The Conclusions of the Conclusions

This is it, folks. The concluding paragraph of my dissertation. It’s a bit melodramatic, like my own self. On to new adventures!

A full account of theoretically informed, activist, digital archaeology is beyond the confines of a single dissertation. It is a collective effort, forged by a community of passionate, informed, critical makers in archaeology. This community has been built through the strange intimacy of social media, during sessions at academic meetings, and by friendships that can only form in grubby trenches. As archaeology intermingles with new media, visual studies, materiality, and other interdisciplinary forces, encountering 3-D printing, augmented reality, and other polyvalent digital artifacts, my contribution to this community is a sounding-board to facilitate critical discussions in the field. The tradition of craft in archaeology has been brutally squandered; as the de-skilling and devaluation of archaeologists continues through the culture of academic underrepresentation, lack of training, and a world-wide paucity of funding for cultural heritage, recognition for the origin of archaeological data and its relative reliability has dwindled. Even as complex network analyses of migratory patterns, massive relational databases, and vast 3-D reconstructions of Roman cities are created, the underlying data relies on the skilled labor of craftsmen and craftswomen in archaeology. A better archaeology is a participatory, multivocal, craft-based archaeology that recognizes the value of both dirt and digital archaeologists. Using digital media to highlight inequity, to bring the voices of stakeholders into relief, to de-center interpretations, and to make things and share them is a gift to archaeology, and a threat, and a promise.

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AAA 2013: A Digital Ecology of Sharing Archaeology

Sorry to post yet another abstract, but the American Anthropological Association has come to San Francisco and I’m presenting in a fantastic panel titled, Sharing Anthropology: Theorizing Anthropological Research in the Age of Social Media. All of the rest of the presenters are anthropologists (except for Ryan Anderson, who is a sneaky former archaeologist) so I’ll be one reppin’ the field.

Sadly my slides aren’t going to be quite as fantastic as the ones I previously posted, but what can you do? Here’s my abstract:

A Digital Ecology of Sharing Archaeology

Clean. Draw. Photograph. Level. Record. Dig. Sample. Sort Artifacts. Share.

Share?

Archaeologists are increasingly recognizing the benefits of an online presence. Field school blogs and project Facebook pages have become standard outreach fare. Yet this outreach is often an afterthought, relegated to undergraduate students and rarely cultivated as a legitimate expression of archaeological research. I argue that unless digital sharing moves beyond a rarely-updated Facebook page and is integrated into all aspects of archaeological practice it will always be considered an illegitimate by-product, remaining at the fringes of our profession, a poor shadow of the potential that digital outreach has for communicating with the public. This integration involves disrupting our professional customs to re-frame our research in terms of expressive, teachable moments. Contrary to the opinion that sharing at an intimate level would compromise our research, I argue that sharing can introduce reflexivity into the archaeological process and increase multivocality among project participants. Creating a digital ecology wherein archaeological research is made available “at the trowel’s edge” and rewarded as a legitimate undertaking is risky, unpredictable, and utterly necessary to usher archaeology into the digital age.

Bug Stories.


After all of the horrible, dense, theoretical verbiage I’ve had to toss at the screen today, I got in the mood for a little storytelling, inspired by an exchange on twitter. Every archaeologist has their own bug stories, so I’ll share a few of mine. I’ve worked in a few places in the world, and each has their own array of flora and fauna. I run a strict no-kill policy in my trenches. Spiders, snakes, lizards, worms, we get it all, and I do my best to carefully move them to another place. I’ve also had goats, puppies, cows, raccoons, cats, and mice in my trenches, but we’ll stay away from the mammals for now. (Also a rather creepy set of barefoot human footprints on a restricted site that did not appear at all outside the trench…yeah.)

I did my first field work in Texas, where there are an uncommon quantity and quality of bugs. There are the generalized menace bugs, such as horseflies, ticks, centipedes, chiggers, and fire ants and these are pretty much a fact of life. Add that to poison oak, poison ivy, heat stroke, and the fact that every single goddamn plant south of Austin is sharp, it can make survey pretty miserable. There’s a plant called crucifixion thorn that doesn’t even have leaves, only thorns…and the horse cripplers and the bull nettles. But again, I’m not here to talk about plants.

I was working with John Lowe (was it the Siren site?) when I got a mean set of chiggers. Chiggers aren’t well known to the rest of the world, but they’re mean little mites that like to burrow through your socks and give you a terribly itchy bite. They burrow into your skin, eat a little bit of you, and then fall back out again. They tend to leave horrible mountains of pus on me…not so pleasant. The next day my co-worker Tina and I stumbled into a seed tick nest, which makes you look like a poppy seed bagel, all covered in tiny little black spots that are biting you. When I got back to my hotel room I picked them off, squishing them between my thumbnails until they popped. I stopped counting at 70. Finally, I got bitten by a spider while riding in the site vehicle back to the office, which left an egg-sized welt on my inner wrist.

A few days later, big lumps started forming all along my shins and upper arms. I ignored it until my joints started seizing up and I couldn’t walk anymore.  I went to the doctor and it was one of those things where they started calling in more and more people to check me out. Turns out I got Erythema nodosum, an autoimmune response, in my case, to “excessive envenomation.”

One more story, and I’ll call it a night. I have to get back to the ol’ dissertation. There’s a lot of spiders around, including the pregnant camel spider I have pictured above (it’s actually a bit small for a camel spider), the bright green spiders that come out alongside your trench when it’s over 100F, and the baby tarantulas that are in tunnels they burrow in the ground and flop out wetly into your trench when you accidentally expose them. I was at another site in South Texas, lovely site, basically a riverbed with lovely cherty gravels and some questionable paleoindian artifacts mixed in. I’m afraid that my employer didn’t get their full day of work from me, as I spent at least a solid hour watching a tarantula fight a tarantula hawk. Tarantula hawks are large wasps that like to find tarantulas and paralyze them, drag them back into their nest, and lay their eggs in their still-living bodies. Pretty cool stuff.

This dance lasted a long time, the tarantula waving its front legs around, trying to run away, the gorgeous black and russet wasp diving in again and again. Finally, the wasp got behind it and I could see the tarantula twitching as it was stung with the long stinger. The wasp dragged the tarantula for what seemed like ages. I’d go and sort rocks and then come back and the thing was still dragging the big hairy spider around. Finally it disappeared somewhere, I’m assuming the burrow, and all was peaceful again.

A lot of people will kill bugs first thing when they see them, and I slap mosquitos and fire ants like anyone else. But checking out a preying mantis, or those ridiculous big black beetles as big as your thumb that would turn over on their backs and just helplessly twitch at Catalhoyuk, finding a ridiculous looking caterpillar, being tasted by butterflies…it’s just another reason I love archaeology. Bitey, evil bugs and all.

The Archaeology of Digital Abandonment

There’s a fantastic conference going on at University College London on the 8th and 9th of November, Digital Engagement in Archaeology, which I have co-authored a presentation in with Matt Law about a lovely data set he collected when Geocities closed down. Check out the abstract: 

Title: The Archaeology of Digital Abandonment

Abstract: After fifteen years of hosting millions of user-built webpages, in April 2009 Yahoo announced that they would be shutting down their United States Geocities webpages. Geocities was once the most common hosting service for low-cost personal webpages, including hundreds of public outreach sites about archaeology. Were the webpages moved to another hosting site, archived, or abandoned? We tracked and recorded the fate of 89 of these webpages, eventually sending a survey to the webmasters asking them a range of questions. While we received relatively few responses, the answers to the questions were illuminating. Much of the current digital outreach performed all over the world relies on “free” services such as Twitter, Flickr, WordPress, Google Pages, or Facebook to host their content. What can the fate of archaeological content on Geocities pages tell us about the benefits and risks of using commercial infrastructure for archaeological outreach?  In a conference dedicated to understanding digital public engagement, we sort through the digital wreckage of past outreach efforts to evaluate the fate of the online archaeological presence.

All of the other papers look really interesting, I wish I could be there to check it out. The paper will get developed into a piece of longer length to be published in an Open Access journal.

I must admit, one of the things that I’m the most excited about is the mind-blowing opening slide that Matt made, full of gifs and broken links–truly retro-geocities-fabulous:

Image

So so brilliant.