Monthly Archives: March 2013

Post-Apocalyptic Foodways: the Archaeological and Ethnographic Evidence

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Starvation, by Gwen Boul.

Popular television and movies like The Walking Dead, I Am Legend and other post-apocalyptic dramas are usually framed in the modern day or near-future, with the characters battling the odds to stay alive in radically changed living conditions. Cormac McCarthy’s The Road followed characters walking through a nightmare landscape, where people turned to scavenging, brutality, and cannibalism to survive.

But how do humans actually cope with extreme conditions of scarcity and stress? Shanti Morell-Hart’s article, Foodways and Resilience under Apocalyptic Conditions, examines ethnographic examples in conjunction with the archaeological record to investigate “collapse” narratives in human history. The social and physiological effects of starvation are more complex than previously imagined and reactions to starving can result in some incredibly diverse strategies for survival. Foraging and gleaning are documented during famines in Ireland, Russia, Sudan, and China, among many examples, and sometimes this foraging becomes emigration. Property boundaries are defended and social structures, such as respect for elite status, can change rapidly. Finally, the stage of exhaustion wherein people first compete with fellow family members or huddle together, inactive. Morell-Hart illustrates this with a brilliant quote from Pendergast, describing a famine and plague in 1652:

Ireland … now lay void as a wilderness. Five-sixths of her people had perished. Women and children were found daily perishing in ditches, starved. The bodies of many wandering orphans whose fathers had embarked for Spain and whose mothers had died were preyed upon by wolves. In the years 1652 and 1653 the plague and famine had swept away whole counties, that a man might travel twenty or thirty miles and not see a living creature.

Physiological signs of starvation can be seen archaeologically in skeletal remains including hypoplasias (underdevelopment of bones and teeth) and stunted growth, but this is well-known. The question is, how do we see signs of coping with this famine? Morell-Hart tracks redefinitions of foodways, including substituting one kind of food (or food-like substance) for one eaten more traditionally or transforming objects that were previously thought of as inedible to potentially edible food.

There are well-known examples of this transition including eating shoe leather or in extreme examples, cannibalism. Morell-Hart finds it curious that the “popular imagination most readily turns to cannibalism” but most examples of cannibalism “appear to have much more to do with the symbolic aspects of this practice rather than the nutritional.” There is some slippage between what we would think of practical and symbolic eating that may have started in response to a famine but then persisted, the famine response having fundamentally altered the foodways of the group.

One of the more striking ethnographic examples that Morell-Hart cites is second harvest and maroma practiced by some of the Cochimí peoples in Baja California. Second harvest involved scavenging undigested seeds from excrement, cleaning and roasting the seeds, then eating them again. Maroma involved “trying a bit of meat to a piece of string, passing the bit from person to person to swallow, and them immediately extracting the swallowed bit with the string to distribute the digestion of the meat.”

Looking toward the ethnographic and archaeological record further reinforces the incredible diversity and adaptability of humans to survive. Indeed, Morell-Hart finds that “rigidity of food paradigms has led to death, in some cases” when populations “struggled with rationed relief foodstuffs because they were unfamiliar.” Archaeology combined with ethnographic studies can contribute to our understanding of how humans respond to famine and how we reconfigure ideas about food in the long term, and allow us to better respond to food shortage crises around the world.

ResearchBlogging.org
Morell-Hart, S. (2012). Foodways and Resilience under Apocalyptic Conditions Culture, Agriculture, Food and Environment, 34 (2), 161-171 DOI: 10.1111/j.2153-9561.2012.01075.x

Emancipatory Digital Archaeology on Academia.edu

It finally occurred to me to post my thesis on Academia.edu. Proquest seems to be taking their sweet time to index it. Here’s the abstract and download link:

As archaeologists integrate digital media into all stages of archaeological methodology, it is necessary to understand the implications of using this media to interpret the past. Using digital media is not a neutral or transparent act; to critically engage with digital media it is necessary to create an interdisciplinary space, drawing from the growing body of new media and visual studies, materiality, and anthropological and archaeological theory. This dissertation describes this interdisciplinary space in detail and investigates the following questions: what does it mean to employ digital media in the context of archaeology, how do digital technologies shape inquiry within archaeology, can new media theory change interpretation in archaeology, and can digital media serve as a mechanism for an emancipatory archaeology? To attend to these questions I address digital media created by archaeologists as digital archaeological artifacts, understood as active members of a network of interpretation in archaeology. To give structure to this understanding I assemble three object biographies that identify the digital archaeological artifact’s context, the authorship of the artifact, the inclusion of multiple perspectives involved in its creation, and evaluate the openness or ability to share the artifact. The three object biographies that constitute the body of this work are a digital photograph taken of a teapot at Tall Dhiban in Jordan, a digital video of an unexpected excavator participating at Çatalhöyük in Turkey, and a 3D reconstruction of a Neolithic building excavated at Çatalhöyük within the virtual world of Second Life. In these object biographies I weave together narrative, imagery and rigorous, theoretically informed analyses to provide a reflexive investigation of digital archaeological artifacts. Drawing from this research, I advocate a critical making movement in archaeology that will enable archaeologists to use digital media in an activist, emancipatory role to highlight inequity, bring the voices of stakeholders into relief, de-center interpretations, and to make things and share them.

And here’s the link on Academia.edu:
http://www.academia.edu/2997156/Emancipatory_Digital_Archaeology

Arabs in London (and on Instagram)

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Peter Marlowe, Arabs in London, 1976

I was reluctant at first to create (yet another) project Facebook page. I think a lot of people are experiencing “like” fatigue and running social media for organizations cashes out your social media circle pretty fast. Really Colleen? Asking me to like yet another one of your projects? C’mon. Still, Facebook remains one of the best ways to inform people about archaeology online, especially people who are not already interested in archaeology. So, I created the Origins of Doha page on Facebook:

http://www.facebook.com/OriginsOfDoha

As this season of archaeology is finished, there aren’t a lot of updates from the field to create interest and traffic. Happily I have a large archive of old photographs of Doha to look through and post. There just aren’t a lot of resources for this sort of thing online, and most old photos of the Gulf are in private/personal collections. I love being able to share these photos, especially as many residents are completely unaware that there were older buildings before the shiny towers and large developments came to Doha. I think a lot of these photos resonate with people as they depict familiar places (like the Corniche) before a lot of the prominent development.

Race on the Corniche in Doha, 1974.

Race on the Corniche in Doha, 1974.

Anyway, I wrote a bit about photography in the Middle Eastern context for my thesis, and it is one of the parts that I’m developing into future research on depictions of heritage and authenticity. So I was very happy when I was contacted  through the Origins of Doha Facebook page by the lovely person behind this Tumblr/Instagram of crowd-sourced family photos from the Middle East:

http://zamaaanawal.tumblr.com/

When I asked her why she worked on this she answered that it was because so many collections aren’t publicly available online. So she’s making her own. Absolutely brilliant. Her archive also revealed a lovely bit of synchronicity. Peter Marlowe has a series of photographs titled “Arabs in London”, as featured above. The women is in the middle of the shot, in front of Harrods and between two cars, perhaps attempting to show a dissonance between her appearance and her surrounds. One of the contributors to Zamaan’s archive recognized her:

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It’s @Mozishaq’s aunt. Taken from iconic “Arab” to auntie on Instagram.

Though we already feel oversaturated by social media, it still has the ability to surprise, delight, and de-center.

The Recent Ancient Tradition of Ogoh Ogoh

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Bali is quiet today. It is Nyepi, the first day of the New Year, and it is a day of mandatory rest and meditation. We are not allowed outside our flat–if we are caught on the street we’ll be firmly escorted back inside. We must stay very quiet and not indulge in any way, or we’ll catch the attention of demons that are currently flying over Bali. If we are quiet enough they’ll shove on and not stop to wreak havoc. There are no flights in or out of Bali today. Silence.

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Yesterday, however, was a glorious racket as Ogoh Ogoh were paraded down the street at sunset, twirled around and “confused” at intersections, then burned down at the seaside. Over the past week we’ve been peeping inside of temples to look at the in-progress Ogoh Ogoh as they were carefully built over metal frames. As we stood watching while the young single women of the neighborhood encircled the crossroads, holding torches toward the center, and the young single men of the neighborhood paraded into the center, playing drums and melodic reong–pot-shaped gongs, the ceremony felt timeless, foreign, yet had a spiritual resonance as well. It was invented in the 1980s.

I was ambivalent when I heard of the recent manufacture of the Ogoh Ogoh parade–it seemed typical of the kind of trap you can fall into with Orientalist thinking. Bali is so mystical, the people are so nice, they value spirituality, aren’t their ancient ceremonies so quaint and romantic? Still, I love a good procession and it reminded me of the Day of the Dead, another parade that celebrates the liminal and otherworldly.

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The materiality of Ogoh Ogoh is interesting; though some Ogoh Ogoh are very small, they rapidly become very elaborate, with an emphasis on the grotesque. Many go to great lengths to make the Ogoh Ogoh appear to be flying, with very little attaching the demon to the underlying bamboo structure that young men use to carry it. There are lights installed to light up their faces, and some have heavy metal music blaring from their bases. Many Ogoh Ogoh have pendulous, veiny breasts representing Rangda the demon queen. Some are painted, some are meticulously airbrushed, and I have heard that some of them are sold instead of burned at the end of the night.

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The Ogoh Ogoh and their young male handlers process to the beach, where they gleefully tear off the heads of their creations, then set fire to the demons that they carried through the streets. The Ogoh Ogoh were once made of paper mache, but now they are mostly polystyrene and the great gouts of black smoke made it impossible to breathe. The crowds dispersed before the fire had gone out.

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And today, Bali is quiet.

An Interlude in Bali

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Canangsari offerings, still intact.

There were a million Canangsari husks down at the beach last night, contents spilling out into tide pools, ruined flowers, smoldering incense, and candy wrappers blowing in the humid breeze. These offerings are everywhere, on bridges, at the openings of small roads, in front of businesses, always laden with colorful tidbits for hungry spirits. A woman in a small market staples the small woven trays together, dogs sniff out the better morsels, one skitters into the street after being accidentally kicked by a tourist. There were even more of them yesterday, after a pre-New Year cleansing ritual on the beach, stacks and stacks of offerings covering the black sand.

photo (20)The small flat we are renting is heaving with ants. An ant just climbed out from between the F and G keys on my computer and is scrambling toward the screen to meet with three others that are drawn to the glow. I don’t really mind, they’re tiny and they don’t bite, but I wish one of the geckos would eat them.

I’m in Bali to write–I’m putting together articles and catching up with work that was put aside while I was finishing the thesis. We go out to get fruit from the little market down the road and scoot to the beach to watch the sun go down.

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Baskets covering Balinese fighting roosters, kept aggressive and ready.

The anthropological landscape of Bali is covered in large footprints, hidden deadfalls and the echos of heated argument in venerable academic halls. I sometimes want to go to the market and buy the canangsari to leave offerings to the hundreds (thousands?) of anthropologists who have studied here. Flowers for Clifford Geertz, Ritz crackers for Margaret Mead, betel nuts for Gregory Bateson. I’m a guest here, and I have my own research to write up, but it is hard to avoid a good haunting from the ghosts of anthropologists past (and present!).

Acknowledging, the Thesis Edition

I was searching for something else on my computer and came across my thesis acknowledgements. I wrote them in that wild and woolly period last December where I was white-knuckling through the necessary fore-and-aft detritus of the thesis. As always happens, I accidentally left a few people out, alas. But I included a building, the ARF, which is surely very fashion-forward contempo-materiality-networky-thingy thinking, right? 

Acknowledgements

The decorations adorning the atrium of the University of California, Berkeley’s Archaeological Research Facility strike me as slightly macabre. The polyester “snow” is strategically covering the fake archaeological excavation in the corner, dripping from the plants that are always neglected, and lining the framed photographs of graduate students doing outreach with children. It’s the beginning of December, and the semester is winding down around me, the students finishing their finals and getting ready for the holidays. Though the strung lights and nutcrackers are a bit much, the atrium holds an airy loveliness that is lacking in so many academic buildings. The stately red brick and windows retained from when this was an outside area of the building, the fantastic Paleolithic mural covering the west-facing wall, and the strict geometry of the earthquake-proof girders bracketing the walls, and the transparent pyramid-shaped roof all come together in a place that is the heart of the department. In this atrium I’ve attended functions honoring many of the professors, receptions after talks, convened meetings with advisors and other graduate students, taught undergraduates how to plot artifacts in an archaeological drawing, and even taught the history of the building, its status as a frat house and the subsequent occupants, each living in the space and remaking it as their own. It is the appropriate place for nostalgia, for remembering and acknowledging the previous occupants of this building, and how I got here, and how this dissertation came to be.

My committee members, Ruth Tringham, Meg Conkey, and Nancy Van House have generously and enthusiastically opened their lives and research to me, and I cannot imagine my graduate career without their wisdom, humor, and indulgence! I have no small amount of awe for these pioneering women in academia who fought relentlessly for recognition of their research in the face of normative patriarchy. My advisor, Ruth, stood with me and kept pushing me to be more reflexive, to challenge my own preconceptions, and to have ridiculous amounts of fun. Meg was always ready with incisive comments that exposed uncritical thinking and fostered introspection and enlightenment. I deeply enjoyed my long conversations with Nancy Van House at various coffee shops around Berkeley, and always came away delighted and inspired by our shared digressions and passion for photography.

This dissertation would also not have been possible with the fantastic energy, love and support from professors who were not on my committee. Rosemary Joyce’s white-hot brilliance always inspired me, but it was her mentorship and tremendous kindness that got me through some rough times. Steve Shackley helped me find several great resources on early archaeological photography, and always had a sly political quip and a half-grin that made me genuinely regret that I could not somehow work obsidian into my dissertation research. A writerly debt is owed to Laurie Wilkie; I hope that I can inspire with words half as well as she can some day. A big thank you to Benjamin Porter for allowing me to work at Dhiban, and to Ian Hodder who allowed me to work at Catalhoyuk. Also, I would be absolutely remiss not to express my gratitude to my undergraduate professors Samuel Wilson and Maria Franklin at the University of Texas, who are both wise and radical in their very own ways. A special thank you to Jamie Chad Brandon, who was the first one to tell me that I too could be an archaeologist.

I have learned just as much, if not more outside of the brick walls of the Archaeological Research Facility as I have within. My mentors in the field, Roddy Regan, Lisa Yeoman, Michael House, James Stewart Taylor, Freya Sadarangani, Shahina Farid, Cordelia Hall, David Mackie, and Gareth Rees taught me so much and put up with the ridiculous American with big ideas and a big mouth. To all of my friends, colleagues, stakeholders, and stake-wielders in the field, I miss the starry skies, the campfires, the cold, the hot, the beer, the antics, the storytelling, and your company. May we all be gainfully employed, somehow.

I had the tremendous misfortune to move away from great friends, the fantastic good fortune to gain new friends, and then the inevitable let-down of having to move away from all of those friends too. John Lowe and Dan Machold, you are honest, true, and amazing people all around. You are my strength. Thank you to Rob Browning for living and growing with me for so long. My brilliant, invincible posse of lady friends, Shanti Morell-Hart, Doris Maldonado, Nicole Anthony, Kathryn Killackey, Sara Gonzalez, Burcu Tung, Cheyla Samuelson, and Melissa Bailey are without parallel. I treasure and admire each of you in perhaps unhealthy amounts. My community of fellow archaeologists, academics, and good friends, James Flexner, Andy Roddick, Esteban Gomez, Nico Tripcevich, Rus Sheptak, Tim Wyatt, Jun & Charlotte Sunseri, Heather & Eric Blind, Michael Ashley, Cinzia Perlingieri, Orkan Umurhan, Jason Quinlan, Dan & Yesim Thompson, David Cohen, Jesse Stephen, and Guy Hunt, thank you so much the inspiration and support over the years. I would also be remiss to leave out my colleagues online throughout the years; you have leant such enthusiasm to my research that I could not let you all down!

Thank you to my lovely mother, Elizabeth Kelly, who always likes it best when I “talk about people” in my writing and is always my inspiration for strength, kindness and love. Thank you to Don Freeman, my father with a big sense of humor and a bigger heart. My love and thanks to my brother Matthew and to his darling son Raiden. My love and regards to my English family, the Eddisfords, who continually delight me with their kindness and who have welcomed me with open arms. Finally, words cannot express how much gratitude I have for my husband, Daniel Eddisford. You are the cup that was waiting for the gifts of my life. Thank you.