Then I go off on a Deleuzian discussion of Minecraft flint, that’s probably a bit half-baked, but it was fun and I’d like to expand on it. Then I say we can’t record all the digital things because we’d move up in the long list of environmental baddies, shades of the Borges map that covers the territory, etc. I also try to make cyborg archaeology happen. Forgive me.
Aycock (2021) advises us to partner with computer scientists to examine the code. This is, of course, advisable for us to understand how the Minecraft flint was created, how it changed over time and is linked to other in-game affordances. We could document and potentially ‘excavate’ the Java code for the game, as Aycock and other archaeologists have done. The code, however, is one part of the assemblage that the Minecraft flint comprises, and I am equally interested in the other constituent parts. A prefigurative, embodied, feminist post-human approach—also known as cyborg archaeology (Morgan (2019); by way of Haraway (1985) and Braidotti (1997))—would encourage us to investigate the political implications of Minecraft, as its play is based in an extractionist settler colonial understanding of the world (Brazelton 2020), accompanied by a call to reconfigure the game along kin-based networks. An embodied approach would explore the effects of the digital on our bodies: on posture, bone spurs, and microplastics in our organs. A climate-aware archaeological investigation of scale and environment could help us understand how digital mining of a different kind, for example, bitcoin, is hastening global warming (Mora et al. 2018).
You can go to Antiquity to access my response:
Morgan, C. (2021). An archaeology of digital things: Social, political, polemical. Antiquity, 1-4. doi:10.15184/aqy.2021.125.
The best I could do was grab an RSS from google news, so it will update with links to news articles that tell us what the press thinks that archaeology can do. And it doesn’t grab the exact quote, which is highly unsatisfying.
I’m thrilled that our long labor of love, this special issue of the European Journal of Archaeology on Digital Archaeologies has finally been published. Several of the articles were available ahead of time online, but seeing it all together like this is extremely gratifying. Marta Díaz-Guardamino and I wrote an introduction to the issue, here is a brief excerpt:
Current archaeological thought evokes a sparking Catherine wheel: spinning fireworks that detonate light, colour, and sound with every movement. These theoretical turns swirl alongside the ongoing development and adoption of scientific and digital techniques that have wide-ranging implications for archaeological practices and interpretations. Two particularly combustible developments are posthumanism and the ontological turn, which emerged within the broader humanities and social sciences. Posthumanism rejects human exceptionalism and seeks to de-centre humans in archaeological discourse and practice. Linked to this is the so-called ‘ontological turn’ (aka the ‘material turn’), a shift away from framing archaeological research within a Western ontology and a movement beyond representationalism (i.e. focusing on things themselves rather than assuming that objects represent something else).
Collectively, these papers are a provocation to rethink normative practices in analog and digital archaeology before they become comfortably ossified. The papers describe play, experimentation, transgression, hope, and care as forming the basis of a posthuman archaeology and invite future researchers to engage with this work as a form of resistance. Queer, weird, monstrous, fun archaeology will never be as lauded or rewarded as mainstream digging and lab work; but it is vital to the creative lifeblood of the discipline. The sparking Catherine wheel will keep turning, inviting a new cycle of archaeological theorists to (re)imagine the complexities of archaeological interpretation. But perhaps we can stop spinning through these endless turns and start kindling revolutions instead.
The individual papers have already started to make an impact, particularly Sara Perry’s on The Enchantment of the Archaeological Record, (which she has discussed in far better terms that I could manage on her own blog) and many of the other contributions are deeply important comments on the current state of digital archaeology, and point toward productive futures in the field.
Ruth Tringham’s article, Giving Voices (Without Words) to Prehistoric People: Glimpses into an Archaeologist’s Imagination, on the emotive power of storytelling, the importance of ambiguity, and evoking the past through experimentation weaves past and present together through…a basket! (obviously!) Her presentation at the EAA was breathtaking and completely inspiring and I am happy to see it translated into this article. Like most of her work, it’s a decade ahead of its time and informed by her deep experience in digital storytelling.
Bill Caraher’s Slow Archaeology, Punk Archaeology, and the ‘Archaeology of Care’ is also a particular inspiration, as he’s been thinking about, working through, and publishing about the risks of alienation in digital work and response to this alienation through low-fi, DIY, and punk methods. I’ve obviously been a deeply interested and invested fan of Bill’s throughout the years and appreciate his approach to an Archaeology of Care. As he states:
The awareness that tools shape the organization of work, the limits to the local, and the place of the individual in our disciple is fundamental for the establishment of an ‘archaeology of care’ that recognizes the human consequences of our technology, our methods, and the pasts that they create.
Annie Danis’ Augmented, Hyper-mediated, IRL is an incredibly engaging exploration of how the indigenous teenagers of Pueblo de Abiquiú used digital technology during the community archaeology project but also in their personal lives. She provides an example of how collaborative work could and should be, but also the fantastic insight that the time saved by paperless digital recording in archaeology can be productively used to build community. In this case, it was a zine that:
represents a significant part of archaeological research by framing the methods for data collection within the interns’ personal experiences and providing an opportunity for young Abiquiúseños to tell the story in their own words.
Katherine Cook’s EmboDIYing Disruption: Queer, Feminist and Inclusive Digital Archaeologies reviews her engagement with digital projects and the professional risks of this engagement and examines problematic power relationships within the field. She discusses disruption and support networks established to help combat “the privileging of (Eurocentric) archaeological discourse, research, and interpretations.” Mobilizing what Cook terms Disruptive Digital Archaeologies “to defy, to confront, to derail, to remix, to subvert” is a clear call for change in the way that archaeologists use digital technologies.
I’ve discussed my contribution, Avatars, Monsters, and Machines: A Cyborg Archaeology previously on this blog, but it remains an initial offering in the ways to understand the place and potential of digital practice for informing theory and knowledge production in archaeology. You know, no big.
Please read, download, immerse yourself in this series of papers as I believe they collect some of the finest current thinking in digital archaeology.
I was grateful to be invited to the Computer Applications and Quantitative Methods in Archaeology (CAA 2019) conference in Kraków, Poland this year. I participated in the Our Knowledge is all over the place! roundtable organized by Paul Reilly, Stephen Stead and John Pouncett. We had one slide and five minutes in which to discuss a bespoke “knowledge map” that captured our collective disciplinary knowledge.
I’m still digesting the discussion afterwards and my fellow panelists’ perspectives. I was pretty nervous ahead of time as I had basically made a very personal knowledge map about how I framed my own practice and it felt very revealing. I drew heavily from Mark Fisher’s Capitalist Realism and carla bergman and Nick Montgomery’s Joyful Militancy, which have been profoundly impactful in my current practice. I’ve had the kernels of these ideas for a while (see my graduation commencement speech) but the books have given me some of the language and tools to precisely address and actualize this thinking. Empire. Paranoid Reading. Alternatives, not multivocality.
I was also very happy to hear from my fellow panelists: Paul Reilly, Pricilla Ulguim, Tuna Kalayci, Katherie Cook, Lorna Richardson, Daria Hookk (et al), John Pouncett, In-Hwa Choi and Natalia Botica (et al). We all had very different takes on the concept of knowledge maps and it was illuminating to hear from everyone.
I made a loose script, which I loosely adhered to for my five minutes–if you are interested, find it below.
Title: Human, Posthuman, Transhuman Digital Archaeologies
Our engagement with the digital is reformulating the ways in which we (post/humans) engage with/create our worlds. In archaeology, digital processes and media are affording new practices of production, consumption and reception of knowledge, while throwing new light on existing analog methods. The digital is extending our cognitive and sensual capabilities, allowing us to explore previously uncharted grounds, giving us tools to envision the past in different ways, and enabling large datasets to be processed, distributed, and engaged with interactively. During this process, critical appraisal of the archaeological-digital has been relatively limited.
In this session we will evaluate the growing paradigm of digital archaeology from an ontological point of view, showcase the ways digital technologies are being applied in archaeological practice—in the field/lab/studio/classroom—in order to critically engage with the range of questions about past people and worlds into which digital media give us new insights and avenues of approach. We ask how digital media and technology are being applied, whether they are broadening access to the archaeological record and how they are shifting relationships between archaeologists, the archaeological record and the public.
Papers should have a theory-based approach to digital archaeological methods and set the agenda for future investigation. They should discuss the ways digital archaeology is affecting, disrupting and/or enhancing archaeological fieldwork, public archaeology, education and the publication/dissemination of archaeological data. Of particular interest are papers that engage with creativity and making, digital post/transhumanism, query analog methods through digital media, and feminist, indigenous or queer digital archaeologies.
For the session we have determined to pre-circulate papers and have a more general discussion panel at the conference. This will provide us more time and space for truly grappling with the questions at the heart of the session.
Gareth Beale & Paul Reilly’s session at TAG was filmed by Doug Rocks-MacQueen’s team of conference videographers, for which I am grateful. There are a host of great papers from that day from Jeremy Huggett, Paul Reilly & Stefan Gant, Rose Ferraby, Catriona Cooper, Nicole Smith, Tanya Freke, and more!
Watch all of those other presentations first, and then watch mine on queering digital archaeology:
Let me know how it is–I struggle to watch myself on video.
Visual archaeological depictions have long reified heteronormative representations of the past. Feminist critiques have destabilized the representation of people in the past (Berman 1999; Gifford-Gonzalez 1993; Moser 1992) and queer theory in archaeology has pushed this even further, finding “silences” in heteronormative depictions of families and activities (Dowson 2007) and identity and status in the past (Blackmore 2011). Though experimental visualization is increasingly available through the growing accessibility of creation and publication through digital tools, current depictions of archaeological practice and the past have remained largely static. People are largely absent from digital reconstructions of the past, and when they are present they are an afterthought. This is similar to depictions of current archaeological practice. There is a corresponding absence of discussion of digital tools for emancipatory practice in feminist and queer archaeologies (but see Joyce and Tringham 2007 and Morgan and Eve 2012). In this paper I discuss the potential for an expressive, queer digital archaeology that incorporates critical making, praxis and play.
And I have a new(ish) publication about the transition from analog to digital photography in archaeology:
Abstract: Archaeology and photography has a long, co-constructed history that has increasingly come under scrutiny as archaeologists negotiate the visual turn. Yet these investigations do not make use of existing qualitative and quantitative strategies developed by visual studies to understand representation in archaeological photographs. This article queries the large photographic archive created by ongoing work at the archaeological site of Çatalhöyük in Turkey to consider the visual impact of changing photographic technologies and of a shifting theoretical focus in archaeology. While using content analysis and semiotic analysis to gain a better understanding of the visual record, these analyses also unexpectedly reveal power dynamics and other social factors present during archaeological investigation. Consequently, becoming conversant in visual analyses can contribute to developing more reflexive modes of representation in archaeology.
Analogue/Digital: Productive Tensions in Materiality and Archaeology
Abstract: As we integrate digital workflows into every aspect of archaeological methodology, it is increasingly apparent that we are all digital archaeologists (Morgan and Eve 2012). Yet archaeology has a long, productive and unfinished history with “analogue” media. Illustration, photography, dioramas, casts, paper-based maps, diagrams, charts and artistic renderings have all been – and continue to be – used to interpret and present archaeology to specialist and general audiences. Walter Benjamin argued that reproductive media destroys the “aura” of traditional artistic media (1968), and it has since been argued (Bolter et al. 2006) that digital media perpetuates a permanent crisis of this aura. As the premiere scholars of materiality, archaeologists can contribute to discussions of the context of, continuities between, and technological changes to these media artefacts. In this session we ask, in what ways are we using the digital in constructive interplay with the analogue? What can digital affordances reveal about analogue methodologies, and vice versa? And how are we pushing beyond skeuomorphic archaeological recording and rethinking the possibilities of media artefacts overall? We aim here to prompt reflective debate about, and speculative design of, the future of analogue/digital experimentation.
We have a fantastic set of participants:
Colleen Morgan (University of York) – Analogue/Digital: Spectrum, Landscape, Minefield? Laia Pujol-Tost (Universitat Pompeu Fabra) – Mixed exhibits. The best of both worlds? & Pixel vs pigment. The goal of Virtual Reality in Archaeology Sian Jones (University of Manchester) & Stuart Jeffrey – Material/Digital Authenticity: Some thoughts on digital 3D models and their material counterparts Christine Finn (FSA) – Field Work in the Cubicle, and Other Computer Histories, Kostas Arvanitis (University of Manchester) – Material Objects and Digital Avatars Sara Perry (University of York) – Redefining Media in Archaeology
As Sara wrote: are you investigating issues at the intersections of the physical and the ephemeral? Are you enrolling digital technologies into the production of tangible experiences, or alternatively, aiming to better understand the digital through tangible forms of interaction? Have you eschewed the digital in favour of analogue engagements in your archaeological/heritage work – or have you rethought the dimensions of one via experimentation with the other? How are you materialising digital practices? And how is our very conception of materiality being reconfigured (or not) by analogue/digital innovation?
Archaeologists have been playing with Minecraft to present the past and the play around with reconstruction. Shawn Graham, as always, is at the forefront of developing archaeological landscapes in Minecraft and if you’d like to try it out, I suggest you read up on Electric Archaeology. I used his instructions to import a digital elevation model (DEM) from the famous Mesolithic site of Star Carr, currently being investigated by Nicky Milner at the University of York.
After a few tweaks, I managed to get a fairly nice, smooth landscape–Star Carr, now a lovely undulating field, was once on the edge of Lake Flixton. Organic materials such as wood preserve very well in the waterlogged peat and so they find lots of spear points, platforms and a deer frontlet or two.
Sadly we did not reconstruct the frontlets–building things in Minecraft is a lot like using Lego. Not fancy, specialist Lego like they have these days, but the basic set. So I got a reasonable model of Star Carr up and running for Yornight, which highlights European Union-funded research at York. I had a lot of help from other people in the department affiliated with the Centre for Digital Heritage.
We had several computers running on our own local server and kids (mostly boys) went pretty crazy for it. Our set up:
Well, archaeologists working at Star Car have found these circular houses with evidence of postholes, and we’ve made reconstructions based on that. But we aren’t actually sure what exactly the houses looked like. Can you help us think of different ways the houses might have looked?
That was pretty much it. A few of the kids tried to build round houses, but as you may have guessed from the Lego-ness of Minecraft, they were still pretty blocky. Some built other houses, out of brick, some built giant flaming towers, and a few somehow made guns and started shooting at each other! I’d say it was a success.
We also had a papercraft Breary Banks, another University of York excavation site, and kids colored and cut out models of the camp. I found that having a mix of tactile and digital activities was more inclusive–kids didn’t have to feel forced into doing anything they weren’t used to or were uncomfortable with.
Finally, we had the “real tools” of Minecraft, and that seemed, oddly, to be the most popular. It made the connection between tools that archaeologists used and the virtual tools in the game. We had a big nodule of flint, which is used in the game but many kids never made the connection to rocks.
We’re running it again for the local Young Archaeologists Club and for the upcoming Yornight, which will also feature some experimental Oculus Rift visualization. Digital shenanigans continue apace!
Last Fall I announced the session that I organized, honoring the achievements of Ruth Tringham, my most fantastic colleague. Now the time has come and we have a panel that explores a broad range of topics from Ruth’s career: her ground-breaking research on lithics, household archaeology, digital archaeology, and much more. I hope to see you there!
08:00 Michael Ashley—Remediated Roads and Flights of Fancy, Travels with Ruth from Past to Present
08:15 Barbara Voytek—From Russia with Love: Ruth Tringham and the Early Days of Microwear
08:30 Doug Bailey—Who invited the Secret Police?
08:45 Colleen Morgan—A Chimera Spider at Play: Making, Creativity and Collaboration in Digital Archaeology
09:00 Michael Shanks—Ruth Tringham
09:15 Mirjana Stevanovic—Ruth’s Archaeology
09:30 Lori Hager—Who Will Remember the Dead? Embodying the People of the Past in Novel Ways
09:45 Peter Biehl—The Neolithic House: Ruth Tringham’s Interdisciplinary Approaches to (Re)Constructing Prehistoric Village Life in Southeast Europe and Anatolia
10:00 Margaret Conkey—Out on the Ice with Ruth: Taking Chances Together
10:15 Steve Mills—Walking to (A)muse: Exploring Senses of Place with Ruth
10:30 Angela Piccini—Archaeology’s Moving Images
10:45 Henrietta L. Moore—Feminism and Experimentation
11:00 Julian Richards—Discussant
11:15 Ian Hodder—Discussant
11:30 Ruth Tringham—Discussant