Perhaps the greatest gift of my postdoc has been the crash introduction to the Molecular Age. As a digital archaeologist, I have been immersed in all things technoscience, but it was still a revelation to understand the incredible, diverse detail archaeologists can glean from a single tooth. Finding the interfaces between molecular bioarchaeology and digital methods is incredibly exciting, especially as it allows me to articulate a cyborg archaeology–drawing from Donna Haraway, Elizabeth Grosz and N. Katherine Hayles to understand archaeology, artifacts and bodies.
A theme running throughout my research over the years is telepresence, where you are when you are talking on the phone–not with the person you are speaking to, but not quite in the room you are standing in either. Telepresence is an incredibly productive metaphor for research on the past, not entirely where you are, not in the past, but somewhere in the middle. These themes within archaeology and science came up in the recent Then Dig themed issue: The Senses and Aesthetics of Archaeological Science.
Telepresence is deeply implicated within the Molecular Age; archaeology must now telescope between vastly divergent scales of analysis, from the traces of aDNA to network analyses of regional and temporal change. Digital technology is the connective tissue, our telephone call to the past. But, it turns out, so is art.
Kendal Murray’s artwork immediately struck me–her playfulness of scale, in the artifacts containing lifeworlds, microcosms that surround the artifact forever implicated in the artifact. Growing trees from pollen grains found on shoes. With molecular analyses we can hint at those lost lifeworlds, and with augmented reality we can reanimate those lifeworlds, and tie them to the artifacts.
I’ve been trying to come up with a better strategy for photographing artifacts while in the field in Jordan. There is a lot of nice, natural light but it’s so windy all the time that a rig with sheets or with paper scales can be difficult to manage. I decided to try out an inexpensive light tent. I thought about making my own, but these aren’t particularly portable and the more portable ones on Amazon were cheaper. We ended up getting this one, and it arrived in a box without instructions. Not that we really needed instructions to put it up, but folding the light tent back into a small enough shape to put it back in the case proved problematic.
I also finally added a macro lens to my photo kit, the Sigma 105mm Macro, which one of my friends recommended to me after taking photos of very small pressure flakes on a piece of porcelain successfully. It was fairly mid-range for a macro lens, and I tested it out on a horse mandible that I had hanging around:
I found the lens to be really responsive during more out-in-the-world photography. The photo of the mandible was taken without a tripod. It was also very good with artifact photography, but I struggled with the light tent, mostly because it put me far away from the artifact and it was hard to position a tripod correctly–nearly impossible to get above the artifact like you can with a regular photo table.
This is a piece of metal recovered from Dhiban in 2009. Overall, not a terrible photo, and it will work for publication, but not ideal.
This is the head of an Iron Age figurine that I side-lit to pick up details of the face. Don’t talk to me about those photo scales–it was humid that day and the stupid paper I used wasn’t thick enough to lay flat. I’ll replace them for final publication anyway. It’s also a bit dark–I haven’t mastered integrating Adobe’s Lightroom into my workflow quite yet. I’m really happy with the program overall though.
The experience with the light tent was frustrating, but I may still try to make it work. We will likely take the tent itself to Dhiban, but maybe not the light rig–I think there will be enough ambient light to make it work.
But the resolution wasn’t as crispy clean as I wanted.
So here is a postscript file that will convert into pdfs on most computers. The postscript file is licensed under the GPL – the Gnu General Public License, which is a copyleft license. Share early, share often! Also: thanks to archaeology-friendly computer programmers! It’s fully modifiable and there are directions inside the script.
It should open as a pdf for most people on macs, let me know if the link doesn’t work for whatever reason. Also, be sure to measure each scale you generate, as some printers do not handle postscript well and the scales can be off.
I should say that again: MEASURE EACH SCALE BEFORE USING.
If you’re ever in Austin, check out End of an Ear, one of the few remaining great record stores.
I’m having an incredibly wonderful holiday–I hope all y’all are having the same.
PS: Anyone have advice on dealing with family/artifacts? I keep having a couple of them bring me artifacts to look at and I tell them to leave them be, to no avail. It’s not illegal (they’re from private property) but it’s still non-ideal, to say the least. I’ve even told them that I can’t look at them. Darned hard-headed Texans.