Category Archives: anthropology

The Recent Ancient Tradition of Ogoh Ogoh

 

photo (24)

Bali is quiet today. It is Nyepi, the first day of the New Year, and it is a day of mandatory rest and meditation. We are not allowed outside our flat–if we are caught on the street we’ll be firmly escorted back inside. We must stay very quiet and not indulge in any way, or we’ll catch the attention of demons that are currently flying over Bali. If we are quiet enough they’ll shove on and not stop to wreak havoc. There are no flights in or out of Bali today. Silence.

photo (25)

Yesterday, however, was a glorious racket as Ogoh Ogoh were paraded down the street at sunset, twirled around and “confused” at intersections, then burned down at the seaside. Over the past week we’ve been peeping inside of temples to look at the in-progress Ogoh Ogoh as they were carefully built over metal frames. As we stood watching while the young single women of the neighborhood encircled the crossroads, holding torches toward the center, and the young single men of the neighborhood paraded into the center, playing drums and melodic reong–pot-shaped gongs, the ceremony felt timeless, foreign, yet had a spiritual resonance as well. It was invented in the 1980s.

I was ambivalent when I heard of the recent manufacture of the Ogoh Ogoh parade–it seemed typical of the kind of trap you can fall into with Orientalist thinking. Bali is so mystical, the people are so nice, they value spirituality, aren’t their ancient ceremonies so quaint and romantic? Still, I love a good procession and it reminded me of the Day of the Dead, another parade that celebrates the liminal and otherworldly.

photo (23)

The materiality of Ogoh Ogoh is interesting; though some Ogoh Ogoh are very small, they rapidly become very elaborate, with an emphasis on the grotesque. Many go to great lengths to make the Ogoh Ogoh appear to be flying, with very little attaching the demon to the underlying bamboo structure that young men use to carry it. There are lights installed to light up their faces, and some have heavy metal music blaring from their bases. Many Ogoh Ogoh have pendulous, veiny breasts representing Rangda the demon queen. Some are painted, some are meticulously airbrushed, and I have heard that some of them are sold instead of burned at the end of the night.

photo (22)

The Ogoh Ogoh and their young male handlers process to the beach, where they gleefully tear off the heads of their creations, then set fire to the demons that they carried through the streets. The Ogoh Ogoh were once made of paper mache, but now they are mostly polystyrene and the great gouts of black smoke made it impossible to breathe. The crowds dispersed before the fire had gone out.

photo (21)

And today, Bali is quiet.

An Interlude in Bali

photo (18)

Canangsari offerings, still intact.

There were a million Canangsari husks down at the beach last night, contents spilling out into tide pools, ruined flowers, smoldering incense, and candy wrappers blowing in the humid breeze. These offerings are everywhere, on bridges, at the openings of small roads, in front of businesses, always laden with colorful tidbits for hungry spirits. A woman in a small market staples the small woven trays together, dogs sniff out the better morsels, one skitters into the street after being accidentally kicked by a tourist. There were even more of them yesterday, after a pre-New Year cleansing ritual on the beach, stacks and stacks of offerings covering the black sand.

photo (20)The small flat we are renting is heaving with ants. An ant just climbed out from between the F and G keys on my computer and is scrambling toward the screen to meet with three others that are drawn to the glow. I don’t really mind, they’re tiny and they don’t bite, but I wish one of the geckos would eat them.

I’m in Bali to write–I’m putting together articles and catching up with work that was put aside while I was finishing the thesis. We go out to get fruit from the little market down the road and scoot to the beach to watch the sun go down.

photo (19)

Baskets covering Balinese fighting roosters, kept aggressive and ready.

The anthropological landscape of Bali is covered in large footprints, hidden deadfalls and the echos of heated argument in venerable academic halls. I sometimes want to go to the market and buy the canangsari to leave offerings to the hundreds (thousands?) of anthropologists who have studied here. Flowers for Clifford Geertz, Ritz crackers for Margaret Mead, betel nuts for Gregory Bateson. I’m a guest here, and I have my own research to write up, but it is hard to avoid a good haunting from the ghosts of anthropologists past (and present!).

TAG Chicago: Simulacra and Cultural Heritage in Qatar

I just submitted an abstract for Catriona Cooper and Sara Perry’s Seeing, Thinking, Doing: Visualisation as Archaeological Research session at the Chicago Theoretical Archaeology Group meeting, 9-11 May. They haven’t accepted it yet, cross your fingers for me!

Simulacra and Cultural Heritage in Qatar
Colleen Morgan and Daniel Eddisford

“Old” is a new topic in cultural heritage and preservation in Qatar. In the past four years we have worked on projects that have investigated archaeological remains from a variety of sites in the region, and virtually reconstructed these remains, drawing on the archaeological record and standing buildings in the region. Other reconstructions in the region include a town that was reconstructed for a movie and the heart of Doha, Souq Waqif. These reconstructions did not adhere to the “truth” of the archaeological record, but elaborated on aesthetic aspects that were important markers of cultural identity. In 2012-2013, we excavated within a “heritage house”, a reconstruction performed in 2006, and documented the differences between an archaeological past and an aestheticized past. Our paper queries ideas about “truth” in archaeological reconstructions, both virtual and actual, and the conclusions we can draw from these truths.

Re-thinking “Construction” and Phasing at the Ridwani House

photo (14)

During the midday lunch break, the Ridwani House becomes a gathering place, a place to eat, chat, rest and pray away from the dust and machines that completely surround it. Dan, Katie, Kirk and I usually head out to a local Indian restaurant for an absurdly inexpensive Thali for lunch. When we come back, full bellies making us slow and somnambulant, we sit in the shade of the porch, careful not to disturb the sleeping construction workers.

The Ridwani House was fully reconstructed in 2006, not even a decade ago, and it is set to be reconstructed yet again. The archaeology that we are excavating underneath the Ridwani House reveals that the singular house was probably once two houses, joined in the 1940s, and then fully made-over in 2006. It is set to become a museum with a feeling of “Old Doha” in the middle of a concrete and glass wonderland. Though it lacks furniture beyond a few woven mats, construction workers who are building the surrounding skyscrapers use the Ridwani House as a source of comfort.

A construction horizon in archaeological recording is not unique. Buildings are built, remodeled, leveled, reconstructed, and generally messed around with for all of their “lives.” A construction phase shows the general level of activity with the accompanying change and untidiness until the construction is deemed finished and life starts again. This period of disruptive flux marks the end of one phase of the building and the beginning of a new phase. But who are these mid-phase travelers, construction workers occupying the house, living there in their own way? All of their activity is reduced to a dotted line on a matrix.

photo (15)

Anyone who has done any kind of construction on a house knows that the workers leave their own traces between walls, whether these are particular craftsman-like touches or graffiti (see http://www.constructiongraffiti.com/ and some particularly interesting examples inside the WTC memorial: http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/racist-sexist-slur-filled-graffiti-covers-new-wtc-article-1.1249195). The historical archaeology that we are doing is so recent that it bleeds into contemporary archaeology–rooms that we have excavated are now filled with concrete and are used as mosques and lunchrooms.

The Ridwani House will be reborn in a few years as a museum, technically in its fourth phase, depending on how you like to lump or split your archaeology. The construction horizon will be finished, and the building will enter another phase of uselife. I suppose it wouldn’t bother me as much if I didn’t know how invisible construction workers are in this whole process. Doubt me? Put on a high-viz, hardhat and a pair of boots and fade away.

Spanish Fresco “Restoration” – Why is it funny?

The conservators saw it first. Over the years I’ve been lucky to work on archaeological projects with conservation teams on site–they pick up the pieces when we reveal something that is too delicate or too sensitive for archaeologists to move without risk of further damaging the object. They conserve paintings, wood, metal, pottery, bone, and can fix your site flip-flops if they snap. They have tiny tools and lots of glue–they’re our miracle workers.

One of them will be called in to meticulously scrape off the handiwork of this elderly parishioner, spending countless hours removing flecks of the offending paint. So, yeah, they saw this and cringed. Good luck to the conservator that has to tackle this one. Oof.

The second person referencing this link thought it was hilarious. I admit, when I clicked on the link and saw the photo, I laughed too, and then shook my head. It was reported on Boing Boing as “Fresco Restored” and the comments section is split: about a third of the commenters are horrified, with one stating that “I feel like absolutely everyone would be better off if news of this hadn’t spread very far. I know I’m not better off for knowing.” The majority think that the “restoration” is hilarious.

Is it the rendition of a bizarre Jesus with his black eyes and strange tongue that is funny? Or that an elderly lady did it? I am not arguing that it isn’t funny, I was laughing too, but why? A recent story on NPR described anthropologist Robert Lynch who studies humor but who also does stand-up comedy. Roughly, “you laugh when a joke resonates with your inner values and beliefs.” The “restoration” struck a chord with some of us. I’m not sure what this chord was–the destruction of cultural heritage usually doesn’t elicit a chuckle. I think this reaction calls into question what we think is cultural heritage and what is the appropriate treatment of such.

Finally, I was wondering if the conservators needed to be called in at all. From what little I know about it, the “restoration” was an act of devotion; the restored Jesus is a very personal Jesus, with bare reference to the original. If it offends, it might be easier to primer over the whole thing, project an image of the original at the right scale, and then repaint it entirely. They were planning to repair and repaint the painting anyway, perhaps we should leave this lady’s Jesus as part of the palimpsest of devotion.

The Unfamiliar: Archaeology and the Uncertain Edge

Last winter I submitted an article to the Anthropology Graduate student journal at the University of Edinburgh, The Unfamiliar, to be included in their second issue. The print version is already out and I look forward to the online version. I chose to write about drawing conventions in MoLAS archaeology, particularly the uncertain edge. It caused particular problems as I submitted gifs to illustrate the process, not realizing that there would be a print version, as films were also solicited. So I had to re-send stills from the gifs for the print publication…funny stuff, digital archaeology.

Anyway, here is the article. I’ll link to the online version when it comes through.

Archaeology and the Uncertain Edge

The author, drawing a multi-context plan in the field, 2012. Photograph by Ruth Hatfield.

Until this point the line had been steady, confident, true. The sandy, shelly deposit curved left, then right, was truncated by a later fire pit, and then continued west-ward and my pencil recorded all of the contours in a perfect 1:20 centimeter representation. But then the deposit lost its hard, defining edge, feathering out, getting mixed and lost in an interface with the underlying dirt. Where did the sandy shelly deposit stop? Where did the layer beneath it begin? My pencil hesitated, then drew a series of quick zig-zags, reminiscent of a line of heartbeats on a heart monitor from a dramatic TV scene, arcing around my deposit. Upon excavating the deposit, I may go back to the drawing, erase the zig-zags and replace them with a single, smooth line. But for now, the edge was ambiguous, open for interpretation, and so I used the drawing convention of a zig-zag, indicating an uncertain edge.

As Tim Ingold (2011:177) notes, archaeology is one of the few specialist disciplines where drawing is still valued as part of our daily practice, as as a way to record, understand and engage with the materials of the past. We represent skeletons, landscapes, walls, houses, pottery, rocks, and stratigraphic sections in technical, measured to scale drawings. While some of the illustrations end up in our lectures in publications, the majority of these drawings are by archaeologists, for archaeologists, and remain in our grey literature. Still, drawing is a vital part of the most important skill in archaeology—learning how to see, or what Charles Goodwin (1994) calls “professional vision.”

By drawing we intimately inspect our subject, gaining knowledge that transcends taking a photograph or even a laser scan of the same feature. Learning how to discern the stratigraphic relationships in archaeology is a difficult task and “drawing a definite line around something rests on reserves of professional confidence and interpretative skill” (Wickstead 2008:14).  To add to the complexity, there are very few universally agreed-upon drawing conventions. I was trained in both Americanist and British styles of excavation and the accompanying drawing conventions wildly differ across the Atlantic.  Americanist archaeologists draw the sections of their meter-squares with little tufts of grass on the top, English archaeologists use hachures to indicate slope across their wide-open trenches. While American-style archaeological technical drawing has few conventions, English archaeologists have standardized lines and rugged tracing paper called permatrace so that they can overlay the drawings of the deposits in stratigraphic order.  These differences aside, learning to see and draw archaeological deposits remains at the core of our profession.

This most important skill, that of learning to see and describe archaeological deposits is almost impossible to teach within the confines of a classroom. We rely on field schools to impart this information, taking students to archaeological excavations so they can interact with the archaeology. Sometimes while training students we inscribe the ground with our trowels, teaching them how to see subtle differences in color or texture. While working in red dirt with colorblind archaeologists in Texas I had to use sound to establish the difference between solid ground and a posthole, tap-tap-tapping my way across the ground with the butt of my trowel until there was a slight change in tenor. Tap-tap-tap-thud-thud-tap-tap-tap, there was the hole that the Caddo dug for the center post of their structures. Still, there are times that we are uncertain, even after many years of experience. During these times the solid line jolts back to life, a jagged heartbeat of subjectivity in a profession that still struggles for objectivity even after postmodernity.

This small selection of photographs and gifs that I have taken during my time as a field archaeologist in Qatar attempt to demonstrate the concept of the uncertain edge in archaeology. Perhaps as a parallel to teaching field archaeology in a classroom, demonstrating the uncertain edge through photography might be an impossible task; therefore I have chosen to augment a selection of the photographs, sometimes directly inscribing them with the Museum of London Archaeological Service drawing conventions. In this I hope to convey insight into the craft of archaeology and to the interpretive process during excavation.

At times we directly inscribe the dirt in order to teach students, or even to remind ourselves. This is not favored amongst many, and certainly I do not do it before I take photographs of the deposit. I scored this deposit to show my workmen where to begin digging. Photograph by Colleen Morgan.

Click on the gif below to see it animated.

Some features on archaeological excavations seem obvious, even when the features are intercut. There are four fire pits here; in the single context methodology we record the cut of the fire pit and the fill of the fire pit as two separate events. Photograph by Colleen Morgan.

(Click on the following gif to view a higher quality version…that is actually animated.)

Larger surfaces can be more ambiguous; the sunlight, differential drying, and relative cleanliness can all make deposits look very similar or radically different. I have indicated the uncertain edges of this deposit, though I have since excavated the area and found more certain edges. In this gif the dot-dash-dot lines indicate the limit of excavation and the double dot-dash-double dot lines indicate truncation lines. In single context drawing, each of these cuts and deposits are drawn on individual sheets of permatrace, then overlain to replicate the stratigraphy of the site. Photograph by Colleen Morgan.

References cited:

Ingold, Tim. 2011. Being alive: essays on movement, knowledge and description. London: Routledge.

Goodwin, Charles. 1994. “Professional Vision”. American Anthropologist. 96 (3).

Wickstead, Helen. 2008. “Drawing Archaeology,” In Drawing – the purpose, ed. Duff, Leo, and Phil Sawdon. Bristol: Intellect Books. 13-29.

“Fitting in” – Being a White, Female Archaeologist in the Middle East

…a (controversial?) dissertation chunk…

Entreaties to “fit in” aside, the excavation team was constantly harassed by the locals on the street, particularly the women on the team; no amount of discreet dressing or walking in pairs stopped rocks from being thrown or come ons from local youth. Being up on the opposite tell was a relief from living in the small, rural town; only a few goatherds and our trusted workmen accompanied us while we were on site. Still, the relationship we had with our workmen was complex—most of them did not speak English and most of the archaeological team did not speak Arabic. The workmen were primarily older men who had lived and worked in the area for most of their lives, while the archaeology team was young and foreign; as a younger woman directing older men within a landscape that was more home to them, I negotiated the difficulties in customs and language as best as I could.

It is a truism in the Middle East that white women are to be treated as men by Muslims, though in truth we inhabit a third gender, an ambiguous pastiche of impressions gleaned from foreign media, personal experience, true curiosity and a profitability assessment. While we could negotiate this ambiguity on an individual basis, or in small groups, our status as outsiders made us extremely vulnerable to harassment and insulting encounters outside of the confines of the accommodations and the tell. Many female archaeologists are loathe to discuss this aspect of working in the Middle East (or, indeed, in other contexts–sexism is not an exclusive trait); we are expected to “fit in” and not complain so that we will be viewed as equal to male archaeologists. Complaining about ill treatment would jeopardize our standing as equals to male archaeologists. Not “fitting in” bears a stigma, if you are harassed then it is seen as a failure as an anthropologist to successfully negotiate your surroundings, and this has a serious chilling effect for women working on archaeological projects.

In 2011, journalist Lara Logan was attacked while covering the Egyptian revolution in Tahrir square, but she spoke out regarding her sexual assault, and in doing so both highlighted the embodied violence that both western and local women are threatened with on a daily basis. Working in much of the Middle East is a tacit acceptance of treatment that would not be acceptable in the United States, submitting to this treatment in hopes to “fit in” and remain silent and professional is part and parcel of this arrangement. Working in the Middle East is a constant negotiation of gendered terms, re-positioning our identities as professionals and respectable women in a context that has absolutely determined that we are neither of the above.

Memory Palaces, Archaeological Sites, and Postex Planning

A plume of dust spread over the tanur I was drawing and my tape measure fell over and shuddered shut with a metallic clang. The wind had been steadily getting worse throughout the day, until it became an unrelenting blast furnace. I sighed and glanced up at the rest of the team. There were four of us on site, and everyone was neatly framed by the measuring tapes wound around grid pegs; five  meter boxes that we were neatly drawing at 1:20 scale on permatrace. I’ve railed against Americanist thinking-in-boxes for so long that it was a bit funny–but these were invisible boundary lines, and the layers were continued on the next piece of permatrace without the messy guessing of baulks.

Regular site work has come to a close; we cleaned up for aerial photography earlier in the week and are now drawing a large multicontext plan of the site before we cover it all up with backfill. I’ve done similar things before, but never a detailed plan over this large of an area–200 square meters. A few of the areas are pock-marked nightmares of postholes and clay-lined firepits–think circles within circles surrounded by circles. Other areas have bits of architecture or large layers of sandy-shelly accumulations.

I’ve worked over roughly the same area over the last five months, following the stratigraphy back and forth across the trench. Large areas can be difficult to excavate and I’d find myself chasing stratigraphic relationships in circles sometimes–not so hard to imagine when you know that the site depositional processes included sandstorms that would periodically blow thick layers of sand across site and we’d have to dig ourselves out time and time again.

While I was drawing I would remember the walls and the layers of sand that I’d taken off, but I’d also remember what the weather was like that day, who was on site with me, whether the general mood was good or bad. I’d remember if I was chatting to my workmen or my fellow archaeologists, or listening to a podcast or music (usually on windy days when I was using my headphones as wind muffles)–I have a very singular association of a midden dump and a low wall made of orangey-crumbly-crystally anhydrite slabs with a discussion of the concept of “the tipping point” courtesy of BBC’s Thinking Allowed. My thoughts wandered farther: what was the “tipping point” of midden accumulation–when was it accepted and acceptable to dump your garbage next to a wall? What started it? One camel bone? A piece of dog shit? Is there a broken window theory of midden dumping? I should look that up.

I recalled all of this as my pencil traced the outlines of layers yet to be removed. Archaeological sites are memory palaces in every sense of the term. We are re-remembering the past shapes and modes of dwelling and adding our own on top. As the site disappears in discreet episodes, paperwork and memories pile up in place of the stones and walls and sand.

I’d like for my future work to be in this arena, with location-based digital annotation, as most instances I’ve seen so far are completely separate from the lived experience of archaeology. Sadly, most avenues for this work immediately separates me from this very thing that I am most interested in–communicating the poetics of place. We’ll see if I can work something out.

Haptics and the Physicality of Archaeology

A gust of wind whipped the context sheet from under my hand, leaving a long, thin, bloody line across the back of my thumb. I sighed, but it only added to the current tally of open wounds on my hands–four. Most are small, little nicks on my knuckles from troweling over rocks and happily there aren’t any opened blisters. I’ve had a particularly stubborn cut on the back of my other thumb that refuses to heal–I cleaned and bandaged it immediately, but it seems like no matter what I do I have a dirty, shredded rag instead of a bandage at the end of the day and a bright red line of infection around the wound.

My knuckles are already thick, but they seize a bit sometimes, especially my right forefinger, my “troweling finger”, which has an awkward bend common to archaeologists. One of my friends here told me that he wakes sometimes with his fingers hooked and has to bend them back into place. My knees creak and pop and I have bruises along my shins from kneeling on rocks–we don’t have desks on site and we often have to crouch on our knees over our paperwork to protected from the wind, or rain, or sun.

Sometimes when I kneel, troweling across the 40/60 salty, silty sand I think I can actually feel the ground leeching the water from my body–the heels of my palms and my fingertips are chafed, dry and callused. Last time I was in Doha I went to a fancy shopping center that carried fine silk and linen dresses–my fingers rasped and caught as I touched them. The haptics of class, I suppose.

Most academic archaeologists have never spent more than a month or two at a time digging, indeed many professional archaeologists are the same–who can pay for long excavation seasons in this economy anyway? We aren’t doing the hardest excavation in archaeology; trowels in sand cannot compare to shovels in clay, even on the windiest of days. Working with your hands is a fairly romantic notion these days, and it’s one of the things I love about archaeology, dirty bandages and all.

But we know we can’t do it forever. The knees go. The back goes. Problems with eyes, hands, even the skin can remove us from our profession. I had a few pre-cancerous lesions burnt off of my face a couple of years ago, accompanied by a stern warning by the dermatologist to stay out of the sun as much as possible. And I’m certainly one of the lucky ones. I know at least a dozen people who have had to change careers after a physical malady.

The visual in archaeology is often emphasized in academic circles, with occasional nods toward the other senses adding to “a sense of place.” We awaken our senses, what does it feel/taste/smell like to be on an archaeological project? How can we share that with others? I’m writing about some of that in my dissertation, but now “being in the field” is becoming so normal that it is hard to remember to share. Sometimes I’d rather deaden my senses, something that can be difficult in a country where alcohol is mostly illegal. I wonder if reflexivity is easier when performing a rarified, vacation-like excavation after a year of teaching. The lived experience of archaeological investigation and engagement with place can be exhausting.

It’s the weekend–I think I’ll go back to bed.

A Moment for Elizabeth Brumfiel

I stepped into the auditorium. The space seemed cavernous–high ceilings, hundreds of white chairs, and a single podium up front, a podium that was not nearly big enough to hide behind. I took a deep breath and stepped inside.

The room was empty, but felt safe. It was my first professional meeting–the Society for American Archaeology in 2004 in Montreal and I was overwhelmed. There were thousands of archaeologists and they all seemed to know each other. I had just been working long days on a big site in Kerrville, Texas, and felt grubby and callused–very removed from the high-falutin’ academic talk that surrounded me.

I walked up to the podium in the empty room and did what my mother told me to do: “get into the room early and practice giving your talk at least twice.” The paper was printed in big font, double spaced, a few corrections here and there. In my own scrawled handwriting across the top–SMILE. I lowered the microphone to my height, wincing at the screeching sounds that it made, and started to speak.

I was about half-way through when the door way at the back of the auditorium cracked open, then closed shut, and then, more slowly, opened again. I couldn’t really see who it was, but that didn’t matter; I didn’t know anyone anyway. As soon as she–I could see that it was an older woman at this point, made it about half-way down the aisle, I apologized and said that I was just practicing. She said it was fine and made her way to the front row. I was nervous, but if I couldn’t give my talk to one woman, how could I give it to a whole audience?

While I droned on, she settled into her seat and pulled out her own sheaf of papers. She was writing rapidly, but not frantically, crossing out some words and re-writing others. I tried to ignore her as I hurried on with my talk.

At some point I noticed her pen stop, then drop, and she looked up from her paper. I was speaking about feminist lineages in archaeology; how as an undergraduate I benefitted from strong female leaders in archaeology and their students becoming teachers of a new generation (and supermajority) of women in the field. And she, this woman in the first row, was listening.

I finished and she stood up and clapped loudly, congratulating me for speaking so clearly and well. We chatted for a little while, about my paper topic, and she gave me further advice about conference presentations and academia. I honestly don’t remember most of the rest of the session–I was still very nervous–but to this day I remember her kindness, her encouragement, and her generosity. She didn’t have to mentor me, she could have kept working on her paper, but she took a moment for a nervous, nobody undergraduate. I glanced at her name tag, but it meant nothing to me at the time…until I googled her later.

Thank you, Elizabeth Brumfiel (1945-2012).

—-

Please read Rosemary Joyce’s post, which gives you a better perspective on just how amazing Elizabeth Brumfiel was:

Liz Brumfiel will always be remembered