The Mejlby Stone

This museum display, a rune stone lit and animated with the story it contains, is an amazing digital production produced by a team from Denmark.  In the presentation that I’m getting together, I argue for more of this kind of work to be done by archaeologists, but it’s pretty amazing when a well-funded team of artists and technicians get together to produce a piece of digital art that is informed by history.  The digital chisel working its way across the stone was so much fun, and having the text spill out across the floor to make an interactive (though limited) interface was nothing short of inspired. I have to admit, part of me wishes that I could contribute my own little shadow puppets to the show.

Anyway, I thought I’d re-post, as it seems to have been missed by most of the major archaeology blogs and is related to a few points I’ve raised before.

Popular Online Visual Aesthetics

Bone Bead

Radical remediation, you say?

What’s odd is how ridiculously fun making this image was, and how it felt slightly transgressive.  Would I do the same with a photo of a skeleton?  With an assemblage from a Hansen’s disease settlement? This is actually fairly sedate; I could have added dancing kittens and diamond dollar bill signs.

When you make a photo “bling” on Blingee, it automatically saves it to the broader social network–what will people (probably mostly children and young adults) think when they see this next to more typical photos of grinning friends and anime characters?

More broadly, I wonder about this moment in internet aesthetics and whether it has more implications for visual representation in both the personal and professional realms.

I’ve never played World of Warcraft, mostly because I want to finish my dissertation someday, but partially because I never found it very appealing.  Frankly, it looks like a mess to me, but now I wonder if I just didn’t see the internal visual logic behind it.  Now that I’ve been in Second Life long enough to understand the importance of proper avatar maintenance, I can see how easy it is to end up with leopard skin and multicolored eyes.

This isnt my avatar, but you get the idea.
This isn't my avatar, but you get the idea.

As a sidenote, this person would actually get taken more seriously within Second Life than a tenured professor in a “newbie” skin.  An interesting commentary on this phenomenon is here, a commentary on the growing phenomenon of educators in Second Life and their conduct therein.

Regardless, it’s always interesting to perform these kinds of visual experiments to see how archaeological photos actually form the performance of our profession.  And I’d love to see more blingee archaeological photos.

AAA Photo Contest and BAJR Website Guide

Just a couple of neat announcements today – the AAA posted the winners of their 2008 photo contest to their flickr account. Ruben Mendoza, a professor at CSU Monterey Bay came in third with his lovely and inventive shots of artifacts.

I am going to pester the AAA about adding Creative Commons licensing to their photos when possible. It’s annoying to have to feature these small, low-rez photos and they’re totally unusable if you don’t use flickr’s “blog feature” or do an illicit photo scrape by taking a screenshot of the page. We’ll see how successful I am in convincing them.

In other news, BAJR’s guide to website building came out the other day, with some tips about how to better inform the public about your dig. I’m pretty chuffed that they decided to include a bit about Burning Catalhoyuk on Second Life. Check it out!

DIY and Digital Archaeology: What are you doing to Participate?


From the teachings of Big Daddy Soul:

“Think about the kind of revolution you want to live and work in.  What do you need to know to start that revolution? Demand that your teachers teach you that.”

Roll up your sleeves.  With archaeology employment declining and the world economy burning down around us it is more important than ever to do everything we can to bring archaeology to the public.  Our organization policy makers in the Society for American Archaeology in the States and more broadly in the World Archaeological Congress work hard and do what they can to raise awareness of the preservation of archaeological sites and the promotion of archaeological education, but they are not enough.

So my question is one inspired by the Young Lions Conspiracy: What are you doing to Participate?  The Young Lions Conspiracy, based in Austin, TX, was formed around an attitude toward life and soul music.  Primarily driven by Tim Kerr, one of the most fantastic musicians and artists that I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching writhe on the floor in a tangle of guitar cables and beer cans, the Young Lions was one manifestation of a broader culture of participation and DIY in Austin in the 1990s.  This attitude has stayed with me through the process of undergraduate and graduate school.  My statement of purpose upon entering Berkeley included a variation of bell hooks’ feminist manifest: Archaeology is for everybody.

This seemed even more possible with the growing ease and accessibility of technology and downright necessary with the specter of ubiquitous computing and embedded landscapes looming.  While there are a few interesting projects and “proof of concepts” emerging in conference presentations and collected volumes, many archaeologists seem content to let others visualize and present their work, citing a lack of time or knowledge of the technology involved.  Those of us who are conversant with this technology–which at a basic level is no more difficult or time consuming than creating a power point presentation–need to stretch further and faster than before.  Even some of us who are technologically capable do not share, and sharing should be a reflexive, nearly automatic action for archaeologists.  I was recently inspired by Eric Paulos’ recent Manifesto of Open Disruption and Participation that calls for the creation of “an entirely new form of citizen volunteerism, community involvement and participation” to “effect real political change.”

It is worth learning new forms of communication to preserve the past.  It is important that we as archaeologists do not let others co-opt our unique vision and understanding of the world around us.  We must interfere in the public’s understanding in the past.  Change it.  Surprise, enlighten, destroy when necessary and rebuild a better, stronger, more curious and more passionate interest in what we do.  This is my charge to myself and to other archaeologists and to anyone who wants to join us.

What are you doing to Participate?

(The title is also an upcoming talk I’m giving as part of a seminar at Moesgård Museum in Denmark)

Who is Peter Bruce Cornwall? (The speaking artifacts edition)


(Part 3 of ???)

Stamp Seals in Second Life

At Çatalhöyük we (not me, I’m not that lucky!) find a class of artifacts called “stamp seals.”  These stamp seals are on the small side and are made out of clay, and it’s been speculated that they are used on skin or on cloth.  I recently scanned some of John Swogger’s reconstructions of what the impressions of these stamp seals were like, and after some photoshop wizardry, made an initial foray into my career as a Neolithic fashion designer.  My first attempt is a homage to Swogger’s leopard print “tube top,” using a swirl pattern and my very limited Second Life seamstressing skills.  This was also inspired by Olga Soffer’s talk of the bandeaus of the Paleolithic goddess figurines.


The cloth in the background is another stamp seal, three wavy lines that I’ve repeated.  This young (and rather blessed) woman is one of my first attempts at a character for the upcoming machinima.  Any name suggestions?

It is difficult to find Second Life skins and body shapes that aren’t completely gorgeous.  So far I’ve found one older man, but no older women.  And I don’t even want to talk about trying to find children to populate the Neolithic. brrrrr.

iphone Apps for Archaeologists

Presidio iPhone/Memory Map Test
From Remixing El Presidio, last June.

Evolution Beach has a pretty good run down of available iphone apps that archaeologists would be interested in using.

I have google earth installed, but I haven’t had much of a use for it yet.  It’s too slow on my 2G iphone and google maps does most of what I need on the iphone.  I also have Stars installed, for those late nights spent sleeping on the roof and stargazing.  I have an Arabic translator that I haven’t tried out much yet and various camera applications that make my iphone photos a bit more interesting.

There aren’t any archaeology-specific iphone apps yet though, and if I had Bill and Ted’s phone booth, I might consider developing a couple.  Unfortnately I’ve never met my way rad future self, so I’ll just put this out in the ether for a more enterprising lass to develop.

I’d love a survey program–like a modified, light-weight garmin that would tell you how many steps/meters you’ve slogged and in which direction, indicate when you’ve reached the end of your line, and would beep for your mandatory shovel test.  Then a very simple form would pop up, giving a series of yes/no questions and then offer to take a photo of the scene.  There are a couple of programs that do parts of these things, but not all of it.  It’d be a nice visual aid for the completion of paperwork at the end of the day.

I’ve already posted about the kind of functionality I’d really like, and I know there are several projects in the works to provide spatially located historical/archaeological information and we’ll see how it all shakes out in the end in respect to my dissertation.  Right now I’m just battling over keeping my basic premises intact without getting my Catal research yanked out from underneath me.  Wish me luck!

Who is Peter Bruce Cornwall?




The Ship Manifest from the Empress of Canada, April 1948, courtesy of the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology.

(Part 2 of ??)

Four! Stone! Hearth! 60!

Art by Hirotoshi Itoh
Art by Hirotoshi Itoh, photo by Aaron Shumaker

It is my honor to host the 60th edition of Four Stone Hearth. The next edition will be hosted at The Moore Groups Blog, and they’re a pretty hard group to impress, so cowboy up and submit your best!  Let’s get to it!

The Ideophone has a whole heap of gorgeous, thought-provoking photographs submitted to the AAA Photo contest.  Y’know, I meant to submit my own photographs to this contest, but Mark’s photos are amazing and so well described that I’m fairly certain mine would not have made it to the top 20.

Speaking of gorgeous photography, Aardvarchaeology has some chilly images from snowy Wales.  After checking out the photos of the Pillar of Eliseg, the Basingwerk Cistercian abbey, the sculpted ring cross of Maen Achwyfan, and Offa’s Dyke, I wanted a cup of hot chocolate and a nice peaty fire to warm my feet!

A more armchair-ish journey was conducted by the Testimony of the Spade, who uncovered the first Swedish work on archaeology, written in 1675.  Sadly, Bruce Trigger is not around to update his brilliant A History of Archaeological Thought accordingly.  Regardless, I truly love the old illustrations.

The Spittoon discusses two Science articles regarding bacterial genetics and the peopling of the Pacific.  Got Helicobacter pylori?

The vaunted and sometimes daunting Neuroanthropology blog ponders marketing and desire through the lenses of Coke, American Girl, and Google.  Put in your stock buys and hold on tight!

You should probably check out the comments of Babel’s Dawn and read the article in Current Anthropology before getting too worked up about the “Venus of Tan Tan.”

Remote Central visits the South of Spain, where Neanderthals apparently survived a bit longer due to the biodiversity in the region.  I wouldn’t mind a bit of time on the Iberian peninsula right about now.

Zenobia: Empress of the East describes laser scanning of the Hung-e Axhdar rock relief.  I’m a bit of a skeptic regarding laser scanning, but it was put to use in an interesting way here, and I hope that they’re able to use it to answer the questions raised about the relief.  More interesting than the laser scanning was the descriptions of the decorative elements and the connections to depictions of the king of Elymais on various coins.

Some of the archaeologists have gotten together a little game called “Where on Google Earth” wherein you test your skills identifying archaeological sites on Google Earth.  The latest site is on Rolled Up Sleeves.  I haven’t had time to play, but I hope it keeps going!

Finally, Where in the Hell am I? brings us back to the stones and bones of contract archaeology in Texas, where a pipeline survey has uncovered a surprising array of archaeological sites.  I wonder if I’ll be done with my dissertation in time to help dig the Presidio and Caddo sites!

Thank you for visiting Middle Savagery, and I hope you’ve enjoyed this edition of Four Stone Hearth.

Art by Hirotoshi Itoh, photo by Aaron Shumaker
Art by Hirotoshi Itoh, photo by Aaron Shumaker

The Hand Drawn Map Contest

This one almost went into the Tumblr file–still not quite sure what I should post there and what I should post here.  Anyway, the Hand Drawn Map Association (I didn’t even know there was such a thing!) is sponsoring a contest that archaeologists should have no problem winning.


Sadly, I don’t actually have any of my own maps–they’re all in archives in various places.  Not that it would do much good anyway, as most of my American plans are of squares with rocks in them, and the single context plans are of little floating blobs with hachures scattered about.  People have different metrics of when you become a “real” archaeologist–getting paid to dig, heading a project–but I’m starting to wonder if it’s when you have ready access to all aspects of the excavations materials and the archive and everything that entails.  Digital meandering dissertations aside, I yearn for the day when I’ll find a site, excavate it, publish the data, and have all the artifacts and archive fully ordered and safely stashed away for future research.  I’ve done aspects of all of these things, but going start to finish on a single (complex, architectural) site would be amazing.

Entries are due April 30, 2009, but they have ongoing prizes so enter early, enter often!

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