Barry swung the pickaxe again, sweat dripping down his brow. He’d been at it for five hours now and had fallen into a rhythm. Heft, swing, wipe, heft, swing, wipe. He wiped the sweat from his brow and, hefting the pickaxe for another go, swung again. He anticipated the impact, the jarring of his muscles that invariably occurred as he broke another small piece of rock, but there was really no way to acclimate to the harsh stop, the painful ringing of metal on granite.
Heft, swing, wipe, heft, swing, wipe…. Barry was thankful for the exercise he was getting. As an archeology doctoral student he found himself spending far too long in dusty, moldy libraries, and so when the opportunity to assist with the dig came up he jumped at it. Three days of sunburn and omnipresent granite dust later, he was starting to regret his decision.
Heft, swing, wipe, heft, swing, crunch. The difference in the sound is what caught Barry at first. He looked down at his pickaxe, now buried to the shaft in the granite. I must have found a hole! Barry thought excitedly. Holes meant pits, and pits meant artifacts. Sometimes it was just a clay storage pot, other times it was the lid to an ancient, decrepit wooden chest. Barry was still pondering his good fortune when he heard a loud crack, feeling the ground shift beneath him. Profanity formed on his tongue, but the ground gave way before he could shout. Barry bounced back and forth among falling chunks of rock, feeling the air rush around him before suddenly landing hard on his back. Just as he prepared to get himself to his feet, a large chunk of rock collided with his skull and turned the world black.
Barry awoke a moment later, the sun still streaming in from the hole he had made. He saw a few faces gaping in at him, but didn’t spare them a second thought as his eyes caught the gilded edge of the surface he had crashed through. In what little light was available he could see glittering specs spaced oddly along the ceiling, in shapes that felt somehow familiar. He reached for his Maglite and shined it at the ceiling around him. That’s the big dipper! And Orion! This is a star map! It must be thousands of years old…
Looking back at the hole, he saw the gaping faces of his colleagues, expressions unchanged. Annoyed that they hadn’t yet offered to help, Barry shouted at them. “Don’t worry guys, I’m all right, really. Just took a nasty bump to the head. Might have a concussion, lingering brain damage. Thanks for asking!” He looked back at the ceiling, marveling at the detail before continuing. “Guys, you aren’t going to believe what I’ve found. It’s like they’ve mapped out the sky in diamonds!” He looked back up at his colleagues, heads framed by the Saharan sunlight. “Jerry? Matt? What’s with you guys? Isn’t this amazing?”
One of the two jumped, shaking his head. “It is! It’s very amazing! It’s just that…”
Barry caught the trailing end “…. Just that what, Jerry?”
Jerry cleared his throat. “Well, it must be a couple thousand years old, at least.”
Barry scoffed. “Well yeah, we weren’t exactly headed to IKEA on this dig.”
Jerry nodded. “Yeah, I know. But you are standing in North America.”
“North America?!” Barry finally cast his flashlight at the floor. Underneath the rubble from his fall, he could clearly make out the Appalachians, in stunning relief against the eastern coastline. The features rose majestically out of the floor, as if he could reach down and pluck up a single mountain. Behind him rose the Rockies, framing the Great Plains. There were even depressions for the great lakes! All around him, everywhere Barry shone his light, he revealed more and more of a world map with stunning detail – a world map that shouldn’t have existed, and certainly not in northern Africa. A world map of astounding accuracy, nearly two thousand years before Columbus decided to try his luck.
Barry’s mouth hung open in silence as he tried to take it all in.