Category Archives: Texas

Bug Stories.


After all of the horrible, dense, theoretical verbiage I’ve had to toss at the screen today, I got in the mood for a little storytelling, inspired by an exchange on twitter. Every archaeologist has their own bug stories, so I’ll share a few of mine. I’ve worked in a few places in the world, and each has their own array of flora and fauna. I run a strict no-kill policy in my trenches. Spiders, snakes, lizards, worms, we get it all, and I do my best to carefully move them to another place. I’ve also had goats, puppies, cows, raccoons, cats, and mice in my trenches, but we’ll stay away from the mammals for now. (Also a rather creepy set of barefoot human footprints on a restricted site that did not appear at all outside the trench…yeah.)

I did my first field work in Texas, where there are an uncommon quantity and quality of bugs. There are the generalized menace bugs, such as horseflies, ticks, centipedes, chiggers, and fire ants and these are pretty much a fact of life. Add that to poison oak, poison ivy, heat stroke, and the fact that every single goddamn plant south of Austin is sharp, it can make survey pretty miserable. There’s a plant called crucifixion thorn that doesn’t even have leaves, only thorns…and the horse cripplers and the bull nettles. But again, I’m not here to talk about plants.

I was working with John Lowe (was it the Siren site?) when I got a mean set of chiggers. Chiggers aren’t well known to the rest of the world, but they’re mean little mites that like to burrow through your socks and give you a terribly itchy bite. They burrow into your skin, eat a little bit of you, and then fall back out again. They tend to leave horrible mountains of puss on me…not so pleasant. The next day me and my co-worker Tina stumbled into a seed tick nest, which makes you look like a poppy seed bagel, all covered in tiny little black spots that are biting you. When I got back to my hotel room I picked them off. I stopped counting at 70. Finally, I got bitten by a spider while riding in the site vehicle back to the office, which left an egg-sized welt on my inner wrist.

A few days later, big lumps started forming all along my shins and upper arms. I ignored it until my joints started seizing up and I couldn’t walk anymore.  I went to the doctor and it was one of those things where they started calling in more and more people to check me out. Turns out I got Erythema nodosum, an autoimmune response, in my case, to “excessive envenomation.”

One more story, and I’ll call it a night. I have to get back to the ol’ dissertation. There’s a lot of spiders around, including the pregnant camel spider I have pictured above (it’s actually a bit small for a camel spider), the bright green spiders that come out alongside your trench when it’s over 100F, and the baby tarantulas that are in tunnels they burrow in the ground and flop out wetly into your trench when you accidentally expose them. I was at another site in South Texas, lovely site, basically a riverbed with lovely cherty gravels and some questionable paleoindian artifacts mixed in. I’m afraid that my employer didn’t get their full day of work from me, as I spent at least a solid hour watching a tarantula fight a tarantula hawk. Tarantula hawks are large wasps that like to find tarantulas and paralyze them, drag them back into their nest, and lay their eggs in their still-living bodies. Pretty cool stuff.

This dance lasted a long time, the tarantula waving its front legs around, trying to run away, the gorgeous black and russet wasp diving in again and again. Finally, the wasp got behind it and I could see the tarantula twitching as it was stung with the long stinger. The wasp dragged the tarantula for what seemed like ages. I’d go and sort rocks and then come back and the thing was still dragging the big hairy spider around. Finally it disappeared somewhere, I’m assuming the burrow, and all was peaceful again.

A lot of people will kill bugs first thing when they see them, and I slap mosquitos and fire ants like anyone else. But checking out a preying mantis, or those ridiculous big black beetles as big as your thumb that would turn over on their backs and just helplessly twitch at Catalhoyuk, finding a ridiculous looking caterpillar, being tasted by butterflies…it’s just another reason I love archaeology. Bitey, evil bugs and all.

The Real Technology of Indiana Jones

By Deeveepix on Flickr

By Deeveepix on Flickr

It’s here!  I’m getting ready to go to Austin, TX to speak on a panel at South by Southwest, an annual music conference that has grown to include film and interactive media.  When I lived in Austin I would go check out hundreds of bands that were playing all over town, but this will be my first time to attend the interactive conference.  This is the first panel dealing with digital archaeology to appear at the conference, and I’m excited to be a part of it.  If you happen to be going to the conference, the panel is on Monday, March 16th, at 11:30 in Room B.
Title: The Real Technology of Indiana Jones

Organizer:
Adam Rabinowitz, University of Texas at Austin
Panelists:
Stuart Eve (University College London), Bernard Frischer (Rome Reborn), Colleen Morgan (University of California at Berkeley), Adam Rabinowitz, moderator (University of Texas)
Description:
Archaeologists no longer rely on whips and fedoras; they now use a range of sophisticated digital tools to collect information in the field and study it in the lab. Too often, though, this wealth of information meets the same fate as Indy’s discoveries, locked away in digital ‘warehouses’ where no one can see it. The archaeologists on this panel present different projects that use web platforms and open-source approaches to bring digital archaeology out of the warehouse and into the public eye. Learn how archaeologists are using interactive media to open their data and processes to the public; discuss the creation of an online archaeological community in Second Life; and explore ancient cities across space and time using publicly-available online tools.

//sxsw.com)

Telerobotics and Archaeology

While doing some reading for my dissertation, I came across a reference in The Robot and the Garden to the Mercury Project, an art installation based out of USC in 1994-95.  The Mercury Project was co-directed by Ken Goldberg and Michael Mascha, the former now being at UC Berkeley, and with whom I took a class two years ago as part of my designated emphasis in New Media. Telerobotics is controlling robots at a distance, like the Mars rovers or those remote hunting websites that were in the news a few years ago.  As a side note, the main website for remote hunting no longer exists and the Texas legislature passed a ban on such activities in 2005. Lo, marginalia.

Anyway, the installation involved a robotic arm and a pneumatic puffer that WWW users could use to remotely excavate objects in a sand-filled terrarium.  The buried artifacts included a watch, a pipe, a lock, and other objects inspired by Verne’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth.  As they state on their webpage, “we viewed the process of discovering artifacts as a metaphor for the Internet itself.  Choosing artifacts with some ‘underlying logic’ presented a challenge for collective interaction which motivated users to return to the site.”  While this all emphasizes archaeology as a rather Victorian, fantastic enterprise, I’m still pretty chuffed that the first example of telerobotics on the web was an archaeologist.

For those with academic access, here’s a link to the article in Computer Networks and ISDN Systems.

3 Year Snakebite Anniversary

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My friend John (nickname: “Lucky”) is celebrating his third year since he was bitten by a rattlesnake on a survey. We were in Brownsville, investigating a possible Mexican-American War battleground/retreat path:

It was lunchtime, and Tina and Colleen went with Rigden down the road to a gas station to use the bathroom. I decided to walk down a two-track along the railroad, far enough from the road to pee in private. While walking back, I noticed some stuff lying under a prickly pear cactus and decided to check it out (it was a pile of clothes).
Suddenly, several things happened at once. I felt a sharp, burning pain in my left ankle. I heard a rattle. I glanced out of the corner of my eye and saw a rattlesnake, mouth open, retreating from a bite. I realized that I was in mid-air, jumping sideways away from the snake, totally subconsciously. And then it hit me: I had just been bitten by a rattlesnake!

For the rest of the story, go here:

http://whereinthehellami.blogspot.com/

Happy anniversary, John!  And wear your snake guards!

End of an Ear

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See, I do print media too.

If you’re ever in Austin, check out End of an Ear, one of the few remaining great record stores.

I’m having an incredibly wonderful holiday–I hope all y’all are having the same.

PS: Anyone have advice on dealing with family/artifacts?  I keep having a couple of them bring me artifacts to look at and I tell them to leave them be, to no avail.  It’s not illegal (they’re from private property) but it’s still non-ideal, to say the least.  I’ve even told them that I can’t look at them.  Darned hard-headed Texans.

Texas, Home

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Pamuk, when asked about the allegations of “insulting Turkishness” brought against him, quoted Adorno: “It is part of morality not to be at home in one’s home”. It is necessary to critique the culture in which you are the most comfortable–it’s a fairly basic lesson in reflexivity, but one that can make you an absolute bore at parties. Striking a balance between the voracious intellectual appetite for incisive commentary and telling good stories over beer can be tough, and I’ve seen a lot of people fail miserably at it.

And, sometimes, it feels pretty damn amazing to let go and love home. I don’t quite have the gall to count myself as one of Said’s ‘exiles’, able to look at home with detachment, especially as my ‘exile’ has been self-imposed and has only served to make me appreciate Texas all the more. Now I have a more certain metric to measure this love-of-place.

All the intellectualizing aside, it was amazing to be with my adopted ‘family’ again, eating funnel cakes, drinking beer, and listening to a bunch of bands in the big yellow Texas sunshine. I borrowed a big cadillac from an old lady and had to clean out the guns and prescription pills before driving it around. Out of all the bands I saw (New Pornographers, Okkervil River, White Denim, Explosions in the Sky, Of Montreal, Final Fantasy, The Sword, Sick of it All, Madball, Neurosis, Angry Samoans, Battalion of Saints, Witchcraft, Girl Talk, Battles, Mates of State, Ted Leo & the Pharmacists, I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness, Against Me, Riverboat Gamblers, Youth Brigade, Murder City Devils, Poison Idea, The Saints, Diplo, MC Chris, Clap! Clap!, Ocote Soul Sound) the two bands from Texas were the best, and I stood to watch them with my fellow Austinites–scruffy, black-clad, tattooed compatriots, holding cans of Tecate in beer koozies–and I found myself wondering, for the millionth time, if that was enough.

Nope. Not yet. But it’s still home.