Artifact Photography – Photoshop Deathmatch

This is the original photo.  Can you do better?
This is the original photo. I should mention that I didn't take this.

I’m trying to fix some photos for an upcoming publication, and one of the most crucial photos, that of a clear glass “blade,” was photographed…let’s just say non-optimally.

Here's my attempt.  eh.
Here's my attempt. eh.

I worked with the photo, but I just couldn’t make it come out very well.  Lots of the detail is lost, the jpg compression is bad, etc.  So I enlisted a few of my friends to help.


One of them went for a cut-out approach, but I think that it looks like the blade isn’t clear, so it’s confusing.


This one manages to get a lot of the detail that I missed, but it’s still really hard to see.


Jesse, my graphic designer friend, wins.  I guess it pays to leave some things to the professionals!

Stanford TAG 2009

While I won’t be presenting (on the advice of my most sage and beloved advisor, I’ve been trying to publish instead of presenting at conferences all the time), I’ll be attending the Stanford TAG this weekend.  TAG stands for the ‘Theoretical Archaeology Group,’ a conference that is traditionally in the United Kingdom, but has been brought to the States by…well…people who like conferences, I guess.  Besides, how could all that theory stay cooped up on that little island?

Anyway, several of the papers look pretty interesting.  Here are just a few that I’m looking forward to:

Cuts, Dissections, and Holes: Consequences of Breaking the Surface
Douglass Bailey (San Francisco State University)

Cyber-archaeology: theoretical overview and virtual embodiment
Maurizio Forte & Nicolò Dell’Unto (University of California: Merced)

No More Figurines: Questioning Homologies Between Present and Past
Rosemary Joyce (University of California: Berkeley)

An Archaeology of the Aesthetic: Examination of the Güzel Taş from Fistikli Höyük
Jayme L. Job (State University of New York, Binghamton)

Snapshots of History and the Nature of the Archaeological Image
Travis Parno (Boston University)

Pyramids and Palimpsests. Object, Event and Assemblage in the Archaeological Record
Gavin Lucas (University of Iceland)

Symmetry in the archaeology of technology: microscopic points of departure
Krysta Ryzewski (Brown University)

Archaeological prostheses and media ecologies
Timothy Webmoor (Oxford University)

I’ll try to give my run-down of the sessions that I attend in a post next week, but I’ll also be live-tweeting from the conference, where I expect my colleagues to scowl at me while I’m rudely tapping away at my cellphone while presenters diligently flip through their powerpoints and read from their papers.  Anyway, if you’d like to follow along, my twitter feed is here:

The Lost Delta Archaeological Expedition


As Brian mentioned over on Old Dirt – New Thoughts, when April comes around, archaeologists start to get wistful, going over old photographs, and longing for the field.  To alleviate this problem, I decided to check on our friends at the Lost Delta Archaeological Expedition.


Working in the jungle is difficult at best, and my field shots were hampered by raging hordes, rushing to and fro, almost knocking me over at times.


There was an unusual amount of wear on much of the statuary, including what looked like whip marks, instances of burning, and even bullet holes.


The field site conditions were tough, and the curatorial facilities were deplorable. It was as if they didn’t care about many of the artifacts that would provide insights into daily life, but were rather more interested in those used by the elites in society. Still, it wasn’t my project and so I felt that it was bad form to criticize such a well-funded excavation from our colleagues at the University of Chicago.


I finally managed to make it to the temple.  Sadly, not many of my photos from my survey of the temple turned out, as I had the unusual experience of riding around in a jeep in the interior of ancient monumental architecture (contra Flannery’s description of driving on top of mounds to determine their importance via gear shift).

In all, it was an educational adventure and I hope that Dr. Jones actually publishes his results in a timely manner. I will be looking forward to reading his interpretation of what looked like a wide mix of cultural influences, and his struggles with community outreach.

Archaeology as a Career

Earlier this month both Kris and Martin wrote about archaeology as a career.  While I’m not a professional archaeologist any longer, I did respond to a survey that an elementary school girl sent to our department for her school’s career day last March:

1. When you started going to school did you always intend on becoming an archaeologist?  What made you choose this career?

I did not intend to become an archaeologist.  I was an art student, then became interested in anthropology.  I went on my first excavation in 2002 and decided to become an archaeologist because I enjoyed excavating and wanted to learn more about people in the past.

2. What kind of different research or volunteering did you do with this career before you decided that this was your chosen career?

I worked on the Thomas and Nora Cole project in Dallas, Texas.  We excavated the house, gathered oral histories about the neighborhood, and made a digital archive of the historical materials that we gathered for the project.

3. Do you feel that the field you work in is very rewarding?  How so?

I find the work to be incredibly rewarding because I have been able to work with interesting, intelligent people.  I also enjoy solving puzzles and thinking about the past in new ways.  In archaeology we are able to work with our hands and our minds at the same time, and that can be rare in a profession.

4. Have you traveled to different sites for your job and if so, where and why?  If you have not, do you hope to?

I have traveled to many states in the U.S. and I have worked in Turkey and will work in Jordan this summer.  I hope to gain a broad knowledge of excavation methodology and experience in a variety of time periods and geographic areas.

5. Have you ever had to work in a lab analyzing artifacts?  If not, do you hope to?

Yes, I have worked in a lab analyzing artifacts, and while I do not find it as gratifying as some other aspects of our research, it is the inevitable outcome of excavation.  I worked in the Texas Archaeological Lab working with prehistoric and historic materials which included shell, nails, glass, ceramics, and lithics.  I worked in a lab professionally and cleaned, sorted, and analyzed a variety of lithics.  Right now I primarily work with digital artifacts such as photographs and video of excavation, but I sometimes go to the museum on campus to look at various collections. Right now I am working with an assemblage from Bahrain that includes ceramics, skeletal materials, copper, glass, and some animal bone.

6. What effect do you think archaeology has on the future?

I think that archaeology provides a way for people to understand the enormous variety of ways that humans have lived and gives us hope that we will be able to find ways to creatively deal with even the most extreme situations.

7. What training do you think would be useful to prepare someone for a career in the archaeology field?

A good archaeologist should be trained in the scientific method, but should also have an appreciation for the humanities and the social sciences.  Classes in geology and biology are very important, as well as an ability to draw and measure accurately.  A good understanding of geometry is essential.  If the archaeologist plans on working outside of the United States, they should pursue language training in at least two other languages.  The archaeologist should be able to easily work in groups, explain complicated concepts in ways that everybody can understand, and appreciate the different ways that people interact socially.

8. What fields of science do you believe are related to archaeology?

Geology, Biology, Anthropology, Geography, Sociology, Architecture.

9. What tasks do you need to perform on a daily basis in your career?

It depends on if I am in the field, the lab, or writing.  Right now I am writing, and so I need to read every day, correspond with my fellow archaeologists, and write about my research.

10. How many people do you estimate are interested in a career in your field?  What are your thoughts on this?

It is hard to estimate how many people are interested in a career in archaeology, but there are many more than who actually get a job working as an archaeologist. While many people hope to become a professor who does research and teaches archaeology, in reality most people work in the private sector, excavating sites in anticipation of road or building construction.

* Somewhere in there I probably should have mentioned that I make less per year now than I did as a part-time grocery store clerk in high school.  True story.

Basket Weaving at Çatalhöyük

I uploaded the above test clip for the longer machinima that I posted about a little while ago.  It took an immense amount of work to get this far, and this is only a tiny clip of a somewhat awkward avatar doing a single animation.  I used Jing for the video capture and downloaded Soundflower for the system audio redirect.

I think I’ve complained before about having a hard time finding a variety of avatars on Second Life.  Well, this lady is definitely in a different  mode than my usual avatar.  “Wearing” an identity like this one is deeply uncanny, and the reactions and perceptions of other people you meet in Second Life are absolutely different.  I decided to follow a fairly popular strain of visual interpretation at Çatalhöyük in dressing her as a goddess figurine in the bandeau that I made for a decidedly younger character.

Once again, the exercise of recreating this small scene raised more questions than it answered:

She’s weaving reeds, so it must be summer.  Were there cicadas?  Yes.  Why would she be doing this inside by firelight during the summer?  It would be excruciatingly hot and smoky.  What about her vision?  I’ve put her in a less than optimal situation for weaving, that’s for sure.   Why isn’t there anyone with her?  Could she hear other people?  Maybe sheep! We’ll add some sheep sounds. I think she’d be humming to herself.  But what sounds?

It’s a lot of interpretive responsibility, wearing these second skins.

Will Someone Invent ‘Forever’ Soon? Please?

“To surf the website of the Maaskant project, go to…We were there.  We worked at the house…That this valuable prehistoric evidence was going to make it to the present was far from evident…But now, the house is there, on the website, readily visible for the worldwide Internet community.  It has been saved.” (Van Reybrouk and Jacobs, 2006)

Last sighting of the Maaskant project website, September 17, 2007.

Postscript Artifact Photo Scale

A nice reconstructed Dilmun pot. I should have used heavier card stock to print the scale.

I’ve been photographing a bunch of artifacts from the Hearst Museum for the Bahrain Bioarchaeology Project and I wasn’t deeply happy with many of the options available.  I found this site:

But the resolution wasn’t as crispy clean as I wanted.

So here is a postscript file that will convert into pdfs on most computers.  The postscript file is licensed under the GPL – the Gnu General Public License, which is a copyleft license.  Share early, share often!  Also: thanks to archaeology-friendly computer programmers!  It’s fully modifiable and there are directions inside the script.

Postscript Photo Scale File

It should open as a pdf for most people on macs, let me know if the link doesn’t work for whatever reason.  Also, be sure to measure each scale you generate, as some printers do not handle postscript well and the scales can be off.

I should say that again: MEASURE EACH SCALE BEFORE USING.

Movie Day!

Anies Hassan dropped me a line about a new series of videos he’s making about the Thames Discovery Project.  He’s getting pretty slick with his production techniques!  Oh, and the archaeology is interesting as well…if you like that muddy, cold, London type of archaeology!  (don’t hit me!)

Credit the music and slap a CC license on it and I’ll be a happy girl.

I finally got around to uploading more of the movie we made (So You’re an Archaeologist?!) for the Afghanistan display at the Asian Art  Museum in San Francisco.

Sadly, I only got through the first two videos before I promptly threw away the main file I was working with to make more space on my hard drive.  After I get the source video from Dave (again!) I’ll post the rest of it.

And, if you’re up for a little bit of surrealist ethnography, here’s Las Hurdes or Land Without Bread, one of the movies we’re going to watch as part of our Ethnographic Movie Night next Fall.  More about that later.

Lego Archaeology Field Report (Part 2)

Test Pit
Test Pit

While looking for photos of Tell Hassuna (of all things!) I came across this fab set of photos from Carly Whelan, featuring archaeologists hard at work in Legoland.

Cleaning up the profile
Cleaning up the profile

Yes, I often wear a white cowboy hat and red lipstick to the field.  Yup.

I can clearly see it, cant you?
I can clearly see it, can't you?


Burial violating the spirit of LAGPRA
Burial "violating the spirit of LAGPRA"

Hi-tech gadgetry?  Complicated illustrations?  Second Life?  Just give me some legos!

(Continued from part one)

%d bloggers like this: