I’ve been blogging archaeology for over a decade now; my first blog was during my first field school in 2001, at the Juliette Street Project in Dallas, Texas. I started it because I wanted to keep my friends back in Austin up to date with what I was doing, but I was too lazy to write individual emails. It was public-but-private, more of an experiential blog as I was learning what archaeology was all about. Happily, the blog is long gone, deleted in a moment of self-consciousness when I got into grad school.
Middle Savagery started as a livejournal in 2006, and it is probably telling that it began with this entry:
Reading through the old entries, I miss how casual it was, how much more akin to Tumblr-style blogging, with fragments of words, stolen poems, photos. My blogging has gotten overly formal, possibly as a result of too much academic writing. It started as love letters to all the people that I moved away from or couldn’t be with, and has ended up as grist for the academic grind.
Why am I still blogging? Indeed. I frequently ran out of words while I was writing my thesis, leaving none to spare for the blog. Still, I keep updating Middle Savagery. It’s mine, my own thing, and in the morass of academic publishing, I have a platform I can experiment with. I can be as dopey and full of purple prose as I want to be, or call out misdeeds, or summarize academic articles. Through some trick of luck, people read my stuff.
Over the years I probably should have been more strategic, made a Facebook fan page for the blog, optimized my titles, tagging and search results–10 Mysterious Archaeological Artifacts That Will Change Your Child’s Diet and Your Husband’s Sex Drive! But no. I’ll keep wittering on, and Middle Savagery will change and grow in a slightly stilted, awkward fashion, just as I do.
Title:Ancient Mound Builders: The Marksville State Historic Site Year: 1994 Length: 15 minutes Made by: Office of State Parks; State of Louisiana, Office of the Lieutenant Governor; Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation & Tourism; and Louisiana Public Broadcasting Genre: expository Authors: Director Gray Warriner graduated with a degree in Geology and Physical Geography from the University of Washington, but abandoned his graduate studies in geology for filmmaking when he encountered a French documentary film crew at Tikal. He returned to UW to teach film for several years and has won several awards.
Mega creepy opening with fuzzy Native Americans in the background. The wind is howling, the narrator is declarative! We have a lot of fast moving skies, sunsets, clouds!
TIME. IT MOVES CONSTANTLY FORWARD…ALAS, WE CANNOT SEE THE FUTURE…BUT HERE AT THE MOUNDS WE CAN SEE INTO THE PAST….
Well, golly. Archaeologists serve up the second-best, just for you. We get to see a mound now, but still with the dramatic skies. A whole minute into the movie. There is a drawn-out discussion of time and looking into the past, with a zooming timeline of things that mostly white dudes did, because they were the important things, right? We find that written history came to a “grinding halt” before the European explorers.
While Greeks were building temples, mounds of earth were build across eastern America. Nice superimposition. I wonder if it’s to scale.
The production values in this video are a little bit crazy, lots of zooming images and neon outlines of Confucius. It’s almost like the film editors thought that the material was incredibly dry and so they decided to jazz it up a little bit, add a creepy soundtrack and an Authoritative Narrator.
Rewind though, let’s review glaciation in the Ohio region, and how Ohio was the perfect place for people to settle. Rich resources led to…free time to make cool stuff. I do not always fault a touch of environmental determinism, when taken into consideration of other factors.
The Hopewell influence spread to several other communities. When people say things like that, I always things of great clouds of influence, like locusts, descending onto a region.
The narrator asks, Why, why build mounds? And I actually like that they just straight out address something that has been constructed as mysterious and lost knowledge in a pretty straight-forward fashion. Some had burials, some were thought to be astronomically related…but then we back down again, we don’t really know. Fair enough, I suppose (she says, not knowing a whole lot about the Hopewell).
Hey, archaeologists! Maybe they’ll tell us something useful! Ooh, it’s only a 20-second-long shot and we’re only shown because we didn’t find any evidence of writing. Bummer.
We hear a bit about the Adena, and the cessation of mound-building, but I was happy that the authors of the video didn’t think that the Hopewell went away, but (like the Romans…again with the Classical comparisons) just changed their ways of life.
And then, the Mississippians, who built this one place you may have heard of, Cahokia. Nice art, nice reconstructions, I wonder who the original artists were? We hear about the 200,000+ mounds that once covered the eastern US, and about the destruction of 85% of them.
Overall, not an incredible amount of archaeology in this film; most of the information obviously gleaned from years of archaeological investigation is presented as given. This is a film primarily about the mounds, with only a little bit of discussion of daily life, and most of the material culture of the Hopewell (mounds aside) are presented as zoomy-flashy images that go by as uninterpreted “art objects” that show how advanced the Hopewell were. If there is an art-historical approach to examining Native American life, then this would be it. The mounds and the artifacts are presented in compare/contrast style to developments in the Classical world, and while this better situates the timeline, I’m unsure of the continued productivity of constant comparison.
I was standing in the middle of a medieval street when it finally hit me–I’m going to be here for a little while. It was nighttime and cold, and I’m woefully unprepared for wintertime in Northern England. I am still living out of a suitcase, which is only half-full anyway, as I left most of my summery digging clothes back in Qatar. Two hoodies, a cheap scarf that I bought on Green Lanes in London wrapped so that you could only see my eyes, a pair of gloves with a hole in the thumb, and shoes so thin that I could feel the exact dimensions of the flagstones beneath my feet. And I was happy.
I had one of those moments that the full impact of two years spent ricocheting between continents came to rest on my shoulders. A wild reel of colors and flavors and faces, and a profound weariness. But there’s a certain satisfaction that comes with that kind of weariness, a reliance on your own endurance and self-preservation.
The street was unfamiliar, full of huddled medieval timber houses that lean over you, arching their eyebrows and trying to get in a word. I passed by a pub where Guy Fawkes was born, and a big, fuck-off cathedral, and isn’t this a little bit different than dusty ol’ Oklahoma? As I walked through the streets I was taking the usual inventory of useful shops and streets-I-should-remember, slowly getting used to the idea that this will become familiar and invisible in the months to come. The casual way the tea shop uses the Roman wall to prop up their signboard, soup advertised with all sincerity, the unselfconsciously tweedy old folks, the profound whiteness of this little Northern city will no longer deserve attention or comment. The constant travel has only sped up the cycle of acclimation.
Earlier that day we had hired a removal service, which sounds very Repo Man-meets-the-mafia to me. All of my possessions were decanted from their storage unit and are trundling North toward a very tiny terraced house that I managed to lease on the same day. I’ll somehow cram all of my books and eventually my wayward husband into the place–he’s still off directing excavations in Qatar for the foreseeable. Still, I’m looking forward to doing a nice little bit of research while I’m at York, and they’ve been kind enough to furnish me an office in the stately King’s Manor, which King Henry VIII fussed around in at some point. Though I doubt he came to my office, which is next to the former kitchens.
Later I found out that the name of the little street that I stood on was Stonegate, but at that moment I was only aware that I was outside of a small bar with stiff drinks, and I shrugged off my introspection and went in out of the cold. To my delight they had Bulleit, which I ordered neat, with a cherry. Because not everything changes, and a sweet bourbon goes a long way to make a girl feel right at home.