Neue Grafik Archaeologie

My friend and fellow UC Berkeley grad Tom Sapienza made these “cover remixes” and I asked if I could share them on my blog. There is a heavy Berkeley representation among these, unsurprisingly.

My absolute favorite:

A few more:

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.

Crucifixión.

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.

Fred Wilson – Remixing Museums

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Cabinetmaking 1820-1960, selections from the Maryland Historical Society

(from my upcoming talk)

Fred Wilson, a name probably familiar to most people who work in museums, is a contemporary artist who made headlines in 1992 for his exhibit, “Mining the Museum.” Wilson makes site-specific installations with museum collections, often juxtaposing the museum’s holdings in a way that creates a new public persona for the museum and exposes the deliberations and decisions about exhibits (Wilson 1994). In “Mining the Museum”, Wilson selected several of the fine examples of plantation furniture curated at the Baltimore museum, then arranged these chairs around a slave whipping post that was used until the 1950s, and stashed in the museum’s basement in 1963. He has had several exhibitions since, even rearranging the collections at the Phoebe Hearst museum at the University of California, Berkeley, my “home” museum. I chose Fred Wilson’s work as an example of what can broadly termed as a remix, a refashioning of more traditional (albeit, in themselves derivative) forms. Wilson’s explicitly political work demands that we consider ethnographic and archaeological exhibits closely, and asks if we could benefit from different perspectives. I wonder what an entire recombinant museum would look like, and if we could achieve this remix by digital means.

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Friendly Natives, 1991 (the skeletons are plastic)

(images from Maurice Berger’s Fred Wilson: Objects and Installations 1979-2000)

Fake Dead People

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What exactly is the agency of the virtual non-human human? This question hit me when I was in the midst of editing what is shaping up to be my first publication, (Re)Building Çatalhöyük: Changing Virtual Reality in Archaeology, a text refashioned from my more stridently titled paper presented at the World Archaeological Congress, Get Real: A Manifesto for Virtual Reality in Archaeology.  In this paper I establish Second Life as a pretty good venue for changing the way we reconstruct archaeological sites and examine the use of avatars and non-player characters (NPCs) in these reconstructions. My good friend (and professional copy editor!) Lei-Leen had done me the favor of proofing it and she highlighted my use of “person” while I was discussing these NPCs.  Certainly these people-created constructs were not people themselves.

In the paper I argue against the creation and use of NPCs in virtual archaeological reconstructions:

NPCs are “non-player characters,” entities generally created as a kind of set dressing, present to answer scripted questions about the reconstruction, or to provide ambiance. This tends to bring out the worst in reconstructive impulses; in one example, Julius Caesar reclines on his couch, reciting information about his villa to the user. A recent simulation of an African American site in Oakland, California contained prominent members of the community who stood by the side of the road to robotically impart their knowledge when approached by the user’s avatar. Turning people of the past into mere mouthpieces for their architecture diminishes the rich potential of reconstructions to impart information about complex lifeways. Using programmable objects such as the previously mentioned mano and metate allows avatars to act as their own guides to the past, populating the re-created ancient landscape with avatars of people interested in the past, interacting with artifacts and taking on roles suggested by these artifacts. This is simple for archaeologists who are accustomed to telling stories through objects and adds another level of interactivity to the virtual reconstruction.

I still believe this to be true, that fundamentally we are better off wearing Caesar’s crown for ourselves rather than asking a poor simulacrum about the weather in the Republic.  Thinking of Caesar as a non-player character in history is a stretch by any means.  But game developers (and digital archaeologists) will probably not stop populating virtual worlds with fake people.  These NPCs are nonhuman manifestations of a network of agents (polygons, “modern” humans, fiber-optics, and the dead person herself) and the relationships between these agents and as a result should be studied as such.  But does this understanding of an NPC as a network make it ethical to take such liberties with the visages of the dead? What does it mean when Joey Ramone comes back from the dead to sell Doc Martins?

Of course, I could just be reading too much Latour.  Let’s ask Eliza.

* Hello
> How are you today.. What would you like to discuss?
* Latour
> Tell me more…
* Have I been reading too much Latour?
> Can you elaborate on that?
* He’s a modern social theorist.
> What does that suggest to you?
* That I should be reading him for my dissertation.
> Say, do you have any psychological problems?
* Possibly.
> Tell me more…

Telerobotics and Archaeology

While doing some reading for my dissertation, I came across a reference in The Robot and the Garden to the Mercury Project, an art installation based out of USC in 1994-95.  The Mercury Project was co-directed by Ken Goldberg and Michael Mascha, the former now being at UC Berkeley, and with whom I took a class two years ago as part of my designated emphasis in New Media. Telerobotics is controlling robots at a distance, like the Mars rovers or those remote hunting websites that were in the news a few years ago.  As a side note, the main website for remote hunting no longer exists and the Texas legislature passed a ban on such activities in 2005. Lo, marginalia.

Anyway, the installation involved a robotic arm and a pneumatic puffer that WWW users could use to remotely excavate objects in a sand-filled terrarium.  The buried artifacts included a watch, a pipe, a lock, and other objects inspired by Verne’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth.  As they state on their webpage, “we viewed the process of discovering artifacts as a metaphor for the Internet itself.  Choosing artifacts with some ‘underlying logic’ presented a challenge for collective interaction which motivated users to return to the site.”  While this all emphasizes archaeology as a rather Victorian, fantastic enterprise, I’m still pretty chuffed that the first example of telerobotics on the web was an archaeologist.

For those with academic access, here’s a link to the article in Computer Networks and ISDN Systems.

Red and Hands

Red and Hands

I finally made something that just might be Archaeography worthy, so I abused my limited moveabletype knowledge and posted an entry over there about the wall paintings and Second Life.  Let’s hope I didn’t break anything in the process.

I’ve been banging away at the buildings in Second Life–they’ll be ready by Wednesday, but only just!  The event is being pretty widely publicized, so let’s hope the servers in Linden world aren’t acting up that day.  I love that I’ve been able to get so much research for my dissertation finished, but I think I need a computer/media black-out week someday soon!

Lego Archaeology Field Report

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The south-facing wall and return are both of medieval origin and were repaired in the mid-1800s with undifferentiated gray and red bricks and concrete mortar.  This repair had been heavily degraded by the elements, and later repaired once again with a series of tiny (1cm x 3cm) multicolored plastic blocks.  The overall feature is 1.3m high and 0.3m wide, bolstering 12 courses of brick.  These small blocks were not structually viable for additional wall support, but may have served as protection from further degredation of the original mortar.

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However, as conventional mortar was available at the estimated time of repair, it is suggested that these blocks represent a decorative element later appended to the structure.  The blocks are predominantly blue, perhaps representing a color preference, morphological convenience, or simply an abundance of that material.  Additional information regarding its internal structure will become apparent during the excavation of this feature.

(edited in 2014, as the original links to images were broken. Sadly the text no longer reflects the images)

http://www.janvormann.com/testbild/dispatchwork/