Is this your archaeological deposit? purports to be the product of a person’s hobby–buying lost luggage from the airlines, photographing the contents, and putting the photos online.  At first I was suspicious–the photos haven’t changed since 2009, the design work is really clean and the domain name is registered through an anonymizing proxy.  But there’s an interview with the creator, Luna Laboo on the Examiner that implies that these are not just the products of a design thesis.  While she compares her collection to a case of butterflies, I’m more inclined to think of them as an intact cache, an archaeological deposit.  Archaeologists love caches because they contain objects that were intended to be grouped together by the person who buried them so there is a coherence that we do not normally see in the archaeological record.  Whether we can interpret the meaning behind the intentional deposition of such objects is another matter entirely, of course.  Sometimes these caches are attributed to ritual activity; the person burying the objects had no intention of coming back for the objects.  But occasionally we find caches of tools, weapons, or coins that seem as though the person would be coming back for them–but never quite made it.

These suitcases are a bit like the latter, small assemblages of items that were gathered together for a specific purpose, only to be abandoned later on for whatever reason.  Looking at the clothes you might glean a few facts from the assemblage.  The suitcase above probably belonged to a teenaged girl who had gone on a trip to the beach.

These contemporary assemblages have always been of interest to me–I have a small set on Flickr of the boxes I would find around Berkeley full of the left-overs of garage sales that explores the same concept.  I’d love to do a more formal study of these contemporary assemblages (one of my advisors has a particularly nice collection of abandoned photo packets from an old lab) but that would probably be another dissertation or two.  Anyone know of contemporary archaeologists doing similar projects? I want to hear about them!

The Lost Delta Archaeological Expedition


As Brian mentioned over on Old Dirt – New Thoughts, when April comes around, archaeologists start to get wistful, going over old photographs, and longing for the field.  To alleviate this problem, I decided to check on our friends at the Lost Delta Archaeological Expedition.


Working in the jungle is difficult at best, and my field shots were hampered by raging hordes, rushing to and fro, almost knocking me over at times.


There was an unusual amount of wear on much of the statuary, including what looked like whip marks, instances of burning, and even bullet holes.


The field site conditions were tough, and the curatorial facilities were deplorable. It was as if they didn’t care about many of the artifacts that would provide insights into daily life, but were rather more interested in those used by the elites in society. Still, it wasn’t my project and so I felt that it was bad form to criticize such a well-funded excavation from our colleagues at the University of Chicago.


I finally managed to make it to the temple.  Sadly, not many of my photos from my survey of the temple turned out, as I had the unusual experience of riding around in a jeep in the interior of ancient monumental architecture (contra Flannery’s description of driving on top of mounds to determine their importance via gear shift).

In all, it was an educational adventure and I hope that Dr. Jones actually publishes his results in a timely manner. I will be looking forward to reading his interpretation of what looked like a wide mix of cultural influences, and his struggles with community outreach.

Mantelpiece Shrines


Christine Finn wrote an excellent article for the Guardian “excavating” the mantelpiece at her parents’ house.  This is the mantel in my apartment, sitting above a malfunctioning gas heater that serves as the only source of heat.  I thought about creating a flickr group collecting mantelpiece photos, but it looks like someone already did, citing Christine’s article as inspiration.  Cool.

I had my Christmas wreath hanging above it for a while, now it looks a little lonely.  An untended shrine…to what, though?

The Great Abandonment

Cleveland, Ohio

“Explaining the ‘Great Abandonment’ has proven to be a challenge…The evidence for warfare, the widespread abandonments, and the subsequent settling of vacated regions by these nomadic peoples were considered to be compelling evidence. The arguments, however, have not held up to scrutiny.”

Cleveland, Ohio

“The trash deposits in the midden show that the initial abandonment was gradual, with perhaps a family or two leaving every once in a while, but the final exodus was much more rapid – so rapid that they actually left behind many intact vessels and perfectly good stone tools.”

Minneapolis, Minnesota

“The fact that people did leave northern towns is testament to how uncomfortable life had become.  As each family or kin group migrated south, tensions in the towns they left may have been alleviated for a while, but the town lost some of its labor force and defensive capacity with each person that fled.  It is perhaps for this reason that the abandonment started as a trickle but ended as a flood.”

Detroit, Michigan

“One possible explanation is that the aggregated towns simply lacked social cohesion and effective decision-making mechanisms…These were therefore towns only in the sense that many people lived closely together and occasionally acted in concert to face a common threat, particularly for defense against a definable mutual enemy.  But their internal ties were tenuous, and it may be that they were not sustainable when the problems were more nebulous and when the solutions required new social and political mechanisms.”

Quotes taken from John Kantner’s Ancient Puebloan Southwest.

Borderlands Archaeology

A few days ago I came across some images posted by one of the right-wing vigilante border patrol groups of the trash that is left behind by people crossing the US/Mexico border.  This is just one of the many perceived affronts by what many people consider an invading force–their own ancestry be damned.

When I was still working as a contract archaeologist, I was on a couple of surveys near the border in Laredo and Brownsville, and I found a few of these items, left behind by people on the run, trying to figure out what they actually need and what could be discarded.  Toothbrushes.  Toys.  Socks.  Bibles.

Now that our esteemed government is planning to build a folly of a wall along the border, there is undoubtedly archaeological work associated with the project.  I’ve been talking about doing some contemporary archaeology at the border for a long time now, a project that would probably not get past the Human Subjects Review process, in that it would endanger illegal immigrants by making their paths known to would-be border-enforcers.  But, still–understanding the process of crossing the border better could help us to know what people need for the journey, and hopefully fewer of the immigrants would die in the process.

I was holding off on posting about it, but these images just broke Fox News where they are titled, “ALIEN TRASH” together with a sensationalist story about this trash costing taxpayers “millions” to clean up.  My hope, albeit a faint one, is that this story ultimately produces empathy in people instead of perceiving it, as it is stated in the news story as a “national disaster of our cherished outdoor areas.”  What do you carry on and what do you leave behind?

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