Toward an Embodied Virtual Archaeology

Lara Croft is an unavoidable cultural figure for women in archaeology. Some choose to feel empowered by this representation of an ass-kickin’ buxom femme who slings guns instead of shovels. She’s an arguably harmless fantastic character and frankly I’m a little bored of being irritated at this representation of my profession and at people who remark about either Indiana Jones or Lara Croft while talking to me about archaeology. I’m nearly loathe to bring her up at all, except for this:

A new iteration of Tomb Raider is coming out on the Wii. While this likely means that you can smash pots/natives/steal artifacts using the new controller, the first thing I thought of was digging!

While there have been attempts at VR digging (some of which I should be writing about right now in my field statement, argh), the Wii controller is versatile, relatively inexpensive, becoming pervasive, and can do most of the basic motions associated with field archaeology:

1) troweling
2) shoveling
3) sifting
4) pick-axing
5) drawing

It would be a lovely educational tool and would guide people through the some of the physicality of archaeology, something that is sorely lacking in most virtual excavation projects and games. Obviously I need to write a grant proposal that includes funding for purchasing a Wii, right?

Metaphorical Archaeology

Here’s the first two paragraphs of a thirty page paper I dropped off yesterday:

Archaeology and photography, both considered projects and products of modernity, have extensively exchanged metaphorical weight throughout their complimentary histories.  As early as 1839, Dominique François Jean Arago enthusiastically embraced photography as a means to accurately “copy the millions of hieroglyphics which cover even the exterior of the great monuments of Thebes, Memphis, Karnak” in a way that would “excel the woks of the most accomplished painters, in fidelity of detail and true reproduction of the local atmosphere” (Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology., et al. 1986:73).  Fox Talbot, the inventor of the ‘Calotype’ process in 1841, was an antiquarian and took photographs of manuscripts, engravings, and busts (Dorrell 1989).  While archaeologists have considered photography as an attractive and theoretically transparent way to quickly document sites and artifacts, critics and theorists of photography have drawn on archaeological metaphors to describe and understand photographs.

In describing Niepce’s first photograph, Clarke declares it “not so much an image as an archaeological fragment” due to poor quality and representation (1997:12).  Sontag spells out this relationship, stating that “photographs are, of course, artifacts” (1977:69).  They “turn the past into a consumable object” (68), by “slicing out this moment and freezing it” (15), “giv(ing) people an imaginary possession of a past that is unreal” (9).  Berger expands on Sontag, acknowledging that “photographs are relics of the past, traces of what has happened (1980:61), but champions creating an “alternative photography” wherein photographs are contextualized, situated through social and political memory.  Barthes further obscures the relationship between the photograph and the ‘reality’ of the past by stating that “the reading of the photograph is thus always historical” (1977:28).  While the linkage between artifact and past meaning has been problematized extensively in archaeology, its apparently objective use of photography as a tool to represent scientific process has only recently been called into question.  Shanks (1997) destabilizes the use of photographs as “transparent windows”, situating ‘photowork’ within a specific framework of cultural production within archaeology.

I’ll post the rest as a pdf after I’ve, um, read it.  Now, on to finish the big lit review I have due to my advisor!

And, suddenly, I need to have read, digested, and contextualized Walter Benjamin’s entire corpus.

I love/hate when this happens.

SAA 2007: Geohacking, Memory Maps, Spacialized Wikis and Landscape Archaeology


The title of my paper:

“Geohacking, Memory Maps, Spacialized Wikis, and Landscape Archaeology”

I asked my friends to give me one positive comment and one critique, which I think it a pretty good way to get feedback. I got a pretty good turnout, even though I was first at 8am on a Friday morning.

The other papers in the session were interesting, particularly the “hip hop archaeology” paper and a paper about prepping a world heritage landscape in Fiji.

Sorry for the rather mundane post–I’m exhausted! I posted all my slides on flickr and I’m uploading my paper as a pdf to this post. Any commentary/critique is welcome!

SAA 2007




The folly of taking photos of writing about taking photos instead of writing about taking photos.

PS: No, my writing actually comes out perfect the first time, I was just trying to make everyone else feel better. Really. C’mon.

PPS: Brought to you by Amy Winehouse and Man Man. I never said I had good taste in background writing music.

SCA SQ 2007


I just finished the semi-mediocre powerpoint presentation that I cooked up for the paper that I co-authored with the four other San Quentin teachers. I don’t really like powerpoints and when I do them I try to do something nontraditional. I just didn’t have time to do much with this one. Tufte be damned, I guess.

No, I didn’t come up with the title to the paper.

Spring break is next week and everyone is cranky. By everyone I mean me.

Stay tuned for more academic make-work!

So, while I enjoy browsing at the lovely little clothing boutiques around the Bay Area, the true hot ticket shopping is done at home:

Oh yes, the Forestry Suppliers 2007-2008 catalog has arrived. 700+ pages of tree ball carriers, reptile tongs, and crack hammer belt holsters. While I’m very happy as an archaeologist, when I was young I wanted to be a park ranger and this catalog fits both professions just fine.

They have a website too:

But the catalog just feels nice. On the to-buy shortly list:

Dirt guides!

Munsell Color chart, as mentioned in jlowe’s post:

And I really need a new compass.

A girl can dream.

A few weeks ago I desperately needed a photo scale, so I ordered it and threw in a plum bob for good measure. Plumb bobs are really nice to map with because when you position a tape measure over an area you are excavating (particularly if it’s a broad, areal excavation), it’s often hard to see where exactly that tape measure is in relation to the artifact/feature/whatever you are trying to plan map. So, you measure from a plumb bob string back to the measuring tape and it gives you a better reading than just estimating with your eyes by standing above it. I don’t think I’m explaining this very well. Nevertheless, plumb bobs are nice to have around.


Unfortunately, I didn’t notice the size/weight of this thing when I ordered it and ended up with a what could be described as a small missile. It’s heavy, too. Whenever I heft the thing, I immediately think about it falling into my eye. Though that might be a residual from being in grad school.

My next one will hopefully be about two inches long. I might keep this one though, in case I need to do some real cartographic violence.


“The philosophical argument of this book is simple in its outlines: images are like living organisms; living organisms are best described as things that have desires (for example, appetites, needs, demands, drives); therefore, the question of what pictures want is inevitable.”

“We need to reckon with not just the meaning of images, but their silence, their reticence, their wildness and nonsensical obduracy. We need to account for not just the power of images but their powerlessness, their impotence, their abjection.”

“…when students scoff at the idea of a magical relation between a picture and what it represents, ask them to take a photograph of their mother and cut out the eyes.”

What Do Pictures Want: The Lives and Loves of Images by W.I.T. Mitchell

Growing Up

Urban assemblage #2. Click on the picture for notes.

Woozy drowsy from staying up too late reading and the sleeping pill I finally had to take hasn’t worn off yet. I’ve been watching Masculin/Feminin while sorting through the million emails from my students…oh, to be a french girl in the 60s. I do pretty okay though, ever since my New Year’s resolution I’ve been out out, running around and socializing, meeting people and going to lectures, art shows and DJ sets.

As far as scholarly life goes, I’ve been reading a lot of visual studies work, and I find most of it incredibly naive. Trying to link modernity and postmodernity to some kind of increase in visuality seems ridiculous to me, but I’ve been unable to articulate it in any kind of manner acceptable in an academic arena.

End of the Semester at San Quentin

Last night was the last day of class at the Q.  We were almost finished with presentations and had a few make-up tests to give, so only a few of the students showed up.  I had said most of my good-byes on Friday night, shook hands with everyone, and assured them that I’d be back.  Last night was nice though, a few of the guys showed up just to talk about things–parallels between Yoruba and Hopewell religion (!), NAGPRA, and the Navajo were all topics that were bandied about.  There was a big “feast” put on by the Catholics, and so everyone was Catholic for the night–the Muslims, the Sikh–everyone.

On Sundays we teach in “Arts and Corrections” which is the prison art room.  There are works by inmates hanging all over the walls and a few old instruments in the corner.  I have no idea what it was originally, but there are high ceilings with windows so that the prison guards that roam around on the catwalks above the yard can look in.  Sometimes I wonder if we could teach them too–but class is a haven where the students can learn and escape, and talk without reprisals.  It’s usually pretty cold in there, and last night was no exception.  So we all kept our coats on, and sat and talked.

I’m not sure what to say about prison anymore–I’ve gotten used to most of the quirks of going there.  But as I’ve gotten used to the teaching, the strident injustice, the bitter humor (one guy last night said, “take your time coming back; I’m going to be here for 17 years!”), I think my confidence in something that I felt deeply and suddenly when I first started has become absolutely entrenched–this has to end.  No more prisons.

But I’ll go back next Fall and teach something else–maybe Californian or Mesoamerican history.  We’re doing a paper on it at the Society for Californian Archaeology, and I’d like to expand that into a journal article, so we’re profiting academically, to be sure.  But the best thing that I’ve taken from this is that getting a degree in archaeology and working for social justice aren’t really all that far apart after all.