Category Archives: outreach

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.

Mesa Verde Part 1 of 2: Parkitecture

Cliff House, Mesa Verde by Elemsee

I just finished up a 10-day road trip, driving from my folks’ house in northern Colorado back to California, with some fairly significant detours along the way. After taking a quick soak in Glenwood Springs, we took the Million Dollar highway down to Mesa Verde. Colorado had a long, wet winter this year and it paid off in a spectacular run-off, accompanied by the greenest, most wildflower-filled spring I’d ever seen.

I have to admit, I was beyond excited to go to Mesa Verde. Though I’d lived in Colorado for a while, I never made it down to the four-corners region to check out the gorgeous vistas and the Ancestral Puebloan ruins that cover the landscape. It was pretty much a perfect storm of Colleen-geekery: ancient architecture, cave-dwellers, and the National Park system. The National Parks are a revered institution in the US – I’d argue that they constitute a cornerstone of American national identity. As a large, government institution I’m sure there are widely divergent experiences within the National Park service that would either support my enthusiasm or shatter it completely, but as an outside beneficiary of the decades of hard work by thousands of park staff, I remain a big fan.

While others have written more cogently on the aesthetics and the motives of the National Park, Mesa Verde struck me as one of the most vivid examples of the managed tourism and “National Park rustic” or Parkitecture that the National Parks has to offer. Parkitecture attempts to blend in with the natural environment and is often a folksy mix of wood, stone, and hidden cinderblock architecture. While the facilities at Mesa Verde are not as iconic as those at the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone, the log ladders, stone borders, and wooden cautionary signs contributed to the “parkiness” of the park, signifiers of the managed nature of the park.

While Parkitecture has its design roots in the 1920s, Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal projects in the 1930s provided the labor force necessary for transforming the National Parks into tourist destinations. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) were young men between the ages of 18-25 who enrolled in a six-month term and were paid $5 – $8 a month while $22-$25 a month was sent back to their families. The “CCC boys” camped at Mesa Verde during the duration and their work can be seen in most aspects of the park’s development. (I’ll be mentioning the CCC again in the next Mesa Verde post, but for more information, check out the excellent New Deal Days: The CCC at Mesa Verde.) Without the New Deal investment in the improvement of the parks, it is doubtful that they would have risen to such prominence in the national imagination.

Parkitecture occupies an interesting liminal space in the parks; it both informs and restricts your movement, trying to blend in with the natural surroundings while being obviously official. It also requires an investment in apparently outdated trades–we saw trail maintenance in Zion being performed by a team of masons with chisels and hammers, chipping the red sandstone into appropriately rustic blocks. The curation and preservation of these trade skills seem just as important to me as the park itself.

In the extreme, parkitecture can contribute to the Disneyesque feel of the parks. One of the trail loops at Mesa Verde is only accessible by what they call a tram, what is, in practice, a bit more like a stretch golf-cart. We sat in the tram and there was a pre-recorded interpretive speech that blared as we zoomed by the different “attractions.” Even as Americans have gotten fatter, our hunger for National Parks remains unabated, with attendance rising each year. The best beloved and most visited parks have had to adopt measures such as this tram and an increased control over exploration of the monuments, to protect the park’s resources while still catering to the widest possible constituency. While the paved walkways and carefully groomed garden-fences allow people of most physical abilities to experience the parks, it can be frustrating to those of us who are used to scrambling up cliffs, through waterfalls and into the ruins.

With the national, state and local governments cutting all conceivable services, I feared for the National Parks, especially as they are attracting more tourists than ever. While it isn’t on the scale of the New Deal, it appears that the Recovery Act has been funding projects in the National Parks:

$14.6 million dollars went to Mesa Verde for six projects, from improving water lines to the purchase of alternative fuel transit buses for tours of the park. The full list of Recovery Projects slated for the National Parks is actually very interesting and a little sad, considering that the majority of work is very basic, long-needed repairs. This funding seems at best a fairly scanty gesture, especially compared to the massive investment that the New Deal projects provided for our parks and for the enskilment of a generation of workers.

(Tomorrow, more about the actual, y’know, archaeology and interpretation at Mesa Verde.)

Sneak Preview – Then Dig

On June 1st, Then Dig, the collaborative archaeology group blog, will debut with its first issue: Distance. I’m getting together my post for Distance, but if you are interested in participating, the Call for Posts is here:

http://arf.berkeley.edu/then-dig/2011/05/cfpo-distance/

I made a one-sheet for it that we’ll be distributing on the various archaeology mailing lists. So, expect us!

DIY, Green Burials, and Mortuary Archaeology

After digging up a few people, most archaeologists come up with a burial plan. One of my graduate student instructors back at my beloved alma mater, the University of Texas, was able to eventually date unmarked 19th century graves to within a year by the style of safety pin that was used to dress the body. He was an expert on all kinds of grave fittings, and knew how much each piece (coffin handles, hinges, etc) had cost–they were all listed in the Sears catalog and minor changes in design were easy to detect. He was going to pick a year and kit himself out perfectly in 19th century burial clothes, correct down to the safety pins, then clutch a shiny new penny in one of his hands.

I’ve heard of archaeologists wanting to get excarnated, donate their bones to their department, and of course, the ever-popular viking boat burial. Antiquated Vagaries has a couple of good posts on the graves of archaeologists, which usually allude to the subject that the archaeologist was investigating.

Cornelius Holtorf wrote about this phenomenon in his chapter in Archaeologies of Remembrance: Death and Memory in Past Societies wherein he writes about a Neolithic passage tomb in Sweden and the memorial for Wilhelm Ekman a few meters away, who died while excavating the tomb. (While this was in 1915, sadly these things happen even today when proper precautions aren’t taken.)

My specific chosen commemoration style has changed from time to time, but my general interest in “green” burials was piqued back in 2005, in the New Yorker article The Shroud of Marin by Tad Friend. In this he details the growing phenomenon of people wanting to be buried without concrete vaults, coffins, embalming, or even a tombstone. If there was a coffin or a tombstone, enterprising DIYers wanted to make it themselves. I was interested in this expression of the environmental movement made material in burials, and it continues to come up from time to time on sites like Boingboing and the Make Magazine Blog.

These updates emphasize the distance that has grown between the (primarily white, Western) bereaved and their dead. Death is now fully legislated, and permits are required for most steps of the burial process, from moving the dead body to digging the hole and placing the body in the ground.

So it was with avid interest that I read the newest archaeology-themed issue of Mortality, an academic journal “promoting the interdisciplinary study of death and dying.”

As widely-read as I attempt to be, I hadn’t heard of Mortality–I’ll have to rummage through their back-issues some point soon. In the introductory article, Howard Williams lays out the engagement that mortuary archaeologists have with contemporary death and what they can contribute to our understanding of modern death and death practices. One of the first points that Williams makes is that “the private, individualized and medicalized nature of death in Western modernity is extensively used by archaeologists as the antithesis of funerals in past, pre-industrial societies” (92). Beyond using modern practice as analogy, Williams also states that “Archaeologists are key stakeholders in current ethical, political and legal debates concerning death and the dead in contemporary society” (93), linking this status to issues of repatriation and reburial. I wonder if there is more to this linkage, this stakeholder status, than Williams allows.

Archaeologists are fairly unusual in the (white, Western) world in that we have a greater intimacy with death and decay. While we certainly deal in lifeways and birth, they are always seen through the yellowed lens of time. Even our contemporary archaeologies are informed by a disciplinary history of studying remains. We count it a boon in many ways–we’ve gained an understanding of materiality that is unparalleled in other disciplines. As contemporary as your archaeology may be, there is a good chance that as an archaeologist, you have dealt more fully with death and human remains than most people.

Our role in handling human remains has been greatly vilified, especially in North America where (white, Western) we are most certainly not handling the bones of our ancestors. We have come under such criticism that a lot of my colleagues will not excavate burials, nor handle them in any way. The intimacy is denied–we will sort through their trash but will not shake their hand. Fair enough. You do not have to brush the dirt off of someone’s pelvic curve to understand their house or their meals. But do we turn our backs on this knowledge entirely?

I wonder if there is a way to use this unusual relationship to death in order to serve (white? Western?) people. In a very specific example, can we help the people that wish to be buried in an environmentally friendly way while not running afoul of very good local laws that protect water tables and prevent disease? Can we use our knowledge of site depositional processes and decomposition, our understanding of burial practices around the world to help people come to terms with the inevitable? Or do we become just another person standing between the bereaved and their beloved? Is there an activist mortuary archaeology?

(This post is also hosted at Then Dig, an archaeology group blog that will premiere in June)

Review – The Cave of Forgotten Dreams

Last night I had the pleasure of attending an advanced screening of Werner Herzog’s (3D! Imax!) Cave of Forgotten Dreams with my colleagues from UC Berkeley and the local press. I’m unabashedly a big fan of Werner Herzog, even though I’ve heard that he can be difficult and invasive while he films you. I enjoy Herzog’s dour commentary, his bizarre analogies, his incredible juxtapositions and his lush filmic style–all of which were present in The Cave of Forgotten Dreams.

The opening shot takes you through the vineyards of France, in the most startling use of 3D that I’ve seen so far. The shot begins at eye level and rows of vines reach around you, drawing you in, until suddenly it reveals itself as a crane shot and you are pulled up and into the French countryside. This contrast is visible throughout, with wobbly hand-held action interspersed with sweeping helicopter and crane shots, switching between the personal and the majestic in a bid to both personally connect you with the imagery and take your breath away.

In what is probably the most successful sequence, Herzog takes us down into the cave with the group of researchers and with his film crew, in a delightfully reflexive move. He shows us the physicality of the cave, scuttling in through a narrow opening, then down through the gorgeous, glittering cave formations. The 3D camera manages to traverse these angles in an astonishing verisimilitude, I felt very much present in the cave with the crew. Sadly, I’m not sure how well this will translate to DVD (or to the above youtube trailer), which is a pity because makes this very evocative sequence difficult for use in teaching.

When the first paintings are sighted, it is like the first glimpse of an animal in the woods, far off, elusive, a blur and a sudden intake of breath. They are the red palmprints of a “man” with a crooked pinky finger. (While one of the researchers disputes that it was positively a man, this concept is dismissed in the narrative by stating that the person was over 6′ tall) Later we learn that we can trace his movement in these palmprints–that the overlapping of the prints shows that he first crouched down and then rose up to add the very highest prints. In my imagination I see the person (okay, probably a man, whatever that meant in the Paleolithic) preparing the paint, crouching down to apply it to his hands, then slapping on a couple of test prints before then rising up to “start” the overall composition. This is one place where the movie fell down a bit–film is the perfect medium to show this kind of movement, to show the poetics of cavepainting displayed in the shoulders, hips, and hands. It doesn’t have to be a fur-clad reenactor (as appears later on) to convey the physicality of painting in a cave.

Beyond the red palm prints were the more figurative paintings of horses and buffalo, of panthers and oxen, and some that suggest birds or butterflies. Again, this is the most successful part of the movie, as the joy of discovery and the wonder of the figures is translated through the eye of the camera. The camera follows the folds of the cave, the horses spring into action and my heart started beating faster. There was much discussion of this movement and the possible interplay of light and shadow and of the possible authorship of the paintings. A part of me was listening, but it was difficult, as I felt the fuzzy muzzles of the ponies in the palm of my hand and the calm repose of the lions sitting, flirting, and finally loping across the walls of the cave. The charcoal and etching of the paintings was heart-stoppingly fresh-looking, and I thrilled at the marks of a torch being refreshed against one of the walls, bits of charcoal still in situ beneath. Geologists and Paleontologists will enjoy checking out the amazing rock formations and the gorgeously preserved skeletons of cave bears, in probably the most exquisitely filmed display of bones scattered on a cave floor ever.

After this opening sequence, the movie’s pace and timing became erratic. We meet the researcher who laser scanned the cave (though of more interest were his dreams about lions and his background in circus performing–beware the Herzog interview, fair scientist!) and an aforementioned fur-clad fellow playing the Star Spangled Banner on a reconstructed pipe. Overall, the team working on Chauvet cave kept their cards relatively close to their chest, which was probably prudent considering Herzog’s penchant for insane interpretive leaps, but it did make me a bit sad as there was a real chance for near epic levels of outreach here. It was fair on their part, as Herzog makes a plunge into Mother Goddess territory, highlighting a possible vulva on a stalactite possibly paired with an ox, which he parallels to the Greek myth of the Minotaur, jumping tens of thousands of years into the future. I am tempted here to extend his metaphor and post a photo of one of my girlfriends in a Texas Longhorns t-shirt, but will refrain. Let’s not be ridiculous, now.

There are long sequences of throbbing, jangled classical music and sweeping views of the cave in proper 3D, with a better camera and a long arm, but I found these a bit dull and over-wrought. The discovery sequences were far superior in preserving the phenomenology of cave as experienced by humans, whereas these later, better-filmed sequences were crystallized moonscapes, devoid of people. At the end, Herzog finally goes off the rails entirely, bringing us to a nuclear power plant and some albino alligators that he somehow relates to our experience of seeing the art of ancient humans and our current possibly degraded (non-spear-throwing) existence. It’s a great quote with absolutely no basis in reality–the albino alligators were not mutated by the nuclear power plant, it’s a natural genetic occurrence.

Overall, the film was a lovely excursion into Chauvet Cave–something that most of us will never experience. One of the things I love the most about being an archaeologist is that you get a backstage pass to the world. As much as I can, I try to share that insider’s view into archaeology, but there are some things that are closed, even to the most famous of archaeologists (of which I am certainly not one). I would love to figure out a way to get that golden ticket, an invite into Chauvet Cave, but a 3D movie from Werner Herzog is the next best thing. Filmed exquisitely, passionately, with great fire and expression, I feel like I can overlook the oddities introduced into the narrative and recommend this wholeheartedly, to anyone who has ever wanted that elusive golden ticket.

Blogging Archaeology – Afterwords

Kris was waiting for me at the Starbucks in the Convention Center a couple of hours before the session. We were in the same session together at the SAA in 2007, when I urged my fellow archaeologists to use spatially-aware social media for outreach and she had enthusiastically supported me in her comments on my paper–it was good to see her again! I was a little late because I wanted to see Randy McGuire’s talk in the Activism in Archaeology session. (Thought provoking, but there is a fundamental disconnect rampant in public outreach and archaeology that I’ve been dared to blog about. We’ll see if I get up the courage.)

We chatted about the upcoming session and I groggily admitted that I had depleted most of my resources just to get to the conference, but after some coffee and a sandwich I was ready. I usually like to check out the room ahead of schedule and spend some time getting to know the space. I stood at the mic and welcomed an empty room to the Blogging Archaeology session at the meeting for the Society for American Archaeology.

The session participants began to show up and I told them the routine, asked if they had any questions, then spent a bit of time making sure Shawn Graham’s presentation would work. We didn’t have any computer speakers so the wonderful Sacramento Convention Center AV staff member (Hi Max! Thanks!!) gave us an extra-long mic cord that I held next to my computer for the talk.

And the show began.

The speakers were beyond excellent. They gave compelling, intelligent and surprisingly funny talks about the place of blogging in archaeology. The energy in the room was great and our audience stayed with us–I was in the front most of the time, but I did a quick headcount and came up with about 75 people in the room early in the session. Later it would grow to 100-125 and I spotted the friendly faces of colleagues, students, and my former CRM boss! Whispers went around–was that John Hawks in the audience?

A summary of the papers seems unnecessary because the whole session was live-tweeted, the results of which have been collated by @archaeologist at Storify and Shawn Graham and John Lowe have posted their papers online. Needless to say, I believe that between the blog carnival and the strong session presentation and discussion, we have a firm foundation to pursue publication.

As the community has become self-aware, some have taken it upon themselves to implement key questions and interests that were raised by the carnival and session.

Past Thinking has published a list of archaeology blogs, along with a bundle in Google Reader for the RSS-dependent like myself.

Alun Salt has expanded on the idea of a group blog – this is essential reading for bloggers who are interested in the possibility. The carnival was harder work and took longer than I anticipated, and editing a group blog would only amplify the amount of work and attention necessary to create a quality outcome.

Thank you so much to everyone who participated in this timely and essential conversation about the place of the short form in archaeology.

Blogging Archaeology – Week 5 & Finished!

From Terminal 3 in Heathrow, between Mulberry and TGIFriday, here’s the last edition of Blogging Archaeology. Our SAA session in in a couple of days and I’ll be covering it (and probably the rest of the SAA) on twitter: check #blogarch or http://twitter.com/clmorgan for updates.

Last week I was prompted to ask about possible outcomes of this conversation, after several participants expressed interest in publication:

For our last question, I would like to ask you to consider the act of publication for this blog carnival. How could we best capture the interplay, the multimedia experience of blogging as a more formalized publication? What would be the best outcome for this collection of insights from archaeological bloggers?

First, I recommend reading the comments on last week’s entry, where Jonathan Jarrett from tenthmedieval discusses the electronic publication of blogs, noting that it is considered the lowest form of publication because it is considered transient. This is a good point, and one well taken. Jonathan also questions peer review of blogs–after so much speculation regarding peer-reviewed blogging, I think that an experiment might be in order. I will likely bring this up during the blogging session, if we have time to chat.

Shawn, the Electric Archaeologist provides a few good reference links about “the relationship between blogging and other academic forms of discourse” and makes the good point that the best outcome for many of us would be a refereed publication. I wonder if there is a middle ground available for us here, something that would satisfy both the academic community and be digital, open, and more suitable to the conversational tone of blogging.

Bill Caraher from The New Archaeology of the Mediterranean World has been giving me great feedback via email and contributes to the conversation by offering some observations about publishing Blogging Archaeology in a traditional manner. He specifically cites transmedia dialogue, that is, “the interaction between various forms of web-based media” as well as that between digital and paper media. He also makes the excellent point that as archaeologists we are attuned contextual shifts and translating meaning from physical objects into “the more elusive realm of practice, social structure economic organization, and political life” and so we should be able to negotiate the structure and meaning of blogs to some other media.  He suggests that we build a blog catalog with an eye toward the archive, which I heartily endorse. I wonder if we could build upon Shawn’s network of interconnection to create this catalog. There are several other insights in his blog post–I highly recommend a wander over his way to check his post out.

Matt Law suggests that we check out the Archaeological Record, the SAA publication as a possible format, and perhaps that peer review is not the best format. Publication is an unexpected outcome for him, but he hopes that any results will be published quickly and that it will “embrace the informality” of blogging. Bill’s comments on the post are worth checking out as well.

Passim in Passing (who has remixed the logo each week to a horror-show theme) is happy to have found other blogs and suggests that we might be able to offer “text summaries alongside some visual mapping of the responses” – I would hope this as well–visualization tools are so close and so adaptable that it is worthwhile to try to do something creative, building on Shawn’s cool graph. Hmmm.

Doug’s Archaeology was also caught off-guard, and notes that his page view count has gone up considerably, though it might result from a post about Lew Binford’s health. He encourages other bloggers to consider the consequences of blogging and to make sure to have a polished and up-to-date CV–which reminds me, mine is woefully outdated and badly formatted.

Dig Girl makes the great point that a formal publication would “go against the very virtues of blogging that many in this carnival have been rallying around: flexibility, informality, and dialog.” She feels the same though, that the “experience has been a unique one that warrants some kind of formal and creative documentation.” She also points out that there is a discussion of archival of RSS feeds, noting that “perhaps one day your rambling posts could end up automatically archived on a progressive digital library system.” Amazing stuff!

MSU’s blog answered as a group for this edition–they too suggest the Archaeological Record, with online hosting from the SAA. There was also the suggestion of a blogroll, which I think makes sense. I try to keep my links updated, but there might be a better place for this than on just one individual’s blog. Thank you very much for mustering such a strong response every week, MSU!

John at Where in the Hell Am I? also likes the idea of a publication in the SAA’s Archaeological Record and hopes that more archaeologists might consider starting a blog as a result. He also would like for CRM to be more open to blogging and notes that the people in his office don’t consider his participation at the SAA in a blogging session to be “particularly valuable.” This is frustrating and as John says, “perpetuates the view of CRM as small-scale and unable to be involved in big-picture ideas.” I would also encourage John’s bosses to check out the incredible public education and outreach that Wessex Archaeology is continuing to do in the digital realm.

Michael Smith at Publishing Archaeology is not sold on publication of the Blogging Archaeology conversation, and brings up the two very good questions: Who is the audience? and What is the purpose? He wonders if such a publication would alleviate the “blog-cluelessness” among influential archaeologists. I too am unsure about this and about the potential audience. His questions are good ones, and only answered in part by the participants in the Blogging Carnival. I look forward to his paper at the SAA–I’m sure it will push us to produce something that is both inventive but also useful to the profession.

Alun Salt reacts to these points and wonders if a digital-only publication would be ignored by the “blog-clueless,” and provides a model in Holtorf and Karlsson’s recent Philosophy and Archaeological Practice. I’ll have to check it out, but I wonder, if blogging is a shout in the digital dark, what better is a collected volume? This is obviously a collaborative product, and I wonder if separating this conversations into chapters would not be the best transmedia approach. It would preserve some authorship at perhaps the expense of interactivity and informality. Alun wasn’t forcefully arguing the point–I think one of the most interesting outcomes of this blog carnival could be a brave new publication standard–not that I’m holding my breath.

Terry Brock at Dirt wonders about using Anthologize, but also perhaps having a collaborative blog. I like the idea of a “home base” and I would be happy to contribute posts toward such a thing. Building a community is a happy outcome of this session, and now has a community that has become self-aware, perhaps it’s time to make others aware of us.

Throughout the carnival I thought about contributing my own posts, but it was a true pleasure to collate and react to the reactions of others–so much so that by the time I was finished reading and reacting, most of my thoughts on the subject had been covered! As the organizer/instigator I am extraordinarily pleased at the nuanced responses that the carnival has attracted. We will discuss this further at the SAAs, and I will do my best to report this conversation. Also, I hope to move forward with the following points:

1) Catching the network/Archiving the conversation - listing/archiving and keywording the responses would be a boon to any further work or conceptualization of the carnival as a particular moment in time that can be referenced and built upon.

2) Blogroll – Building a central place that would serve as an RSS feed and maintained list of links would be a fantastic idea. I think it would also serve a great place for…

3) …Peer-review for blog posts – While it would be a drag (in my opinion) to have every single one of my posts go through a vetting process, I think there should be a mechanism for peer-review. My thoughts are that it should be an open review, such as a google document, and comment would be asked from both bloggers/digital archaeologists and peers drawn from the subject matter. After the blog post has passed this process, it would receive a “stamp” and a link back from the central site, with a particular note that this post is peer reviewed. Much like the “research blogging” phenomenon, this would provide readers (the blog-clueless, in particular) a venue for receiving vetted blog posts and would perhaps draw the non-blogging peer-reviewers into the conversation without necessitating their hosting/maintaining their own blog.

I’ll see many of you at the SAA–I have to catch my plane!

Blogging Archaeology – Week 3

The Ides of March edition of Blogging Archaeology is finally here, coming to you from the inside of a sand-tornado. First, a few stragglers from week one:

Alun Salt broadens the question to include other disciplines, linking to several interesting blog posts from our colleagues in Botany and the History of Science. He emphasizes that the comments that we can receive with blogging are similar to feedback at conferences, that is, short and to the point. Though in my experience most conferences don’t leave time for this Q&A–the papers run too long and most people just want to be out of there, sadly.

Bill Caraher, who has written one of the earliest and best pieces about blogging in archaeology, states that blogging is a tool, “neither specifically short-form or long-form, and is probably at the ragged edge of being anything at all except a piece of software running on a server and accessible via the web.” (I would take up the point that many former zine writers, myself included, turned to blogging as an easier-than-kinkos way to extend their genre and distribute an “alternative” voice, perhaps a point I should elaborate on in another post.) I especially appreciate his comparison to former “academic correspondence” or notes–Dan and I have discussed publication of sites as a series of letters, much in the way that Rosemary Joyce explored this genre in The Languages of Archaeology.

The second question, in short, the consequences of blogging, brought in a huge response again. In asking this I was hoping to start a conversation about sharing and the still-secret arcane archaeological knowledge that we must still keep to ourselves in the digital age.

We’ll start with John Lowe, our resident CRM archaeologist at Where in the hell am I? who manages the difficult balancing act between acting in the interest of the public and working in the professional sphere. The clearest consequence of blogging for him is “having the food taken out of my mouth.” He also has to confront artifact looters who could use the information that he posts to raid sensitive archaeological sites. Fortunately he uses this engagement as an “educational opportunity” and “a chance to create a steward.”

Shawn at The Electric Archaeologist provides some excellent insights about the positive feedback loop that blogging creates, and how this can change the blog (and the blog writer). He also mentions blogging as a way to document failure, something I hadn’t thought much about. I’m about to write a report on negative findings, so I should keep it in mind.

Mick Morrison and Terry Brock have similar responses, urging academics early in their careers to maintain an air of professionalism. Terry Brock extends this argument, reminding us that we “represent something bigger than yourself” as we speak for our universities, professional organizations, and various archaeological projects. I should probably re-read these posts next time I feel like grumbling about line-levels or when a publication goes awry. I worry a bit about blogs losing personality or interest though. There’s a big trend toward “research blogging,” or blogging journal papers that you’ve read and while I’ve done some of that myself, I like to hear about what people are researching themselves, and all of the quirks that go along with that process. Pure research or news blogs without a personality attached is, well, boring. Not that either of the blogs I’ve linked go down that road, thankfully.

Michael Smith acknowledges these risks, even stating that he won’t discuss impacts of blogging regarding “agencies and governments that are responsible for funding and overseeing archaeological research.” There is another side of risk though, that of disappointment from lack of interest or readership. His new blog on comparative urbanism looks fascinating though–I don’t think he’ll be let down. When I get two seconds I look forward to reading his take on Black Rock City. See you on the Playa, Michael?

I was chuffed that Johan Normark at Archaeological Haecceities, whom I specifically referenced in the second week’s question, elaborated on his ongoing conversation with 2012 folks. While 2012 has brought a lot of traffic to his blog (moreso, he states, than discussions of archaeological theory) Johan has had to develop a certain finesse in dealing with particular branch of public outreach. People passionately believe in the 2012 misinformation and they “get upset about the way I (Johan) debunk these ideas. They feel that I am patronizing, that I think I am better than them, that I am fooled by academia itself.” He also mentions getting abusive comments and emails from an astrologer. I think we all owe Johan a beer for taking on this monster of a task–I could not have done it so tactfully, that’s for sure. Johan also elaborates on his posts regarding archaeological theory and how there are very few responses from his fellow Mayanists or archaeologists in general. It’d be interesting to start an archaeological theory blogging discussion group–I’d try to write a post or two and comment.

Matthew Law and Brenna at Passim in Passing delve into some of the specifics of research that are unbloggable. Similar to John’s experience of working in CRM in the US, Matt states “I may be an archaeologist who believes passionately in public access to heritage, but I’m also a paid professional representative of the developer and while fieldwork is ongoing, that has to win out.” Matt also mentions a British archaeologist who was fired for tweeting about low pay, even though she didn’t mention her employer’s name. Brenna’s research is in bioarchaeology, so she has a very specific list of things that she cannot divulge, such as no photos of bones later in age than 1550 and no “video, photos, or recording of ‘behind the scenes’ mystery areas where analysis takes place.” Bioarchaeology is a particular minefield for public access and social media right now–this would probably be an interesting publication if one was so inclined.

Ryan Anderson at Ethnografix (whom I owe a way overdue email) approaches the question from a visual standpoint, “specifically posting photographs that potentially reveal sensitive information.” While Ryan is studying cultural anthropology, he worked on various CRM projects and relates his experience as a photographer and archaeologist in the field. While he had his camera and took photos, he “didn’t post all that much online, for some very specific reasons.” This is a particular issue in archaeology, and he tried to avoid landmarks in his photographs, posting generalized landscape shots. I see this a lot–either very large overviews, or very tight-in shots without context. Interesting that a profession so very obsessed with context will willfully annihilate that context in their documentation. I’ve spent the better part of a week looking for a site that was intentionally mis-marked on a map, but that’s a story for an upcoming post.

Sara Perry reminds us that all media is a risky endeavor, and that by focusing on blogs alone she is “concerned that we are all-too-conveniently avoiding discussion of the limitations and indeed prejudices of other modes of publication.” Publication in archaeology writ large is an incredibly fertile and interesting topic (see Michael Smith, for starters) and I would love the opportunity to push the boundaries and question our assumptions in practice. Blogging is proving to be such an expansive territory to explore–we might have to stick to the short form for now and use it to subvert other publishing paradigms.

Catherine at Dig Girl highlights the transparency that blogs lend, and how this can be scary for researchers. Many, she says, “are scared to be ‘called out’ on poor research plans or methodology.” This, as she states, undermines our ability to be reflexive and “it needs to be acceptable within the field to point out the shortcomings in our approaches.” I can’t agree more, and consider the taboo surrounding the discussion of field methodology to be frustrating and disheartening. I would also agree with her characterizing the short form (blog writing) as “an outlet for thought processes and emotional reactions” and while publishing on a blog certainly has a certain form of permanence (see the MSU response), you can change your mind on the blog and restate your argument or opinions, unlike academic publishing. If the reader chooses to only pay attention to your earlier beliefs without following up on the often hyperlinked revisions, it is their failure in understanding, not your failure to communicate. Her final point, the illusion of dialog in blogging, will be addressed in this week’s question below!

Bill Caraher at The New Archaeology of the Mediterranean World finishes us off here, sharing his manual for student contributions at the Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project–excellent guidelines to follow for most archaeology project blogging. I wrote something less elaborate but similar for Dhiban in 2009, but a lot of the considerations are specific to the politics of antiquities in Jordan. Bill makes the excellent note that “if an archaeological projet does not blog or maintain a presence in the digital world, that project is basically ceding a significant aspect of their public face to other people.” In fact, it’s so excellent I’m gonna put it in bold. Be the loudest voice in the room. Tell people about your findings before they use them to misrepresent the past. It’s pretty simple, really.

Finally, the gang at MSU sum it up for us, urging to “wield their (bloggers’) public power for the greater good” (Katy Meyers). I was happy to hear from Chris Stawski that the Campus Archaeology program protects their bloggers and provides the “wonderful, albeit unique, situation in which we can share details about our research and excavations to the public; so unique that we can use blogging and social media to show in real-time where we are, what we are digging, and what we are finding.” It’d be nice if all digs were like that–radical transparency would be a bit scary, but refreshing. Lynne Goldstein backs up Terry’s response, reinforcing the institutional link to project blogging and the importance of representing the complexities of any potentially problematic situation. She also goes on to restate an ongoing theme–a candidate up for a job at MSU had “posts and photos that our faculty member found offensive and potentially unethical” and the candidate was eliminated from the job pool. This is obviously scary as hell, but I really hope that it does not encourage greater anonymity in blogging. This is exactly what the academic blogging world does not need. Kristin Sewell lays out ten rules of blogging–I agree with much of them, but part of me hopes that we’re not becoming blogging robots, thinking only of our careers and not speaking truth to power. As always, I suppose it all depends on what your goals are. Grace Krause makes the point that a good blog marries scholarly information with an attractive, engaging presentation. Specifically, “a blog that encourages creative thinking instead of endless facts and dominant opinions will be far more likely to reach a greater audience.”

I’m happy to end on this note, as this post has become tl;dr.  Thanks again for all of the outstanding responses, and I apologize that this is a bit late. Also, I apologize if I’ve left anyone out–if so, please email me the link to your post.

Catherine’s response at Dig Girl has provided this week’s question. She writes, “A final downside to the short form is the appearance of dialog. Noting this virtual round table and other blogs (like MS) as exceptions, most archaeological blogs that I read have very little in the way of dialog through comments. Often on this blog, I feel like I am talking to myself, which in a way is catharsis, but if an archaeology blogger writes and no one reacts, are we really changing opinions or moving the field forward?” I would add to this, how do you attract readership? Without too much in the way of SEO chatter, who is your audience and how to you interact with this audience? What do you want out of interactivity by means of blogging about archaeology?

Time-lapse Excavation at Hammerfest, Norway

I was delighted to find this video of a time-lapse excavation performed by the Tromsø Museum of a turf and stone structure from the 1700s. What really makes this video is the graphic in the corner of where the camera is located and the overall plan of the structure, highlighting what is being excavated. It transforms what looks like a bunch of workers shuffling around rocks in the mud into something inteligible. This is the translation of the video description I got in Google Translate from the original Norwegian:

Time-lapse of the excavations on the structure of S5 in the period 9.6. -21.7.2010. The structure is constructed dwellings of turf and stone. The shape of the structure implies a dichotomy where one part may have been a timber construction and the other part a hut construction. On the inside of the thick sod walls were found neverlag in different levels (see eg.Context 102). Remains of buildings is mainly dated to the 1700s, but can extend down to 1600 – the number and up to 1800’s.  Time-lapse footage shows the last part of the excavation, where the scroll. chimney, walls, entrances and some luck are being put excavated / removed. Towards the end of the grave none appeared a rock pit in one wall of the house, where the fill, context 118 and 128, were removed.

Video from the archaeological excavations in Cut Vika and Vika Mountains, Hammerfest, performed by the Tromsø Museum, University Museum.

 

Excellent video and a fairly easy way to help the audience see the archaeology.

A quick, unrelated note:

Thanks again for everyone who commented on the previous entry about health and safety. I’ve long wanted to make a series of videos or comics to make boring topics such as OSHA compliance easy to understand, but when to find the time?

Blogging Archaeology – Week 2

There was a remarkable response to this first question–thanks to everyone who took the time to reply. The posts are outstanding and I will do my best to summarize and synthesize the responses, but please click through and read the posts in their entirety; they are worth it!

Terry Brock’s excellent discussion of blogging as public archaeology emphasizes the connection between the public and real archaeologists, specifically taking “the public ‘behind the scenes’ in ways that couldn’t be done before, and it combats misinformation and educates people about the importance of our discipline.” John Hawks liked Terry’s answer enough to highlight the “person attached” aspect of blogging and archaeological expertise.

The discussion was expanded to the MSU Campus Archaeology Program’s blog, where five bloggers contributed wide-ranging insights. Kat Meyers takes up blogging as a way of “throwing your ideas into the academic community” where “your work is open to criticism and debate.” Chris Stawski celebrates this openness, and hopes that blogging is not forced down a “more traditional path” with referred posts. Kristin Sewell takes up Terry’s points by calling the internet the best Who Wants to be a Millionaire “‘phone a friend’ lifeline anyone could ask for.” She also makes the point that writing every day is the best way to improve your writing and that presenting your ideas to a critical audience gives the chance for them to be published and reviewed by people who would otherwise not know of your existence. Lynne Goldstein, Director of Campus Archaeology at MSU has found that people are so engaged with social media that “when we complain that it is cold, folks even bring us coffee!” Perhaps the most material gain I’ve seen from blogging so far! Finally, for Grace Krause, “blogging represents a missing link in the academic though process that was rares seen before the rising popularity of digital media.” Another great quote, “blog entries are polaroid pictures of archaeological ideas, instant and unpolished, but nevertheless the perfect way to watch those ideas germinate and develop over time.” I can see that one going into a publication or three.

Over at Dig Girl, Catherine compares blogging to classic mass-market publications in archaeology, books such as Nineveh and Its Remains and Ur of the Chaldees that captured the imaginations of many generations of people. While these books added an undeniable mystique to archaeological fieldwork, they also “provided a window into the excavator’s thoughts and initial interpretations about the ancient sites and civilizations he was uncovering.” She sees the short-form as “a resurgence of this type of publishing, one that simultaneously promotes public outreach and transparency in the archaeological process.”

Michael Smith is skeptical of blogging (sorry, I didn’t come up with the term “blog carnival”–maybe I should have called it a public forum?) and I appreciate his contribution, despite his misgivings! While he finds it “pretty clear that the best use of blogs in archaeology is to communicate information to a range of audiences beyond professional scholars” and “some kinds of professional information (as opposed to scholarly findings) among scholars,” he is more dubious about blogging as a way to advance research in our field. With all the world-changing proclamations that accompany most digital media research, it is good to have a wary and incisive moderating voice in the discussion.

While Michael Smith is a well-published and established archaeologist, Sara Perry is of my “generation” of scholars–finishing up graduate work (in her case, finished! Congrats!) and exploring the world of academic publishing. She reads blogs “for inspiration and as a means to take the pulse of contemporary concerns in archaeology (and beyond)” and views blogging as “a forum to allow new practitioners a voice’ a venue to enable emerging archaeological thinkers to press outside of the traditional, highly-controlled, paper-bound publication format and in-so-doing to rethink the communication and creation of archaeological knowledge.”

John Lowe at Where in the Hell Am I directly addresses blogging in the professional sector, noting that while most of his work is paid for by the public and is in the interest of protecting the nation’s cultural resources, what he does is mostly misunderstood or flies completely beneath the radar. He blogs “so the public can understand what I do, why it’s done, and why it matters.” Public archaeology is generally discouraged in professional archaeology and yet professional archaeologists make up the majority of working archaeologists and their working knowledge of their surroundings is an incredible resource.

Brenna at Passim in Passing is defending her thesis soon–good luck to her!–but took a bit of time to re-state her original founding post, that blogs provide an “informal format” that “means that the tone is conversational, rather than pedantic” and that doesn’t “demand a million-dollar subscription to an academic journal.” She also links to our friend Anies’ video, which is a good look at English professional archaeology:

While she doesn’t state it explicitly, I think that it displays the vitality that multimedia blogging can bring to archaeology. Weaving together words and photos, videos and 3D reconstructions while hyperlinking to sources more explicitly displays the “remix” nature of knowledge production within archaeology.

Finally, Shawn Graham, the ever-excellent Electric Archaeologist makes a particularly relevant point, blogging is exhausting. After nearly a thousand words dedicated to this week’s carnival, I’m inclined to agree! He compares blogging to grinding, that is, playing aspects of a game that are repetitive or boring for access to other features within the game. This is a bit of a grim reality check–for us to be noticed, to drown out ‘bad’ signals with good, you most post constantly. While Shawn is absolutely right in terms of getting page hits, I think that I’ll probably stop blogging when it becomes a grind. It will be an interesting point to discuss at the SAA.

Whew! It will take me some time to digest all of the responses, but I appreciate people taking the time to read and really discuss blogging’s “work” in archaeology.

If I missed you, please send (or re-send) me the link to your post directly. WordPress picks up most ping-backs, but not all of them, especially if they aren’t clicked through. Thanks to everyone who linked or tweeted the carnival, commented on a post, or contributed!

The question for this week is a bit long, sorry!

In our last question, many emphasized the public access that blogging brings to archaeology, the option to “phone a friend,” as Kristin Sewell stated. Blogging gives new scholars a chance to speak out, to debunk 2012 foolishness and to give a little bit back to the public that usually signs our paychecks in one way or another. Though it is generally embraced (says she of the Berkeley bubble!), public outreach can be incredibly difficult, tricky, and prone to hidden downsides. Blogging archaeology is often fraught with tensions that are sometimes not immediately apparent. Beyond the general problems that come with performing as a public intellectual, what risks do archaeologists take when they make themselves available to the public via blogging? What (if any) are the unexpected consequences of blogging? How do you choose what to share?