Archaeology Films A-Z: The Aegean

Title: The Aegean
Year: 2004
Length: 7 minutes
Made by: Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism
Genre: Expository
Authors: Tourism Promoters


The Aegean. A place close to my heart. Opens with twangy “traditional music” that fades into newage, but at least there’s a female narrator who betrays a faint Turkish accent around her proper English. Yes, it’s a gorgeous landscape and climate, and, we are informed, a “land of kingdoms.” Begin the dervish-like spinning shots in the middle of sites!

It was actually very difficult to get this blurry screenshot as it was zooming by.

Pano pano pano, fast pano, cut to a nice pot showing “King Midas of the Golden Touch.” GOD the spinning again. Does this make the ruins look more lively? No real explanation, but lots of gorgeous ruins moving rapidly.


Bonus hot bath scene!

A little discussion of Ephesus, then we move on to a quick touristy overview of each spot, with minimal, Lonely Planet explanation. Sorry Turkey–I love you, I love your archaeology, but this video is a twitchy tour through ruins with a litany of famous names of people who may or may not have visited or lived there. And night clubs.


Why is this on The Archaeology Channel?


Archaeology Films A-Z: The Adena People: Moundbuilders of Kentucky

Title: The Adena People: Moundbuilders of Kentucky
Year: 2000
Made by: Voyageur media group Inc. for Kentucky Heritage Council.
Location: Kentucky, USA
Genre: Expository
Authors: Voyageur media group Inc. for Kentucky Heritage Council. Voyageur media group is a nonprofit that creates public media about science, history, art and culture. They have several videos about Kentucky archaeology, and I’m guessing I’ll get to watch a few more before I’m finished.



Ohh, dynamic opening title with a rockin’ beat! Artifacts are interesting! Archaeology is great! Then…we segue into flute music and a pot rotating in deepest black space.  Our very authoritative, unnamed male narrator describes the whirling, whirling artifacts and we are awash in pottery! mica! stone! Lovely things, really. They are, we are informed, legacies of the Adena People.

There are burial mounds all over northern Kentucky and we get a fair sampling of them, including two-story tall Gaitskill Mound. The mounds are constructed over the remains of wooden ceremonial structures–there’s a great b/w photo of Crigler Mound showing this very explicitly–postholes, section, oh yeah.



“Some people imagine it’s a Kentucky Stonehenge, or wood henge, with poles.” Hey, who is that guy? White dude with beard, honey of an accent…must be an archaeologist. It’s Dr. Berle Clay, telling us that the geometric earthworks may be where clans met. But he equivocates at the end, saying we don’t really know. Fine.


OH! Ohhh, it’s old footage of the Wright Mound  WPA excavations! A guy in a hat smoking a pipe while he digs, be still my heart! My day has been made. More! More!

LOOK at that pipe. Just look at it.
LOOK at that pipe. Just look at it.

Oh, we’re back to arrowheads. And an unnecessary timeline with an overly complex woodgrain background. There’s some nice reconstructions though, and Dr. Clay is back to tell us a few things we know about their funerary ceremonies.

But what is this? Flintknapping, hide-scraping, and making pots–always crowd-pleasers. It’s at a “Living Archaeology” weekend though, and it appears there are some people dressed up as the Adena. Not sure Native Americans are too happy about being called “Living Archaeology.”


Apparently we don’t know a lot about the Adena because they didn’t live next to their mounds and we mostly liked to dig the mounds, as per typical of the archaeologists’ MO. These settlements have probably been destroyed by plowing anyway, we are told.



There’s a female archaeologist troweling! Though she’s voice-less, and filmed from top-down. TELL US WHAT YOU ARE DIGGING! Dr. Clay steps in to provide a general explanation, not really about what looks like a rodent-holed mess that poor young woman was dealing with. A bit disappointing.


Quick shot of a crazy geometrical configuration that archaeologists have excavated for some reason. What is that big cut in the middle? Follow the archaeology?? Why have you pedestalled something that was cutting a surface? Madness. I guess at least the sections are straight.

Overall, a good mix of footage gleaned from archives, an interview from a real-beardy archaeologist, landscape shots, artifacts, experimental archaeology, and excavation. A solid introduction to the Adena, if a bit masculinist and lacking in Native American perspectives.


The Archaeology Channel: A-Z

I just finished a big-deal article on the history, genres, and evaluation of archaeological film. It draws from a chapter of my thesis and I am pretty excited about it. While I was editing the chapter it got me thinking…while I’ve seen a lot of archaeological films while teaching, uh, archaeological film over the years I should watch more. A lot more.


I’m going to watch and review all of the Archaeology Channel films. Probably. There’s over 170 of them, so it’s a crazy idea. But why not?

For the inaugural film:

Title: The Acropolis
Year: 1991
Written and photographed by Kenneth and Marjorie Russell
Narrated by Thomas F. Soare, Ph.D.
Location: Greece
Genre: Expository

Authors: Not to be mistaken for the archaeologist Kenneth W. Russell who died tragically in Jordan, Kenneth L. Russell was the founder of the Educational Video Network and a Professor of Education at Sam Houston State University. Marjorie Haw Russell was a photographer and artist. Together they coauthored several educational videos about the ancient world.


Review: The opening made me immediately nostalgic for all the documentaries we had to watch in school. The reedy opening music evokes sadness, and a drowsiness with which we view the surrounding landscape. Most of the shots are long, landscape, no humans visible. Several Mycenean strongholds glide in and out of the screen until we get to, of course, The Acropolis.


The music picks up when we get to the first humans shown–why it’s the Pelasgians, of course! They’re a wallpainting of some dudes with weird eyes carrying fishes. Apparently they were “deeply concerned with vegetation and fertility cults.” Aren’t we all?

After touching on the important people in Greek history (mostly gods and kings), we follow the subsequent history of the Acropolis. I was excited when the Persians busted things up in 480 BC, but not much came of it, except for some column bases now placed in the walls.

Overall, the historical record is not questioned; this is a very art historical approach to classical archaeology. There are no revelations, archaeological investigations, or moving images, for that matter. It is a slide-show with poorly preserved image quality and a didactic voice-over.

People who grew up in the 80s or 90s may want to watch the first 30 seconds to hit a certain muddy technicolor documentary sweet spot.

Waves of nostalgia!