The Çatalhöyük Workplace Model

As I wend my way through graduate school, I have lamented at times that we’re not really taught how to manage excavations projects or people, and we tend to “grandfather in” field craft as was handed down from previous generations of excavations, whether or not it is appropriate to current knowledge in the field. Don’t worry, I’m not off on another rant about archaeologists digging in square holes, though I was sorely tempted to post something when that iPad in Pompeii link made the rounds–the pain in seeing that lovely stratigraphy mauled and then peered at through a screen to “aid interpretation” gave me the shivers.

Anyway, the  sad news that came through last night that the “Hodder Team” at Catal was not going to be excavating this year meant that many of my excavator friends were out of a job for the season and now are looking for other opportunities. I have no intention of building on any gossip or going into unnecessary detail (sorry!) but the working model for excavators (the specialist teams are a whole different beast entirely) at Catal was different enough (at least to American excavations) that I think it deserves at least a bit of comment.

Each year, a few professional excavators from the UK (mostly) were hired to excavate areas of interest and to teach students how to excavate. Workmen were hired primarily to move dirt, sieve, and help flotation of samples. The workmen very rarely excavated, which kept them separate from the team most of the time (and I think robbed the students and excavators of a more immersive/interesting experience and language training, but it’s a difficult balance, for sure). The professional archaeologists were paid and generally had at least a decade of experience in single context recording–these people were usually excavation supervisors in the UK and were taking a significant pay cut to work on interesting archaeology. They provided Hodder with very detailed interpretations, experience, and excellent data. It was a complete re-education to work with them; these professional archaeologists are truly practicing a craft, one that is generally unappreciated by academic archaeologists. After all, we are they ones saying that “anyone can be an archaeologist!” and allowing children and volunteers (and graduate students!) to excavate our sites. The contrast between the “Hodder Team” and other teams at Catal who were primarily using student labor was striking and very instructive. Excellent data was important to Hodder, and he was willing to pay for it.

This is an interesting mini-trend, many of the same professional archaeologists were working in Iceland (before the crash), and now are working in Egypt and Qatar, on projects that have complicated stratigraphy and who need this kind of precise, excellent data produced by highly skilled professional excavators. They’re craftsmen and women who simply cannot be replaced by graduate students and volunteers who may have taken an archaeology class somewhere along the line. The excavators come back each year, providing a continuity that more transitory students cannot provide.  Also, a new crop of excavators does not need to be trained to “see” and interpret the archaeology of that particular site, single context methodology and its translatability aside.

This is very much on my mind as I’m trying to get a new project together in Turkey. People need to get paid. There needs to be transparency in finances on excavations. But can I deliver?

A Death Knell for OKAPI Island?

An interesting (and aggravating) confluence of events occurred this week, all of which may have some bearing on the future of OKAPI island, where we host our experimental reconstruction of the Neolithic site of Çatalhöyük. You can check out the history of my experience with OKAPI island if you click on the “Second Life” tag in the sidebar.

On October 5th, Linden Labs announced that they are discontinuing the academic discount, effectively doubling our already exorbitant fees for OKAPI Island. The changes will take place 1 January, 2011. We just found out about it a couple of days ago–already in mid-semester full-swing development–we were implementing several projects, including the creation of a script that automatically recreated pot-prims from rim drawings, hosting the Bristol TAG film festival, a fully developed lesson plan for elementary school teachers that used the island, and a new more interactive museum. Needless to say, this has thrown a considerable monkeywrench into our semester.

On that note, it is also Open Access Week. We are looking into porting the project to OpenSimulator, which we probably should have been using from the start. Sadly the learning barrier is even higher than that of Second Life, so it is not obvious that OpenSim is a viable solution. We have had to switch from our existing projects to a kind of virtual triage–the downside of using proprietary formats and worlds. We will probably try an appeal to Linden Labs, but are pessimistic of any results. OKAPI Island was never intended to be “forever,” but the end may come faster than anticipated.

As a side note, the anticipated comic session for Bristol TAG was cancelled (booo!), so I threw my lot in with the CASPAR (audio-visual practice-as-research in archaeology) folks. I submitted this abstract and title:

Machinima and Virtually Embodied Archaeological Research

OKAPI Island in Second Life has been the site of archaeological research at the University of California, Berkeley since 2007. During this time the island has hosted lectures, film festivals, tours, educational outreach, and archaeological reconstructions created by a team of undergraduate and graduate students. In Fall of 2009, the OKAPI team pushed boundaries in interpretation and filmmaking by making archaeological machinima (movies made entirely within virtual worlds), the actor/avatars wearing the “skins” of the Neolithic residents of Çatalhöyük, a 9,000 year old tell site in Turkey.  This virtual embodiment of past peoples confused modern social boundaries of student and professor, archaeological subject and object, artifice and artifact.

In a session bringing together practice and research within audio-visual representations of archaeological sites, this presentation will explore the profound discomfort, complications, and surprising insights that come with navigating archaeological “fact” and fiction through embodied storytelling in a virtual world.

So, if you’ve never checked out OKAPI Island, I suggest you do so ASAP:

Another Second Life Talk

This weekend I made a sieve as well:

Our Spring open house will be on May 4th, and it should be really fun! Watch this space!

The Virtual World of Çatalhöyük (Turkey): Okapi Island in Second Life

This is the talk that Ruth and I are giving this Wednesday here in the department.  It will mostly be an overview with some machinima added in and bits from my Archaeologies paper.

If you happen to be in the Bay Area, come and bring your lunch!

Çatalhöyük in Second Life, Fall 2009

This Fall we had the chance to teach a class about serious games using Okapi island as a base and we had four research apprentices working to improve the island.  As a result, we had some pretty amazing progress on the place.  As you can see from the image above, we have our entrance relocated to where the visitors entrance to the site is, along with the gate, the cafe, and the signage that you see as you are entering the actual site.  We are still fixing up the guard house and the experimental house, but I think that giving visitors a better sense of arrival adds to the island.

One of our apprentices designed some Neolithic clothing and tattoos, based on designs from John Swogger, Kathryn Killackey, and her own imagination. They incorporate designs and materials that we have evidence for from the archaeological record and were useful when we filmed our machinima. You can pick up your own set at the entrance to the site.

We were also able to get the dig house exterior in place, though work on the interior continues. Building the dig house was interesting, as I had never really paid attention to how odd the architecture is, and how all of the walls and rooms fit together.  I was able to request some last-minute photos from Jason Quinlan to add textures to the exterior, but I’m having a hard time finding good interior shots–always people in the way!  Building in Second Life still shows me that we lack a lot of the documentation necessary for 3D reconstructions.

We also have been reconstructing B79 in the sandbox, and will hopefully finish in time to add it to the report on the building. It has been a collaborative building effort with Daniel Eddisford, and the discussions about architecture that we’ve had regarding the reconstruction have made us both reexamine our assumptions about mudbrick dwellings.

Our machinima should be finished in the next month, so watch out for that.  Later on in the Spring we will have our research apprentices continuing to work on the island, and hopefully have a “Grand Re-Opening” in May.

As always:

Okapi Island in Second Life


Oddly enough, we got some press coverage yesterday as well:

Writing, Editing, Publishing

Last week I was pushing pretty hard to get a paper and a powerpoint together for the UMAC conference that I mentioned briefly before. The paper was apparently controversial (though well received by the majority of my colleagues) and I had to take the photos and the blog for the Dilmun Bioarchaeology Project down for a time. We’ll hope that it will all come back soon, especially since I rather liked my powerpoint and would like to upload it.

So now I shifted over to editing the paper that James and I put together about the worked glass in Kalaupapa–the editor of the volume had a lot of great suggestions for the publication. It’s going to go into an edited volume titled Hybrid Material Culture: The Archaeology of Syncretism and Ethnogenesis, but I’m not sure when the book is coming out. One of the NPS archaeologists that works on Kalaupapa found some really nice glass “cores” recently that reinforce our research.

Finally, the abstract that I submitted for this year’s Visualisation in Archaeology conference in Southampton was accepted! Now I’ll just have to scrape together some money for airfare. I’m excited to see all the folks from Southampton again so soon after we all had such great chats at Çatalhöyük.

Here’s the abstract:

Title: DIY, Edupunk, and the Visual/Digital Archive: A two-tell perspective

Abstract: Frustrated by the limited capabilities of educational and professional software content management systems, Jim Groom coined the term “edupunk” in May 2008. As discussed on several archaeology blogs and mailing lists, the edupunk approach both incorporates and subverts social networking sites and other internet resources to build a distributed, interactive and flexible platform for teaching, research, and collaboration. Faced with limited funding for more traditional approaches of presenting information to the public, the DIY approach has been increasingly attractive for self-publishing and archaeological outreach. Blogging, Facebook, and photo and video-sharing websites such as Youtube, Flickr and Picasa offer non-traditional venues for interacting with an interested public but can be a methodologically impractical exercise in the field.  In this paper I will build on my analysis of the photographic and video archive from Çatalhöyük presented at the Visualisation in Archaeology conference in 2008 and offer an additional perspective from Tall Dhiban in Jordan. In both cases digital media and the resulting online archive have had distinct, yet contrasting effects on archaeological practice. Issues regarding multivocality, interpretive authority, and the emerging distributed archive will also be discussed.

Though I’d seen the term Edupunk previously, I’d be remiss in not linking to Kerim’s great post about it over on Open Access Anthropology. I’m still working out various places to host photo archives–Flickr is a bit too open and Picasa doesn’t have the flexibility and functionality of Flickr, so I’m a bit stuck.

Çatalhöyük in Second Life, Fall 2009


Once again Spring has come to Çatalhöyük! We’ve removed all the snow and icicles and the tell is green and grassy. Work has started up again, and we’re lucky enough to have a class dedicated to “Serious Games” working on the site, as well as undergraduate research apprentices through Berkeley’s URAP program.

We have a number of great projects planned, including exploring some of the new ideas about architecture that came up during the 2009 field season with wooden floors and second (and third!) stories on the houses.

We have never had such a large group working on the island before, so we started to formalize some of our procedures. While we may elaborate on the document at a later time, here is our Archaeological Building Protocol for Second Life.

Building archaeological sites and objects in Second Life can be a powerful visualization tool for archaeological research. On OKAPI island we strive to further archaeological visualization while integrating a substantial public outreach component to our research.  In Second Life, as with all archaeological reconstructions, it is especially important to maintain interpretive transparency and authorship. Additionally, we work in a large and changing research team and need to maintain the ability to edit all objects on the island to preserve existing work as the team changes.

To this end, we have established building protocols for building on OKAPI island in Second Life. We believe that these protocols not only apply to our particular reconstruction, but should be applied more broadly for archaeological site construction using the Second Life toolkit. By applying these protocols a maximum of contextual information, authorship, and interpretive surety is maintained. Additionally, we believe that all objects should be copyable generally, and specifically repackaged for consumption and use off the island. In this way, our work and interpretations live beyond the relatively limited life of this particular reconstruction.

Picture 1


Objects should have the following permissions set:

X = checked, 0 = not checked

X Share with group
0 Allow anyone to move
X Allow anyone to copy
X Show in Search
0 For Sale

Next Owner Can:

X Modify
X Copy
X Resell/Give Away

Objects should have the following fields filled out:

Name: Catalhoyuk _____________

Description: Short interpretive paragraph, followed by specific image or text citation.


Textures should be uploaded with their Name and Description intact with the same citation information. After uploading, immediately enter your inventory, where the texture should be highlighted. Open the Inventory Item Properties and set:

X Share With Group
X Allow Anyone to Copy

Next owner can:

X Modify
X Copy
X Resell/Give Away

In other exciting news, the Archaeologies article is live! It is on Springer’s Online First section and it should be Open Access. Please let me know if you have any problems downloading the pdf.
(Re)Building Çatalhöyük: Changing Virtual Reality in Archaeology

Plaster “caps” at Çatalhöyük

As I’d previously mentioned, I was digging a lovely burned building at Çatalhöyük before I left. Happily, several interesting discoveries were made in that short time. We uncovered a seated stone figurine with a beard that was painted (sadly, I don’t have any photos, but I’m sure it will make the official Çatalhöyük press release), an interior wall with plaster on both sides, a red-painted niche, part of a collapsed roof, and plaster “caps” on the pillars. We had originally planned to excavate the building down to the occupation surface (some 1.8m below the collapse!) but the building was halfway in the large “Mellaart” section, where there was ongoing work to understand the phasing of the tell, keying off the 1960s excavation. It was decided that though the building had great finds and a good chance of answering some broader questions about life at Çatalhöyük, we were unable to dig it properly and so excavation will cease–it will be conserved and backfilled carefully, waiting until the entire building can be exposed. I deeply respect that decision–though it was a bit disappointing at the time, I completely understood.

E VI,14.recon

Anyway, the plaster “caps” were a great find; the caps were illustrated in the original Mellaart reconstructions, but there weren’t any particular notes or photographs of them, so we weren’t sure if they were an elaboration of the building or an actual find.  We found two, and while the easternmost cap was unlikely to be disturbed, the westernmost cap (they were both on the north wall) had fallen off the pillar during the building’s collapse and cracked in half. The directors decided to lift the cap to preserve it, and possibly to investigate how it was constructed.

Pillars in Burnt Building Collapse

It was well photographed in situ and drawn from several perspectives by the site artist, Kathryn Killackey. We planned it, recorded it fully, and then it was ready to go. Shahina also mentioned that she might like a quick photoshop of it, “put back in place.” I took a few of my own photographs after we had lifted the cap, to get more exposure of the pillar:


Sadly, my camera’s light sensor is broken–which only became obvious after I downloaded these photos and the pillar cap was already gone. So I had to merge Jason Quinlan’s photo above with my own, like so:


I also did a semi-crazy full repair job. Fans of bad photoshop jobs, rejoice!


I then decided that I didn’t like the angle of the original job and tilted it some, erasing the part of cap where it had broken in half and tilted upwards in the back.


So, not perfect by any means, but about an hour’s worth of fun. The best part was moving around the cap and seeing exactly where it had fallen off–like two puzzle pieces that fit together perfectly.

Goodbye Dhiban & Hello Çatalhöyük

Cross-posted from the Dhiban Excavation and Development Project Blog:


As the sun sets on Tell Dhiban, the colors become deeper, pink-tinged, and the limestone blocks look stunning against the blue sky. The wadi turns golden and a small wind picks up, cooling off the air. It’s really the best time to work up on the tell, and I saw several sunsets from the edge of my trench in the last week of the excavation. Everyone was working furiously on their trench reports and Harris Matrices. I was staying a couple of days later than most people, so I was up on the tell, drawing and photographing mostly alone.  It was nice, a break from the busy work days with so many people in the trench all the time.

In the last few days, I had tea with Zaid and Abu Jamal up on the tell. The teapot is a symbol of hospitality in Jordan, and the sugary sage tea they served was lovely.  I sat with them, chatted a bit in our patois of English and Arabic and realized that I would miss Jordan in the year to come.

Thanks to Dhiban for the hospitality and we will see you next year!

And written a couple of weeks ago:


The transition from Dhiban to Catalhoyuk was a bit strange—it was like starting the summer over again. I ended up having a day in Istanbul to soften the blow, where I got a haircut, bought new socks, and drank with the Damascus city planner and his friend at a table in the Beyoglu. Istanbul is my favorite city in the world and I still hope to live there at some point.

Finishing up at Dhiban was a bit of a whirlwind with all of the drawing, photography, and reports to write. Then it was off to a 3:30AM flight from Amman after another 18 hour work day.  Catalhoyuk seems relaxing after such an intense excavation (mudbricks being a bit lighter than ashlars) but it has its own stresses and I was happy to meet with the Southampton visualization team and spend my days drawing mudbrick elevations.

The elevations are from Building 49—the lovely little 5x5m building that I excavated last year with Dan and Lou. At the end of the season we thought we were close to the end of the building sequence and into construction levels, but the building kept producing floors and burials and kept a few of the excavators here in Turkey for longer than they’d planned. This tradition continued this year when I notice a bit of a skull coming out of the bottom of the original cut in the building—another child burial! This was a 4-5 year old that was buried with a shell with red pigment, hiding at the very bottom of the NW platform sequence.

Now I’m working in a lovely burned building in the south area, the location of Mellaart’s 1960s excavations. The building seems fairly elaborate (Neolithic column capitals! Red paint! Second story!) but I can’t get too attached because I’m headed back to Berkeley in a week. Hopefully we’ll have most of the collapse out of the building by then because we’re only digging a small strip of it—the rest goes into the section and the only reason we’re digging it is to step the large trench out for safety reasons. Still, I should have some pretty photos from the week to come.

(Re)Building Çatalhöyük: Changing Virtual Reality in Archaeology

I submitted the final version of my Archaeologies journal article today, through their digital editorial manager.  It is a reworked version of a paper I wrote for the World Archaeological Congress last year in Dublin and it will be my first official publication.  Many thanks to Krysta Ryzewski, the editor of the volume, for organizing the session and accepting my paper!  Also thanks to Ms. Lei-Leen Choo who lended her exacting eye to proofreading it and asking all the right questions about the content.

Already I can see the many ways in which the article is lacking and it feels dated even after only a year.  Heck, even the images that I included…the reconstruction houses on Okapi island don’t even look like that anymore!  It is probably good to be able to fix scholarship in time, but that doesn’t make it much more comfortable.  I hope Michael Shanks is kind in his introductory comments–fingers crossed. I am a bit uncomfortable with some of the traditional forms of publishing, but I was delighted to see Springer’s copyright policy:

Archaeologies: Journal of the World Archaeological Congress The copyright to this article is transferred to Springer (respective to owner if other than Springer and for U.S. government employees: to the extent transferable) effective if and when the article is accepted for publication. The copyright transfer covers the exclusive right to reproduce and distribute the article, including reprints, translations, photographic reproductions, microform, electronic form (offline, online) or any other reproductions of similar nature. An author may self-archive an author-created version of his/her article on his/her own website and his/her institution’s repository, including his/her final version; however he/ she may not use the publisher’s PDF version which is posted on Furthermore, the author may only post his/her version provided acknowledgement is given to the original source of publication and a link is inserted to the published article on Springer’s website. The link must be accompanied by the following text: “The original publication is available at”. Please use the appropriate DOI for the article (go to the Linking Options in the article, then to OpenURL and use the link with the DOI). Articles disseminated via are indexed, abstracted, and referenced by many abstracting and information services, bibliographic networks, subscription agencies, library networks, and consortia. The author warrants that this contribution is original and that he/she has full power to make this grant. The author signs for and accepts responsibility for releasing this material on behalf of any and all co-authors. After submission of this agreement signed by the corresponding author, changes of authorship or in the order of the authors listed will not be accepted by Springer.

The original publication (will be) available at  Barring something horrible, it will be published in the December 2009 edition of Archaeologies.  Here’s a link to the self-archived author version, sans images:

(Re)Building Catalhoyuk: Changing Virtual Reality in Archaeology

I would love to get any and all feedback y’all had to offer on it.

I am cooking up a much more in-depth article, so watch this space!

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