Eating Weeds in the Arab World

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Purslane salad, by Esto.

Portulaca oleracea. The first time I tried it, was, admittedly, in Turkey. It was probably relatively early in the season at Çatalhöyük, when the dig house cooks were only feeding 40-50 people instead of the 100+ ravening hoards. There were tomatoes, cucumber, and a slightly tangy, green succulent seasoned with olive oil and lemon juice. What was it? I had to know. Semizotu.

When I got back to California I tried to figure out what it was exactly–even in the vast foodie farmers markets the vendors had no idea what I was talking about. Semizotu? What? Finally I found it, slightly wilted, high and in the back of the stall, stashed near some dill and parsley. THIS! This is what I was looking for! What, dear vendor, what do you call this? Pig weed.

Wow, okay.

I managed to figure out that it was also called purslane, but still struggled to find any–the farmers generally brought me parsley when I asked for it. But then I started to notice it everywhere. I was like Steve Martin in The Jerk with the new phone books: purslane! It’s in the sidewalks! It is everywhere! It truly was a weed, beneath notice for most people. Sadly I did not go full urban forager–I’d seen a lot of mess on the mean streets (sidewalks) of the East Bay.

Purslane, CC by  Alyss.

Purslane, CC by Alyss.

It’s rare to find purslane at the veg shops in Yorkshire, so I decided to grow my own. I tracked down some seeds last summer and sowed a bed. I felt extremely self-satisfied when little green sprouts started coming up, sure that I would be feasting on a bountiful crop in a few months time. As the purslane got bigger, I noticed that it didn’t look the same as I remembered, more leafy, less stalky. Maybe a different variety? Time passed and I was in denial. It’d taste it–possibly still a bit tangy? No. It was spinach. THE WRONG SEEDS. Absolute charlatan UK seed vendors.

Fast-forward to now, I’m back in the Gulf, where I can still occasionally find purslane. I also find winged beans, long beans, purple cheera, and other vegetables to learn how to cook, so I am completely fulfilled in my non-standard vegetable desires and occupy myself making curries and stir fries to varied results. I have a great cheera recipe.

Anyway, I found purslane at the local food shop in Muscat and decided to make a salad for dinner. Continuing my quest for the name of the global weed, I asked the Omani vegetable-price-marker what purslane was called in Arabic. She was slightly mystified at my question–it was called buckley on the label, but she seemed to want to call it something else. She couldn’t remember.

She grabbed the bunch of purslane out of my hands and went off with it, returning with another woman. Together, they explained that they called it farfina. A lot of laughing and chat about where to find it and how to use it–there’s apparently a great recipe where you chop it up very fine, combine it with dried sardines, pepper, lemon, and then put it on top of rice. It’s on the top of the list for recipes to try in the immediate future. In all the excitement, the purslane got a bit crushed and I had to sort out the wilted leaves later that night.

So, in addition to being extremely high in omega-3, a traditional medicine, and cited by Pliny the Elder as an amulet against all evil, purslane, weed of many names, found all over the world, can also help you make friends.

Navigating Brutalism at the 100 Minories Archaeology Project

Back in 2012, Dan and I worked at the fantastic 100 Minories project with L-P Archaeology. They’re some of my favorite people, so I was sad that I was not able to work with them on the excavation phase of the project, which is currently in full swing. I have two blog posts about the evaluation stage, wherein archaeologists dug to 7m deep, punching test pits through the thick London stratigraphy:

100 Minories Project
Diggin’ Deep at 100 Minories

They have their own, very nice project website now, take a gander:

http://100minories.lparchaeology.com/ 

And they’ve featured some of the building recording photography that Dan and I did inside the old Navigation School, a 1960s Brutalist structure:

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Check out a few of the rest of the images HERE. I swear we used a scale in most of them, they just picked the ones without!

Mornings in the Manor

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It was all so new, a year ago, when I described the over and under and through of my commute to work, walking through a microcosm of English history. Now it passes in a blur, I’m either in my headphones listening to a podcast or buzzing by on my lovely Gazelle–the sturdy Danish bicycle that I steer over frozen cobblestones and muddy, overgrown pathways.

I was delayed this morning by a brief flurry of snow, predicated by an Easter pink and yellow sky. I don’t notice my commute much, and a lot of the culture shock has worn off. Now I hear my previous self in other Americans, going on and on about the subtle differences, the quirks, the realignment of world view, and I hope that I wasn’t that completely tedious. I probably was.

I can understand most of what people say these days, even the most York-shure, and I don’t get as many looks of utter incomprehension when I ask for eggs or butter. Verbal code-switching has become comfortable and useful, though there’s still the occasional confusion with “shop” and “store” and a few other things.

So I was in my at-least-partially-acculturated haze this morning, wheeling my bicycle over the big stone pavers of King’s Manor, when I crossed paths with one of the lovely porters. We don’t really have porters in the States, they’re sort of watchmen/caretakers of the building, but not janitors or rent-a-cop security. They are constantly kicking me out of the building, as I often work until closing time–19:00 (7:00PM)–shockingly early in academia-land. But they do it with a smile, especially after I engaged on a military-esque campaign of extreme friendliness until even the most curmudgeonly porter relented.

As usual, I greeted the porter with a big smile and wave, and, code-switching without a thought, asked him if he liked the snow this morning. He returned my smile and said, in the most charming of accents:

“No, no. We never like the snow.”

Something about his cheerfully brusque response, the big old medieval walls rising around me, and the clatter of my bicycle wheels over the pavers pushed me out of my acculturation and made me notice again, back to being a stranger in a strange land. But I’m okay with that. If anything it made me happy to be reminded of how far I’ve been, how much I’ve changed, and how many adventures are yet to come.

Where are the Female Contemporary Archaeologists?

Citational communities can be at turns fascinating, infuriating, and utterly destructive. Literature is easier than ever to search for, but there’s also an unholy amount of it out there–while I was finishing my thesis on digital archaeology I had to cut off my research references at 2011 or else be crushed under an unending tidal wave of words. It’s worse when you do very interdisciplinary work, and even worse when you move between two very large research communities, USA and Europe, and get reviewed by scholars from all over the world. I’m glad I don’t deal much with other languages or I think I’d run off into the Pennines, never to be seen again. It’s deadening. Impossible. Right?

So it’s tempting to cite Latour, five of your good friends, then send your work off to the journal, figuring that the peer reviewers will ask you to cite THEIR research as well, and be done with it. There’s constant snide struggles between academics at even the top levels who intentionally do not cite each other, and perpetuate this onto their students, who advance within an echo chamber, only occasionally stumbling on the other work later down the road. It’s disheartening.

But sometimes it’s just citational communities–when I took my methods & theory class at UC Berkeley, the professors teaching it told us that they were making us Berkeley Archaeologists, giving us their particular take on current literature. I deeply appreciated this. Still, when we reach outside of our citational community, we tap the works of the Great Thinkers and pat ourselves on the backs for being such fashion-forward interdisciplinary academics, truly expanding the field.

Then you see yet another volume of archaeologists talking to each other without referencing anyone outside of their small circle.

Then you see a talk that provides a survey of a particular subfield where not a SINGLE woman is referenced.

Then you see a whole panel of editors for a new journal without any women.

And this doesn’t even take into account indigenous scholars, people of color, non-Western scholars, etc, because that’s so utterly depressing that I can’t even start.

So it was with great interest that I read Zoe Todd’s “An Indigenous Feminist’s take on the Ontological Turn” who articulates this so much better than I ever could:

So, for every time you want to cite a Great Thinker who is on the public speaking circuit these days, consider digging around for others who are discussing the same topics in other ways. Decolonising the academy, both in europe and north america, means that we must consider our own prejudices, our own biases. Systems like peer-review and the subtle violence of european academies tend to privilege certain voices and silence others.

She provides a “cheat sheet,” a list of people who have been thinking about, in this case, the Ontological Turn for decades. Brilliant.

In this spirit, I’ve started a list of Female Contemporary Archaeologists, for our own “cite this, not that” list. When I emailed the list to a few colleagues to get it started, there was the recognition that a lot of these women don’t have positions in the academy, were not able to operationalize non-standard archaeological practice into so-called “real jobs.” Still, many continue to publish and contribute to archaeology and do fantastic, citable work. The list is editable, please add publications, names, keywords, anything you can think of:

Female Contemporary Archaeologists

I encourage you to set up your own “cheat sheets” and edit them, share them, and consider accordingly evaluating the next hiring decision, the next conference–heck, scan the references of the next paper you write. Who is your citational community? Are you perpetuating a hetero-normative, racist, colonialist, male-dominated academy, even while speaking in emancipatory tropes?

How Savage is Your Savagery?

After receiving some rather chilling feedback regarding the name of my blog, you know, Middle Savagery, I took a step back to think about it a little bit more. I thought it was obvious to everyone, that it was reclaiming an arcane, racist category for classifying ancient societies in a reflexive, anthropological way. I shouldn’t have assumed.

While I had been blogging since 2001, I started my archaeology-based blog in 2004, after taking Sam Wilson’s excellent The Archaeology of Complex Societies class, wherein we had to directly address what complexity means. It was one of those game-changing classes for me, a rigorous exploration of archaeological literature on complexity that revealed my own assumptions about social organization a moment before blowing them completely away. In it, we learned about the history of categorizing ancient societies, including Lewis H. Morgan’s system of progression through savagery, barbarism and civilization, with gradations of Upper, Middle and Lower for each category.

So when I heard that the name was not well received, I was taken aback. By now Middle Savagery feels worn-in, well-used, easy–perhaps lacking the sharpness of critique, an archaeological in-joke on a blog that has grown far beyond the original intended audience of friends and the handful of archaeologists communicating online at the time. I thought about transitioning to a new blog, but I’m torn. I might still. Lacking that, I re-wrote my rather glib About page to include the following:

The name of this blog is from Ancient Society written in 1877 by Lewis H. Morgan. In a very racist, colonialist way, he categorized all societies within an arcane hierarchy, ranging from Savagery to Civilization. In a fit of reflexive angst brought on by sharing the last name Morgan, in 2004 I named this blog after one of these categories, “Middle Savagery,” to highlight the ludicrous nature of ranking ancient and modern societies along such lines. It is not meant to perpetuate or codify these categories in any way, but for us to highlight the suspect history of anthropological and archaeological thought.

Even as archaeological blogging has grown vast and somewhat mundane, I hope that I can keep up a little outpost here at Middle Savagery. That, and we’re finally publishing the papers from my 2011 SAA Session on blogging in the excellent, Open Access Internet Archaeology–look for it in the coming months.

Art, Archaeology, and Fonts at the Van Eyck

The Jan van Eyck Academie felt otherworldly, a precise, modern shadowbox surrounded by winding medieval streets. Artists wandered in and out of studios, only vaguely curious as to what a gaggle of archaeologists was doing at an art institute in Maastricht, Holland.

I was almost too distracted to notice. I about to give the keynote lecture for the NEARCH meeting, on Archaeology and the Image, and navigating between the two audiences I would be addressing was making me nervous. Very prominent, senior academic archaeologists and cutting-edge contemporary artists would be hearing all about archaeological photography, modernity, and representation. Or my take on it, at least.

Art/Archaeology at the Van Eyck! #holland #nearch

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So when I came across this pair of doors leading into studios, I had to laugh. What better description of life as a postdoc? “Super confident, always worried” indeed. Except in my case those two doors would lead to the same office.

Touring the incredible @jve_academie print studio.

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Later, we’d go on a tour of the Van Eyck, including the print workshop where artists and scientists print and bind beautiful catalogues and single, masterful pieces. I knew that they specialized in older, analogue printing techniques and yet I couldn’t conceal my delight when the cabinets of heavy typeface were opened. As a child I toured a print shop where they were switching over to digital printing and I was given my initials in letterpress lead block caps, all in slightly different sizes: C.L.M.

 

The print master showing us around had twinkling eyes and a million inks spread across his work shirt–I couldn’t resist asking him about the Van Eyck’s particular, casually stylish font. Apparently it was traced from the remains of the work of the sign painter, Pierre Bonten, who painted the “no parking” signs outside the Institute. It was clever; the font combined an appreciation of the past of the institute, a nod toward craftmanship, and the interplay between analogue and digital forms of expression.

bontepike

This artistic, archaeological font is named Bontepike, Here’s a video about the process:

Digging for DNA on Medium.com

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I’m very pleased with this long-form, popular article that I wrote: Digging for DNA: Archaeology, Genetics & the Transatlantic Slave Trade. I wasn’t sure where to put it at first, as it’s long for many journals, and a lot of places do not accept unsolicited manuscripts. Journalistic writing is surprisingly difficult to break into! It was also one of the more difficult things that I’ve written, as it details very contentious issues in research on ethnicity and genetics.

While my name is on the byline, it received quite a few edits from the researchers involved–precise language is important in discussions of scientific research, and I wanted to be sure that I wasn’t misrepresenting perspectives of the researchers and fellows involved.

It was also interesting to write something for Medium.com, as there does not seem to be much of an archaeological presence there. Additionally, they give you stats on how many people get to the bottom of the article–so far, less than 1/3 of readers muscled their way through the nearly 5,000 words.

Overall, it has been a revelation working with the EUROTAST network, and has considerably shaped my future research projects. I hope you enjoy this discussion of their research! Here’s the first paragraph of the article:

Marcela Sandoval gave me a wry grin, then covered her face with a mask. Next, a covering for her hair, goggles, booties over her shoes, and a crisp, white suit that crinkled when she moved. Finally, a pair of turgid purple latex gloves snapped into place. She put her hands on her hips and impatiently motioned for me to get on with it. I awkwardly pulled on my own clean suit and followed her into the laboratory, where a faint glow outlined test tubes and complex machines.

Here, in this quiet room, was the beginning of a complex, captivating story about genetics, ethnicity, and the archaeological past.

For more, go to:
https://medium.com/@colleenmorgan/digging-for-dna-3c1984ed94d6