Tag Archives: history

Zelia Nuttall – Lonely Daughter of Culture

Nuttall

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.

The Dorothy Garrod Photographic Archive

"Heap of rolled flints in EB" - 1933

Dorothy Garrod (1892-1968) was the first prehistorian and the first woman to be elected to a professorship at Cambridge University. She excavated in Gibraltar, Palestine, Southern Kurdistan, Anatolia, and Bulgaria where she made amazing advances in archaeology, uncovering the skull fragments of a Neanderthal child and established the Natufian culture. As they tell it, the Pitt Rivers Museum received “an old-fashioned leather hat-box with the letters ‘D.G.’ in gold on the front.” Inside was an absolute treasure–Dorothy Garrod’s collection of negatives from her field work. The Pitt Rivers Museum has scanned them all and shared them at The Garrod Collection webpage.

Even if you aren’t a giant history of archaeology nerd, it deserves a look. The photographs are amazing–well-shot and downright delightful, showing a full range of the archaeological experience in the 1920s-1930s. There’s illustrations too!

Dean Harriet M. Alleyn, Dorothy Garrod, Elinor Ewbank, Mary Kitson Clark, Dr. Martha Hackett, (left to right) I can't lie, I wish I was standing in that line of amazing women.

(On envelope) Photos. KH. Qumran(?). Attetatious de Benediction. St. Sepaccre. 1960 (Back)

(On envelope) Photos. KH. Qumran(?). Attetatious de Benediction. St. Sepaccre. 1960 (Back)

Thanks to the Pitt Rivers museum for making this archive available to researchers online!

The Battle of Blair Mountain – Past and Present

The Camp Branch MTR site near Blair Mountain. It is moving straight toward the historic battlefield site.

Most people don’t know that the United States’ biggest class war was the Battle of Blair Mountain, wherein over 10,000 coal miners battled police, strikebreakers, and the US Army in their attempt to unionize. This battleground is now the site of another struggle–initially nominated to the National Register of Historic Places, the site was de-listed by the state in what amounts to behind-the-scenes machinations by Massey Coal, who wants to strip-mine this historic region. I was overseas and out of touch when this was all happening, but it was ably reported by the Afarensis blog.

Brandon Nida, a UC Berkeley Anthropology Ph.D. candidate, grew up in the area and has made Blair Mountain the subject of his dissertation research. He gave a talk at our departmental Brown Bag meeting, bringing up many salient points that shows the true power of activist, community-based contemporary archaeology in action.

Coal mining has been in the news constantly with numerous cave-ins trapping poor miners. But only recently has there been greater attention to the environmental devastation caused by the practice of mountaintop removal, or MTR, a process that annihilates both the mountains and the valleys below, which are filled with by-products and are essentially poisoned by the process of cleaning the coal. Interesting side note that Brandon made in his talk–the anti-MTR movement has a high percentage of pilot volunteers. They fly over these areas and can see the full extent of the devastation, something that is kept from the general public.

Brandon has been trying to raise awareness of this practice, which can be highly divisive, as mining jobs are seen as the only means of survival in an economy that is beyond bad in rural West Virginia. People who protest this practice are generally seen as coming from the “big cities” without any connection to the place. Brandon and his fellow activists are able to dispute this characterization–they come from the community and have found ways to use archaeology to open spaces for dialogue in this debate.

For example, Brandon has been trying to identify the many makes and calibers of shells used by the rag-tag Blair Mountain resistance army and these objects are of considerable interest to residents who overwhelmingly own guns and shoot game for sustenance and sport. He carries some of these shells to meetings, inviting an active participation from residents to comment and speculate on their past. There’s also the matter of the family plots that dot the mountain. Legislation was passed protecting these cemetery sites, under a coalition of churches, miners, politicians and residents, providing a consensus over the value of history and the miners connectedness to the land. Now it is a race to get these plots registered and even so, they become what Brandon called “islands in the sky”–small patches of greenery and stones surrounded by a toxic, barren landscape.

I would highly encourage you to support the Friends of Blair Mountain, an organization with a new website that already has a wealth of information regarding the struggle to preserve this important, threatened site. The Blair Mountain Gang’s Flickr stream is also worth watching.

A Mild Retraction – BBC’s 100 Objects

Over the weekend I was listening to more of the BBC’s History of the World in 100 Objects and I feel that I have to take back some of my enthusiasm for the series.  The broad generalizations that the host makes about the artifacts and the conclusions drawn about modern and ancient humans are vapid and irresponsible in many cases.

The show is very much a propaganda piece for the British Museum–”oh, history is universal, human experience is universal”–not terribly surprising from a museum that is trying to hold onto their colonial spoils.

Besides all of that, the show can be deeply uninteresting and misses a lot of opportunities to talk about the context of the object–the materials involved, the excavation/accessioning process, etc.

I’ll listen to a few more before unsubscribing from the podcast altogether; I’m at 9 out of 100 objects, so a 10% sample may not be representative.

Anyone else have a listen and form an opinion?

Oakland’s Key Routes

Grand

Some advice: never try to move while you’re in the middle of one of the busiest semesters ever!

I recently decamped from Berkeley to Oakland, a move of about four miles in physical distance, and about a million miles in social distance. Needless to say, I have been happy with Uptown, my new neighborhood right next to downtown Oakland. So, like the nerd I am, I decided to find out a bit more about it.

Without getting too specific, I moved to Grand Avenue, a street that runs east from highway 580 along the north side of Lake Merritt and then turns north toward Berkeley. It’s a major thoroughfare and I expected it to be fairly old, as the path it takes is irregular and the name is, well, Grand. Not so much!

The earliest Sanborn fire insurance maps of the area date from 1889 and Grand isn’t listed. Instead it appears to have been carved out of smaller streets, among them “Charter” and “Jones”. Grand first appears in the 1952 Sanborn maps, as I’ve included above, but I’ve found references to the street from 1930 in local photographs and there’s a reference to it in the San Francisco chronicle in 1903. Anyway, from the 1952 Sanborn it looks like they changed 21st street to become 22nd street and the old 22nd street became Grand. There’s also a curious set of lines down the middle of the street–a Key Route?

keysystemmap

Apparently there was a system of electric streetcars in the East Bay before the Great American streetcar scandal, wherein thousands of streetcars were taken off the streets of America through a series of illegal actions by major US companies who bought the systems and replaced the streetcars with buses.

Sadly, these streetcars were junked or sold to other countries and the tracks were largely replaced by medians. At least I can buy a Key Route t-shirt…sigh.

American Colony Negatives

CLM_0001

The American Colony was a utopian society formed by Protestants based in Jerusalem.  First established in 1881, this society would minister to people of all faiths, setting up orphanages, medical clinics, schools, and, oddly enough, a photography studio.  I was introduced to this society a couple of hours ago, in the form of a large stash of glass negatives kept in a shoebox for many years.

CLM_0007

The slides were meant for educational purposes, to bring shape to the lands that people in the United States learned about every Sunday, but had never seen.  Most of the slides were of well-known religious monuments like the Wailing Wall and Jericho, with spidery writing on the side describing the scene.  These were interesting from an archaeological and conservation point of view, as many of the buildings have deteriorated rapidly with modern pollution and the demands of tourism.  There were some “ethnographic” shots as well, and I hope to be able to scan them all properly and upload the images to share more widely.  I held a few up to a sheet of paper, hanging in a sunny window.

But many of the slides were broken, shattered on one side, and were barely held together in their framing paper.

clm_0007_a

These were the ones that affected me the most.