Category Archives: video

A-Z Archaeology Films: The Antikythera Mechanism: Decoding an Ancient Greek Mystery

Title: The Antikythera Mechanism: Decoding an Ancient Greek Mystery
Year: 
2008
Length: 14 minutes 
Made by:
  McMillian Publishers Ltd. 
Genre:
 expository 
Authors:
Martin Freeth worked for the BBC, but is now producing short documentary films for Nature and the British Medical Journal as well as corporate clients.

Sadly, the video seems to be broken on The Archaeology Channel, so I watched it at this slightly disturbingly named website:

https://shootingpeople.org/watch/54489/the-antikythera-mechanism-decoding-an-a

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Nothing like starting your film with a citation. So this film appears to be an overview of an article about…you guessed it…The Antikythera Mechanism in Nature. Cool.

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Oooh, nice CG of whirly clockwork things inside the mechanism. Nature must have a capital-B Budget. Of course they do! And the the professional narrator tells us that the video is timely–it tells us about the time table for the earliest Olympics.

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Possibly a relation of Martin Freeth, our filmmaker? Anyway, Tony is one of the authors of the paper, and according to his website, a mathematician and filmmaker.

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No beards yet, but just LOOK at this photo of Derek de Solla Price. The very soul of an academic. He’s a physicist, by the way. So far we have an astronomer (Mike Edmunds, a mathematician and a physicist checking this thing out. Anyway, de Solla Price figured out the basics of how the mechanism worked, but now we have…BIGGER AND BETTER SCIENCE!

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I bet you wish you had a forklift-load of Science. I certainly do. It’s an 8 ton x-ray machine that they brought to Athens to get high-rez data of the mechanism.

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The images that the x-ray produced “provide the basis for many of our revelations.” Heeeey, visualization in action!

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Tony Freeth sits with an engineer of medieval clocks and they explain the dials to us. There’s an eclipse predictor, a moon phase calculator, and the Olympiad dial shows which games are going on that year.

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We are told that the elderly clockmaker (Don Unmin?) will produce a reproduction, but I wasn’t able to find anything about it online.

The Antikythera Mechanism, as an impossibly old, incredibly complicated bit of gear-filled wonder, brings out both the hardcore scientists and the lunatic fringe  for theories about the thing. As such it is fantastic to have a video as an exact explanation of what it is, how we know what it is, and how it works. Would that more journal articles would have accompanying videos that show how the written results came to be. This video shows the interdisciplinary nature of research and how incredible things can happen when you bring together different academic fields, technology, and ancient artifacts. Oh, and large wads of cash.

5/5 – Movies about complicated peer-reviewed articles that also debunk theories about aliens and time travelers and show how ancient people did amazing stuff without extraterrestrial help get full marks from me.

Beard count: 0, zilch. No archaeologists featured. But it was full of older white dudes, natch.

BONUS:

Here is the Antikythera Mechanism…in LEGO.

EUScreen: A treasure trove of multinational archaeology film

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A film from 1957, simply titled “Excavation”

I was recommended EUScreen at a meeting, but I’ve only just now had time to check it out. I was happily surprised at the huge amount of archaeology videos they have.

A simple search for archaeology yields 167 films! Here are a few:

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3000 year old coffin found in Jutland, 1939

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Excavations at Paestum in Italy, 1957

 

A-Z Archaeology Films: The Anglo-American Project in Pompeii

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Dude…nice tiger!

Title: The Anglo-American Project in Pompeii
Year: 
2002
Length: 8 minutes
Made by:
 Black Cat Productions
Genre:
 expository
Authors: 
Arthur and Jennifer Stephens are archaeological photographers.

Glum pan-pipes, and then BANG, we’re in. A flat-voiced narrator tells us straight up, no hesitation, that Pompeii dates from the 6th century BC–we get apprised of the conquerers, the Romans, the population. It is truly the robotic almanac of narration. I hope you are taking notes, this will be on the pop quiz after the film.

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The sinister peak of Mount Vesuvius, lurking in the background.

We are introduced to the Anglo American Project in Pompeii director, Dr. Rick Jones, who is white, as billed. Beard count so far: 1.

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There’s some other guy, but you can tell he doesn’t matter as much because he’s sitting on the floor and filmed at a subordinate azimuth. Don’t worry about the lady in the background, she’s not important in the slightest.

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We get to hear about the lofty excavation goals, somehow transmitted through this illegible plan:

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They plan to study an entire city block! Okay, that’s pretty cool. And they have a field school…oh holy crap that’s a lot of students:

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So we are introduced to the block of Pompeii they’ll be studying. There are bars, houses, a communal fountain, an inn…man those folks are spoiled. So much to look at! Such fantastic preservation! So what are they going to dig?

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A possibly modern ramp.

Okay, fair enough, I know we can’t all dig the gold-trimmed bathhouses of the world. This is the kind of task that I’m familiar with. Eighty-year-old toilet? I’m on it. Actually this ramp would be older than that toilet if it was built during the excavations in the 1860s. FML.

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The other excavation area is of a pilaster and down pipe that could lead to a cistern that could be used for water storage or a cesspit.

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Beard count: 2. I never understand why people wear shorts on excavations.

Spoiler alert: the mystery feature turns out to be a cesspit:

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Kinda unsurprisingly, as there was a toilet on the other side of the wall, as they now disclose. Intense infrared video footage confirms that the two connect. This is archaeological magic, y’all.

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Let’s go looking for treasure! First, the make-shift tools:

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PROTIP: If you have to modify your tools like this, you are probably doing something unsafe. And you will probably hurt your back.

(I would also like to mention here that the glum music is still going, making this the most depressing tale of archaeological discovery ever)

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OH GOOD LORD. At least they are wearing hard hats? And not 70s speedo-stylee archaeology?

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Nice drain though. And we hear about the finds that came out of the drain and we get to see them as they came out of the dirt and the more official lab photos:

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Then we are taken through the various artifact types and the specialists (women, mostly) clean, sort, and analyze the finds.

Overall, the Anglo-American Project in Pompeii does a good job showing the research goals of an excavation, and the execution of these goals, and the conclusions and future questions that arise from such a project. It was well filmed, and the videographers did a good job creating the site narrative and collecting appropriate footage. This is harder than it seems.

Yet the video also reproduces the man-as-digger-and-director and women doing all the household chores of archaeology–they had 60 students and 40 staff on site and we get to see two half-naked dudes in a trench digging a toilet. Where was everyone else? The single voice of the narrator removed all dissenting views and alternate experiences and interpretations. It makes me wonder who they thought the audience was? Government officials? Funders?

Beard count: 2
Beer belly count: 2
Overall: 4/5

Archaeology Films A-Z: Ancient Mound Builders: The Marksville State Historic Site

Title: Ancient Mound Builders: The Marksville State Historic Site
Year: 1994
Length: 15 minutes
Made by: Office of State Parks; State of Louisiana, Office of the Lieutenant Governor; Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation & Tourism; and Louisiana Public Broadcasting
Genre: expository
Authors: Director Gray Warriner graduated with a degree in Geology and Physical Geography from the University of Washington, but abandoned his graduate studies in geology for filmmaking when he encountered a French documentary film crew at Tikal. He returned to UW to teach film for several years and has won several awards.

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Mega creepy opening with fuzzy Native Americans in the background. The wind is howling, the narrator is declarative! We have a lot of fast moving skies, sunsets, clouds!

TIME. IT MOVES CONSTANTLY FORWARD…ALAS, WE CANNOT SEE THE FUTURE…BUT HERE AT THE MOUNDS WE CAN SEE INTO THE PAST….

Well, golly. Archaeologists serve up the second-best, just for you. We get to see a mound now, but still with the dramatic skies. A whole minute into the movie. There is a drawn-out discussion of time and looking into the past, with a zooming timeline of things that mostly white dudes did, because they were the important things, right? We find that written history came to a “grinding halt” before the European explorers.

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While Greeks were building temples, mounds of earth were build across eastern America. Nice superimposition. I wonder if it’s to scale.

The production values in this video are a little bit crazy, lots of zooming images and neon outlines of Confucius. It’s almost like the film editors thought that the material was incredibly dry and so they decided to jazz it up a little bit, add a creepy soundtrack and an Authoritative Narrator.

Rewind though, let’s review glaciation in the Ohio region, and how Ohio was the perfect place for people to settle. Rich resources led to…free time to make cool stuff. I do not always fault a touch of environmental determinism, when taken into consideration of other factors.

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Reenactment of “having free time.”

The Hopewell influence spread to several other communities. When people say things like that, I always things of great clouds of influence, like locusts, descending onto a region.

The narrator asks, Why, why build mounds? And I actually like that they just straight out address something that has been constructed as mysterious and lost knowledge in a pretty straight-forward fashion. Some had burials, some were thought to be astronomically related…but then we back down again, we don’t really know. Fair enough, I suppose (she says, not knowing a whole lot about the Hopewell).

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Hey, archaeologists! Maybe they’ll tell us something useful! Ooh, it’s only a 20-second-long shot and we’re only shown because we didn’t find any evidence of writing. Bummer.

We hear a bit about the Adena, and the cessation of mound-building, but I was happy that the authors of the video didn’t think that the Hopewell went away, but (like the Romans…again with the Classical comparisons) just changed their ways of life.

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Heeeeeeeeey! We’re here to build some mounds!

 

And then, the Mississippians, who built this one place you may have heard of, Cahokia. Nice art, nice reconstructions, I wonder who the original artists were? We hear about the 200,000+ mounds that once covered the eastern US, and about the destruction of 85% of them.

Overall, not an incredible amount of archaeology in this film; most of the information obviously gleaned from years of archaeological investigation is presented as given. This is a film primarily about the mounds, with only a little bit of discussion of daily life, and most of the material culture of the Hopewell (mounds aside) are presented as zoomy-flashy images that go by as uninterpreted “art objects” that show how advanced the Hopewell were. If there is an art-historical approach to examining Native American life, then this would be it. The mounds and the artifacts are presented in compare/contrast style to developments in the Classical world, and while this better situates the timeline, I’m unsure of the continued productivity of constant comparison.

3.5/5

Archaeology Films A-Z: The Ancient Hydraulis

Title: The Ancient Hydraulis
Year: 2002
Length: 9.5 minutes
Made by: European Cultural Centre of Delphi
Genre: phenomenological/expository
Authors: Directed by Maria Hatzimihali-Papaliou, who was born in Greece and is part of the New Greek Cinema movement. She has made several documentaries highlighting social issues and disability in addition to her documentaries about ancient Greece. A notable film that combines these topics is People of Peace, a film that juxtaposes excerpts from ancient Greek writers and images of 20th century conflict. Interestingly, the credits list both the filmmakers and the “scientific team” behind the movie.

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Oh god, she thinks, not another archaeology video with pan-flutey music. Seriously, can’t we think of anything better?

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oh. This is new.

I fully admit that I had no idea what a hydraulis was before the viewing of this video. It is pretty damn cool.

The narrator quotes from primary sources to tell us the power of music in Greek society, how the symphony created by the hydraulis captivated an entire congress. The original 3rd century instrument was powered by a hydraulic air pressure stabilizer that was eventually replaced by bellows, turning the hydraulis into a wind instrument.

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The video streaming kept breaking, so I got to hear this dude sing at least a dozen times. I switched to watching the video on Daily Motion:

http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x280ns_ancient-hydraulis_creation

We switch to expository mode next, when we learn more about an archaeologist finding the remains of a hydraulis and reconstructing it. The hydraulis eventually turns into our more familiar pipe organ, adopted and then developed by the Catholic church.

There are a few overviews of the site of Dion, during which we learn about the archaeologist Dimitrios Panternalis who found the hydraulis at Dion and is now the president of the New Acropolis Museum. It is a little unfortunate that they don’t have any images of the process of construction, so we continue to see scenic Dion.

The Ancient Hydraulis is a mildly interesting video about a fun bit of experimental archaeology that could have been about half as long. If you are wildly into the Greeks, Classical Archaeology, Experimental Archaeology, or like to hear a yodeling dude, this video is for you.

3.5/5

Archaeology Films A-Z: Ancient Greece: Pots Tell the Story

Title: Ancient Greece: Pots Tell the Story
Year: 2003
Length: 12 minutes
Made by: Karen Aqua and Ken Field in collaboration with Treasure Mountain Middle School, Park City, Utah
Genre: Experimental
Authors: Karen Aqua was an artist and spent 35 years making brilliant animated films before dying far too young from ovarian cancer. He husband, Ken Field, is a famous musician and composer who has made music for Sesame Street, among other productions.

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Interesting opening, very DIY, stop-motion animation using children’s drawings. There’s a narrator, telling us what the children have learned while studying Ancient Greece, very nice….wait, what? “They ruled a large part of the world thousands of years ago.” Large…uh…hmm.  During this description we have various drawings of Greek pots shimming across the frame.

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There are several narrators, which is great. First a woman, then a man (presumably Karen Aqua and Ken Field, which are surely the names of folksy, down-home superheroes) and then various children. Nice–a varied voice de-centers the usual authoritative voice-of-god narration.

We learn standard the standard bits about the columns  through cute animations of Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian columns emerging from the ground with cranking noises, but I do not particularly like this disembodied emergence of architecture, especially when it comes to Greek architecture. People built those.

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Speaking of people, we get actors in “heavy, sweaty masks,” musicians, and the first Olympics. We also hear about Greek mythology and monsters at length. The drawings are very cute and the animation is extremely inventive.

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Overall, the film is aimed at a young, elementary school audience, probably 7-10. It is an excellent project, and I applaud the enterprising animators who put this fun film together. I love the idea of young school children drawing figures from Greek pots and extrapolating stories that they could animate using these figures. In this case I’d argue that the making of the film is actually more important than the particular outcome, which is a bit boring and basic.

2/5 – Movie content
5/5 – School project, great for outreach

Archaeology Films A-Z: Ancient Fires at Cliff Palace Pond

Title: Ancient Fires at Cliff Palace Pond
Year: 2000
Length: 11 minutes
Made by: Voyageur Media Group, Inc.
Genre: Expository
Authors: See the entry for the Adena film.

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Another movie from the Kentucky Heritage Council. Let’s learn about Kentucky, folks! The USDA Forest Service starts forest fires with drip torches. This is already the most exciting archaeology film I’ve ever seen.

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I’ve always found the idea of forest management kinda strange. I realize that many (if not most) of the landscapes that we see in North America were managed by Native Americans before our Park Rangers got at them, but the idea of encouraging or discouraging forests to turn out a certain way is still an odd concept. I guess I still have an unhealthy nature/culture divide in my head. Anyway.

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It’s almost two minutes in before the video mentions the Native Americans. They were building to it. Elder Jerry Wolfe comes on to set the record straight. Every Fall they’d burn the forests so that they don’t get an ocean of fire. Which would be inconvenient.

We segue into Indians-as-Forest-Rangers, complete with chanting. Pesky scientists didn’t know what to do until they actually asked the folks who had been living there a while.

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I love archaeological illustrations, and this video has several. Just LOOK at that grandpa from ancient history threatening the child with the feather.

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…aaaaand one slightly sinister baby in a basket.

But wait, what is that I see?? Archaeologist Cecil Ison guiding a group of folks to a cave dwelling! It’s Cliff Palace, and we are set for some learnin’ from a dude with a fantastic handlebar moustache.

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Nice video effects illustrating the rock art after Cecil traces it for us. We also learn that there is a fetid pond up near the rock shelter and that there are extensive archaeological remains around said pond. Why does this matter? Because we can core the pond!

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They found seven layers of distinct debris, including pollen. This next photo is for Shanti Morell-Hart, who once described looking through a microscope as traveling through space. Which sounds pretty cool…

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….but I’m not sure I buy it.

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Dr. Paul Delcourt seems down though. Do you like how they framed him with the hallowed halls of academia? He MUST be an expert. Bonus: he has a beard. Anyway, he checks our core samples to see if there is any ash present. Check out the slight azimuth change between Paul Delcourt and Cecil Ison. We’re looking up at Delcourt and down at Ison. Film and photography semioticians would note this as a power differential. Something to think about while you are filming. Anyway, back to the video.

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Cliff Palace Pond is like a time capsule, we are told. I believe them because this is a good drawing. We are told that Native Americans ate stuff and hunted stuff. Rockin’.Screen shot 2013-10-16 at 12.33.44 PM

Atlatl + beard alert!!

From the dirt core we learn that about 1,000 years ago, Native Americans began farming the land and shaped the forest into what we think of as the “natural” Kentucky landscape, with nuts and berries.

Overall, this would be a good movie to for teachers to show when you are learning about paleoethnobotany or paleo landscapes and landscape management. Or if you feel like you need to know more about changes through time for Native Americans in Kentucky.

Beard Count: 2.5
Women?: 0
4/5

Archaeology Films A-Z: The Amphora of Eleusis

Title: The Amphora of Eleusis
Year: 2006
Length: 4 minutes
Made by: Eleni Stoumbou
Genre: Experimental
Authors: Eleni Stoumbou has made several short archaeology films and contributes to Archaeology Magazine. She studied documentary filmmaking at Université Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense.

Review:  title

A delightful short video subtitled in Greek and English that takes the viewer through the story of Odysseus and the Cyclops as if it were being told to a child using the decorated amphora of Eleusis as a story book.

odysseus

MY EYE!

The soundtrack is performed in part with a Cretan lyre and compliments the subject–light and repetitive without being grating. There are some slightly cheesy Adobe After Effects and a random and jarring animation, but they don’t detract too much from the film.

child

A simple, creative exploration of an artifact that shows the potential for archaeology films to go beyond a simple expository framework. I was delighted by the presentation of the amphora and then the progression of the film to show a mother and child looking at the artifact in a museum. There’s even a slightly macabre twist near the end!

Absolutely one to show archaeology, conservation & museum students as an example of how to make a simple, engaging film using a single artifact.

5/5

(I had to skip the  previous film in the sequence, The Akha Way, as I had trouble streaming it. I’ll come back to it.)

Archaeology Films A-Z: The Aegean

Title: The Aegean
Year: 2004
Length: 7 minutes
Made by: Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism
Genre: Expository
Authors: Tourism Promoters
Review:

aegean

The Aegean. A place close to my heart. Opens with twangy “traditional music” that fades into newage, but at least there’s a female narrator who betrays a faint Turkish accent around her proper English. Yes, it’s a gorgeous landscape and climate, and, we are informed, a “land of kingdoms.” Begin the dervish-like spinning shots in the middle of sites!

temple

It was actually very difficult to get this blurry screenshot as it was zooming by.

Pano pano pano, fast pano, cut to a nice pot showing “King Midas of the Golden Touch.” GOD the spinning again. Does this make the ruins look more lively? No real explanation, but lots of gorgeous ruins moving rapidly.

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Bonus hot bath scene!

A little discussion of Ephesus, then we move on to a quick touristy overview of each spot, with minimal, Lonely Planet explanation. Sorry Turkey–I love you, I love your archaeology, but this video is a twitchy tour through ruins with a litany of famous names of people who may or may not have visited or lived there. And night clubs.

nightclubs

Why is this on The Archaeology Channel?

1/5

Archaeology Films A-Z: The Adena People: Moundbuilders of Kentucky

Title: The Adena People: Moundbuilders of Kentucky
Year: 2000
Made by: Voyageur media group Inc. for Kentucky Heritage Council.
Location: Kentucky, USA
Genre: Expository
Authors: Voyageur media group Inc. for Kentucky Heritage Council. Voyageur media group is a nonprofit that creates public media about science, history, art and culture. They have several videos about Kentucky archaeology, and I’m guessing I’ll get to watch a few more before I’m finished.

Review:

adena

Ohh, dynamic opening title with a rockin’ beat! Artifacts are interesting! Archaeology is great! Then…we segue into flute music and a pot rotating in deepest black space.  Our very authoritative, unnamed male narrator describes the whirling, whirling artifacts and we are awash in pottery! mica! stone! Lovely things, really. They are, we are informed, legacies of the Adena People.

There are burial mounds all over northern Kentucky and we get a fair sampling of them, including two-story tall Gaitskill Mound. The mounds are constructed over the remains of wooden ceremonial structures–there’s a great b/w photo of Crigler Mound showing this very explicitly–postholes, section, oh yeah.

crigler_mound

clay

“Some people imagine it’s a Kentucky Stonehenge, or wood henge, with poles.” Hey, who is that guy? White dude with beard, honey of an accent…must be an archaeologist. It’s Dr. Berle Clay, telling us that the geometric earthworks may be where clans met. But he equivocates at the end, saying we don’t really know. Fine.

wright_mound

OH! Ohhh, it’s old footage of the Wright Mound  WPA excavations! A guy in a hat smoking a pipe while he digs, be still my heart! My day has been made. More! More!

LOOK at that pipe. Just look at it.

LOOK at that pipe. Just look at it.

Oh, we’re back to arrowheads. And an unnecessary timeline with an overly complex woodgrain background. There’s some nice reconstructions though, and Dr. Clay is back to tell us a few things we know about their funerary ceremonies.

But what is this? Flintknapping, hide-scraping, and making pots–always crowd-pleasers. It’s at a “Living Archaeology” weekend though, and it appears there are some people dressed up as the Adena. Not sure Native Americans are too happy about being called “Living Archaeology.”

living_archaeology

Apparently we don’t know a lot about the Adena because they didn’t live next to their mounds and we mostly liked to dig the mounds, as per typical of the archaeologists’ MO. These settlements have probably been destroyed by plowing anyway, we are told.

female_archaeologist

 

There’s a female archaeologist troweling! Though she’s voice-less, and filmed from top-down. TELL US WHAT YOU ARE DIGGING! Dr. Clay steps in to provide a general explanation, not really about what looks like a rodent-holed mess that poor young woman was dealing with. A bit disappointing.

crazy_geo

Quick shot of a crazy geometrical configuration that archaeologists have excavated for some reason. What is that big cut in the middle? Follow the archaeology?? Why have you pedestalled something that was cutting a surface? Madness. I guess at least the sections are straight.

Overall, a good mix of footage gleaned from archives, an interview from a real-beardy archaeologist, landscape shots, artifacts, experimental archaeology, and excavation. A solid introduction to the Adena, if a bit masculinist and lacking in Native American perspectives.

4.5/5