Monthly Archives: June 2013

ASOR Blog Post: Turning Dirt into Pixels

I was honored to be asked to contribute to the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR)Archaeology in the Digital Age theme this month on their blog. Check out an excerpt here and follow through to read the whole blog on the ASOR site:

CLEAN * PHOTOGRAPH * DRAW * LEVEL * RECORD * SAMPLE * DIG * SORT ARTIFACTS * REPEAT

In archaeological field work it is easy to become entranced. We have a cyclical mode of work, and it is this work that field archaeologists like the best, the kind that happens when the sun is shining, there’s a cool breeze at your back, and the archaeology is making sense.

We clean the context, we take a photograph of it, we draw it, take levels, start a record of the context, take a sample of the context, excavate it, sort the artifacts, finish the record, then start all over again. While there have been accusations of this mechanizing the archaeological process, single context excavation is more akin to a refrain, a rhythm of work that you must fully understand and internalize before extemporaneous invention. Against this background beat, work can become “fluid and flexible,” emancipatory, or just another day toward a beer and a paycheck.

Read more at:
http://asorblog.org/?p=4775

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In 2013, I Circumnavigated the Earth

I was walking through the courtyard of King’s Manor, the exquisite old brick building that houses the York Archaeology department and I had one of those strangely self-aware moments. The courtyard is light fragmented–the morning-wet pebbles covering the ground reflected the white cut-out geometry of the sunshine. The buildings surrounding the courtyard have been cut up and re-built so many times that it made me smile at the jigsaw facade. While I was chatting to professors at the reception the night before, I would steal glances at it over my glass of wine; I ached to draw an elevation so that I could understand which bricked-in window was first, which truncated arch corresponded with a vanished doorway. I still didn’t have time though–I had to get to my fellowship grant presentation. Life, as has been typical lately, was on a rocket-sled, and the architectural contemplation would have to wait. I inhaled the brisk morning air and wondered if I was nervous. Not really.

York was at the end of a fairly long and restless run-around in the months after my thesis. After the third or fourth where on earth have you been? from friends, I thought I should probably summarize, rather than leave it at Instagram photos of various noodle dishes and check-ins at far-flung airports.

After we left Qatar at the end of February we went to Bali for a month to write. I was able to get a good amount of work done there, but it’s never enough. It was occasionally difficult to write when my computer would be threatening to over-heat and ants crawled in and out of my keyboard.

Bali was lovely, and I did manage to blog from there for a while, though our time there was blessedly unremarkable. We worked when we could, went to the beach for sunset, tooled around on a fantastic little motorscooter, and hung out with circus people. From Bali we went to Bangkok, then to Cambodia for Angkor Wat, then back to Thailand.

I have never been to Southeast Asia, and I’ve been telling people that Angkor Wat is my Petra. That is, while most people really want to see Petra (and I did, and it was certainly incredible), I have always wanted to see Angkor Wat, ever since the first grainy black and white photo of its fat bristle-towers beckoned me from my grandma’s encyclopedia in Oklahoma.

We spent a while on an island, Koh Rong, in a treehouse, where I read all of David Graeber’s Debt and inflicted passages of it on my husband and his sister. Great thunderstorms wracked the island during the night, and Dan got a terrible fever and the rain came in all over. Monsoon.

I ate everything I could see and hardly anything I knew the name for. Pineapple dipped in hot chili powder on the sleeper train. Inadvisable yet delicious seafood next to a mildly fetid lake. Bowls and bowls of soup, served out for less than a dollar. Everything-on-a-stick. Puffy dumplings in the Bangkok Chinatown. I considered each day that I didn’t have a mango a failure. And miraculously, I lost weight.

Japan reversed everything–everything was expensive but clean and I missed Thailand very much. Still, we went to all the things I should have gone to after studying Japanese for three years and specializing in East Asian archaeology as an undergraduate. The Jomon pots, the keyhole-shaped tombs (Kohun), the Yayoi mirrors and bells all made me melancholy, friends that I had to leave behind for the Middle East, for digital archaeology. I never really was able to dig into a regional speciality after that, so theory and method is what I specialize in now.

We crashed into Chicago, both horribly sick, but my darling Melissa took care of us and we stayed in her flat on the edge of Lake Michigan. Chicago TAG was a flash-bang, and then we headed to Texas to catch up with old, dear friends. It was a little sad as well, but I was happy to see Enchanted Rock in all its sunshiny pink glory, crazy with wildflowers and cacti.

As you can see with my previous post, I spoke at commencement, walked swathed in my darling friend Doris’ robes, and saw more of my nearest and dearest back in the Bay Area. Berkeley was being particularly Cali and gorgeous, though I couldn’t enjoy much of it as I was frantically packing all of my stuff to fit into 100 cubic feet. I figured out that shipping all of my stuff to England would actually be cheaper than keeping it in the US for storage, so it’s somewhere off the coast of Mexico right now, on a barge.

I’m in London now, and England for the duration. I’ll be writing grants and job applications and picking up some work. I have entertained a fantasy about being a London pedicab “driver” but more likely than not I’ll have my hands in the dirt again fairly soonish. After all, I don’t have The Knowledge.

And that’s where I’ve been and where I am. Where I will be is another question entirely.