A-Z Archaeology Films: The Anglo-American Project in Pompeii

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Dude…nice tiger!

Title: The Anglo-American Project in Pompeii
Length: 8 minutes
Made by:
 Black Cat Productions
Arthur and Jennifer Stephens are archaeological photographers.

Glum pan-pipes, and then BANG, we’re in. A flat-voiced narrator tells us straight up, no hesitation, that Pompeii dates from the 6th century BC–we get apprised of the conquerers, the Romans, the population. It is truly the robotic almanac of narration. I hope you are taking notes, this will be on the pop quiz after the film.

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The sinister peak of Mount Vesuvius, lurking in the background.

We are introduced to the Anglo American Project in Pompeii director, Dr. Rick Jones, who is white, as billed. Beard count so far: 1.

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There’s some other guy, but you can tell he doesn’t matter as much because he’s sitting on the floor and filmed at a subordinate azimuth. Don’t worry about the lady in the background, she’s not important in the slightest.

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We get to hear about the lofty excavation goals, somehow transmitted through this illegible plan:

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They plan to study an entire city block! Okay, that’s pretty cool. And they have a field school…oh holy crap that’s a lot of students:

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So we are introduced to the block of Pompeii they’ll be studying. There are bars, houses, a communal fountain, an inn…man those folks are spoiled. So much to look at! Such fantastic preservation! So what are they going to dig?

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A possibly modern ramp.

Okay, fair enough, I know we can’t all dig the gold-trimmed bathhouses of the world. This is the kind of task that I’m familiar with. Eighty-year-old toilet? I’m on it. Actually this ramp would be older than that toilet if it was built during the excavations in the 1860s. FML.

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The other excavation area is of a pilaster and down pipe that could lead to a cistern that could be used for water storage or a cesspit.

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Beard count: 2. I never understand why people wear shorts on excavations.

Spoiler alert: the mystery feature turns out to be a cesspit:

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Kinda unsurprisingly, as there was a toilet on the other side of the wall, as they now disclose. Intense infrared video footage confirms that the two connect. This is archaeological magic, y’all.

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Let’s go looking for treasure! First, the make-shift tools:

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PROTIP: If you have to modify your tools like this, you are probably doing something unsafe. And you will probably hurt your back.

(I would also like to mention here that the glum music is still going, making this the most depressing tale of archaeological discovery ever)

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OH GOOD LORD. At least they are wearing hard hats? And not 70s speedo-stylee archaeology?

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Nice drain though. And we hear about the finds that came out of the drain and we get to see them as they came out of the dirt and the more official lab photos:

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Then we are taken through the various artifact types and the specialists (women, mostly) clean, sort, and analyze the finds.

Overall, the Anglo-American Project in Pompeii does a good job showing the research goals of an excavation, and the execution of these goals, and the conclusions and future questions that arise from such a project. It was well filmed, and the videographers did a good job creating the site narrative and collecting appropriate footage. This is harder than it seems.

Yet the video also reproduces the man-as-digger-and-director and women doing all the household chores of archaeology–they had 60 students and 40 staff on site and we get to see two half-naked dudes in a trench digging a toilet. Where was everyone else? The single voice of the narrator removed all dissenting views and alternate experiences and interpretations. It makes me wonder who they thought the audience was? Government officials? Funders?

Beard count: 2
Beer belly count: 2
Overall: 4/5

Archaeology Films A-Z: Ancient Greece: Pots Tell the Story

Title: Ancient Greece: Pots Tell the Story
Year: 2003
Length: 12 minutes
Made by: Karen Aqua and Ken Field in collaboration with Treasure Mountain Middle School, Park City, Utah
Genre: Experimental
Authors: Karen Aqua was an artist and spent 35 years making brilliant animated films before dying far too young from ovarian cancer. He husband, Ken Field, is a famous musician and composer who has made music for Sesame Street, among other productions.

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Interesting opening, very DIY, stop-motion animation using children’s drawings. There’s a narrator, telling us what the children have learned while studying Ancient Greece, very nice….wait, what? “They ruled a large part of the world thousands of years ago.” Large…uh…hmm.  During this description we have various drawings of Greek pots shimming across the frame.

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There are several narrators, which is great. First a woman, then a man (presumably Karen Aqua and Ken Field, which are surely the names of folksy, down-home superheroes) and then various children. Nice–a varied voice de-centers the usual authoritative voice-of-god narration.

We learn standard the standard bits about the columns  through cute animations of Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian columns emerging from the ground with cranking noises, but I do not particularly like this disembodied emergence of architecture, especially when it comes to Greek architecture. People built those.

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Speaking of people, we get actors in “heavy, sweaty masks,” musicians, and the first Olympics. We also hear about Greek mythology and monsters at length. The drawings are very cute and the animation is extremely inventive.

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Overall, the film is aimed at a young, elementary school audience, probably 7-10. It is an excellent project, and I applaud the enterprising animators who put this fun film together. I love the idea of young school children drawing figures from Greek pots and extrapolating stories that they could animate using these figures. In this case I’d argue that the making of the film is actually more important than the particular outcome, which is a bit boring and basic.

2/5 – Movie content
5/5 – School project, great for outreach

Archaeology Films A-Z: Ancient Fires at Cliff Palace Pond

Title: Ancient Fires at Cliff Palace Pond
Year: 2000
Length: 11 minutes
Made by: Voyageur Media Group, Inc.
Genre: Expository
Authors: See the entry for the Adena film.

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Another movie from the Kentucky Heritage Council. Let’s learn about Kentucky, folks! The USDA Forest Service starts forest fires with drip torches. This is already the most exciting archaeology film I’ve ever seen.

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I’ve always found the idea of forest management kinda strange. I realize that many (if not most) of the landscapes that we see in North America were managed by Native Americans before our Park Rangers got at them, but the idea of encouraging or discouraging forests to turn out a certain way is still an odd concept. I guess I still have an unhealthy nature/culture divide in my head. Anyway.

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It’s almost two minutes in before the video mentions the Native Americans. They were building to it. Elder Jerry Wolfe comes on to set the record straight. Every Fall they’d burn the forests so that they don’t get an ocean of fire. Which would be inconvenient.

We segue into Indians-as-Forest-Rangers, complete with chanting. Pesky scientists didn’t know what to do until they actually asked the folks who had been living there a while.

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I love archaeological illustrations, and this video has several. Just LOOK at that grandpa from ancient history threatening the child with the feather.

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…aaaaand one slightly sinister baby in a basket.

But wait, what is that I see?? Archaeologist Cecil Ison guiding a group of folks to a cave dwelling! It’s Cliff Palace, and we are set for some learnin’ from a dude with a fantastic handlebar moustache.

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Nice video effects illustrating the rock art after Cecil traces it for us. We also learn that there is a fetid pond up near the rock shelter and that there are extensive archaeological remains around said pond. Why does this matter? Because we can core the pond!

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They found seven layers of distinct debris, including pollen. This next photo is for Shanti Morell-Hart, who once described looking through a microscope as traveling through space. Which sounds pretty cool…

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….but I’m not sure I buy it.

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Dr. Paul Delcourt seems down though. Do you like how they framed him with the hallowed halls of academia? He MUST be an expert. Bonus: he has a beard. Anyway, he checks our core samples to see if there is any ash present. Check out the slight azimuth change between Paul Delcourt and Cecil Ison. We’re looking up at Delcourt and down at Ison. Film and photography semioticians would note this as a power differential. Something to think about while you are filming. Anyway, back to the video.

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Cliff Palace Pond is like a time capsule, we are told. I believe them because this is a good drawing. We are told that Native Americans ate stuff and hunted stuff. Rockin’.Screen shot 2013-10-16 at 12.33.44 PM

Atlatl + beard alert!!

From the dirt core we learn that about 1,000 years ago, Native Americans began farming the land and shaped the forest into what we think of as the “natural” Kentucky landscape, with nuts and berries.

Overall, this would be a good movie to for teachers to show when you are learning about paleoethnobotany or paleo landscapes and landscape management. Or if you feel like you need to know more about changes through time for Native Americans in Kentucky.

Beard Count: 2.5
Women?: 0

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