Why I Blog

Doug’s Archaeology is running a blog carnival prior to the 2013 SAA  Blogging Archaeology (Again) session, a sort-of follow up to my 2011 session in Sacramento, which remains sadly unpublished.

Like Bill, a fellow archaeology blogging dinosaur, I think I may have answered the question, why I blog, before, and I’m also answering late.

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:

Screen shot 2013-12-07 at 4.59.47 PM


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.


Archaeology in Action – Mixed Media Edition

The weather has turned chilly and I have returned to one of my favorite forms of structured procrastination–maintaining the Archaeology in Action group on Flickr.  Again, I had to weed out various travel photos, museum shots, and landscapes without explanation, but found a whole bunch of really good images that I had to share.

Church Window Uncovered

This is the photo that inspired the post.  Buzz Hoffman has been documenting the Hamline Methodist Church project and snapped this lovely image of a stained glass window from a church that was destroyed by fire in 1925. He’s been blogging about it at Old Dirt – New Thoughts.

Hey look, a rock!

My good friend John is finally back out in the field in Texas, digging squares and blogging about it.

Recording Rock Art

Here is an archaeologist recording rock art in the desert in Morocco.  I love how the recording of rock art emulates the act of creating rock art.


And while we’re on the subject of art, this reconstruction really knocked me out.  I love the layers of interpretive material and illustration as work in progress. Easily one of the most interesting reconstructions I’ve ever seen.

A "pottery" of amphora

Still, I love the sketchy reconstructions that Alistair uploads to his Flickr stream. Images like this make me wish that I didn’t spend so much time noodling behind a computer screen and sketched a bit more.

Four Stone Hearth 80 – Call for Submissions

Broken Heart, by Phoenix Daily Photo

I’m hosting the next Four Stone Hearth on November 18th, please send your submissions to me:


For this edition, it would be nice to get a lot of photos with captions! I need some inspiration–my camera hasn’t seen much use lately.

Four Stone Hearth 79 was hosted at Anthropology.net.

Meta: Blog Linking

In a fit of structured procrastination, I decided to go through my blog links today and add a few blogs links that have been emailed to me or that I’ve noticed and delete a few of the blogs that haven’t been updated for a while. There’s been a huge increase in archaeology blogs lately and I don’t pretend to have a list of all of them (I tend to prefer blogs that talk about personal research interests and methodology) but if I’ve missed any good links, please let me know about them.

Some new(ish) links:

I’m quite enjoying Archaeopix and their reblogging of archaeology photos available under a creative commons license. I’m lazy about adding my flickr photos to groups, so they give me motivation to be a better flickr user.

Archaeopop is another new kid on the block, and is the work of a few grad students from the University of Michigan. Fun to read for interesting takes on archaeology news.

I remember finding it a while ago, but for some reason I didn’t link Punk Archaeology. It’s a topic close to my heart (and will be posting an abstract that I sent off in a bit that is related), but more for investigating the DIY ethos in relation to my own work than investigating specific archaeology/punk band linkage.

Another blog that has been around for a while, The Archaeology of the Mediterranean World, is one that I’ve read but never linked to out of sheer negligence. Fixed!

I’ll be watching Sexyarchaeology with interest, though a “sexiest field crew” competition makes me a bit uncomfortable. I’ve been working in relatively conservative communities for too long, it seems.

In a sad note, I’ll be removing the following blogs in the next week or two:

Archaeozoology, after a year of no updates. I was never quite sure who was running Archaeozoology, but I quite liked their posts on Cat Domestication and Islamic Pig Prohibition.

Archeduct, what happened with the Loretten dig?

Nomadic Thoughts, with a rather cryptic last entry.

Online archaeology, now offline.

I really miss Random Transect, for their geographic proximity and interest in labor and class issues in archaeology.

As for my own online presence, I’m up to 12 regular blogs that are updated (with more or considerably less frequency) and three tumblr blogs, which is perhaps a bit much. Most of them are project related though, so they don’t get updated when I’m not currently working on that particular project.

One of the tumblr blogs is actually for a class that Ruth and I are teaching this semester and it serves pretty brilliantly so far for that purpose–we’re teaching archaeology and the media again, with the film emphasis, so when films are mentioned in class or in assignments, we can link to clips without too much trouble. I’ve never had much luck with class blogs, but tumblr is a low-investment linking tool that compliments the content of the class nicely. It’s somewhat opaque to outside viewers, but that’s okay. If it’s a huge success, I’ll blog about it at the end of the semester.

The Utility of Various Social Networking Tools for Archaeology

I’ve written a bit about this before, covering twitter for conferences, flickr for outreach, facebook for conferences, youtube for calls for papers, etc. I strongly believe in the DIY ethic, meaning that I believe archaeologists should both provide their own content for media and learn how to produce the media themselves.  Social networking and digital media production tools make this relatively easy, and the growing ubiquity of blogs of various stripes shows that more archaeologists are becoming comfortable with self-publishing and digital outreach.  I should probably develop this into a longer article at some point.

Blogs – LJ/Blogspot/Wordpress/hosting your own blog – It seems like we’re very quickly hitting critical mass with dig blogs, group blogs, personal blogs, organizational blogs, and news blogs. William Caraher covered this pretty well last January.  My own experience in keeping a personal/professional blog (hey, since 2002) and attempting a series of blogs on all of the above platforms has met with varied levels of success. Academic/class blogs are never all that successful. Students will contribute if they are specifically required to, but will not read their classmates posts or comment on them in a meaningful way. Group blogs are difficult unless there is one person in charge who nags everyone else to post. Most of the problems come with personal investment–is there a reason for someone to blog on the group blog versus self-publishing? There are also a lot of blogs that are islands–the contributors post to that main blog, but do not read or respond or link to other blogs who may have discussed the same issues in the past.  It can be difficult, indeed the number of archaeology blogs is rapidly expanding and it’s occasionally difficult to figure out who posted what first, but it’s important to know the genre that you’re writing in. The blogs that I find the most useful and interesting generally reflect what the person is doing at the time, or discuss archaeological topics in a meaningful way.

Flickr/Picasa – I find Flickr immensely fun and useful–perhaps even moreso than other social networking types.  I love posting photos, getting feedback, and curating the groups that I’m in charge of. I like seeing what my friends post and the archaeology photos present on Flickr have inspired a forthcoming book proposal. Sadly, it seems that many people join Flickr, post a lot of photos, refine their technique, then start posting infrequently, as their standards are raised so high that only one out of several hundred photos are “good enough” to post on Flickr. Some people also seem to struggle with the interface.  I highly recommend using Flickr Uploadr, which is a program that you can use to sort and tag your photos to get them ready to upload, then uploads them in a batch.  This is especially useful for those of us who work on projects with inconsistent internet access. That said, the participation on an institutional level, such as dig-based or company-based Flickr streams are one of the best (and easiest) forms of outreach. Adding tags, descriptions and posting the photos to groups is a great way to gain visibility for your site. It’s also easy to post a “widget” to your blog that shows your most recent Flickr photos.  I have one, if you scroll down far enough.

Picasa is the Google-based photo-sharing social network. I resisted at first, but I’ve found Picasa useful for more group or class project oriented photo galleries. Picasa provides a finer control for photo permissions, and I’ve uploaded photos there that I’ve needed to share with a few specific people, but not generally. For instance, I have a pretty giant Catalhoyuk illustration file on Picasa that I will be using as reference for more Second Life student building that I do not share more generally.

Facebook/Myspace/Ning – When people turn their noses up at Facebook, I simply tell them that I’ve been invited to speak at conferences and have organized major archaeology meet-ups (WAC Dublin!) using Facebook. I find it incredibly useful to keep up with people that I’ve excavated with, met at conferences, and even other archaeology bloggers.  I also use it to post notices about different blog posts, flickr updates, and conference CFPs. I’ve already posted about how to use it in a pedagogical context, and how to handle your students more generally in that context. I don’t really use myspace anymore, and Ning…I just don’t see the use of a social network for archaeologists only.  I think it’s important to be visible out in the world, and it’s not that difficult to find other archaeologists on Facebook. Ideally we would all use an open-source, academically-oriented non-profit solution (with NO quizzes!) but that does not seem immediately forthcoming. Academic.edu and Linkedin are okay for hosting your CV, but are of limited utility otherwise.

Twitter/Tumblr – I experimented with using twitter at the Stanford TAG, and I’ve subscribed to a few archaeology twitter feeds, but I still have pretty mixed feelings about the format.  I generally do not care to get 140-word updates about news items or excavations. Chatting with other archaeologists (and friends!) about the airports we are in seems to be the limit of twitter functionality for me.  I can also see it being used as a discussion forum during conference presentations and I hope that we’ll be able to provide that at the Berkeley TAG in 2011. It is an excellent tool for massive collective action or for keeping people apprised of unfolding events, but is of limited utility in the day-to-day outside of my immediate circle of friends.

I use Tumblr for general internet meanderings, and I quite like it. It’s informal easy to use, and more my speed than del.icio.us or other link lists. If you’re like me, then you come across all kinds of wonderful things while doing research, and I see tumblr as a way to catch all of the chaff that is thrown into the air that I can’t necessarily use, but want to remember for later. It’s the most personal of all of these tools, and reflects most directly what I’m doing at the time.

Youtube/Vimeo/Etc – Video is one of the most undeveloped arenas of archaeological research, especially video shot and edited by archaeologists.  Youtube is a pretty good venue for sharing these videos, but the networking aspects are weak, and the youtube encoding is poor for details. Vimeo is more isolated, with slightly better encoding, but is not extremely useful for the “stumble upon” audience. Everything should be posted on Youtube first, and then other hosting sites second.

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:


Four Stone Hearth – Call for Submissions


I’ll be hosting the next Four Stone Hearth on February 11th, so please send your submissions to colleen@berkeley.edu.  From the website:

The Fourth Stone Hearth is a blog carnival that specializes in anthropology in the widest (American) sense of that word. Here, anthropology is the study of humankind, throughout all times and places, focussing primarily on four lines of research:

  • archaeology
  • socio-cultural anthropology
  • bio-physical anthropology
  • linguistic anthropology

Each one of these subfields is a stone in our hearth.


Community Service

I figure I should look up from the stacks of books occasionally, blink my eyes, and look at my surroundings.  As most of you probably know by now, I’m midway through my fourth year of grad school.  Four years!  I took my qualifying oral exam last spring and I’ve been hammering out the shape of my dissertation, due in Fall of 2011 (or so).  I’ve gotten to the point where people pretty constantly ask when I’m finishing.  My answer varies depending on my mood.  I still seem to go between being incredibly inspired by my research, and utterly disillusioned about the whole process and academia in general.  All of this is apparently typical.

I made a couple of “best of” blogging lists, and am picked up in a few of the Four Stone Hearth blog carnivals and in that spirit, I wanted to share a few places where I get inspiration when the dissertation seems particularly bleak.

A pretty constant source of joy is the Moore Groups blog, which covers a wide range of topics with Irish…snark?  Is that the right word for it on that side of the pond?  I met Declan and friends at WAC, where he showed us how to make beer and how to drink beer. Of particular delight is his recent coverage of Obama’s Irish roots and the archaeology of the associated area.

Shawn Graham’s Electric Archaeology always provides interesting links and commentary–I consider his blog the first and last word on developments in digital archaeology.  He adopts an explicitly pedagogical approach to the subject, which I really appreciate.  I do wish he’d switch back to a single column style though!  It’s hard to believe I’m a traditionalist when it comes to blogging.

Testimony of the spade is Magnus Reuterdahl’s blog about archaeology in Sweden.  I particularly liked his recent post about patterns that he was seeing in the doors of cabins–classic archaeological vision at work.

Though it’s hardly fair, I’m always a fan of John Lowe’s Where in the hell am I?.  He’s an old friend and is posting about his experiences as a professional archaeologist in Texas.  He’s been moving up in the world lately and has started managing projects and the accompanying headaches.  Good luck, John!  (and ew…move away from blogspot!)

Fotis’ Visualizing Neolithic is exactly where we need to be with archaeological photography.  It’s just…wow.  In the same vein is Ian Russell’s relatively new blog, culturge.  He highlights art and culture with particular attention to material culture.  Of course, I particularly liked his post about killer robots.

Obviously these are only a few of the blogs that I read (look that way for more! —–> ) but these few particularly resonate with my perspective on archaeology.  If you have any more suggestions, I would be happy to hear them!

Geode, Flickup, and Ubi-Archaeology

15 -0700

At the beginning of last summer I managed to get a working geospatial/flickr/archaeology hack for embedding archaeological information in the landscape with the iphone.  I posted a short how-to on the Remixing El Presidio blog, here.  Since then, I’ve kept an eye on geolocative technology, but it’s mostly taken a back seat to my work in archaeological narrative and visual representation if only because that’s what I’m writing about for my dissertation at this point.  With the release of the iPhone G3 with built-in GPS and iPhone applications being developed, geolocation has once again surfaced in the form of Flickup, an application that automatically uploads photos that you take with your phone to Flickr, with geotag intact.

There are a few snags with the program–with older iPhones, you have to reload google maps so that it will have the proper geotagging information before you take any photos.  The photo above was taken at the Berkeley post office, but was auto-located in the “French Quarter” in San Francisco.  I don’t know if this is fixed with the G3 phones, but if someone has one to loan me, I will test it thoroughly, I promise.

This is a step toward (cheap) cameras that will record a timestamp and spatial data, making it easier for people who come along after the excavation has closed to locate archaeological information in place.  Another development that I’m keeping track of is Geode, the Firefox plugin that allows websites to provide information tailored to the user’s location.  In theory, archaeologists could develop a website in the same vein as Yelp, which provides recommendations and reviews of local businesses, but instead would allow a user to view local archaeological/historical images and information.  Ideally this website would be publically funded and would accept submissions from projects and people from around the world.  That reminds me to work on my HASTAC application, boo.

Presidio Memory Maps

For the next three weeks I’m helping to teach a class at the Presidio of San Francisco on digital documentation, cultural heritage, and interpretive trails.  It’s an intensive course, 8+ hour days for the undergraduates and more like 12-13 hour days for me.  For the first day, I had the students create memory maps using flickr and google maps to teach them how to use the tools, but also to teach them about free-associative narratives as a part of placemaking.  It worked well as an exercise, and it was interesting to see the different scales that the students used for their own maps.  I made one a couple of years ago ago about living in New Orleans, but I felt like I wanted to update it, so I made another one from Austin, linked above.

I’m also updating the official project blog, Remixing El Presidio, here:


Good fun, but I’m ready to have my hands in the dirt again!

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