Archaeology Films A-Z: Hiatus

Just a brief note to mention that my films project is on hiatus for the moment. We just don’t have the bandwidth here in Qatar to stream the movies.

This is possibly something to remember while crafting future research strategies!

The Dilmun Bioarchaeology Ethics Statement

Photograph of a Dilmun pot, from the Peter Bruce Cornwall collection at the Pheobe A. Hearst Museum.
Photograph of a Dilmun pot, from the Peter Bruce Cornwall collection at the Pheobe A. Hearst Museum.

After a rather invigorating research fellow interview with a dizzying array of questions, I was reminded of a research statement Alexis Boutin and I crafted in 2009 regarding the analysis and visual documentation of human remains and artifacts in the Phoebe A. Hearst museum at UC Berkeley. When I checked the old blog link the statement had disappeared, so I thought I’d repost it here, as I feel like it is an extremely worthwhile exercise and actually was a motivating force for the International Visual Studies Association’s more general ethics statement.

I would encourage all those who deal with human remains (and archaeology in general) to consider crafting this kind of statement before beginning a project, as it makes your position absolutely clear to your team and forces you to consider any stakeholders for your research.

Regarding the display and remediation of artifacts and human remains

The Dilmun Bioarchaeology Project is working with human remains excavated in the 1940s by Peter Bruce Cornwall. Although Cornwall obtained permissions both from local governing authorities and Standard Oil, who had oil exploration rights to some of these territories , we feel that we must be explicit in our methodology and goals in depicting the excavated materials curated in the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum. In this digital age it is easy for members of western academic institutions to share both visual and textual information regarding our research and while it is often desirable to keep an open dialogue with fellow colleagues and an interested public, this same openness can be seen as disrespectful when the display of human remains and associated artifacts runs contrary to the desires and beliefs of stakeholders associated with the site. We believe that it is important to clarify this relationship and our stance regarding the data we are gathering as part of the Dilmun Bioarchaeology Project (DBP).

Data Collection

During the course of our interpretation of the artifacts and human remains excavated by Peter Bruce Cornwall, we find it necessary to fully document the collection with digital photographs and digital video. The digital photography has been performed in accordance with the wishes of the Phoebe A. Hearst museum, on a photography stand, in raw format, with neutral colored backgrounds and scales. During this photography the artifacts were handled as little as possible, by team members wearing gloves in order to preserve their structural integrity. In the case of skeletal photography, only the dedicated bioarchaeologist, Alexis Boutin, Ph.D., handled the remains. These photographs and videos were then downloaded to the laptop of Colleen Morgan, the team’s digital documentarian. The photographs were then entered into a spreadsheet and given a UUID, a universally-unique ID commonly used by digital archivists, and a selection of these photographs were then cropped, photoshopped, and shared with the team in protected online folders. These photographs are also backed up to an external hard drive to protect against data loss. After the collection has been completely photographed we will make the photographs available to the Phoebe A. Hearst museum in a format of their choosing. The video will be cut into short videos to share online and will also be given to the Phoebe A. Hearst museum in the format of their choosing.


While all depictions of the artifacts and the human remains have been shared in protected folders online to team members, a selection of the photographs and videos also will be made available to the broader online public. Most of the artifacts in the Peter Bruce Cornwall collection were excavated from tumuli, specifically from human burials of the protohistoric inhabitants of Bahrain and Saudi Arabia (i.e., the Dilmun culture). Images of these artifacts are in broad circulation and are printed in many volumes, and our contributions in this respect will not be unusual. We intend to contact the archaeological authorities in Bahrain to reaffirm this process. In this case it is difficult to identify interested indigenous parties, as the excavations were performed 60 years ago and the landscape of Bahrain has changed radically since that time. It is not our intention to reify the assumption that primarily Islamic populations only care about Islamic artifacts and remains. Instead we hope that digital dissemination of our data will heighten awareness of the tumuli in Bahrain. However, if our discussions with community leaders and other interested parties indicate dissatisfaction with these depictions, then we will remove offending materials from public access. In addition to presenting traditional representations of these artifacts, we also intend to remediate the data for better understanding and interest of the online public. Remediation, defined by Bolter and Grusin (1999) as “the formal logic by which new media refashion prior media forms” can be used to resituate artifacts in new, meaningful, and interesting ways. Given this, we intend that our remediations will be respectful of the past and present cultural context of the artifacts.

This above set of standards does not apply for depictions of the human remains. We recognize, in accordance with the 1989 Vermillion Accord on Human Remains and the 2005 Tamaki Makau-rau Accord on the Display of Human Remains and Sacred Objects promoted by the World Archaeological Congress that “respect for the mortal remains of the dead shall be accorded to all irrespective of origin, race, religion, nationality, custom and tradition” and recognize that the depiction of these remains is a sensitive subject. Until the permission of the potentially affected community is obtained, we will not display human remains unless it is absolutely necessary for explanation, and even so, we do so with extreme forbearance.

Human Remains

In answering the question, “Why study human remains?,” Patricia M. Landau and D. Gentry Steele point to human remains as a unique source of direct information about ancient peoples’ biology and behavior: that is, what they looked like, how they acted as members of a society, and how they responded to their environments. Issues such as these form part of the Dilmun Bioarchaeology Project’s research agenda, although we are also particularly interested in understanding these human remains within their mortuary contexts. How were these peoples’ identities related to the ways they were treated in death? Under what circumstances were people buried together, and with what types of objects? Who was “allowed” to be buried in a tumulus? But this research agenda aside, the DBP is studying this particular set of human remains because they had never been studied before. Since Cornwall collected the skeletons in Bahrain in the early 1940s and shipped them to the U.S., they have been stored in the collections of the Hearst museum, curated carefully but never subjected to osteological analysis due to lack of funding. Cornwall doubtless had the best of scholarly intentions when he unearthed the skeletons and their funerary accoutrements: his writings reflect an interest in mortuary practices as an indicator of cultural affiliation. Nevertheless, the removal of human remains from what had been intended as their final resting place might be interpreted by some as culturally insensitive and disrespectful. The fact that these remains were never analyzed by an osteologist- presumably the purpose of their excavation – gives that interpretation more credence. Thus, the BBP aims to carry out Cornwall’s presumed research goals with the human remains from the Bahraini tumuli and, in the process, redress any oversights – however unintentional they may have been – committed against these ancient peoples and their descendants.

The following ethical guidelines are based on chapters in Cassman et al. (2007). All contact with the human remains is undertaken by the person of, or under the direct supervision of, Alexis Boutin, Ph.D., a qualified osteologist. Gloves are always worn to avoid contaminating the human remains or violating their personal integrity. The skeletal remains were marked in permanent ink with a museum “object” number at some point prior to our research; we do not employ any permanent systems of reconstruction or stabilization. Those temporary systems that we have employed (in limited instances, water-soluble glue) will be removed at the request of affected descendant populations. So far, our analyses have been non-destructive (i.e., strictly morphological and metric). Should we decide that invasive or destructive analyses (e.g., DNA or biochemical sampling) are essential to our research goals, we will request permission from the appropriate Bahraini authorities and, if possible, descendant communities. We approach our tasks with a sense of reverence and of the privilege we have been granted to interact with, and learn from, these earthly remains. Above all, we recognize that these skeletal remains are not “objects of study,” but persons who deserve the same dignity and respect, and have the same rights as, the persons who walk the earth today.

2000 Landau, P. M. and D. G. Steele Why Anthropologists Study Human Remains. Pp. 74-94 in Repatriation Reader: Who Owns American Indian Remains? Ed. Devon A. Mihesuah. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. V. Cassman, N. Odegaard, and J. Powell, eds.

2007 Human Remains: Guide for Museums and Academic Institutions. Lanham, Md.: Altamira Press.

When Urban Archaeology Turns Into Street Photography



I am going through the Origins of Doha photo archives before we start the new season here in Qatar and I’m finding unexpected treasures. Buildings recording and photography is difficult in Doha, and it is difficult to get clear, direct photos of architecture. I’m not sure if Kirk or Katie took those photo, but it is one of my favorites.



This another one of my favorites–no scale, but I could look at the texture and multiple repairs on the wall for ages.



Finally, I fully intend to use this in a class someday–can you figure out the building sequence?

Call for Photo Essays: Journal of Contemporary Archaeology


The new Journal of Contemporary Archaeology will feature one photoessay per issue. Photoessays may include up to 20 colour images and should include 2-3,000 words of text. The journal will be published online and in print twice yearly, with the first issue appearing in Spring 2014. Photoessays should engage with issues relating to the journal’s aims and scope. Further information is available here:

Please contact Rodney Harrison if you have any queries or would like to discuss a submission.

Archaeology Films A-Z: Ancient Greece: Pots Tell the Story

Title: Ancient Greece: Pots Tell the Story
Year: 2003
Length: 12 minutes
Made by: Karen Aqua and Ken Field in collaboration with Treasure Mountain Middle School, Park City, Utah
Genre: Experimental
Authors: Karen Aqua was an artist and spent 35 years making brilliant animated films before dying far too young from ovarian cancer. He husband, Ken Field, is a famous musician and composer who has made music for Sesame Street, among other productions.

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Interesting opening, very DIY, stop-motion animation using children’s drawings. There’s a narrator, telling us what the children have learned while studying Ancient Greece, very nice….wait, what? “They ruled a large part of the world thousands of years ago.” Large…uh…hmm.  During this description we have various drawings of Greek pots shimming across the frame.

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There are several narrators, which is great. First a woman, then a man (presumably Karen Aqua and Ken Field, which are surely the names of folksy, down-home superheroes) and then various children. Nice–a varied voice de-centers the usual authoritative voice-of-god narration.

We learn standard the standard bits about the columns  through cute animations of Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian columns emerging from the ground with cranking noises, but I do not particularly like this disembodied emergence of architecture, especially when it comes to Greek architecture. People built those.

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Speaking of people, we get actors in “heavy, sweaty masks,” musicians, and the first Olympics. We also hear about Greek mythology and monsters at length. The drawings are very cute and the animation is extremely inventive.

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Overall, the film is aimed at a young, elementary school audience, probably 7-10. It is an excellent project, and I applaud the enterprising animators who put this fun film together. I love the idea of young school children drawing figures from Greek pots and extrapolating stories that they could animate using these figures. In this case I’d argue that the making of the film is actually more important than the particular outcome, which is a bit boring and basic.

2/5 – Movie content
5/5 – School project, great for outreach

Shark Charmers and the Pearl Trade

1990 Painting by Kozyndan. Click to see original.
1990 Painting by Kozyndan. Click to see original.

Some historical notes to think about as I prepare to head to Qatar for another field season:

From the Sacramento Daily Union, 5 September 1898, reprinted from Lippincott’s Magazine:

In the Persian Gulf the divers have a curious way of opening the season. They depend implicitly upon the shark conjurors, and will not descend without their presence. To meet this difficulty the Government is obliged to hire the charmers to divert the attention of the sharks from the fleet. As the season approaches vast numbers of natives gather along the shore and erect huts and tents and bazaars. At the opportune moment—usually at midnight, so as to reach the oyster banks at sunrise —the fleet, to the number of eighty or a hundred boats, puts out to sea. Each of these boats carries two divers, a steersman and a shark charmer, and is manned by eight or ten rowers. Other conjurers remain on shore, twisting their bodies and mumbling incantations to divert the sharks. In case a maneater is perverse enough to disregard the charm and attack a diver an alarm given, and no other diver will descend on that day. The power of the conjuror is believed to be hereditary, and the efficacy of his incantations to be wholly Independent of his religious faith.

Further, from Eleven Years in Ceylon by Jonathan Forbes, 1840:

The superstition of the divers renders the shark-charmers a necessary part of the establishment of the pearl fishery. All these imposters belong to one family; and no person who does not form a branch of it, can aspire to that office. The natives have firm confidence in their power over the monsters of the sea, nor would they descend to the bottom of the deep without knowing that one of those enchanters was present in the fleet. Two of them are constantly employed. One goes out regularly in the head pilot’s boat, the other performs certain ceremonies on shore. He is stripped naked and shut up in a room, where no person sees him from the period of the sailing of the boats until their return. He has before him a brass bason (sic) full of water, containing one male and one female fish made of silver. If any accident should happen from a shark at sea, it is believed that one of these fishes is seen to bite the other. The shark-charmer is called in the Malabar language, cadalcutti, and in the Hindostanee, hybanda; each of which signifies a binder of sharks. The divers likewise believe, that if the conjuror should be dissatisfied, he has the power of making the sharks attack them, on which account he is sure of receiving liberal presents from all quarters.

While these accounts are undoubtedly colonial and very biased, there is little doubt that something compelling was going on both on the pearling boats and ashore. The Forbes book goes on to state that shark attacks were exceedingly rare, yet the high visibility in the clear Gulf water and obvious power of the sharks made them as terrifying in the past as they are today.

It also leads me to the depressing conclusion that even if we found such a structure archaeologically, we would probably have no idea that it was used as a room for shark charmers. I mean, two fish skeletons, a brass basin and a small room? I’ll be on the lookout, regardless.

Archaeology Films A-Z: Ancient Fires at Cliff Palace Pond

Title: Ancient Fires at Cliff Palace Pond
Year: 2000
Length: 11 minutes
Made by: Voyageur Media Group, Inc.
Genre: Expository
Authors: See the entry for the Adena film.

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Another movie from the Kentucky Heritage Council. Let’s learn about Kentucky, folks! The USDA Forest Service starts forest fires with drip torches. This is already the most exciting archaeology film I’ve ever seen.

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I’ve always found the idea of forest management kinda strange. I realize that many (if not most) of the landscapes that we see in North America were managed by Native Americans before our Park Rangers got at them, but the idea of encouraging or discouraging forests to turn out a certain way is still an odd concept. I guess I still have an unhealthy nature/culture divide in my head. Anyway.

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It’s almost two minutes in before the video mentions the Native Americans. They were building to it. Elder Jerry Wolfe comes on to set the record straight. Every Fall they’d burn the forests so that they don’t get an ocean of fire. Which would be inconvenient.

We segue into Indians-as-Forest-Rangers, complete with chanting. Pesky scientists didn’t know what to do until they actually asked the folks who had been living there a while.

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I love archaeological illustrations, and this video has several. Just LOOK at that grandpa from ancient history threatening the child with the feather.

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…aaaaand one slightly sinister baby in a basket.

But wait, what is that I see?? Archaeologist Cecil Ison guiding a group of folks to a cave dwelling! It’s Cliff Palace, and we are set for some learnin’ from a dude with a fantastic handlebar moustache.

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Nice video effects illustrating the rock art after Cecil traces it for us. We also learn that there is a fetid pond up near the rock shelter and that there are extensive archaeological remains around said pond. Why does this matter? Because we can core the pond!

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They found seven layers of distinct debris, including pollen. This next photo is for Shanti Morell-Hart, who once described looking through a microscope as traveling through space. Which sounds pretty cool…

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….but I’m not sure I buy it.

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Dr. Paul Delcourt seems down though. Do you like how they framed him with the hallowed halls of academia? He MUST be an expert. Bonus: he has a beard. Anyway, he checks our core samples to see if there is any ash present. Check out the slight azimuth change between Paul Delcourt and Cecil Ison. We’re looking up at Delcourt and down at Ison. Film and photography semioticians would note this as a power differential. Something to think about while you are filming. Anyway, back to the video.

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Cliff Palace Pond is like a time capsule, we are told. I believe them because this is a good drawing. We are told that Native Americans ate stuff and hunted stuff. Rockin’.Screen shot 2013-10-16 at 12.33.44 PM

Atlatl + beard alert!!

From the dirt core we learn that about 1,000 years ago, Native Americans began farming the land and shaped the forest into what we think of as the “natural” Kentucky landscape, with nuts and berries.

Overall, this would be a good movie to for teachers to show when you are learning about paleoethnobotany or paleo landscapes and landscape management. Or if you feel like you need to know more about changes through time for Native Americans in Kentucky.

Beard Count: 2.5
Women?: 0

Archaeology Films A-Z: The Amphora of Eleusis

Title: The Amphora of Eleusis
Year: 2006
Length: 4 minutes
Made by: Eleni Stoumbou
Genre: Experimental
Authors: Eleni Stoumbou has made several short archaeology films and contributes to Archaeology Magazine. She studied documentary filmmaking at Université Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense.

Review:  title

A delightful short video subtitled in Greek and English that takes the viewer through the story of Odysseus and the Cyclops as if it were being told to a child using the decorated amphora of Eleusis as a story book.


The soundtrack is performed in part with a Cretan lyre and compliments the subject–light and repetitive without being grating. There are some slightly cheesy Adobe After Effects and a random and jarring animation, but they don’t detract too much from the film.


A simple, creative exploration of an artifact that shows the potential for archaeology films to go beyond a simple expository framework. I was delighted by the presentation of the amphora and then the progression of the film to show a mother and child looking at the artifact in a museum. There’s even a slightly macabre twist near the end!

Absolutely one to show archaeology, conservation & museum students as an example of how to make a simple, engaging film using a single artifact.


(I had to skip the  previous film in the sequence, The Akha Way, as I had trouble streaming it. I’ll come back to it.)

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