EJA Special Issue: Digital Archaeologies

EJA_Cover
EJA cover, courtesy of David Osborne

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.

Survey and Scopophilia

…beep beep buh-beeep-beep….

I keep one headphone off while I’m at the total station, so that I can hear that final confirmation beep, telling me that I’ve registered another point on the landscape. A total station is an electronic theodolite and we use them in archaeology to accurately measure points on the landscape, much like the surveyors you probably see all the time standing by the side of the road. In this case we are using the machine to survey a long, ovoid beach site, with virtually no visible walls. To the untrained eye, it probably looks like a series of small dunes, lumpy, with very little definition. All this means is that we are making a topographic map of the site, along with what we think are cultural features. The EDM is highly accurate, but there is interpretation and guesswork involved in defining features, sometimes making it a slow process.

I move the scope across the landscape, sighting a prism, sometimes nearby and sometimes far away, catch the glint from the mirrored center, and push the button. Dan walks to the next point, and I repeat the process, entering the correct code. In one ear, I hear the beeping of the instrument, usually over a thousand times a day. In the other ear, I keep a steady stream of music, news, and podcasts to help the time pass.

In the Reign of Harad IV is a short story by Steven Millhauser that appeared in The New Yorker in 2006. The New Yorker has been featuring writers reading other writers for a couple of years now, and it’s a mixed bag. In the Reign is a lovely fairytale-like story about a king’s miniature maker, whose creations grow smaller and smaller until they enter the realm of the imaginary. As I was listening to it, creating a scaled, digitized world of my own behind a powerful lens, I wondered about the nature of this magnified vision, of remaking the landscape in tron-like polygons, and wondered how many artists worked in the medium of CAD landscape painting.

I also thought about Kwan’s use of GIS as part of a feminist methodology in geography, and asked one of my fellow surveyors what she thought about some of the complications involved in the use of technically-aided vision and interpretation of the landscape. She shrugged and said she just thought it was a tool, not some Foucauldian mind-trip. I still wondered though–the power to make these maps and to interpret these landscapes was very much in my hands. The site is highly endangered by people driving over it, and protecting it would involve limiting the use of Qatar’s prettiest beach–unpopular, to say the least. By swinging the scope around, quantifying this site, I am elevating it, creating it into something more than just a few lumps and bumps.

Still, quality time at the scope and walking around with the prism has taught me how to use this tool. While it is incredibly tedious at times, learning the details of landscape survey takes up Donna Haraway’s invitation to reclaim technoscience as a situated practice, a feminist pursuit. It is not enough to critique these visualization tools from an academic vacuum–you have to stand behind the beepy machine and learn how the damned thing works.

Fickle Academia

CLM_0067a

I asked my friend Darren (who is finishing up his PhD and just got accepted to law school!) to assist me with a rather silly idea that I had, inspired by this Norman Rockwell painting:

The idea was that I’d learn to use the professional lighting rig that OKAPI owns, but I know nothing about light design and just went with the natural light inside the archaeology building.  The background isn’t perfect, but we had a pretty good time, and Darren was game.

More Projects Than Time

Kabyle House
Kabyle House

One of my least favorite traits is overcommitment–meaning that I always commit to too many conferences/papers/projects and something always falls by the wayside.  My batting average is pretty good, but I still swing at the air a bit more than I’d like.

So, while I have the attention of the Cal community, I’d like to let one of my pet projects escape and maybe be picked up by someone who can properly feed and nurture an honors thesis out of the thing.

I’ve been intending to reproduce Bourdieu’s Kabyle House in Second Life as a fun exploration of digital habitus, with the attendant theory in scroll-overs, but I just don’t have the time.  If anyone would be interested in this project, drop me a line.  Or just do it yourself, and let me know about it!

Decisions….

pm.jpg
ppm.jpg

I find these equal parts hilarious, obnoxious, and oddly compelling. I could wear them both at the same time! At a conference!

If only they had a “post-futurist” necklace, I’d be set. If only all archaeologists would so kindly wear their theoretical inclinations and aspirations around their necks. What would your necklace say? Hmm?