Category Archives: new media

Ruth vs. the Intercutting Firepits

The QIAH has been conducting work at Freiha since 2009, revealing dense, complex occupation. This video is a time lapse of my good friend (and coworker) Ruth Hatfield excavating a series of intercutting firepits. Photo and Video Credit: Qatar Museums Authority – QMA.

We built a small structure over a fraction of the firepits to provide shade and then Ruth did her thing, digging all of the firepits under the shade in two hours. This time lapse demonstrates the principles of single context recording on a microscale–Ruth would dig and record the fills and cuts, all in stratigraphic sequence, showing which of the pits were dug last and working back in time. The last little bits were dug (and burned) first and truncated by later firepits. In some ways it is too bad that the camera was on a timer–you only see Ruth measuring or taking photos a couple of times. I’d like to do a time lapse that shows the entire recording process for each feature–but that might be just too tedious. Sadly I had to use iMovie to edit–my old Final Cut Pro license expired and the new FCP is appalling.

Incidentally, the font for the video is one of my favorites, Lavanderia, inspired by the writing in the windows of the San Francisco Mission:
Download Lavanderia

The music is licensed under Creative Commons and is available on Soundcloud:
Kitab el 3omr by Yussof El Marr

Please comment and let me know if you show the video in your classroom so that I can report back to the QIAH and the QMA and show them that making these things is time well spent!

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.

Course Description: Materiality and Ethnographic Film

When it comes to UC Berkeley, these days I feel more like a politically-minded voyeur than grad student. I’ve been following the Occupy movements in both Oakland and Berkeley online, but I’m half a world away, working and writing my dissertation out in the desert.

Still, I’m going to be teaching a Reading and Composition course next summer, and I used part of my weekend to come up with a course description:

Materiality and Ethnographic Film

Ethnographic film has a long and ambivalent tradition within anthropology. The theory, technology, and methodology behind making ethnographic films has changed radically during the last century, but often this historic context has been ignored. In this course we will critically examine a wide range of ethnographic films through the lens of materiality. Materiality, or the study of the relationship between people and things, allows us to think about technology and social interactions in new and compelling ways. What were people wearing and using in the film? How was the film made and how does this effect the scenes that were filmed? What can these films tell us as artifacts in themselves? In our “archaeological” examination of ethnographic film, we will read the current interdisciplinary literature regarding materiality and excavate the context of these anthropological artifacts. This course satisfies the second half of the University’s Reading and Composition requirement.

The Reading and Composition requirement is a two-part writing skills class that all undergraduates have to take to graduate. The first class is the basics of writing and the second class, which is what this course description is for, is for intensive reading and writing on a particular topic. The only prerequisite is that the student has taken the first class–no Anthro or Media Studies is required to take the class.

Anyway, it is my first course description and I have no idea if it sounds of any interest at all to undergraduates. Any thoughts? Too boring, complex, or obscure?

Open Source, Software Piracy and Archaeology: a dissertation bit

Hello from sunny Qatar! Most of my spare words and thoughts have been going toward dissertating, so I thought I’d post some of my textual thrashing. (breaks in the text added so it won’t set off the tl;dr alarm)

“While some archaeologists are marginally aware of Creative Commons licensing, many archaeologists, myself included, exclusively use proprietary software. The software often is the industry standard and there are not necessarily good alternatives to use. In 2011, common proprietary software includes ArcGIS, the extremely popular global information system software suite, costs USD 1500 for a single-user license and Microsoft Access, an overwhelmingly popular database software costs USD 99 per license. More specialized software such as Autodesk costs USD 4000 for a single license. Increasingly interpretive projects and publications call for visualizations that require the detail and complexity that expensive proprietary software can provide.

Whether they are students or professionals, archaeologists generally do not have the money to purchase the sophisticated software with expensive licensing, so the copies are often illegitimate, and can stop working at any time. While it would be imprudent to identify specific individuals, archaeologists generally have thousands and sometimes tens of thousands of dollars of illegally downloaded software to perform everyday tasks and do not hesitate to publish results and visualizations gained from using this illegal software.  Whether or not the archaeologist has a philosophical commitment to Open Source and Creative Commons, it is in their interest to prevent the catastrophic data loss that is possible with proprietary formats and illegitimate software. To this end, LP Archaeology has developed their own database software called ARK, which is open source and available for archaeologists to download.

Sadly, much of the proprietary software that archaeologists use has not been replaced by similar open source software. Even in cases where there are free alternatives such as Open Office, archaeologists do not feel like they have the time to learn something different and worry that the results will suffer. Obviously a more formal study of software use among archaeologists would be required to make steps towards correcting the issues surrounding Open Source software, data formats, and preservation standards. Still, there are many places for archaeologists to fit into the Open Source and sharing spectrum, whether it involves Creative Commons licensing for photographs or developing specialized software — supporting these efforts would benefit our collections, our connection to our stakeholders and the longevity of the archive.”

Is it ethical to use pirated software for archaeological work? Why or why not?

Pseudoscience, Archaeology, and the Public

There’s a minor tussle going on over at Aardvarchaeology and Archaeological Haecceities over a public lecture at Linnaeus University in Sweden. The lecture is by Semir Osmanagich, a fringe “archaeologist” who claims to have found pyramids in Bosnia. I actually posted about this back in 2008 with photos of some of the nice geological sections that have been gouged into the hill:

http://middlesavagery.wordpress.com/2008/10/12/the-bosnian-pyramids/

When I saw the invite to the lecture “The Bosnian Valley of the Pyramids in Context,” I have to admit that I cringed–surely a university wouldn’t lend any credibility to this obvious hoax. In the comments over at Aardvarchaeology, Cornelius Holtorf explains, courtesy of Google Translate:

We invite him, not because we are his interpretations of scientific seriousness, but because we think we have to discuss his work and its effects. The Bosnian pyramids have affected not only tourism and the perception of cultural heritagein Bosnia, but is also how we look at the cultural heritage of the wider community. Can fictional heritage have the same (or greater) power than genuine cultural heritage? What is it that the tourists are really looking for when they visit cultural heritage sites and how they present archeology and heritage to the world media so that it has an impact? What is Osmanagich himself at his critics within the scientific archeology and the archaeologists who work in Bosnia?”

This should be an interesting talk–I’d very much like to see the lecture and the discussion afterwards. Osmanagich’s work is fascinating in this respect; how did he get so far with such an obvious hoax? Why is the idea of pyramids in Bosnia so compelling to so many people? I admire Dr. Holtorf’s work and would like to be as high-minded, inclusive and controversial as he is–I mean, why not discuss the implications of imaginary heritage when compared to actual cultural heritage? Sadly I think I would have a problem getting past Osmanagich’s wanton destruction of actual archaeological sites while bulldozering for imaginary architecture, and I hope someone at Linnaeus University takes him to task for that. A full rundown of the situation is available on wikipedia:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bosnian_pyramids

Oddly enough, an interesting parallel popped up on the Catalhoyuk facebook page–a handful of posts by Artūras Jazavita, projecting a “proportional grid” on many of the photographs of artifacts and architecture:

His proposition is that the Catalhoyuk “proportional grid” is the same as Gobekli Tepe, a claim that oddly echos some of the recent academic literature about Gobekli. By posting his photos on my blog, am I giving him undue credence? Or am I putting it into context, much like the invited lecture above? Should the Catalhoyuk Facebook page owner delete the posts? I actually find the inscribed photographs strangely beautiful, though completely imaginary in their claims:

By offering high-quality digital images to the public, there is a risk of our photographs being co-opted by pseudoscientists who use them to advance these specious claims. We could restrict access to the photographs, or not invite controversial speakers to our universities, but perhaps this would rob us of the chance to counter the claims, or even for us to draw inspiration from their imaginations. As I understand the situation, Dr. Holtorf wants to know why Osmanagich’s work is so compelling, and perhaps then try to refocus this public interest back to actual cultural heritage. Artūras’ images made me want to take out my drawing tablet and sketch on some archaeological photographs. Can we co-opt the co-opters? Can we steal back the imaginations of the public from the psuedoscientists?

What do gifs want?

W.J.T. Mitchell’s classic book asks, What do pictures want? That is, what is it exactly that visuals do and how do they do it? Since this relatively early salvo into the thriving interdisciplinary field of visual studies there have been several qualitative and/or quantitative studies of photographs (see Sarah Pink, Gillian Rose, Kress and van Leeuwen, the list goes on) yet similar analyses on movies have remained elusive. Add music and dialogue and movement and your content analysis is suddenly many many thousands of pages long and ten years in the making.

Yet out of the flashy html mess of the early world wide web comes a digital object that severely erodes the boundary between still photographs and movies–the gif. (Here’s a nice little history of the gif) Even if you don’t remember the rotating skulls and bursting fireballs of the mid-1990s, the animated punctum of Jamie Beck’s photography probably caught your attention:

Beck calls these gifs cinemagraphs, and they resist classification as photographs or as movies, but play with elements of both. The constant loop of the movement in a gif is a fantastic synesthetic citation of digital music.

On the less “high-art” side of the spectrum is the admittedly low-brow joke gifs, a joke on a digital gum wrapper, the low rez and jagged movement unconsciously exuding a Lumiere brothers quality. My favorite being, of course, Animals Being Dicks.

They tell the shortest story, the briefest moment of time, soundlessly and then on loop. The first viewing is confusing, surprising, then we watch the clip with full knowledge on the second run through, anticipating the joke, and then a third, relishing the details we missed on the first or second pass.

I’ve been experimenting a little with the very short video form, not yet gifs, but similar:

There are a couple of programs that you can use to apply hipstamatic-like filters to your videos that are fun to play with, but you can also edit it on youtube using their tools. Obviously I haven’t fully explored the medium, but it is a good change for me from the hyper-focus on photography. The tiny film/gif pushes at the boundaries between video and photography, with occasionally delightful results.

Fundraising: The Sound of a Duck’s Feet

Early in my graduate career I received the advice to be like a duck–remain serene on the surface all the while paddling like hell underneath. Serenity has never been a strong point of mine, so I’ve come up with a compromise: swim like an otter–dive underwater, paddle like hell, then come crashing to the surface in a completely different place, lolling on your back like you don’t have a care in the world. I’m hoping that the relative quiet here on this blog feels like that to you, dear reader.

Swimming metaphors aside, I’ve been working pretty hard to get the Maeander Project off of the ground. Between project funding and organization hustle and my dissertation, things have been a little crazy. All that aside, I have an incredible debt to the many people who have donated at Kickstarter:

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/colleenmorgan/the-maeander-project-a-digital-archaeological-land

We have 34 backers and are just shy of our half-way point at $2,257.00 out of $5,000.00.  We may be getting matching funds, so it’s really important that we make that $5,000 mark–we don’t get any money if we don’t raise it all.

I also want to thank the people who have generously re-tweeted our fundraising link, and who have posted on their own blogs, including:

The CRM Field Tech Newsletter 

Sorting out Science, in the #120 edition of Four Stone Hearth

Where in the Hell am I?

If I missed anyone, please let me know! Our fundraising drive ends on July 15th. If you can’t spare a dollar, spare a link?

 

 

 

 

 

Crowdsourcing Archaeology – The Maeander Project Kickstarter Page!

After months of waiting, we received very short notice that we had indeed received a permit to conduct an archaeological survey in southwestern Turkey. Sadly we did not receive all of the funding that we had hoped–it is difficult to fund a project before you have a permit, and to get a permit before you fund a project. The fledgling project had taken flight, the Maeander Project is a go.

Obviously we still had to figure out a way to make up the missing money somehow, or else we would have to miss this valuable opportunity. I’d seen various projects funded by Kickstarter before, and even signed up for it last year, but after the urging of several of my friends I decided to try it out. Kickstarter is primarily for creative projects, but what is my work but creative? I might as well use this aspect of my research in a productive fashion. So, the Kickstarter page:

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/colleenmorgan/the-maeander-project-a-digital-archaeological-land

While $5000 does not cover all of our costs, it would help a great deal. Also, if we are unable to raise this amount of money in a month, we do not receive ANY of it!

So please, if you can, throw a couple of dollars our way. If you can’t (and I completely understand!) then please help us by getting the word out about this project.

Cave of Forgotten Dreams – NYC, LA and Chicago on April 29th

I received word that Werner Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams, which I reviewed after an advanced screening is opening for wider release on April 29th. Those lucky enough to live in LA will be able to see Werner Herzog himself at a Q&A. (Attention UCLA people!!)

You can get discounts for group sales through the IFCCenter here:

http://www.ifccenter.com/films/cave-of-forgotten-dreams/

Let me know what you think if you catch the movie!

Google Sketchup for Modeling Archaeological Sites

A model of what might be a mosque at Fuwairit. Its based on the archaeological footprint on the ground and two other historic Qatari mosques.

Over the summer I started making a Sketchup model of Fuwairit, a site we intensively surveyed by total station. The site itself is nearly a kilometer long (longer, if you count the fortifying wall to the jebel) and about 200m wide and is chockablock full of architecture in the form of rectangular compounds. After a month and a half of survey, we had a pretty good idea where all the walls were and created an autocad model that was just the wall lines. I tried all kinds of things to import the file into Blender, but the translatability between a PC/Autocad and an Apple/Blender was insurmountable. Actually, I got it to mostly work, but it was so infuriating I wouldn’t really recommended. Hint: do not try to import polylines. It doesn’t work.

I ended up importing the polyline wall file (dwg) into Google Sketchup (you have to use 7 and not 8, because they moved the functionality into Pro for 8, but then you can import the 7 file into 8) and playing with it there. Sketchup has changed a lot in the four years since I’ve last opened it up, and it might be worth another look if you, like me, are an early adopter/early rejector. The most fundamental problem is that it is not Open Source. I’m still hurting a bit from the Second Life burn, and am hesitant to commit to any format that will restrict archiving or my future use. Luckily, Sketchup exports to many different kinds of files, so the Second Life debacle is a bit more avoidable.

Anyway, some notes, so that your model-making experience will be better than mine:

1) Do not attempt to reconstruct kilometer-long, complex architecture. Sketchup starts to bog down pretty fast, and after 2,000 objects, no longer will import into Google Earth.

2) Do not smooth edges until you are absolutely finished and absolutely certain. The beachstone/mud finishing on the pearling site architecture tempted me to smooth the lines and it looked great…until I needed to redo a lot of the textures, which you cannot apply to smoothed surfaces.

3) Import the model into Google Earth sooner rather than later to check it out. The model looks pretty good in Sketchup, but usually looks better in Google Earth, so it will give you a better idea how your textures are turning out.

4) Use the edge style and plane style to come up with different views and feels for your project. Turning shadows on is nice as well, as you can manipulate the time of day and see if the particular alleyway that you are modeling was shaded or sunny at that time.

This is with shaded textures off, and the profile edges on.

5) Try importing various pre-made objects. There are a lot of free objects that were made by various people and I was able to pick up some nice date palms, mangroves, and even a dhow to add detail to my reconstruction. I took photos of some standing structures to add textures and windows and things like that. It’s obviously much easier when you have something still existing to give you a pretty good idea of what the structures looked like.

6) There’s also the option to “walk around” and to make fly through animations, if you are into such a thing. I like to use it to test viewsheds, something that is obviously important in “veiled” islamic domestic architecture.

So, it is basic but robust, and you can easily manipulate the various textures to give you a more or less “accurate” or cartoony atmosphere. I want to make some time to import the images into photoshop to touch them up there, but I am fairly satisfied with the mockup I’ve made with a fairly low time investment.

(Mostly written March 10, with some more recent edits)