Tag Archives: Archaeology

Fuzzy France, Crisp Yorkshire, and Murky Italy: A Photography Update

I’ve been trying to take photographs again, and not just the snappy-snap iPhone photos that are uploaded to Instagram, that I treasure for their quick and easy conversational imagery.

Dan and I brought a 1930s £5 medium format camera with us to France over the summer and had a lot of fun finding film, setting up shots, and generally taking the time to play with the analog format. It was great, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat, but I may take a roll of test shots first, as these were the atmospheric, but not completely desirable results:

So I’ve been trying to haul the Nikon D200 around with me, both on walks in Yorkshire:

And more recently in Padova/Padua:

and Venice:

For a 7-year-old (!!) camera, the D200 is still solid, though suffering from several dead pixels at this point. You can check for dead pixels in your own camera by taking a photo with the lens cap still on, or by noticing horrible bright spots when you take an otherwise lovely photo. They are non-fatal but annoying, and I should have had the D200 serviced years ago.

Reports that the DSLR is dead are vastly overstated, though I could concede that the iPhone is the new DSLR while the DSLR is the new video camera. I was able to order equipment with my new (awesome) postdoc and I’ll be producing short films with this nifty piece of kit, pretty soon.

Why I Blog

Doug’s Archaeology is running a blog carnival prior to the 2013 SAA  Blogging Archaeology (Again) session, a sort-of follow up to my 2011 session in Sacramento, which remains sadly unpublished.

Like Bill, a fellow archaeology blogging dinosaur, I think I may have answered the question, why I blog, before, and I’m also answering late.

I’ve been blogging archaeology for over a decade now; my first blog was during my first field school in 2001, at the Juliette Street Project in Dallas, Texas. I started it because I wanted to keep my friends back in Austin up to date with what I was doing, but I was too lazy to write individual emails. It was public-but-private, more of an experiential blog as I was learning what archaeology was all about. Happily, the blog is long gone, deleted in a moment of self-consciousness when I got into grad school.

Middle Savagery started as a livejournal in 2006, and it is probably telling that it began with this entry:

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Reading through the old entries, I miss how casual it was, how much more akin to Tumblr-style blogging, with fragments of words, stolen poems, photos. My blogging has gotten overly formal, possibly as a result of too much academic writing. It started as love letters to all the people that I moved away from or couldn’t be with, and has ended up as grist for the academic grind.

Why am I still blogging? Indeed. I frequently ran out of words while I was writing my thesis, leaving none to spare for the blog. Still, I keep updating Middle Savagery. It’s mine, my own thing, and in the morass of academic publishing, I have a platform I can experiment with. I can be as dopey and full of purple prose as I want to be, or call out misdeeds, or summarize academic articles. Through some trick of luck, people read my stuff.

Over the years I probably should have been more strategic, made a Facebook fan page for the blog, optimized my titles, tagging and search results–10 Mysterious Archaeological Artifacts That Will Change Your Child’s Diet and Your Husband’s Sex Drive! But no. I’ll keep wittering on, and Middle Savagery will change and grow in a slightly stilted, awkward fashion, just as I do.


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!


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.


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:


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.


Zelia Nuttall – Lonely Daughter of Culture


The newest newsletter of the History of Archaeology Interest Group features a short biography of Zelia Nuttall by Peter Diderich. She was one of the earliest female archaeologists and a pioneering scholar of Aztec, Maya, Olmec, and other cultures.

Hopefully Zelia will be featured on Trowelblazers at some point, but I was so seized by this quote by DH Lawrence about a fictional Mrs. Norris, based on Zelia, and the fantastic image hosted by my alma mater, UC Berkeley, that I had to combine the two.

May all of us who muse on the hard stones of archaeological remains take our inspiration from Zelia, and retain a strong sense of humanity & humor.

Behold, the Great White Falcon: Gifting & Gulf Archaeology

Bibby’s Looking for Dilmun is one of my favorite archaeology dig books of all time, with Agatha Christie’s Come Tell Me How You Live as a close second. Looking for Dilmun describes the Danish Mission in the Gulf, looking for the “lost” civilization of the Dilmun, eventually located in Bahrain. Bibby’s writing style is excellent and the book is a lot of fun.

Anyway, one of my favorite passages describes the acquisition of a Greenland falcon, a pure white bird, “save for the jet-black tips of its feathers.” Arab falconry is tied to status and to a sense of heritage, and P.V. Glob, the project director, was aware of this. As Bibby states, a white bird such as the Greenland falcon “had never been seen in the Arabian Gulf; it would be–simply–beyond price.”

As the archaeological team traveled by plane from Copenhagen to Bahrain, the Greenland falcon came with the team in the cabin. The team had visa trouble in Beirut and had resigned themselves to staying in the airport overnight, but mentioned the falcon and got checked into a luxury hotel for their trouble.

When Bibby and Glob arrived in Bahrain, the Highness’s falconer showed up in a limo, put the falcon in the back seat and whizzed away. The Danish have been digging in the Gulf ever since. Much to my delight, I found a photo of the selfsame falcon while looking through Moesgaard Museum’s “Glob and the Garden of Eden” website:

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I wonder what happened to that bird.

Archaeology Films A-Z: Hiatus

Just a brief note to mention that my films project is on hiatus for the moment. We just don’t have the bandwidth here in Qatar to stream the movies.

This is possibly something to remember while crafting future research strategies!

The Dilmun Bioarchaeology Ethics Statement

Photograph of a Dilmun pot, from the Peter Bruce Cornwall collection at the Pheobe A. Hearst Museum.

Photograph of a Dilmun pot, from the Peter Bruce Cornwall collection at the Pheobe A. Hearst Museum.

After a rather invigorating research fellow interview with a dizzying array of questions, I was reminded of a research statement Alexis Boutin and I crafted in 2009 regarding the analysis and visual documentation of human remains and artifacts in the Phoebe A. Hearst museum at UC Berkeley. When I checked the old blog link the statement had disappeared, so I thought I’d repost it here, as I feel like it is an extremely worthwhile exercise and actually was a motivating force for the International Visual Studies Association’s more general ethics statement.

I would encourage all those who deal with human remains (and archaeology in general) to consider crafting this kind of statement before beginning a project, as it makes your position absolutely clear to your team and forces you to consider any stakeholders for your research.

Regarding the display and remediation of artifacts and human remains

The Dilmun Bioarchaeology Project is working with human remains excavated in the 1940s by Peter Bruce Cornwall. Although Cornwall obtained permissions both from local governing authorities and Standard Oil, who had oil exploration rights to some of these territories , we feel that we must be explicit in our methodology and goals in depicting the excavated materials curated in the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum. In this digital age it is easy for members of western academic institutions to share both visual and textual information regarding our research and while it is often desirable to keep an open dialogue with fellow colleagues and an interested public, this same openness can be seen as disrespectful when the display of human remains and associated artifacts runs contrary to the desires and beliefs of stakeholders associated with the site. We believe that it is important to clarify this relationship and our stance regarding the data we are gathering as part of the Dilmun Bioarchaeology Project (DBP).

Data Collection

During the course of our interpretation of the artifacts and human remains excavated by Peter Bruce Cornwall, we find it necessary to fully document the collection with digital photographs and digital video. The digital photography has been performed in accordance with the wishes of the Phoebe A. Hearst museum, on a photography stand, in raw format, with neutral colored backgrounds and scales. During this photography the artifacts were handled as little as possible, by team members wearing gloves in order to preserve their structural integrity. In the case of skeletal photography, only the dedicated bioarchaeologist, Alexis Boutin, Ph.D., handled the remains. These photographs and videos were then downloaded to the laptop of Colleen Morgan, the team’s digital documentarian. The photographs were then entered into a spreadsheet and given a UUID, a universally-unique ID commonly used by digital archivists, and a selection of these photographs were then cropped, photoshopped, and shared with the team in protected online folders. These photographs are also backed up to an external hard drive to protect against data loss. After the collection has been completely photographed we will make the photographs available to the Phoebe A. Hearst museum in a format of their choosing. The video will be cut into short videos to share online and will also be given to the Phoebe A. Hearst museum in the format of their choosing.


While all depictions of the artifacts and the human remains have been shared in protected folders online to team members, a selection of the photographs and videos also will be made available to the broader online public. Most of the artifacts in the Peter Bruce Cornwall collection were excavated from tumuli, specifically from human burials of the protohistoric inhabitants of Bahrain and Saudi Arabia (i.e., the Dilmun culture). Images of these artifacts are in broad circulation and are printed in many volumes, and our contributions in this respect will not be unusual. We intend to contact the archaeological authorities in Bahrain to reaffirm this process. In this case it is difficult to identify interested indigenous parties, as the excavations were performed 60 years ago and the landscape of Bahrain has changed radically since that time. It is not our intention to reify the assumption that primarily Islamic populations only care about Islamic artifacts and remains. Instead we hope that digital dissemination of our data will heighten awareness of the tumuli in Bahrain. However, if our discussions with community leaders and other interested parties indicate dissatisfaction with these depictions, then we will remove offending materials from public access. In addition to presenting traditional representations of these artifacts, we also intend to remediate the data for better understanding and interest of the online public. Remediation, defined by Bolter and Grusin (1999) as “the formal logic by which new media refashion prior media forms” can be used to resituate artifacts in new, meaningful, and interesting ways. Given this, we intend that our remediations will be respectful of the past and present cultural context of the artifacts.

This above set of standards does not apply for depictions of the human remains. We recognize, in accordance with the 1989 Vermillion Accord on Human Remains and the 2005 Tamaki Makau-rau Accord on the Display of Human Remains and Sacred Objects promoted by the World Archaeological Congress that “respect for the mortal remains of the dead shall be accorded to all irrespective of origin, race, religion, nationality, custom and tradition” and recognize that the depiction of these remains is a sensitive subject. Until the permission of the potentially affected community is obtained, we will not display human remains unless it is absolutely necessary for explanation, and even so, we do so with extreme forbearance.

Human Remains

In answering the question, “Why study human remains?,” Patricia M. Landau and D. Gentry Steele point to human remains as a unique source of direct information about ancient peoples’ biology and behavior: that is, what they looked like, how they acted as members of a society, and how they responded to their environments. Issues such as these form part of the Dilmun Bioarchaeology Project’s research agenda, although we are also particularly interested in understanding these human remains within their mortuary contexts. How were these peoples’ identities related to the ways they were treated in death? Under what circumstances were people buried together, and with what types of objects? Who was “allowed” to be buried in a tumulus? But this research agenda aside, the DBP is studying this particular set of human remains because they had never been studied before. Since Cornwall collected the skeletons in Bahrain in the early 1940s and shipped them to the U.S., they have been stored in the collections of the Hearst museum, curated carefully but never subjected to osteological analysis due to lack of funding. Cornwall doubtless had the best of scholarly intentions when he unearthed the skeletons and their funerary accoutrements: his writings reflect an interest in mortuary practices as an indicator of cultural affiliation. Nevertheless, the removal of human remains from what had been intended as their final resting place might be interpreted by some as culturally insensitive and disrespectful. The fact that these remains were never analyzed by an osteologist- presumably the purpose of their excavation – gives that interpretation more credence. Thus, the BBP aims to carry out Cornwall’s presumed research goals with the human remains from the Bahraini tumuli and, in the process, redress any oversights – however unintentional they may have been – committed against these ancient peoples and their descendants.

The following ethical guidelines are based on chapters in Cassman et al. (2007). All contact with the human remains is undertaken by the person of, or under the direct supervision of, Alexis Boutin, Ph.D., a qualified osteologist. Gloves are always worn to avoid contaminating the human remains or violating their personal integrity. The skeletal remains were marked in permanent ink with a museum “object” number at some point prior to our research; we do not employ any permanent systems of reconstruction or stabilization. Those temporary systems that we have employed (in limited instances, water-soluble glue) will be removed at the request of affected descendant populations. So far, our analyses have been non-destructive (i.e., strictly morphological and metric). Should we decide that invasive or destructive analyses (e.g., DNA or biochemical sampling) are essential to our research goals, we will request permission from the appropriate Bahraini authorities and, if possible, descendant communities. We approach our tasks with a sense of reverence and of the privilege we have been granted to interact with, and learn from, these earthly remains. Above all, we recognize that these skeletal remains are not “objects of study,” but persons who deserve the same dignity and respect, and have the same rights as, the persons who walk the earth today.

2000 Landau, P. M. and D. G. Steele Why Anthropologists Study Human Remains. Pp. 74-94 in Repatriation Reader: Who Owns American Indian Remains? Ed. Devon A. Mihesuah. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. V. Cassman, N. Odegaard, and J. Powell, eds.

2007 Human Remains: Guide for Museums and Academic Institutions. Lanham, Md.: Altamira Press.

When Urban Archaeology Turns Into Street Photography



I am going through the Origins of Doha photo archives before we start the new season here in Qatar and I’m finding unexpected treasures. Buildings recording and photography is difficult in Doha, and it is difficult to get clear, direct photos of architecture. I’m not sure if Kirk or Katie took those photo, but it is one of my favorites.



This another one of my favorites–no scale, but I could look at the texture and multiple repairs on the wall for ages.



Finally, I fully intend to use this in a class someday–can you figure out the building sequence?

Call for Photo Essays: Journal of Contemporary Archaeology


The new Journal of Contemporary Archaeology will feature one photoessay per issue. Photoessays may include up to 20 colour images and should include 2-3,000 words of text. The journal will be published online and in print twice yearly, with the first issue appearing in Spring 2014. Photoessays should engage with issues relating to the journal’s aims and scope. Further information is available here: http://www.equinoxpub.com/JCA

Please contact Rodney Harrison if you have any queries or would like to discuss a submission.