The Fledgling: The Maeander Archaeology Project

The Big Maeander River by Ali Ertim

I haven’t really wanted to write much about the project I’ve been working on–even now it’s a bit scary to mention it because there are so many ways it can fail. I always have at least 3 or 4 (more like a dozen) academic schemes up my sleeve at any point in time and most of them fail. I don’t have time to implement them, I don’t have the money or the technology (or my knowledge) is just not there yet. Obviously I like talking about the projects that succeed much more. The success of the Meander Archaeology Project  is impossible to tell so far, but it’s been an incredibly important part of my life for the last few months–too important to keep it under wraps, even with the potential of a large public disappointment.

So it was with great hope and absolute dread gripping my heart that I dropped a large envelope off at FedEx, containing the applications of my colleagues for a research permit for archaeological survey in southwestern Turkey. I’ve been looking around for suitable regions to begin a project for a couple of years now. Last summer in Jordan and Syria were very much occupied by that very task. More and more I realized that as much as I love learning Arabic, that my heart (and some of my favorite archaeology) was in Turkey. Everything since then has been a whirlwind. I’m lucky enough to have some incredible friends and colleagues who are willing to try out a new project with me. I got to see them all yesterday, in their most unflattering guise–passport photos that I stuck to dozens of visa application forms, seven copies for each person to pass through the labyrinthine bureaucratic process. The passport photos were so bad (most of them were taken at the last minute–my fault) that I wanted to post a note along with the package, “The team is not normally this angry or this stoned, I promise!”

Still, it would have been absolutely impossible to come even this far without the love, interest and support of Daniel Eddisford, Dan Thompson, and Ruth Tringham. So the permit is in for recommendation by ARIT, and the visa applications are finished, and there are some funding schemes in the works. It will be hard if this project doesn’t come through this year, as we’ve put so much effort into it, but I’ve learned so much that ultimately it will be worth it even if we have to try again next year. Here’s to hope & very occasional and fleeting success!

The Battle of Blair Mountain – Past and Present

The Camp Branch MTR site near Blair Mountain. It is moving straight toward the historic battlefield site.

Most people don’t know that the United States’ biggest class war was the Battle of Blair Mountain, wherein over 10,000 coal miners battled police, strikebreakers, and the US Army in their attempt to unionize. This battleground is now the site of another struggle–initially nominated to the National Register of Historic Places, the site was de-listed by the state in what amounts to behind-the-scenes machinations by Massey Coal, who wants to strip-mine this historic region. I was overseas and out of touch when this was all happening, but it was ably reported by the Afarensis blog.

Brandon Nida, a UC Berkeley Anthropology Ph.D. candidate, grew up in the area and has made Blair Mountain the subject of his dissertation research. He gave a talk at our departmental Brown Bag meeting, bringing up many salient points that shows the true power of activist, community-based contemporary archaeology in action.

Coal mining has been in the news constantly with numerous cave-ins trapping poor miners. But only recently has there been greater attention to the environmental devastation caused by the practice of mountaintop removal, or MTR, a process that annihilates both the mountains and the valleys below, which are filled with by-products and are essentially poisoned by the process of cleaning the coal. Interesting side note that Brandon made in his talk–the anti-MTR movement has a high percentage of pilot volunteers. They fly over these areas and can see the full extent of the devastation, something that is kept from the general public.

Brandon has been trying to raise awareness of this practice, which can be highly divisive, as mining jobs are seen as the only means of survival in an economy that is beyond bad in rural West Virginia. People who protest this practice are generally seen as coming from the “big cities” without any connection to the place. Brandon and his fellow activists are able to dispute this characterization–they come from the community and have found ways to use archaeology to open spaces for dialogue in this debate.

For example, Brandon has been trying to identify the many makes and calibers of shells used by the rag-tag Blair Mountain resistance army and these objects are of considerable interest to residents who overwhelmingly own guns and shoot game for sustenance and sport. He carries some of these shells to meetings, inviting an active participation from residents to comment and speculate on their past. There’s also the matter of the family plots that dot the mountain. Legislation was passed protecting these cemetery sites, under a coalition of churches, miners, politicians and residents, providing a consensus over the value of history and the miners connectedness to the land. Now it is a race to get these plots registered and even so, they become what Brandon called “islands in the sky”–small patches of greenery and stones surrounded by a toxic, barren landscape.

I would highly encourage you to support the Friends of Blair Mountain, an organization with a new website that already has a wealth of information regarding the struggle to preserve this important, threatened site. The Blair Mountain Gang’s Flickr stream is also worth watching.

Ishi + Glass + Audience + Performance = Title?

Ishi and Kroeber, by Kathryn Killackey

The Affective Qualities of Ishi’s Knapped Glass Points
Ishi and His Audience: Negotiations in Glass
Green, Brown, Clear: The Affective Qualities of Ishi’s Knapped Glass
The Affordances of Glass: Ishi’s Knapped Glass in the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum
Ishi’s Performative Knapping
Length vs. Color: The Affective Qualities of Ishi’s Knapped Glass Points
Ishi’s Negotiations in Glass
The Negotiated Qualities of Ishi’s Knapped Glass: Audience, Affordances, and Awesomeness
Ishi’s Audience and the Affordances of Glass
Performance, Audience, and Affordances: Ishi’s Knapped Glass Collection in the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum
Ishi and His Audience: A Collection of Debitage and Knapped Glass in the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum

I’m in the process of applying for a bit of funding to put my Ishi paper into publication, just in time for his 100th anniversary at the Phoebe A. Hearst museum. I wrote the paper back in 2005 and the poor thing needs a lot of work, but the funding will be for illustrations of some points and a couple of half-worked “blanks” that Ishi worked on before his death. I’m getting Kathryn Killackey to illustrate them, and as you can see from her webpage, she has no lack of experience in Ishi points:

http://www.killackeyillustration.com/

So the above list (having a lot of lists lately–must be the end of the semester) is what I brainstormed last night for a title. Obviously some of that will depend where I try to get it published, but I think I like the last one. Simple, not too scary (people tend to freak when I start talking about affordances, but I still haven’t found a better word for “the physical and non-physical qualities/traits of an object that make it useable or non-useable in certain ways”) and it brings in the name of the museum housing the collection. Writing about Ishi is always a minefield anyway–I really need to spend some time on this paper to make sure that it properly honors his legacy. Check out the wikipedia article about Ishi if you haven’t heard of this particular piece of a long history of ignoble treatment of Native Americans.

Graffiti and the Archaeology of the Contemporary

“Graffiti is to the city what colored leaves are to the forest. The changing art on the walls reflects the passing of time, and conveys information about the city’s inhabitants, their lives, and culture” (Curtis and Rodenbeck, 2004:1).

Ancient rock art and cave paintings have long been an area of intense interest and research in archaeology. Scratches on walls and pots are carefully recorded, traced, and published in prestigious academic journals. How does our knowledge of this past emplaced art inform our everyday experience in the contemporary world? While some archaeologists evince an interest in modern street art as part of Shanks’ “archaeological sensibility,” few systematic studies have been performed on the wheat paste, spray paint and stencilling that cover our urban landscape. At the 2011 Theoretical Archaeology Conference at UC Berkeley, archaeologists and members of the Oakland street art community will come together to engage in a dialogue meant to explore the archaeological aspects of graffiti art. This session will consider graffiti and archaeology from multiple perspectives, addressing questions such as: How can we record and document graffiti art? What is important? How can this engagement with unauthorized and highly visible art help us read the modern cityscape? How can we make a site visible? How can we convey the importance of a site? What does this intensive annotation of place tell us about the lived experiences of community in cities?

Papers regarding contemporary readings/explanations of graffiti, histories of graffiti, and the materiality of street art are invited to apply.

The sessions for TAG 2011 in Berkeley were announced, along with a sweet logo from Deadeyes/Safety First – local graffiti artists who are participating in the session with their collective, Black Diamonds Shining. Please contact me if you would like to participate in the session!

Field Food

Maple syrup
Spices
Bloody Mary Mix
Hot Sauce
Chocolate
Tortillas
Trader Joe’s Junk Food
Gummy Bears
Dried Fruit
Canned Pumpkin
Wasabi Peas
Nutella

Going into the field has a lot of romance attached to it, undoubtedly dating back from the great expeditions of the Victorians. They had near legendary kit–often importing all of their food and other supplies rather than relying on what they perceived as the primitive living conditions in the local communities. While many of us envy the steamer trunks, natty tweeds, and vast wealth of the early archaeologists, their colonialist outlook and general disregard for the local populations are things that our profession has been trying to shake off for a while.

When I first went to Turkey I was convinced to bring energy bars, peanut butter, coffee, chocolate and the requisite duty-free gin–weighing down my luggage considerably. I now consider this a bit ridiculous as well as unwieldy; there are grocery stores and local food is available, because, y’know, what would people eat otherwise? Now I try to discourage students from bringing more than just a couple of treats, and it’s always a real pain when they refuse to eat the local food. I’m a vegetarian at home but bringing this habit into the field is unreasonable and at times outright rude–refusing food that is shared with you is bad manners in pretty much every culture that I’ve encountered.

Still, many of us still bring a few treats with us, and the above list was compiled after I asked my fellow grads what they miss in the field. I am putting together a little package to send to my friend Allie in Antartica (I don’t think she reads my blog, so it’s safe!) and was having a hard time thinking of things to put in the box.  The only thing that I’d really want to bring these days would be coffee, but having it with me always gets my bags searched–I guess some people use it to hide the smell of drugs–so I haven’t bothered for the last couple of years.

I’m headed to Qatar for a few months this winter, so this question has been on my mind. I usually miss Thai food and tacos when I’m in the field. Maybe I’ll bring some spices and learn how to make my own tortillas.

What do you bring into the field? What would you miss the most?

Berkeley Dirt Dogs v. Stanford Patheticons

Photo by Heather Law

Giants? World Series? The true epic battle was over this last weekend — Berkeley archaeology and Stanford anthropology/archaeology met and played softball  for the first time in what we hope will be a series.  Berkeley had a strong home field advantage but Stanford rallied in the end and then much beer was had by all.

Thanks to John Chenoweth for organizing this effort and to our fair colleagues from the South Bay for hauling up to Berkeley on a Sunday. I didn’t play much as I was a bit under the weather, but now I’m gonna go look for a softball glove.

While we obviously don’t care about such petty things as winning or losing, it should be noted for the record that Berkeley prevailed, 18-8. Not bad for a bunch of post-processual hippies! (oh, and I’m fairly certain that Stanford choose their own team name, but I was a bit unclear on that point)

2010 Trench Report for BO27

Hello all! This is my trench report from Dhiban–I wrote it last July.  I found out today that the season report has gone to the Jordanian Authority, so it should be okay to publish. Now you too can enjoy boring archaeological gray literature! The photos are mostly by Evan, the site photographer in 2010.

BO27 – Introduction

In the summer of 2009 Danielle Steen and students from Knox College performed several 5m x 5m surface collections at Tall Dhiban.  These collections had concentrations of Middle Islamic, Byzantine, Roman and Iron Age pottery that seemed to correspond to different occupations of the Tall. To affirm the veracity of these surface finds to the underlying archaeological remains, two 2.5m x 2.5m test trenches were excavated late in 2009 and four additional trenches were opened up in 2010.  One of these trenches was BO27.

Stratigraphic Narrative

After some disagreement regarding exact placement and grid coordinates, BO27 was opened up on June 27, 2010 on the second terrace on the west side of the tall.  The surrounding architecture suggested that BO27 contained a structure, so the area of the trench was expanded from the normal 2.5m x 2.5m size to 2.5m x 5m, along the east – west axis.  This enlarged size ensured that a large double wall (locus 14) would be investigated during testing.  Though there were additional walls visible to the east and north of the trench, excavation was not extended to include these features.  In future years it could be well worth expanding the arbitrary trench to correspond to existing architecture in order to truly phase the building.  As the building was not fully excavated, this report can only contain partial information regarding the building’s sequence and possible purpose.

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The trench was initially covered by shoq and small, shrubby, thorny bushes and ground cover.  This was removed as (locus 1).  The trench also lay in the middle of a heavily trafficked goat path and goats and their human caretakers remained an issue most of the season.  This top soil was only partially sieved and artifacts were hand-picked for the most part.  Happily, removing this top soil layer revealed an east – west wall (locus 15) abutting and returning from the large double wall visible at surface (locus 14).  This wall (locus 15) was at the southern extent of the trench and contained all subsequent building fills.  After (locus 1) was cleared, an underlying pit (locus 5) containing dark, silty dirt and large amounts of cobbles and rubble (locus 4) was perceived to cut the trench to the eastern extent.  The true extent of this pit is unknown as it ran into the limit of excavation to the northern and eastern extent of the trench, but the excavated area in plan was 1.2m x 2.5m with a depth of .28m.  Finds in the fill of the pit (locus 4) were relatively sparse and mixed with artifacts with a TPQ as late as the 1970s at depth.  This pit appears to be extremely late in date, and dug to rob out stone for use in building elsewhere.  Again, as the extent of the pit was not explored, this cannot be said with much certainty.

Excavating the pit cut (locus 5) provided an informal section of the stratigraphy of the fill of the building.  Underneath the general top soil layer (locus 1) and cut by the modern pit (locus 5) was a generalized fill (locus 3) with occasional rubble that appears to have rolled down the hill as the building filled with alluvial dirt.  Finds associated with the fill (locus 3) were mixed and did not contain an overwhelming indicator of the date of the building.  This layer of fill (locus 3) terminated with a layer of bricky, construction-like materials that were mixed with plaster (locus 6).

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The construction materials in this layer of fill (locus 6) seemed to be associated with the structure contained by the N-S (locus 14) and E-W (locus 15) running walls, rather than miscellaneous fill.  This layer contained the most fill, with 154 gufaf removed before reaching the next layer.  There were also several .2m to .4m boulders that seemed to form a collapse of some kind, but not as dense as collapses in other buildings, such as those in BR44 excavated in 2009.  This construction/collapse fill (locus 6) terminated in a layer of disturbed flagstones (locus 7). The excavation of locus 6 revealed an installation (locus 8) abutting the N-S wall (locus 14) that extended into the north section.

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The installation (locus 8) was built out of miscellaneous limestone blocks, probably reused from other contexts.  The true extent and shape of the installation is unknown as it extends into the LOE, but the visible dimensions were rectangular, with a height of .38m and a width of .56m. Please see the isometric drawing in the BO27 archive for details regarding the stone size and shape of the installation.  There were the remains of a mudbrick/makeup surface on top, possibly sealing the installation.  Under this mudbrick/makeup were a series of flat stones, further sealing the interior of the installation.  The general morphology of the installation suggests that it is a bin, and previous excavations of similar features support this interpretation.  After the flat stones were removed, the interior of the bin was excavated as fill (locus 9).  The bin fill was loose, fine, and homogenous, much like the interior of the bin in BR44, excavated in 2009.  The interior was collected for a 100% flotation sample, but as the sample was being gathered, very few finds were identified in the fill.  At level there were several sandstone cobbles, a few of which were gathered for geomorphological investigation in bag 65.  The bin fill terminated in large stones that appeared to be flagstones.  Upon further investigation they lined a pit (locus 12), probably to level the installation (locus 8) as the primary build for the bin employed ashlars that were set into the pit (locus 12). As the stones also overlay the flagstone surface (locus 7), the flagstone surface was probably built first, then the pit for the installation (locus 12) was cut into the flagstone surface (or what remained of it), and the stones comprising the bin and the leveling stones were installed, along with fill (locus 11) surrounding the rocks.  It could be argued that the fill of the bin (locus 9) and the fill of the pit (locus 11) are the same material, but they are associated with slightly different building contexts and were collected and treated as separate fills.  The construction of this bin was different than the two other bins I have observed on site, in that the foundation for the bin was cut into the surface, rather than placed on top of the surface and leveled with chinking stones under the primary construction ashlars.  The cut also had a slightly irregular shape, not conforming to the dimensions of the bin, but the extent of both the pit and the bin are unknown, as they were not fully excavated.

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The flagstone floor (locus 7) was comprised of several flat stones, from .4m to .6m, placed on a relatively level surface and intact to the western extent of the trench, but truncated to the west.  These flagstones were possibly disturbed or robbed out to the eastern extent, possibly by the previously excavated modern pit cut (locus 5).  These stones also appeared to be disturbed by a collapse, as several were turned on their sides with other stones embedded around them.  Lodged between these flagstones was a diagnostic Middle Islamic pot handle, collected as Special Find 2.  Other sherds found in the fill (locus 10) refit to this diagnostic find.  This seems to imply that the last certain phase of occupation of this structure was during the Middle Islamic period.  Beneath these flagstones was a coarse, pebble-filled fill (locus 10) that seemed to act as a leveling fill for the stone floor.

Removing the coarse, leveling fill (locus 10) revealed a bright, abrupt color change to a compact, reddish fill (locus 13) with small charcoal concentrations.  None of the charcoal was very cohesive, nor did there appear to be a pattern of burning.  This fill was initially left as the terminus for the trench, as the primary purpose for excavation was to identify the last phase of occupation, which appeared to be during the Middle Islamic period, as both the flagstone floor and the fill beneath it contained clearly diagnostic Middle Islamic artifacts.  The trench was cleaned and prepped for drawing and final photographs, and left while I went to investigate one of the cisterns on site.

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We came back to the trench several days later and excavated the reddish fill layer (locus 13), but in the intervening days the dirt had dried considerably and was at times difficult to chase while excavating.  This fill contained several unique objects and the bulk of the Special Finds recorded in BO27 in 2010.  Among these finds were a worked shell (SF 5) and a .05m x .03m square copper plate (SF8) with two holes in the middle.  Also found in the sieve from the fill were a metal arrow and a metal plate.  Removing this fill revealed a grayish fill that had several possible flagstones intermixed with the fill and a tabun in the southwestern corner, close to the N-S (locus 14) and E-W (locus 15) running walls.  This is very likely the next phase of occupation, but it remains unexcavated.

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While only three courses of E-W wall (locus 15) were revealed during excavation, some preliminary descriptions of the wall are possible.  This wall appears to be rubble filled, but the extent of the wall was not investigated to the south so it is difficult to be certain.  This wall was built abutting the N-S running wall (locus 14) but further stratigraphic relationships can only be revealed with further investigation.  The wall (locus 15) appears to extend to another wall to the east of the trench, but, again, it is not possible to tell without excavation.  The wall was built with shaped stones and two Nabatean ashlars, indicated in the elevation drawing by a small, interior dashed line.  It appears to be relatively well-built, yet entirely out of stones re-used from other structures.  More speculation about this wall will be discussed in the phasing.

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Most of what has been described has been the fills to the east of the N-S running wall (locus 14) as the remains are associated with a structure.  The test trench also contained a portion of another N-S running wall, built abutting (locus 14) and cleaned off (locus 2) to reveal the extent of the wall and its relationships to surrounding architecture.  This part of the trench was deemphasized this season, so the investigation of it remains rudimentary.  The double walls were both rubble filled, but appear to have been robbed out extensively, and cut by military trenches both to the north and to the south.  While the N-S running wall (locus 14) associated with the finds described above remains relatively intact, the wall abutting its western is heavily disturbed and was under a large amount of collapse, much of it rapid collapse, with large air pockets and underneath the stones.  At midpoint in the trench the wall seems to disappear entirely into a cobble collapse.

Preliminary Phasing

While phasing a building that has only been partially excavated is impossible, some preliminary speculation regarding the episodes of occupation and collapse can be discussed for the building partially contained in BO27.

I.      Modern use – The modern pit (locus 5) and the goat path (locus 1) shows that this part of the tall is still very much traversed and used for construction resources.  During the course of excavation the rebar used to delineate the extent of the trench was pulled by one of the shepherds who expressed his worry that the goats would cut their legs.  While the structure is no longer permanently occupied it is still used for the resources that it contains, primarily fodder and stones.

II.    Building collapse/removal – The rocky mixed fill (locus 3) seems to contain rocks that either collapsed or were washed in by alluvial action.  This fill does not contain nearly the amount of rocks that would have indicated a complete building collapse.  I speculate that this fill represent a period after possible removal of standing remains by the Department of Antiquities in the 1950s.  I believe this is supported by the rapid collapse to the western extent of the building, possibly showing that the building was pulled over, downslope.  Then I believe that the visible architecture was removed to a single level, explaining the even coursing of the E-W running wall (locus 15) and relatively shallow stratigraphy of the building partially contained in BO27.  Confirmation of this speculation may be revealed in early aerial photos of the tall, but it remains speculation until that time.

III.  Disuse/interior collapse – The mixed construction fill (locus 6) overlying both the flagstone surface (locus 7) and the installation (locus 8) contains plaster and bricky remains, possibly the interior finishing applied to the building that collapsed over time.

IV. Reuse – The bin (locus 8) installed in the interior of the structure has been interpreted in other structures as containing fodder for domesticated animals, probably goats.  This would indicate that the building at this time was still at least partially standing in order to contain the livestock.  It is difficult to say how intact the flagstone floor (locus 7) was at this time, but the use by animals could explain some of the general wear to the surface.

V.   Rebuild/occupation – The flagstone surface (locus 7) was in place before it was cut by the bin, perhaps indicating the building’s use as a domestic structure, but there are no other features associated with this phase and to affirm this speculation further excavation is required.  The gravely, leveling surface (locus 10) seems to have been laid in order to establish a firm construction foundation.

VI. Conflagration – The reddish-brown burnt surface (locus 13) beneath the leveling surface (locus 10) seems to indicate an incident of burning and while there were a few, scattered burnt rocks, no other indications in the stone in the walls could be seen.  The finds within this layer were relatively rich, perhaps indicating an accidental burning.

VII.        Occupation – the flagstone surface beneath the burned layer (locus 13) and associated tabun indicate a domestic occupation of the building, but it remains to be verified in future seasons.

Relationship of BO27 to the broader context of Tall Dhiban

This building appears to be Middle Islamic, at least in the last phases of occupation.  The trench is positioned on an outcropping overlooking the wadi and area thoroughfares.  Early speculation regarding the trench included its possible use as a tower, as it was abutting a possible fortifying double wall that extends along the contours of the tall.  This would seem to be supported by finds associated with phase VI, including the arrowhead and bits of copper plating.  Yet the previous occupation contained a tabun, suggesting a domestic structure, and later use included a pen for housing animals.  The building partially contained within BO27 seems to reflect the reuse extant throughout the site, of occupation and reoccupation, reconfiguration and reuse of the tall’s materials for changing needs throughout time.

My Game Biography

Greg Niemeyer guest-lectured in my Interactive Narrative class last Wednesday, giving us a fast but thorough grounding in Alternate Reality games and game research in general. It was one of those interdisciplinary moments that I really appreciate, wherein I encounter a scholar who is utterly fluent in his arena and am able to draw him out into discussion about archaeological theory and finds, gaining no small amount of enlightenment and a new perspective on my research.

He was very approachable and open, and I got the sense that was a true gift when it came to designing games. I also don’t think he was used to people pushing back a bit–he has an interesting perspective on the placement and utility of games within society that I don’t entirely agree with, but I don’t entirely disagree as well.While this is a simplified summary, he feels that games help us deal with larger societal issues and specifically referenced World of Warcraft as an arena where people can come together into teams to solve large problems, mirroring our growing need to solve international issues such as global warming. I kept thinking of some of the finds that I’ve come across over the years, specifically the large assemblage of “game pieces” that Michael House excavated at Catalhoyuk with sheep knuckle dice and black and white stones. Niemeyer asked me if I knew the rules to the game and I hadn’t actually considered the possible rules to go along with the assemblage and what these rules might tell us about the Neolithic. I also chatted with him about mancala and the prevalence of the game along trade routes, but I’ll save my thoughts about that for another post.

Anyway, my notes from the lecture are extremely useful and it was one of the more worthwhile discussions I’ve had at Berkeley. I had known about his work through Jane McGonigal and the larger Berkeley Center for New Media sphere, but hadn’t specifically checked out his papers or classes. Like a good grad student, I looked up his CV before he came to class and discovered his Game Biography, “based on the notion that we learn everything we know from playing games.” Seeing as how I’m always “game,” I thought I’d write one myself.

1984 – Hide and Seek in cornfields in Oklahoma; Soccer
1985 – Oregon Trail, still the best educational game ever
1986 – Super Mario Bros/Pitfall/Duck Hunt/Marble Madness!
1987 – Zork, Moonmist, Nord & Bert Couldn’t Make a Head or a Tail of It, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy–Interactive Fiction was the best.
1988 – Scrabble – endless games with my folks
1991 – Super Mario Bros. 3 – my mom would sometimes rent a SNES from the video store
1994 – Stickmud, where I talked to people from Sweden and Finland
1996 – Ludune, the failed mud that me and my Seattle roomates tried to design
1997 – Final Fantasy 7
1998 – Final Fantasy Tactics
1999 – Civilization II
2000 – Final Fantasy 9
2001 – Dance Dance Revolution
2002 – Suikoden 3
2005 – Katamari Damacy
2006 – Neverwinter Nights
2007 – Cruel 2 B Kind
2008 – Dragon Age, Backgammon
2009 – Dragon Age – Awakening
2010 – Kingdom of Loathing

The dates aren’t necessarily all correct or all-inclusive, but these are the games that I most remember–primarily console/PC games, it turns out!  I often remark that I’m sad that I don’t have more time for games, as there are so many really incredible immersive worlds and narratives out there. I feel like I’ve missed a large cultural moment by never playing World of Warcraft, but my academic career would have surely suffered. Or at least that’s what I tell myself–maybe I would have been better suited for solving large, international problems if I would have played!

Dia de los Muertos in the Mission

Last night was the annual Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebration in the Mission in San Francisco. UC Berkeley’s own Stanley Brandes has published extensively on The Day of the Dead as “something peculiar to Mexico, (a) remnant of ancient Aztec funerary rites and an expression of a uniquely Mexican relationship to death” (From Sugar, Colonialism, and Death: On the Origins of Mexico’s Day of the Dead 273 it’s a great article that traces the ritual and materiality of the celebration, eventually concluding that it is a “neither Spanish nor Indian but, rather, a colonial invention”). The festival is becoming more widely known to most people that live in the United States, with the compelling imagery of dancing skeletons, marigolds, and sugar skulls.

Living in Texas and now in California, I’ve had the benefit of living around large Hispanic populations for some time now, and as an archaeologist I have a particular affinity for Day of the Dead celebrations. As a practitioner of a profession that “speaks” to and for the dead, it’s nice once in a while to make this relationship explicit, to share the feeling of happiness that a personal connection to the past begets.

Dia de los Muertos in the Mission is a mix, for sure. I’ve heard criticism from some folks (anthropologists, even!) that decry the Mission celebration as inauthentic and infested with the white hipsters that everyone seems to like to pick on these days. Last night I processed behind a local group of Santeria practitioners, who chanted, danced, and wafted burning sage across the street. There were families with children dressed as little skeletons–they always the creepiest, and they seem to sense this–and the Laughing Squid/Burners, and no small amount of people carrying portraits of their dead loved ones as they walked beneath panderias, laundry mats, and aging duplex-Victorians.

My friend Melissa gave me her candle and I added it to one of the lovely altars in the park. It was for a friend, Chris Lee, who passed earlier this year.

Chris was a true sweetheart, with a ready laugh and a huge heart. He was a fellow archaeologist and was working professionally on a job in Texas when he died of heat stroke. Sic transit gloria mundi. Godspeed, m’dear.

The Çatalhöyük Workplace Model

As I wend my way through graduate school, I have lamented at times that we’re not really taught how to manage excavations projects or people, and we tend to “grandfather in” field craft as was handed down from previous generations of excavations, whether or not it is appropriate to current knowledge in the field. Don’t worry, I’m not off on another rant about archaeologists digging in square holes, though I was sorely tempted to post something when that iPad in Pompeii link made the rounds–the pain in seeing that lovely stratigraphy mauled and then peered at through a screen to “aid interpretation” gave me the shivers.

Anyway, the  sad news that came through last night that the “Hodder Team” at Catal was not going to be excavating this year meant that many of my excavator friends were out of a job for the season and now are looking for other opportunities. I have no intention of building on any gossip or going into unnecessary detail (sorry!) but the working model for excavators (the specialist teams are a whole different beast entirely) at Catal was different enough (at least to American excavations) that I think it deserves at least a bit of comment.

Each year, a few professional excavators from the UK (mostly) were hired to excavate areas of interest and to teach students how to excavate. Workmen were hired primarily to move dirt, sieve, and help flotation of samples. The workmen very rarely excavated, which kept them separate from the team most of the time (and I think robbed the students and excavators of a more immersive/interesting experience and language training, but it’s a difficult balance, for sure). The professional archaeologists were paid and generally had at least a decade of experience in single context recording–these people were usually excavation supervisors in the UK and were taking a significant pay cut to work on interesting archaeology. They provided Hodder with very detailed interpretations, experience, and excellent data. It was a complete re-education to work with them; these professional archaeologists are truly practicing a craft, one that is generally unappreciated by academic archaeologists. After all, we are they ones saying that “anyone can be an archaeologist!” and allowing children and volunteers (and graduate students!) to excavate our sites. The contrast between the “Hodder Team” and other teams at Catal who were primarily using student labor was striking and very instructive. Excellent data was important to Hodder, and he was willing to pay for it.

This is an interesting mini-trend, many of the same professional archaeologists were working in Iceland (before the crash), and now are working in Egypt and Qatar, on projects that have complicated stratigraphy and who need this kind of precise, excellent data produced by highly skilled professional excavators. They’re craftsmen and women who simply cannot be replaced by graduate students and volunteers who may have taken an archaeology class somewhere along the line. The excavators come back each year, providing a continuity that more transitory students cannot provide.  Also, a new crop of excavators does not need to be trained to “see” and interpret the archaeology of that particular site, single context methodology and its translatability aside.

This is very much on my mind as I’m trying to get a new project together in Turkey. People need to get paid. There needs to be transparency in finances on excavations. But can I deliver?