Monthly Archives: May 2011

Then Dig – Live!

Then Dig is live! Check out the fantastic Distance theme that Alun Salt put together here:
http://arf.berkeley.edu/then-dig

And “like”: the Facebook page for updates:
http://www.facebook.com/pages/Then-Dig/207459359276221

Apocryphilic, Epigraphic Archaeology

Being that I am a fervent scholar of the marginalia of archaeology, and that I am in the middle of some fairly hardcore dissertation reading and writing, I thought I’d take a break to blog about the use of epigraphs in archaeological writing. For the unwashed (including myself, as I had to look it up), an epigraph is a quote before the main body of a piece of writing. As wikipedia has it, “the epigraph may serve as a preface, as a summary, as a counter-example, or to link the work to a wider literary canon, either to invite comparison or to enlist a conventional context.” (Sorry epigraphers, I didn’t mean to get you all excited.)

While many academics either don’t read them or don’t use them, a good epigraph gives context to the intellectual universe of the piece. It’s a yearning for what you wish you were writing or what you hope to convey with the coming turgid academic prose. It can serve as a nod to a more poetic literature, or as a reference to a parallel understanding of a subject. The Archaeology of Islam by Timothy Insoll begins each chapter with a quotation from the Qur’an, Archaeology as Political Action by Randall H. McGuire begins with a Marx & Engels quote and the Gero & Conkey collection Engendering Archaeology dedicates a full half-page to a quote from John Berger’s Pig Earth about a kind of cheese. It’s one of my favorite epigraphs and I reproduced it in full on my tumblr blog if you are curious.

I admit that when I added “Life is short and filled with stuff.  – The Cramps” as an epigraph to my first archaeology paper in graduate school, it was an oversimplified reaction to the main project of archaeology and probably a reflection of how homesick I was for my family of friends in Austin.

Beyond the relatively simple, static, textual epigraph, social media and digital technology can provide generalized epigraphic enhancement. If you were following my last.fm feed you could tell that I have certain songs that I listen to fairly regularly while I write. The songs shape and invade the writing, no matter how rigidly academic or blandly passive and prosaic the report or article may be. Tumblr and Flickr serve much the same purpose with quotes from books I’m reading or images from what is in front of me. One of my colleagues said that she could always see if her grad students were busy or stressed out by how many photos of books or coffee they were uploading. Digital technology can turn writing an article into a performance, if the writer chooses to let the audience into their secret chambers.

While it is possible that writing doesn’t need this amount of embroidered reflexivity, ultimately any piece of research is an assemblage. A good, elegantly written article can stand by itself–but sometimes I wish I could turn on a more universal “track changes” to see what lies beneath.

Sneak Preview – Then Dig

On June 1st, Then Dig, the collaborative archaeology group blog, will debut with its first issue: Distance. I’m getting together my post for Distance, but if you are interested in participating, the Call for Posts is here:

http://arf.berkeley.edu/then-dig/2011/05/cfpo-distance/

I made a one-sheet for it that we’ll be distributing on the various archaeology mailing lists. So, expect us!

Dinner with Sinan

The MUNI ride was interminable. I was late, but I knew I was going to be late, after checking out an Afro-Futurist art show in Hayes Valley and standing for too long on a windy windy hill while the sun set over Divisidero. The MUNI was behind schedule and packed. The gears and wires groaned as we inch-wormed over the hills of San Francisco.

Most of the guests were around the table already, drinking wine and eating cheese. Ruth’s dining room has been a constant during my graduate education–dinners with visiting academics, Thanksgivings where I’m one of the few Americans attending, parties for the successful passing of first year exams, always centered on her long, wooden table.

The occasion last night was a visit from playwright Sinan Ünel, who doing some background research–he’s interested in writing a play about an archaeologist at Çatalhöyük. Burcu spoke about interacting with the local community, Meg (who has never worked at Çatalhöyük, but has no end of wonderful insights about archaeology) chatted about Maria Gimbutas and feminist/masculinist archaeology, and Ruth spoke of hand ballets and the differences between being filmed by a stranger as opposed to another archaeologist.

The conversation wandered from archaeology to the news, and back to Çatalhöyük again. We started talking about excavating burials, as Sinan was particularly inspired by Ruth’s Remember Me video:

I was trying to think like a playwright–how would you stage an excavation in a way that would be interesting and meaningful to an audience? Usually plays are up on stage, with audiences looking up at the actors, whereas archaeologists are often at the bottom of a pit, the gladiators in the colosseum–or the monkeys in a zoo–with audiences towering over us. The excavation could be projected above the actors, I suppose, if the director was looking for verisimilitude. It would be difficult to show the face to face relationship that an excavator has with a burial, the intimacy of the small tools scraping out lacunae, carefully keeping everything in place.

Finally, I was struck by a visualization of excavation that I have often felt, but have not really articulated. The excavator identifies a burial cut, clears away all of the fill, bags the finds, photographs & draws the skeleton, writes up the 3+ context sheets that accompany the burial, makes sure that everything is fully recorded, and then…relief. The time between the full exposure of a burial and lifting the skeleton is harrowing, tension-filled–will I finish recording it in time, will I be able to keep all of the bones clean and in place for the photograph, am I taking too long, am I hurrying too much? This anxiety accompanies the exposure of most complex archaeology, but is much more pronounced for burials–unless, I suppose, you are a bioarchaeologist who digs nothing but burials.

There is this moment of release after I realize that the burial has been fully accounted for and I can start lifting and wrapping the bones, and I suddenly thought of that moment as literal release, as the person, now free of the dirt, getting up and walking away. Not a collection of bones, but as they once were. A moment, while not real in the field, could be made actual on the stage. (And then the newly revealed person walks down into the bioarch lab, lays on the table, submits to an inspection, and then is rolled up into a labeled box to live on a shelf in a dusty storage facility.)

After dinner Ruth drove us to the BART and we chatted with Sinan for a while longer. He was overwhelmed by the subject, by all of us, and had to have some time to think.

Today, during my morning jog around the lake, I listened to another episode of Radio Lab. One of the commentators said something to the effect that while science tells us that we are not unique or special in this universe, art tells us that we are. I’m not sure that the archaeologist on stage will be recognizable to me, that I will identify her hand with my own as she trowels across the dirt, and if that it is even important that she is recognizable. Ultimately Sinan will decide what is important to convey about the science and art of archaeology, the deeper meaning of it all, and I am excited to find out what that is.

Archaeology, Anthropology, and Multi-sited Ethnography

Here is my contribution to anthropologies, an excellent online collaborative project featuring short contributions regarding various anthropological topics. This month’s prompt was, “What does an archaeological perspective bring to anthropology?” I’m not sure that I answered the question, but judge for yourself:
A couple of weeks ago I attended a brown bag lecture given by Barbara Voss (Stanford) titled Sexual Effects: Postcolonial and Queer Perspectives on the Archaeology of Sexuality. It was an excellent overview of her research on China Camp in San Jose, California, a community that was overwhelmingly male. In her talk she discussed what the materiality of homosociality looks like as well as how we can think about gender and sexuality in the past. Barbara Voss is a prominent voice in the field of archaeology, and her work is interdisciplinary to the core. The talk was well attended, but I didn’t recognize any socio-cultural anthropologists in the audience. This was a fairly typical occurrence, sadly. Even at our more formal gatherings, the Monday evening 290 lectures, the socio-cultural professors and students are completely absent at talks that feature archaeologists.
There are a number of ways one could react to this, and I think I’ve run the gamut at this point. Do They (the capitalization as the beginning of an anti-fraternal sentiment) think that the past (Us) is irrelevant? Do they just not understand archaeology? Do they not feel like we have anything to offer them? Or are they just bowing underneath the substantial burden of both a widening of anthropological purview and a narrowing of in-field specialization? In their introduction to the 2009 Annual Review of Anthropology, Don Brenneis and Peter Ellison succinctly address this point, stating that “The expanding universe of knowledge increases the distance between disciplines of inquiry as the techniques and theories that are developed at the advancing edges of fields become ever more remote from their common roots.” The study of human experience has become so broad that the specializations necessary to make meaningful contributions to research, to carve out your own niche, leave no time for holism.

Oakland Chinatown Saturday

Pandan waffles on a gray Oakland day.

CV – Revamp

I occasionally get people downloading my CV from my About page, and I feel a little embarrassed when it happens. The New Media CV is three years out of date, and the Archaeology CV is a ridiculous six pages long! I’ve made selective CVs from time to time for permits, the Qatar job and whatnot, but I wanted to make a one-page CV that shows what I do. I’ll certainly revise it when I start applying to academic jobs, but I think that it’s a pretty good representation of the weird interdisciplinary space I’m in.

While I was tempted to be creative, I just chose a slightly different font for my name and the section titles. I used Adobe Illustrator instead of Word so I could play with the spacing, but it looks like there’s some funny spacing under Publications.

The content of the CV was a little hard as well; there’s a reason I’ve kept separate archaeology and new media CVs. My teaching experience (11 semesters, not including field schools) and fieldwork (10 academic sites and about the same in CRM) took up a page each! I also knocked out my awards/honors and my grants because I think that most people if they don’t see NSF or Wenner Gren, they aren’t interested. The last thing I cut were my papers presented because there were 13 of them and the best of them have turned into publications anyway.

So what do you think? Too unprofessional? Too boring? Let me have it!