My Name is Oxblood

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Ruskin jar, Black Country Museums.

It hangs there, throbbing heart of ceramic, wildfires under rippling aurora borealis. A rime-frosted pomegranate. A supernova in a jar.

Oxblood, sang de boeuf, lang yao hong, jihong, is the most magnificent and the most difficult of glazes. It is the red red red of heartbeats, misbehaves in kilns, sliding off the shoulders of the pot into a clotted puddle. You must apply it in great gouts of crimson so the copper will reduce and go red instead of green. It is assumed that this discovery was a happy accident, known as early as the Han dynasty (25-220 CE) and rediscovered during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 CE), and perfected during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 CE). The technique was lost, rediscovered, and lost time and time again.

The folklore around this particular hue for ceramics is also thickly applied, with varied accounts of a Chinese emperor jailing potters for failing to produce the proper color, a potter so frustrated that he threw himself into the kiln, thus producing the elusive red, and a faithful potter’s daughter was so incensed at her father’s imprisonment that she stepped into the kiln, also with a red result.

Much later, the “father” of French ceramics, Theodore Deck copied furiously from exoticized Egyptian, Islamic, Japanese, and Chinese styles, including the sang de boeuf and incorporated a  flambé glaze, applying it to art deco pottery forms. In England William Howson Taylor of Ruskin Pottery (named after the writer John Ruskin) sought the sang de boeuf as one of the most difficult expressions of pottery as an art form. He guarded the secrets of this glaze carefully, and burned his notes before his death. Bernard Moore is his contemporary, producing similar wares and I wondered if there was a rivalry, but I found nothing.

In 1925, the British Museum received a gift from a “generous Hong Kong donor in the name of Keechong Hong.” This gift included a tall, slender vase, described as a “typical specimen, with faintly crackled glaze and red of cherry tint in the thinner parts, but darkening into oxblood where it has flowed thick on the shoulders and above the base.” This compares well with an earlier gift from Sir Augustus Wollaston Franks, and shows the celadon lip–the delicate, singular green yielding to the more furious red.

Container series, Liu Jianhua, Pace Gallery exhibitions

Container series, 2009, Liu Jianhua, Pace Gallery exhibitions

It’s this contrast between celadon and oxblood that modern potter Liu Jianhua plays with, the red finally filling the vessel, diving up and inside, like it belonged there all along.

So this, this a from a non-ceramicist–a partial, ragged run through the most elusive of colors, one that maddens, demands the most exquisite attention and craft, and is reborn over and over again.

The title of the post refers to My Name is Red, by Orhan Pamuk. 

 

Archaeological Photography as Dangerous Supplement

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Later this week I am presenting a paper in Dan HicksArchaeology and Photography session at the Photography and Anthropology conference at the British Museum. Here’s the abstract for my talk:

Archaeological Photography as Dangerous Supplement

But isn’t a photographer who can’t read his own pictures worth less than an illiterate?” (Walter Benjamin, 1968)

Archaeology has a long, complex, and fascinating entanglement with photography, a relationship that continues into the digital age. To understand the florescence of digital photography in archaeology, we must inhabit an interdisciplinary space, a space that lies between the compound field of visual studies and archaeology but that also attends to issues of representation, authority, and authenticity. Being conversant in visual analysis can help to create more robust visualization strategies in archaeology, but can have unintended consequences. Quantitative and qualitative analyses of both analog and digital archaeological photographs exposes interesting disciplinary shifts and uninterrogated power dynamics in the field. While digital photography is changing the way that archaeologists are thinking about and doing archaeology, it also reveals the complexity of the relationships present on an archaeological project, in the local community and online. In this, photography can act as a dangerous supplement for archaeology, a Derridean concept W.J.T. Mitchell ascribed to disrupting the cohesion of traditionally defined disciplines.

In this paper I will discuss the process of creating a theory-laden practice of archaeological photography, using the photographic record from the sites of Çatalhöyük in Turkey and Tall Dhiban in Jordan. Through this record I will investigate photography and visualization as a particularly productive instance of the dangerous supplement. Finally, I will explore the implications of merging this theory-laden practice with emancipatory strategies to achieve a more inclusive, reflexive archaeological praxis.

Archaeology in Action on Flickr

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“KRG3 cemetery. Attacked by small biting flies in the late afternoon, Kurgus, northern Sudan.” – Scott Haddow

The Flickr group that I sporadically moderate, Archaeology in Action, is almost a decade old! I try to go in every couple of months and clean out the travel photos and such that inevitably creep in there. I’m always happy to see the fantastic contributions that the group attracts.

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“At the end of excavation, the final rites. Mapungubwe, 1995, inhabited around 1200 AD is now a World Heritage Site. This was one of the last large scale excavations done on the site.” – Marius Loots

In some ways, it is an interesting practice in defining representation of the field. No, that isolated artifact in the museum is not “archaeology in action.” But if the conservator is working on it–sure. Ultimately, I have an audience in mind: those who want to see archaeologists at work in various contexts.

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“Horton excavations 2013.” – Wessex Archaeology

While Flickr has been neglected over the years, and then overhauled in horrible, horrible ways, it is still a relatively good resource as an archive of photos that you can self-curate and distribute with Creative Commons licensing.

Here are past updates about the group:

Archaeology in Action Update
Archaeology in Action, Another Update

If you curate your photos on Flickr, I encourage you to contribute your photos of archaeology in action to the group here:

Archaeology in Action

 

The African Muslim Fist-Bump

"Fist bump" by Indy Trendy Skits on Flickr

“Fist bump” by Brady Tulk on Flickr

(filed under cultural marginalia)

It was something that I had become accustomed to, a process of acculturation.

Meeting people in the Gulf and the Middle East was always a bit of a negotiated process. As I have mentioned before, while it is a truism that white women are to be treated as men, we inhabit a third gender, which we negotiate on a daily basis. Though my husband can expect a hearty handshake, a slap on the back, a hug, touching noses, or even, in the case of a man at a Syrian gas station, a rather rigorous attempt to crack his back, when I meet men, touching for a handshake is a complex, political process.

It is awkward the first few times it happens, when the glad-handed American thrusts her hand out in front of her, self-assured, flashing a smile, and this is met with a grimaced wince and a slow, reluctant hand limply meeting her own. I knew vaguely about the various prohibitions in Islam against touching women before praying, touching them with your hands, and so on, but it can be a hard habit to unlearn for someone trying to be polite.

So over the years I’ve congratulated myself for becoming more appropriate, more circumspect. When I meet Muslim men I put my hand over my heart, thus removing the necessity for them to decide to be “rude” and pious or  “worldly” and accommodating. After a time, I became unused to casual contact in the street–crowds would part in front of me, lest they touch me by accident and have to undergo purification–wudhu–again. But I could not become entirely inured to this process. Every once in a while, I would touch my hand to my heart (I’m so culturally sensitive!) and the man would thrust his hand out in front of me, insisting that I shake it. His cultural sensitivity would contest mine, and I would, of course, shake his hand.

In April I went to Africa for the first time, to the EUROTAST meetings in Ghana and Senegal. My excitement did not really register until I looked out of the plane window and saw the ragged line between deep blue ocean and the vast, tawny Sahara. In Senegal we spent most of our time in meetings on Goreé Island, a heterotopia of its own, but afterwards Dan and I headed south for a couple of days, to a crazy little community on the beach. Senegal is primarily Muslim, and felt more familiar to me than Ghana, even though people spoke English in Ghana and French in Senegal.

We were chatting to a man next to a wall who was fingering a misbaha, a string of prayer beads. He gave Dan a fierce handshake (there is the handshake-snap in Ghana, but that is a whole other thing). I was in mid-motion, putting my hand up to touch my chest, when he held out a fist to me. I probably looked at it quizzically, because he shook the beads in his other hand and explained, “you know, because I’m praying.” So I bumped his fist and he seemed satisfied. I was surprised and then delighted at this new (to me) variation of etiquette. Using the outer surface of the hand makes it okay to touch white ladies with while praying, so, the fist-bump. Okay. Got it.

The fist-bump is not rare in West Africa, nor is it a strictly Muslim practice; in Ghana there was a lot of fist-bumping, but it seemed on a more casual basis than a handshake. And that is how I coded it, a less-formal, “hip” gesture of friendship/encouragement. Since the famously infamous Obama “terrorist fist jab,” a few popular accounts traced the fist-bump to sports and it has been endorsed by doctors as being more hygienic. The fist bump is also briefly cited an example of “emergent culture” by Martin Ortlieb.

In Senegal, under a bright, yellowy sun and next to a whitewashed & peeling mosque, I found a slightly different version of the fist bump. Emergent or no, individual quirk or no, I loved to see it incorporated into a system of beliefs that dictate how and when it is appropriate to touch someone.

New Article Published! The Archaeology of Digital Abandonment

Matt Law and I have published our co-authored article in Present Pasts, The Archaeology of Digital Abandonment: Online Sustainability and Archaeological Sites. Matt had a very nice small data set on the closure of Geocities and how it affected archaeological websites. I keep citing it in my presentations, so I’m very happy to see it published formally. My deep thanks to Matt and the fantastic team at Present Pasts!

Here is the abstract:

After 15 years of hosting millions of user-built webpages, in April 2009 Yahoo! announced that they would be shutting down their United States Geocities webpages. Geocities was once the most common hosting service for low-cost personal webpages, including hundreds of public outreach sites about archaeology. Were the webpages moved to another hosting site, archived, or just abandoned? We tracked and recorded the fate of 88 of these webpages, eventually sending a survey to the webmasters asking them a range of questions. While we received relatively few responses, the answers to the questions were illuminating. Much of the current digital outreach performed all over the world relies on ‘free’ services such as Twitter, Flickr, WordPress, Google Pages, or Facebook to host their content. What can the fate of archaeological content on Geocities pages tell us about the benefits and risks of using commercial infrastructure for archaeological outreach? We propose that sorting through the digital wreckage of past outreach efforts helps us to evaluate the eventual fate of the archaeological presence online.

 

EUROTAST: A few photos from Ghana

A few photos from around Ghana: Elmina castle and Accra. Check out the rest of the set on Flickr:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/colleenmorgan/sets/72157643627864965/

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Digital Ghosts

(a placeholder post, of sorts)

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As digital archaeological workflows become common and increasingly regimented, we must ensure that there is time and space for the playful, creative exploration of the past. In this talk I will (briefly!) discuss the pushing the aesthetics and poetics of digital archaeology through collaborative research projects that emphasize lateral thinking, experimentation and making.