TAG USA 2011: Archaeology of and in the Contemporary World

Archaeology of the contemporary world; contemporary theory in archaeology; archaeology and its contemporary social context; archaeology, popularly associated with a dusty past, is thoroughly embedded in the contemporary world.

TAG Berkeley invites participants to freely imagine ways in which archaeological theory, practice, politics, and publication articulate with “the contemporary”. Whether looking at how archaeology is represented in popular culture, how archaeologists are examining the events and processes taking place around us today, or how archaeological examination of even distant pasts is bound up in the perspectives of our present lives, archaeologists are not of another time: we are here and now, and our discipline speaks to that time and place.

Confirmed plenary speakers:
Rodney Harrison
Bonnie Clark
Deadline to submit session proposals: November 1

Conference venue: International House, University of California, Berkeley
Sponsored by the Archaeological Research Facility, University of California, Berkeley


Open Dialogs in Archaeological Photography

Session Proposal by Heather Law, PhD Student, UC Berkeley
Confirmed Discussant: Dr. Ruth Tringham

In a discipline that has yet to master the balance between the subject and the object; the human and the thing, photographs can inhabit uniquely limbic and potentially very powerful positions. Photographs provide a tangible middle ground between the observing subject and the observable object, and in so doing, reaffirm both the situatedness of human perspectives and the sovereignty of the material world.  Photography’s ability to transcend time and space imbues it with more power still, allowing it to trigger a spectrum of reactions in and effects upon its viewers, all of which both distort and convey meaning.  Among other things, photographs can remember, forget, idealize, anesthetize, and democratize (Benjamin 1936; Barthes 1966; Sontag 1977); yet archaeologists have just begun to question the authority, ambiguities and tensions that lie within the photographs we use in our work.  This session will attempt to discuss the past and potential roles of photography in archaeology.  From artifact photography to photographs as artifacts, from documentary photography to art photography (and everything that lies between); what does archaeological photography “do”?  How might we rethink or renew the practice?

I would like to invite archaeological photographers to participate in a uniquely formatted session, designed to initiate a dialog between fellow participants and their work.  Each participant will submit a cohesive body of work either digitally or in print, along with a short (400 words or less) statement of intent explaining their position as a photographer and the goals of their work.  These submissions will be displayed in the Ryder-Worth Gallery for the duration of the conference.  During the assigned session, participants will introduce their work by presenting their prepared statement, after which discussants will lead the group in a short (10-15 min) discussion about the work and its potential for dialog with other works in the session.

Here are some of the specific guidelines:

·         Participants will be asked to submit a title for their submission along with a short bio detailing their experience and interest in photography and archaeology for inclusion in the conference program.

·         The size of the photographs will not be restricted, but it will be asked that they be a cohesive group in some regard and that you try to keep your submission to under 10 pcs.

·         The participants will be asked to send a copy of the statement of intent and copies (either digital or in print) of the photographs to the discussants two weeks prior to the scheduled session.

·         The display of the work, i.e. in print or digitally, and the presentation, i.e. matting and the aesthetics of arrangement will be left to the discretion of the participants.  Each participant will be responsible for hanging and/or setting up their work in the Ryder Worth Gallery at beginning of the conference and taking it down at the end of the conference.

One of my fellow UC Berkeley grads is running a session on Archaeological Photography for TAG 2011 in Berkeley. I’ll have some photos in the show–I’ll need to figure out which ones! She invites wider participation–contact her directly if you are interested.

Gold Hill, Colorado

Gold Hill is a community formed around the first gold strike in Colorado, a strike that precipitated the 1859 Colorado gold rush. Earlier this year the Four Mile Canyon wildfire destroyed many surrounding homes, and swept across the historic Gold Hill cemetery. I visited last weekend while I was hanging out with my folks. I’m generally ambivalent about taking photos in cemeteries, but I liked the few that I managed to take in the misty rain.

And a gothy one of myself:

A Death Knell for OKAPI Island?

An interesting (and aggravating) confluence of events occurred this week, all of which may have some bearing on the future of OKAPI island, where we host our experimental reconstruction of the Neolithic site of Çatalhöyük. You can check out the history of my experience with OKAPI island if you click on the “Second Life” tag in the sidebar.

On October 5th, Linden Labs announced that they are discontinuing the academic discount, effectively doubling our already exorbitant fees for OKAPI Island. The changes will take place 1 January, 2011. We just found out about it a couple of days ago–already in mid-semester full-swing development–we were implementing several projects, including the creation of a script that automatically recreated pot-prims from rim drawings, hosting the Bristol TAG film festival, a fully developed lesson plan for elementary school teachers that used the island, and a new more interactive museum. Needless to say, this has thrown a considerable monkeywrench into our semester.

On that note, it is also Open Access Week. We are looking into porting the project to OpenSimulator, which we probably should have been using from the start. Sadly the learning barrier is even higher than that of Second Life, so it is not obvious that OpenSim is a viable solution. We have had to switch from our existing projects to a kind of virtual triage–the downside of using proprietary formats and worlds. We will probably try an appeal to Linden Labs, but are pessimistic of any results. OKAPI Island was never intended to be “forever,” but the end may come faster than anticipated.

As a side note, the anticipated comic session for Bristol TAG was cancelled (booo!), so I threw my lot in with the CASPAR (audio-visual practice-as-research in archaeology) folks. I submitted this abstract and title:

Machinima and Virtually Embodied Archaeological Research

OKAPI Island in Second Life has been the site of archaeological research at the University of California, Berkeley since 2007. During this time the island has hosted lectures, film festivals, tours, educational outreach, and archaeological reconstructions created by a team of undergraduate and graduate students. In Fall of 2009, the OKAPI team pushed boundaries in interpretation and filmmaking by making archaeological machinima (movies made entirely within virtual worlds), the actor/avatars wearing the “skins” of the Neolithic residents of Çatalhöyük, a 9,000 year old tell site in Turkey.  This virtual embodiment of past peoples confused modern social boundaries of student and professor, archaeological subject and object, artifice and artifact.

In a session bringing together practice and research within audio-visual representations of archaeological sites, this presentation will explore the profound discomfort, complications, and surprising insights that come with navigating archaeological “fact” and fiction through embodied storytelling in a virtual world.

So, if you’ve never checked out OKAPI Island, I suggest you do so ASAP:

Humanizing our Heroes

Please don’t ask the question about favorite cocktails and best hot-tub parties/worst hot-tub parties. The answers to those questions have no longevity. They have no bearing on what the contributions of these two women are to the discipline. A number of efforts recently have focused on recording interviews with major figures in anthropology. Do you think in 20 years anyone will find it informative that their favorite drink was a martini? It isn’t relevant. Please don’t do it.

I received this thought-provoking comment on the last blog post and I thought it was interesting enough to give a longer and more visible answer than a comment response would provide.  I completely understand this viewpoint, especially in terms of lending our strong, feminist leaders the amount of respect they are absolutely entitled to receive.  I think it is contextual, and I suppose the casual academic culture of UC Berkeley archaeology can be a little startling to outsiders.

I didn’t write the “questionable” questions, but they were authored by current and past students who adore Meg and Ruth. I will be conducting and editing the interview and they trust me to be respectful AND playful–they trained me, after all. I also find that questions such as “favorite cocktail” can loosen the subject of the interview up, making them more comfortable in front of the camera.

I think that Meg and Ruth are both too interesting to be kept contained in strictly defined boundaries of their legacies within the profession. I hope that this interview will reflect what we experience as students–their generosity in wisdom and spirit, not that good archaeology is Serious Business.  I spoke to Ruth about that very topic yesterday when I mentioned this comment and viewpoint.  Her reaction was sadness–many times throughout her career she’s had to fight against the perception that she was not doing “real” archaeology, when anyone who knows the history of her career can see how her work has always pushed the boundaries of practice.

But I’m biased, obviously.

And hell, I’d love to know what cocktail Mortimer Wheeler favored. Anyone know?

Interview with Meg Conkey and Ruth Tringham – the questions!

Ruth Tringham and Meg Conkey, feminist pioneers and all-around superstars in archaeology are both retiring from UC Berkeley this year. I decided to write a small piece for the Association of Feminist Anthropologists commemorating their lives and their work and asked them to sit for an interview. At some point I decided that it would probably be a good idea to tape it, so I’ll be filming them on Monday afternoon, then editing the piece into a short little film.

I asked for questions for the interview on Facebook and Twitter, then formulated some of my own. They aren’t in conversation order–usually I just see where they conversation is going and try to fit it in. I’ve given them both this list so they can think about it over the weekend. Some of them are silly, inside jokes and some of them ask for Meg and Ruth to predict the future. We’ll see how it goes–let me know what you think!

Were there particular people who you saw as mentors or whose ideas inspired you?

What is your definition of “public archaeology?” What does this mean to them?

What was your worst field season ever?

Best field season ever?

What was the one moment that shifted their archaeological perspective to a more post-processual angle?

Best hot tub party? Worst hot tub party?

Unique challenges of being female faculty? How have they seen/felt this change over the years?

What are they most proud of achieving?

Advice they’d give on maintaining their passion for archaeology and university shenanigans?

What is the future for academic archaeology – how will our careers be different from yours?

Biggest mistake they see graduate students making (in their opinion, of course)? How they would structure a department if they could?

What do they think the next big and interesting theoretical debates will be?

What debates do they are stagnating the field?

Who and where will the next big ideas come out of?

Favorite cocktail?

Were there particular people who they saw as mentors, or whose ideas inspired them? What kept them going through difficult times?

What geographic area, unrelated to what you are doing now, would you like to work in?

What was your most interesting “backstage” moment in archaeology?

When did it become obvious that archaeology was becoming overwhelmingly “female?” What challenges does this bring to the field?
When will this become reflected in hiring practices?

Do you think that archaeology as a craft will receive recognition, or do you think our practitioners in the field will continue unappreciated and underpaid?

Do either of you plan to write memoirs?

SHA 2011 – January 5-9

The Society for Historical Archaeology is having their annual meeting in Austin this year and it’s hard to believe that I’m missing them, even though I don’t really do historical archaeology.  It’s not my speciality, though I’m very interested in archaeology in the contemporary setting and the SHAs can be a particularly fun and forward-looking meeting. Or so it seems from the preliminary program.

So, as I did with the SAA last year, I give you my picks for not-to-be-missed sessions at the SHA. Please go to them and tell me how they were!

Archaeologists As Activists: Moving Forward on a Practice of Activist Archaeology
Organizer(s): M. Jay Stottman Chair(s): M. Jay Stottman.  Panelist(s): Robert C. Chidester, Kim Christensen, David A. Gadsby, Barbara J. Little, W. Stephen McBride, Carol McDavid, Sarah E. Miller, Patrice L. Jeppson, Lori C.Stahlgren

Reinterpreting the “Domestic”: Household Archaeology Across Boundaries of Space, Time, and Disciplinary Divisions
Organizer(s): Emily D. Root-Garey, Nedra K. Lee Chair(s): Nedra K. Lee. Discussant(s): Jason Yaegar / Jamie C. Brandon Presenter(s): Maria Franklin / Nedra K. Lee / Deanna M. Riddick / Emily D. Root-Garey / Nadya Prociuk / Mary Jo Galindo / Miriam Tworek-Hofstetter / Karen E. McIlvoy / Debora Trein

Into the Cloud: Archaeology and Media in the Borderless Information World Organizer(s): Dennis I. Aig Chair(s): Dennis Aig
Panelist(s): Dennis Aig, Annalies Corbin, Sheli Smith, Keene Haywood, Katherine Martell

The Revelatory Power of an Artifact in Context
Organizer(s): Jamie C. Brandon Chair(s): Jamie C. Brandon Presenter(s): Jamie C. Brandon / Ryan M. VanDyke, Clete Rooney / Clete A. Rooney / Frederick Smith / C. Riley Auge / James M. Davidson / Rebecca Graff / Carl Carlson- Drexler

New Insights Into the Past: Advances in the Visualization of Archaeological Data Organizer(s): Lisa E. Fischer, Thomas G. Whitley Chair(s): Lisa E. Fischer, Thomas G. Whitley
Presenter(s): Lisa E. Fischer / Thomas G. Whitley / Lisa B. Randle / Jeffrey BarronGlover, Kelly Woodard, Johnny Waits / Nicole Wittig / Chad Keller, Worthy Martin, Peter Inker, Sarah Dylla / Christopher P. Redmann

Bridging Landscapes: Geographic Approaches to the Archaeologies of Landscape Organizer(s): Kevin Fogle, Andrew Agha, Jakob Crockett Chair(s): Kevin Fogle, Andrew Agha, Jakob Crockett
Discussant(s): Amy Mills / Martha Zierden Presenter(s): Richard H. Schein / Jakob D. Crockett / Nicolas R. Laracuente / Kevin Fogle / Andrew Agha / Linda M. Ziegenbein / M. Jay Stottman / Sarah Fayen Scarlett / Linda France Stine, Roy Stine

Neighborhood Archaeologies: Digging in Our Own Backyards
Organizer(s): Elizabeth Hoag, Emily Weglian Chair(s): Elizabeth Hoag, Emily Weglian Presenter(s): Elizabeth Hoag, Emily Weglian / Mallory Haas / Neil S. Price, Rick Knecht / Amy C. Kowal / James L. Flexner / C. Andrew Buchner / Anthony Vasquez, Frances Bright, Kim Christensen, Laurie A. Wilkie / James G. Gibb / Jeff Moates, Lorena Mihok, Zaida Darley

High Tech Archaeologies and Reconstructing the Past
Presenter(s): Erik A. Siedow / Alan D. Armstrong / Gwendolyn Moore / Andrea P. White / Thomas J. Nolan, Zada L. Law / Dean Goodman, Kent Schneider, Agamemnon Pantel, Noriaki Higashi / Joseph A. Evans / Jennie Sturm / Michael Drews, David Harder, Christopher Noll, Jeremy Hall / William R. Smith

(psst, SHA–you may want someone to get a new pdf uploaded–one without tracking changes!)

Graffiti & Archaeology II: The Wandering Wandjina

Perth was invaded in 2006 by a a strange looking being–it had large eyes, a nose, and no mouth, but an oval shape beneath its neck and an aura.  Stencils of this creature quickly covered all available surfaces, and just as quickly was commented on in the press and by the indigenous aboriginals of the western Kimberley region of Western Australia. The wandering Wandjina, a powerful being who was “the supreme spirit of the Worrorra, Ngarinyin, and Wunumbul people of Australia,” the one who “emerged from the sea and the sky, created the landscape, then returned to the spirit world,” but not before leaving their mark on rockshelter walls was reborn as a graffiti stencil on the streets of Perth.

In her Archaeologies article, Ursula Frederick studies the phenomenon of the Wandering Wandjina as part of a fascinating journal article on the interplay of traditional iconography and graffiti art in Melbourne and Perth. The above quotes are from this article, Revolution is the New Black: graffiti art and mark-making practices. In this article Frederick outlines her methodology in studying the graffiti from an archaeological standpoint, rather than that of sociologists who have attributed this art to social malfiescance and the like.  She contrasts traditional studies of rock art with her observations about graffiti, coming across interesting questions that could inform traditional study of ancient art.

For example, she notes the different media used to create tags (pen, crayon, spray paint) and the limitations inherent in each method of tagging–the technology directly influences the size and complexity of the art. This may seem overly obvious to fans of graffiti, but in rock art size is linked with importance, or dominance, rather than functionality.

Frederick also disturbs our archaeological interpretations of rock art having a single meaning, and being viewed by a homogenous community who views this art in a single way. It would be difficult to find people who share the same interpretation of graffiti. I’m sure that more progressive researchers of rock art are already exploring this alternate approach, but the example in modern graffiti is well taken from Frederick.

This past week has generated some buzz in the archaeological world about the place of contemporary archaeology, and indeed it has been very much in the forefront of my mind as I help organize USA TAG 2011, which has the theme of “Archaeology of and in the Contemporary World.” The discussion on the Contemporary and Historical Archaeology mailing list generated good questions from Angela Piccini: “what is the *work* that contemporary archaeologies do? what would *good* contemporary archaeologies look like and how would we recognise their worthiness and who says? what would we (collectively?) aspire for contemporary archaeologies?”

Given these questions, I believe that Frederick has provided a great example utility of contemporary archaeology and its role in informing our larger discipline. Archaeology is necessarily a big tent–we do study the whole of human experience, after all. Why give ourselves arbitrary rules and limits?

Frederick, U. (2009). Revolution is the New Black: Graffiti/Art and Mark-making Practices Archaeologies, 5 (2), 210-237 DOI: 10.1007/s11759-009-9107-y

Graffiti & Archaeology I: Bahamian Ship Graffiti

Tracing of a sloop graffito from a slave house, Clifton, New Providence

Electronically leafing through archaeological marginalia is probably an overly-obvious habit of mine, and occasionally I’ll find fascinating bits that I’ll throw up on my tumblr blog, to put aside for later while I get back to the main research topic at hand. I’ve been looking into the serious study of graffiti within archaeology for a project I have brewing, and some unexpectedly wonderful things have came up.

Graffito of early-19th-century British warship, New Providence

Grace Turner conducted a fascinating research project (for her MA thesis, if I glean correctly) regarding graffiti inside the slave cabins in the Bahamas. In many cases ships were etched into the plaster and stone walls of these small buildings, and from these drawings she makes inferences about the ships that are depicted in the graffiti. There were almost 100 instances of this type of graffiti and sloops, warships, and schooners were drawn in such a way that indicated that the inhabitants of these buildings (presumably enslaved people) were “familiar with ship construction and rigging.”

Ocean-sailing vessels at anchor, Nassau Harbour. One has masts and smoke stacks.

Yet these graffiti-ships “do not appear as decorative or representational images in other Bahamian contexts,” implying (as Carver says, that “Bahamian ship graffiti did not serve any aesthetic or decorative purpose.” She then connects the graffiti with a tradition of “wrecking” which involves both the court-endorsed practice of salvage and a more clandestine practice of putting lights on the coast in improper places, for ships to follow and crash upon the rocks.

Schooner with raking masts, Sapodilla Hill, Providenciales

Turner also describes each of the sites in detail, considering where the graffiti occurred, who was living there at the time, what tools were used to inscribe the stone and plaster surfaces, and even how much light was available at the time. Her conclusions about the socio-economic status of the graffiti artists and their intentions in depicting these ships trails off a bit–like a good archaeologist she’s trying to consider more than one explanation for these phenomena. If these lower-classed Bahamians were making plans and wrecking ships it certainly implies a willingness to prey upon the very same ships that might have brought them to the New World.

Kudos to Grace Turner and her interesting research! It must have been difficult to locate and draw all of the ships for her project.

%d bloggers like this: