Burning Man

I suppose I’ve avoided Burning Man so far out of a sense of punk rock puritanism. Going to the center of a desert to celebrate being different seemed dishonest to me. Dressing up for one week out of the year and then going back to your day job also seemed dishonest. It was so decadent–paying a whole bunch of money just to go out to the desert, be different, and burn things? When it was introduced into the Open Directory Project taxonomy as a subculture, I fought it. It was a festival, perhaps comprised of subcultures, but was otherwise an isolated event and not a culture in and of itself. I would no longer fight that classification.

Perhaps a couple of years at Berkeley has introduced a bit more relativism into my world view, or maybe my punk rock ideals (or delusions) have grown weak with age, but I’m going this year. I’ve tried to suspend my skepticism to a certain extent, but I still have mixed feelings. I’m afraid that Burning Man will just reflect the elements of the larger culture of the Bay Area that make me want to move away as soon as possible. The self-congratulatory different-ness. The extreme navel-gazing yoga/newage/liberalism-in-a-bubble. The flimsy wisdom of self-help and surficial cultural borrowing. The sense of entitlement that motivates people to say things like “the fly-over states” and to step over the homeless lady on their way to the “free tibet” benefit.

So, with trepidation, I’m putting on my motorcycle boots and going to the desert. I love the people that I’m going with, and that, I think, will make the difference for me.

I also have to admit that Burning Man is pretty fascinating as a cultural construct. The idea of a whole city being built in a week, and then, in theory, leaving no trace behind is a great archaeological experiment–very pertinent to much of New World archaeology where sparse, accidental remains are common. So, with that perspective, I’ll be back in a week to give you the results.

A Day at RQ’s Site

RQ's Site

If it’s hard to read, click on the image and go to the larger size.

Love and Harris Matrices


Ah, jetlag.

So, while I was at Çatalhöyük this year, I dug a house floor, two foundation trenches, a foundation slot, and Hell’s Ditch, the 23.6m long monstrosity. That’s a little bit of dirt. The paperwork for the foundation trenches got out of hand sometimes and it was frustrating to me to leave it until lab hours because I really like filling out the paperwork while I’m with the archaeology. This year we were allowed to stay “upstairs” with the archaeology until 5, instead of coming down at 3 and having lab hours from 5-7. This both helped and hurt with paperwork, because you got more dug, but you also had less time to enter it into the onsite database.

Oh, and speaking of:


So, I got pretty behind at a couple of points and had to work long hours to make it up. This was not helped by the film festival I had to get together (despite rolling power outages) and the general social schema of Çatalhöyük (I have had drinks placed forcibly into my hand while entering unit sheets). On one of our Fridays off, I stayed behind and was able to get most of my work from the first part of the season in order. The image on top is one of the products of that day. It’s a Harris Matrix, a visualization of the stratigraphic sequence within the foundation trench. As foundation trenches go, it was a fairly easy one, with only one burial and a couple of walls. Some of the other trenches had massive amounts of burials or heavily plastered and painted walls (a bear relief was found just the other day) which are a headache to deal with when you’re not fully excavating the associated building. I’ve done matrices before, but they were generally associated with very straight-forward stratigraphy.

Additionally, this matrix was done on permatrace, which (for my ‘merican friends) is like thick tracing paper. The British system uses a highly symbolic method of drawing archaeology, with zig-zags representing uncertain edges, triangles with lines representing slope, and dot-dash lines representing artificial limits of excavation. Oh, and you have to use special 6H pencils to draw on it. It’s all pretty hilarious and esoteric when you first encounter it–I kept asking if they wanted some extra robots or hearts and stars in there as well–but it starts to make sense after a while. Also, if you use permatrace and key off of the same datum each time, you can (in theory) peel back the strat simply by paging through the drawings. It never seems to work out all that neatly though and many archaeologists redraw things back in the lab. You can get it grided or ungrided, and if it’s ungrided (like the kind at Catal) then you have to tape it to a piece of graph paper. This is pretty grim work when there are gale force winds (like the kind at Catal) trying to rip it out of your fingers at every turn and the tape either doesn’t stick or sticks too well and rips your graph paper. It’s even worse when you get a batch of bad permatrace (like the kind at Catal) where the wind will rip your drawing in half even while it’s on the drawing board.

So, behold my Harris Matrix. One part is a little wonky–I should have just had 15665 – 15667 – 15675 in a straight line, for clarity–but it’s okay. The matrix for Hell’s Ditch was a bit of a mess as I didn’t have time to redraw it properly before I left. The write-up on all of the trenches should be appearing online soon, and I’ll post when they come up.

Overall, I’m enjoying this alternate-reality training, even if it is frustrating at times. Sometimes I think the undergrads who have never dug anywhere else have it the easiest time of it–nothing to compare to. Now I just have to get on a few continental digs, maybe dig with a Battiferro, and I’ll be all set.

G’bye, ‘stanbul.

Ahmet Oran’s Untitled 2002 surprised me when I walked around the corner, sitting on the wall like a great red sun, boiling in space. I really wanted to take a sneaky picture of it, but the guards at the Istanbul Modern are omnipresent and not shy about staring at you while you stare at the art. Of course, the picture would have been crap anyway–subtlety such as the thicker slashes of paint at the very bottom rim of the great red orb would have been lost and it would have garnered the same scorn that I had for the small, black and white reproductions of modern artists that I’d seen in my grandmother’s encyclopedia back in Oklahoma. Who cares? I could do that. Right? I still remember the exact moment I saw a Pollack at the MOMA. 17, first time in a f’reals big city, and to make it a lovely little story, I think that’s when I actually grew up. How very middle-class bourgeois.

Still, Ahmet Oran. I got to come to Istanbul and see his painting in all its fleshy, oily splendor. All in all, a pretty good end to a trip that has included a late-night hike to see the fires of the Chimera, rolling around the underground cities of Cappadocia, a dip in Mediterranean, and a close-up and personal encounter with the barely controlled chaos of Turkish highway driving. Exhilarating, maddening, and a great break between the highly ritualized excavation season and the drudgery of the school year.

I am trying to focus on the positive things coming–hopefully meeting with one of my favorite currently publishing archaeologists at Burning Man, finishing my field statements and passing my orals (cross my fingers!), working out a large, pervasive game for the Presidio, and starting work on my next film/multimedia project proposal. In between all these things, maybe a little snowboarding, conference going, and the usual chaos that makes a great story after you’re finished.

Time to go enjoy my last day in one of my favorite cities.

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