Monthly Archives: September 2008

New Kit!

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I’m always on the lookout for new additions to my archaeology kit bag, and I got these from 99 Ranch, a local Asian supermarket.  The ruler is particularly exciting, as it makes a great ratcheting noise when opening and has holes so you can mark precisely at each centimeter.  I did a lot of drawing this summer, but didn’t bring any of my own supplies so I was using the side of a plastic compass for a straight-edge, which was wholly unsatisfying.

And they’re pink with horrible pandas, which will surely bring groans from fellow archaeologists.  Yaaay! All of this for about $3.  Not bad.

The Main Contributions of Archaeology to Culture

X: “Since the beginning of time, people have….”
Archaeologist: “Um, actually, you’re wrong.”

X: “There aren’t any good places to drink around here.”
Archaeologist: “Um, actually, you’re wrong.”

I function as this kind of contrarian in the new media research seminar I’m in this semester. I don’t actually have to take any more classes after advancing to candidacy, but I just can’t resist the opportunity to wade in with the rhetoric and performance studies kids, continental philosophy flying. Last night we were discussing Pandora’s Hope, and Latour’s characterization of the “primitive” was driving me crazy, as usual.

“there is an extraordinary continuity, which historians and philosophers of technology have increasingly made legible, between nuclear plants, missile-guidance systems, computer-chip design, or subway automation and the ancient mixture of society, symbols, and matter that ethnographers and archaeologists have studied for generations in the cultures of New Guinea, Old England, or sixteenth-century Burgundy.  Unlike what is held by the traditional distinction, the difference between an ancient or “primitive” collective and a modern or “advanced” one is not that the former manifests a rich mixture of social and technical culture while the latter exhibits of technology devoid of ties with the social order”

Okay, I’m with you, Bruno.

“The difference, rather, is that the latter translates, crosses over, enrolls, and mobilizes more elements which are more intimately connected, with a more finely woven social fabric, than the former does (…) The adjective modern does not describe an increased distance between society and technology or their alienation, but a deepened intimacy, a more intricate mesh between the two.”

Wait, a deepened intimacy?  How does that show up in the archaeological record?  We are more intimate with our technology/actants these days?  (ad nasuem)  They haven’t kicked me out of the class yet, but maybe I’m not trying hard enough.

Utilized Glass and Experimental Archaeology in Kalaupapa

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One of my pet interests in archaeology is utilized glass, that is, glass that has been repurposed for cutting or scraping.  One of the best examples of this are the glass points of Ishi, a collection that I studied and wrote up during my first year of grad school.  Since then I haven’t worked much with utilized glass, so it came as a lovely surprise to find so much of it at Kalaupapa.  James and I planned and collected a large scatter that came up as at least 50% utilized after we looked at it in the lab.

We washed all the glass, then sorted and drew pieces that were either utilized or had identifying marks on them.  A lot of the glass looked really modern, as in, about 100 years old or so.  You can figure out a bottle’s age by color and by morphology, particularly by how the bottle’s neck and base were fixed to the body.  If you’d like to find out more about how to do this, one of the best references is the Parks Canada Glass Glossary, available here.

But we going “chicken blind” (as my darling Serbian friend Marina would term it) and we were starting to doubt our analyses.  So we did a little experimental archaeology.

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Making Beer at WAC-6

I’m still trying to get organized and squashing all the email demons that arose while being gone most of the summer, but I’ll have more about Kalaupapa shortly.  In the meantime, with the courtesy of the Moore Group:

Making Beer at WAC 6

(click on the image to enlarge)

There was also experimental bronze making at WAC.  I think this should lead to a trend of conferences where we just reenact the archaeology we find.  Though that might be a little awkward with the more burial-oriented presentations.

Kalaupapa Archaeology

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Aloha!  I spent last week in Kalaupapa, a northern peninsula on the island of Molokai in Hawaii.  I’ve been helping a fellow graduate student out with his dissertation research on the historic lepertorium here on the island.  It’s particularly relevant as Farther Damien, a missionary who came to the island and ended up getting leprosy himself, is getting sainted and then the whole peninsula–hereto mostly isolated–will go mad.  Access to the peninsula is limited to a small plane and a steep hike up the highest sea cliffs in the world.  I went top-side for the weekend, up all 29 switch-backs, picking ripe guava along the way to snack on. 

During my first week here we worked at a site that had a chimney still standing.  The locals speculated that it had been a bakery, but the archaeology seems to indicate otherwise.  We opened up a few test units and found a lot of nails and a huge concentration of melted glass–much more than at surrounding sites.  Any ideas?  In one of the test units I found what looked like a foundation–stacked stones with just a bit of mortar sticking to one of them–but it didn’t pan out in the other units that we opened up surrounding it.  It’s a bit difficult to look for architecture here, as it’s made out of black a`a` (a kind of lava rock), which is all over the place on the island and typically robbed to create other structures and kicked around a lot.

We also planned and tested a site that was post-on-stone construction in the middle of a large date palm forest.  The trees kept dropping fruit all around us and the ground was just positively hair with roots.  Kalaupapa has been amazing like that–we eat frest fish, breadfruit, oranges, and avocados that we gather ourselves and that the locals share with us.  It has been an incredible experience getting to know the community and the archaeology, not to mention being able to jump in the gorgeous clear blue-green ocean each day after work!

Unfortunately I was only able to get a few photos uploaded, due to the vagaries of internet access (and no cellphone signal), but I should be able to share more once I am back on the mainland.