RIP Archaeology in Action on Flickr

Photo by Marius Loots. “At the end of excavation, the final rites. Mapungubwe, 1995. Mapungubwe, inhabited around 1200 AD is now a World Heritage Site. This was one of the last large scale excavations done on the site.”

All (digital) things must die. But it sure is sad. Archaeology in Action on Flickr has been collecting visual evidence of archaeological work for 13 years, and I’ve been an admin and curator of the group for almost as long. It has over 4,400 photos in it, showing work from all time periods, all over the world. It has slowed down considerably in recent years, as people abandon the platform, but still held as a collection, with some of the most beautiful images of people and archaeology that I’ve ever seen.

In January, Flickr is going to move to a for-pay model that will only allow free users 1,000 photos and will delete any photos above that number. This is going to have rather dramatic consequences for Archaeology in Action, and my own account, which has 3,000 photos, licensed CC-By and available for people to use.

I tell my students that for-profit platforms are not an archive and are not beholden to you and you should not trust them in the least. But it still feels like a blow. Regardless, it may be the final push I needed toward moving entirely to Wikimedia Commons.

Analogue/Digital Archaeology Session at the EAA


Join us at the European Association of Archaeologists meetings in Glasgow on Saturday, September 5th from 8:00 – 10:00 in Room 361 for our discussion panel:

Analogue/Digital: Productive Tensions in Materiality and Archaeology

Abstract: As we integrate digital workflows into every aspect of archaeological methodology, it is increasingly apparent that we are all digital archaeologists (Morgan and Eve 2012). Yet archaeology has a long, productive and unfinished history with “analogue” media. Illustration, photography, dioramas, casts, paper-based maps, diagrams, charts and artistic renderings have all been – and continue to be – used to interpret and present archaeology to specialist and general audiences. Walter Benjamin argued that reproductive media destroys the “aura” of traditional artistic media (1968), and it has since been argued (Bolter et al. 2006) that digital media perpetuates a permanent crisis of this aura. As the premiere scholars of materiality, archaeologists can contribute to discussions of the context of, continuities between, and technological changes to these media artefacts. In this session we ask, in what ways are we using the digital in constructive interplay with the analogue? What can digital affordances reveal about analogue methodologies, and vice versa? And how are we pushing beyond skeuomorphic archaeological recording and rethinking the possibilities of media artefacts overall? We aim here to prompt reflective debate about, and speculative design of, the future of analogue/digital experimentation.

We have a fantastic set of participants:

Colleen Morgan (University of York) – Analogue/Digital: Spectrum, Landscape, Minefield?
Laia Pujol-Tost (Universitat Pompeu Fabra) – Mixed exhibits. The best of both worlds? & Pixel vs pigment. The goal of Virtual Reality in Archaeology
Sian Jones (University of Manchester) & Stuart Jeffrey – Material/Digital Authenticity: Some thoughts on digital 3D models and their material counterparts
Christine Finn (FSA) – Field Work in the Cubicle, and Other Computer Histories,
Kostas Arvanitis (University of Manchester) – Material Objects and Digital Avatars
Sara Perry (University of York) – Redefining Media in Archaeology

As Sara wroteare you investigating issues at the intersections of the physical and the ephemeral? Are you enrolling digital technologies into the production of tangible experiences, or alternatively, aiming to better understand the digital through tangible forms of interaction? Have you eschewed the digital in favour of analogue engagements in your archaeological/heritage work – or have you rethought the dimensions of one via experimentation with the other? How are you materialising digital practices? And how is our very conception of materiality being reconfigured (or not) by analogue/digital innovation?

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 Archaeology of Digital Abandonment

There’s a fantastic conference going on at University College London on the 8th and 9th of November, Digital Engagement in Archaeology, which I have co-authored a presentation in with Matt Law about a lovely data set he collected when Geocities closed down. Check out the abstract: 

Title: The Archaeology of Digital Abandonment

Abstract: After fifteen years of hosting millions of user-built webpages, in April 2009 Yahoo announced that they would be shutting down their United States Geocities webpages. Geocities was once the most common hosting service for low-cost personal webpages, including hundreds of public outreach sites about archaeology. Were the webpages moved to another hosting site, archived, or abandoned? We tracked and recorded the fate of 89 of these webpages, eventually sending a survey to the webmasters asking them a range of questions. While we received relatively few responses, the answers to the questions were illuminating. Much of the current digital outreach performed all over the world relies on “free” services such as Twitter, Flickr, WordPress, Google Pages, or Facebook to host their content. What can the fate of archaeological content on Geocities pages tell us about the benefits and risks of using commercial infrastructure for archaeological outreach?  In a conference dedicated to understanding digital public engagement, we sort through the digital wreckage of past outreach efforts to evaluate the fate of the online archaeological presence.

All of the other papers look really interesting, I wish I could be there to check it out. The paper will get developed into a piece of longer length to be published in an Open Access journal.

I must admit, one of the things that I’m the most excited about is the mind-blowing opening slide that Matt made, full of gifs and broken links–truly retro-geocities-fabulous:


So so brilliant.



Oakland Chinatown Saturday

Pandan waffles on a gray Oakland day.

Blogging Archaeology 3 – Tomorrow

Today’s question/mega-long response has been postponed, partly due to a sandstorm.

Cricetinae -or- Shanti’s Hamsters

Hamster Bones by Gracezorz

After performing a series of increasingly annoying favors for me, my dear friend (and fellow UC Berkeley graduate student) asked for a favor in return–she wanted me to post about hamsters on my blog. Fair enough, but…I didn’t really know much about hamsters. I asked my favorite faunal analyst about hamsters in archaeology, their use as food, and their eventual domestication. No dice. So I went to the web.

Hamsters were very recently domesticated, in 1930, as research subjects in laboratories. (Apparently the ancestor of all these domesticated hamsters was captured in Aleppo, Syria and taken to the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.) Indeed, most references that I could find were medical experiments (viagra cures jet lag in hamsters) or pet guides. Sadly, they’re not known as food species, like their fellow domesticates the Guinea pig, which played an important role in Andean cuisine. Apparently an enterprising vertebrate paleontologist, Björn Kurtén measured stoat and hamsters teeth found in Pleistocene sites in Hungary to measure climate change in the past. The reference is mostly notable for having the term “stoat oscillation” in it, which is purely unintentional, yet delightfully vivid imagery. (Incidentally, Kurtén also coined the term “paleofiction,” a genre that Jean Auel made famous. Also, it sounds like his Dance of the Tiger might be a good book for a prehistory in fiction class. hmmm.)

Not having access to the Berkeley library limits me in my research as well. I have pdfs of most of the books related to my research on my computer, but Approaches to faunal analysis in the Middle East is not one of them, sadly.

So, that’s about all I have to offer–a rambling trawl through library searches, online journals, and wikipedia. Now, at least, I know what the dorsal view of the hamster tongue looks like.

First Day: The ViA 2009

I have been in Southampton, UK for the last 24-odd hours on a whirlwind journey to the Visualisation in Archaeology Conference and it’s better than ever this year! There are fewer presentations and lots of discussion time, a model that is really productive at these small workshop/conferences.  I still have a bit of work to do on my powerpoint (I had to change some things to better address issues that came up in the discussions today), but I wanted to jot down a few impressions while they are still fresh.

Marble head of statue found at Portus

There were six presentations today, split into two morning and afternoon sessions. Matthew Johnson was the chair of the first session, “Toward A Virtual Archaeology?” and the presentations were surprisingly diverse. Graeme Earl and Gareth Beale presented their research at Portus, which has apparently been in the news a lot recently. They have a lot of high-tech gadgetry–you can see a sample here, on their flickr stream.

Reconstruction of Wayland's Smithy Barrow by Jennie Anderson

Jennie Anderson presented a much smaller project, both literally and figuratively–an interactive version of Wayland’s Smithy Long Barrow accessible by cell phone. Long-time readers of this blog will know why I’m so delighted that someone has taken this project and really run with it. Jennie also graduated from Swindon’s Archaeological Illustration MA program and shoots with a for real bow and arrow! I was happy to meet her and sad that she had to leave early.

Jesse W. Stephens ridiculously gorgeous photography
Jesse W. Stephen's ridiculously gorgeous photography

I shouldn’t really say too much about Jesse Stephen’s presentation, as we worked together on Kalaupapa and have the stories to prove it! It was great to see him again though and though he didn’t present any of his photography, we heard about his close encounter with Hawaiian public television.

We had a nice lunch and everyone chatted about the various papers and their impressions so far of the conference. People seemed really engaged and happy to be there–so far so good! The second session was titled “The Role of Pedagogy and Enskilling in Visual Practice,” chaired by Stephanie Moser.

Tim Webmoor’s paper, Archaeology’s Media Economy: means of visualization or visual fetishism was excellent, as usual. I was sad that I wasn’t able to chat with him before he left. I wish him well at Oxford–he seems to be thriving.

Digital Saints, by Chrysanthos Voutounos
Digital Saints, by Chrysanthos Voutounos

Chrysanthos Voutounos‘ paper on Byzantine art and presentation in museums was a little hard to follow.  He was describing some really interesting bits about the construction of icons and showed the spatial relationships between the standardized facial features of representations of Byzantine-era Jesus Christ. As he was describing it, I looked around the room and noticed that most of the illustrators present at the conference (there are quite a few!) were drawing the Jesus face, almost reflexively. I loved it.

Rob Reads drawing of a bone comb.
Rob Read's drawing of a bone comb.

Finally, Rob Read and Graham Smith gave their remarkable paper, “Training the undervalued and unacknowledged: Specialist training provision for archaeological illustrators in the UK.” It was a statement on the profession of archaeological illustration and just what we have been losing over the years as the number of illustrators dwindles. They showed some really beautiful reconstructions and made great points about the relationship between the site artist and the archaeologist. Really fascinating commentary from craftspeople who tend to get overlooked in their importance as active interpreters of the archaeology.

I should get back to that powerpoint, but I hope to update again tomorrow about the second day of the conference. I hope my paper goes well!

The Mamluk Emporium

As previously mentioned, I have been spending these last few weeks excavating a Mamluk-era barrel vault here at Tell Dhiban. This has meant several weeks of lifting guffaws full of dirt and rocks up out of the building to remove the collapse while documenting brief re-occupations of the building. Finally, on Wednesday, I came down to a nice dirt layer that the collapse respected, meaning that it fell mostly on top of the floor, with a few heavier ashlars more embedded in the softer ground. At first I was afraid that I might have missed the floor—we were expecting flagstones—and had moved on an earlier construction phase by accident. But as we were coming down to the surface we had fewer finds, and the dirt was pretty “clean.” For a tell just lousy with occupation it would have been difficult to get a construction fill that didn’t have loads of artifacts embedded in the matrix. I also didn’t see much of what could have been flagstones—it was all rubble from the collapsed ceiling and floors. We’ll see how accurate my interpretation is when we get more of the building cleared out!

The dirt floor also respected the bin in the south wall, which ended up diving down much farther than I expected. As I was excavating the last of the collapse back, I noticed that it also respected a line of ashlars effectively bisecting the building right at the cistern. We have a similar construction pattern in the west half of the building and whether this is some kind of water management system from the cistern or delineated activity areas, I’m not sure. I am currently leaning against the idea that it was a water system linked with the cistern because it appears that the cistern access was blocked off at this phase by a rebuilt wall. Again, this remains to be seen as we clear more of the collapse out.

From what I’ve seen, the phasing of this building (which I’ve jokingly called the “Mamluk Emporium—everything MUST GO!”) is a bit complicated—it was originally built with two doors, one into another room to the north and another out to a courtyard to the west. Then the north wall was cut away and a cistern was installed between the two rooms. Then, for whatever reason, the cistern was blocked off, but a niche was left where the door once was.

It’s these kinds of puzzles that make excavation so exciting for me—figuring out the architecture, revising my phasing narratives, finding things that completely turn your interpretations around. Not to mention other odd things like there being such an overabundance of Roman, Byzantine, and Iron Age pottery, with a relative paucity of Mamluk artifacts. The Mamluk were re-using stones from other buildings—a fact that makes reconstruction difficult (let’s use a Byzantine column base for a niche corner!) and excavation a bit of a headache. We’re also very near the acropolis of the tell, so wash can only explain so much intrusion from earlier artifacts.

There are a lot of things that happen after the excavation ends—Alan will be running his float samples, there will be other artifact analyses, and a mountain of paperwork—but making sure that the archaeology is properly excavated in the first place is what gives the rest of our work meaning. While this seems obvious, I don’t think that enough of an emphasis is given to the craft of excavation and there is certainly not enough training for archaeology students who want to go on in the field.

Dhiban by the Numbers

17: Flea bites on my left hand
5: Workmen
3: Words I learned in Arabic (horribly transliterated: Gumu, Suu-on, Harrrr = “get out” “chert” “hot”)
6: Hours of sleep (a good night!)
103: Iron Age, Roman, and Mamluk pot sherds from my trench
16: Tags I filled out for finds
8: Cups of tea consumed by 13:00
38: Guffaws full of rocks and dirt that went out of my trench today
3: Slices of watermelon
2: Dustpans that broke as I was using them
1: Seashell from the Red Sea