Monthly Archives: October 2007

The Church

“The old porch by which we entered, black, pocked like a skimming ladle, was uneven and deeply hollowed at the edges (like the font to which it led us), as if the gentle brushing of the country-women’s cloaks as they entered the church and of their timid fingers taking holy water could, repeated over centuries, acquire a destructive force, bend the stone and carve it with furrows like those traced by the wheel of a cart in a boundary stone which it knocks against every day.  Its tombstones, under which the noble dust of the abbots of Combray, who were buried there, formed for the choir a sort of spiritual pavement, were themselves no longer inert and hard matter, for time had softened them and made them flow like honey beyond the bounds of their own square shapes, which, in one place, they had overrun in a flaxed billow, carrying off on their drift a flowery Gothic capital letter, drowning the white violets of the marble….”

(Marcel Proust, Swann’s Way)
(Poems and prose that remind me of archaeology, pt 5)

I wasn’t sure about this new translation by Davis, but am relaxing into it, finding it as lush and velvety as the Moncrieff version, if not more so.  Proust is a nice break from some of the more jagged academic writing; it makes me feel like I’m sitting underneath a large tree in the summertime, without a care in the world.

Anyone want a madeleine?

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And now for something completely different….

http://www.blm.gov/ca/media/flash/fb/curse.html

This flash animation is just downright bizarre.

1) Stereotypical representations of “rednecks” and Native Americans, check.

2)  GPS is evil, check.

3)  Weird disappearance of Native Americans, check.

4) Spiritual possession of park rangers, check.

5) Is that a moon crater in the foreground?

Maybe my “Berkeley” hat is on too tight, but yeesh!

The Work of Archaeology in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

That’s the tentative title for my session at WAC (the World Archaeological Congress).  It’s more suited for TAG, and I was intending to have a TAG session, way back when, but got busy and didn’t get around to it.  Maybe next year. Maybe I’ll save the title and go with my original:  Art, Archaeology and Technology: Current Experiments in Interpretation.  Hmm.

Here’s a draft of the abstract:

 Archaeologists have been rapidly integrating new media technologies into their interpretive schemes through a variety of methods.  Virtual worlds, social networking websites, blogs, wikis, and digital photo mash-ups are becoming legitimate alternate ways to present archaeological information.  Lower entry points for remixing photography, film, and databases into multimodal presentations increase the potential for archaeologists to use these media to tell their own stories. This, combined with a growing ubiquity of online media platforms, allows us to reach out to new publics by integrating archaeology into a greater social sphere.  Situated in a conference that is fully engaged with questions regarding the future of archaeology, this session explores current and future interpretive projects inspired by new media art and technology.  In this exploration we will discuss alternate narratives, collective actions and what it means to be an archaeologist in the digital age.  Alternate forms of papers and presentations such as films or websites are welcomed. 

Emplaced vs. Virtual Interpretation

Oof, gotta take a break from negotiating the “visual turn” in text. Sometimes I wish I could just make a film to show at my orals this spring. Anyway, I was chatting with a friend about the recent virtual worlds conference in San Francisco about the world of Second Life and other recreated experiences and both of us expressed some scepticism about the utility of the concept. Admittedly, I am more interested in emplaced interpretation–giving people the tools to better understand the place that they currently inhabit, rather than a virtualized interpretation of a different place, but there is a lot of overlap between the two concepts in new media.

To illustrate, Vassar (a college I actually almost went to, had I not nearly failed out of high school out of boredom and distaste) has brought the Sistine Chapel to Second Life:

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It’s apparently a proof of concept by Steve Taylor for experiencing art and architecture virtually. Neat idea, especially in that you can fly, and aren’t hurried through by crowds and guards. And, apparently, you can sit next to some guy with black wings. I’m curious to see if there is any interpretation, like text boxes explaining the art or the building material.

Lower tech, and closer to home (physically not virtually, I guess!) is the recent Helena Keeffe project which involves drawings of actual San Francisco Muni drivers, along with their stories AND their interpretations of their own routes. While I am interested in the Second Life project, these art installations are exciting and inspirational. First, for the non-Bay Area readers, riding the Muni (bus/train system in SF) can be a full-contact sport, and I’ve always thought the drivers must have near-heroic capacities for putting up with craziness and general mayhem.

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Second, Helena Keeffe puts a face on these drivers and brings their interpretations of the route they see every day to the thousands of people who ride public transportation every day, not just to a select few who go to a gallery (in real life or online). I love that there are maps, annotated by the driver, along with drawings of different incidents which stand out in their minds.

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As an archaeologist, I’d love to harness this interaction with place. As I was riding home from the Pamuk lecture with Burcu and a couple I had just met, Pamuk’s commentary on buildings came up, and the woman (I’m criminally horrible with names) mentioned that she’s now looking at the buildings in a different light, wondering about their histories, wondering who lives/lived there. Yes.

Back to work!

Mudbricks, pt. 2

It was a dark and rainy day at the Presidio.

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Perfect for making mudbricks, right?

Our mix was made from the backdirt from the Cabrillo College excavations over the summer, water, and some dried grass. We left out the sand, as the dirt is already very sandy. Ideally we would have dug down to subsoil for more clay, but the back dirt is there, so we thought we’d mix a trial batch.

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It was way too wet.

The directions say that you should be able to remove them from their molds in 15 mins-1 hour. Ours took…2.5 days.

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Not bad though, and now we have three more in the molds. I intend to make proper wooden molds soon (1/3 vara x 2/3 vara, for those who like to count in archaic Spanish measurements, or roughly 11″x22″). Hopefully I’ll get the mix right by the time the first school group arrives.

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Relative Pitch

I was carrying supplies back up the mountain
when I heard it, the laughter of children,
so strange in that starkness.
Pushed past the brush and scrub willow
and saw a ruined farmhouse and girls
in ragged clothes. They had rigged a swing
and were playing as though they were happy,
as if they did not know any better.
Having no way to measure, I thought,
remembering the man in Virginia who found
a ruined octagonal mansion
and repaired it perfectly. For months
he walked through the grand empty rooms
wondering what they were like.
Until he found a broken chair in the attic
and re-created the colors and scale. discovered
maybe the kind of life the house was.
Strangers leave us poems to tell of those
they loved, how the heart broke, to whisper
of the religion upstairs in the dark,
sometimes in the parlor amid blazing sunlight,
and under trees with rain coming down
in August on the bare, unaccustomed bodies.

(By Jack Gilbert, in The Great Fires)
(Poems and prose that remind me of archaeology, pt 4)

Project Archaeology

I attended a Project Archaeology workshop on Saturday and Sunday (10+ hours each day, including commute!) to train to become a local facilitator. This means that I will be certified to train local teachers on how to bring archaeology into their curriculum. This has become increasingly difficult with all the standards that were put into place with our favorite president, W, and his horrific “no child left behind” program. I’m not sure how often I will actually be hosting workshops, but it isn’t an awful thing to have on my resume, and the workbook has a lot of great exercises so we don’t have to keep re-inventing the wheel when we’re doing outreach.

Speaking of these exercises, I was struck by their very Americanist portrayal of stratigraphy:
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I know it is an oversimplification, but the objects are independent of the stratigraphy–floating in space instead of respecting the ground layer they once sat on. I’d love to see the British equivalent–maybe I’ll hit up my favorite informant for visualizations from the Old World.

Also, note to self: FIND MORE MAMMOTH SKULLS.