we came upon a long, old, wooden bench covering some of the black tiles, and Little Bean thought she saw something underneath, we all just collectively shrugged. She was engaged. She was searching. She was Indiana Jones-ing. And she found a nice fossil there under that bench, a spiral shell, as all those people walked on by as the little girl in the flower dress rooted around under a bench on the dusty floor.

And when she came up for air, pictures in hand, she said to our guide, “You should move that bench, people should see that fossil.”

She’s right. People should see that fossil. All the fossils actually. And all the things that design us back. 

Later, as we drove home, I mused about those old architects. Who was the designer who made that decision decades ago – the one who looked at that floor and decided it needed fossils? Why are they even there?

Little Bean just shrugged. “So we could find them,” she said, as though it were the most obvious thing in the world. 

Find your fossils, folks, no matter where they may be.

The find: a spiral shell fossil.