Monthly Archives: September 2013

Archaeology Films A-Z: The Aegean

Title: The Aegean
Year: 2004
Length: 7 minutes
Made by: Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism
Genre: Expository
Authors: Tourism Promoters
Review:

aegean

The Aegean. A place close to my heart. Opens with twangy “traditional music” that fades into newage, but at least there’s a female narrator who betrays a faint Turkish accent around her proper English. Yes, it’s a gorgeous landscape and climate, and, we are informed, a “land of kingdoms.” Begin the dervish-like spinning shots in the middle of sites!

temple

It was actually very difficult to get this blurry screenshot as it was zooming by.

Pano pano pano, fast pano, cut to a nice pot showing “King Midas of the Golden Touch.” GOD the spinning again. Does this make the ruins look more lively? No real explanation, but lots of gorgeous ruins moving rapidly.

turkish_springs

Bonus hot bath scene!

A little discussion of Ephesus, then we move on to a quick touristy overview of each spot, with minimal, Lonely Planet explanation. Sorry Turkey–I love you, I love your archaeology, but this video is a twitchy tour through ruins with a litany of famous names of people who may or may not have visited or lived there. And night clubs.

nightclubs

Why is this on The Archaeology Channel?

1/5

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Archaeology Films A-Z: The Adena People: Moundbuilders of Kentucky

Title: The Adena People: Moundbuilders of Kentucky
Year: 2000
Made by: Voyageur media group Inc. for Kentucky Heritage Council.
Location: Kentucky, USA
Genre: Expository
Authors: Voyageur media group Inc. for Kentucky Heritage Council. Voyageur media group is a nonprofit that creates public media about science, history, art and culture. They have several videos about Kentucky archaeology, and I’m guessing I’ll get to watch a few more before I’m finished.

Review:

adena

Ohh, dynamic opening title with a rockin’ beat! Artifacts are interesting! Archaeology is great! Then…we segue into flute music and a pot rotating in deepest black space.  Our very authoritative, unnamed male narrator describes the whirling, whirling artifacts and we are awash in pottery! mica! stone! Lovely things, really. They are, we are informed, legacies of the Adena People.

There are burial mounds all over northern Kentucky and we get a fair sampling of them, including two-story tall Gaitskill Mound. The mounds are constructed over the remains of wooden ceremonial structures–there’s a great b/w photo of Crigler Mound showing this very explicitly–postholes, section, oh yeah.

crigler_mound

clay

“Some people imagine it’s a Kentucky Stonehenge, or wood henge, with poles.” Hey, who is that guy? White dude with beard, honey of an accent…must be an archaeologist. It’s Dr. Berle Clay, telling us that the geometric earthworks may be where clans met. But he equivocates at the end, saying we don’t really know. Fine.

wright_mound

OH! Ohhh, it’s old footage of the Wright Mound  WPA excavations! A guy in a hat smoking a pipe while he digs, be still my heart! My day has been made. More! More!

LOOK at that pipe. Just look at it.

LOOK at that pipe. Just look at it.

Oh, we’re back to arrowheads. And an unnecessary timeline with an overly complex woodgrain background. There’s some nice reconstructions though, and Dr. Clay is back to tell us a few things we know about their funerary ceremonies.

But what is this? Flintknapping, hide-scraping, and making pots–always crowd-pleasers. It’s at a “Living Archaeology” weekend though, and it appears there are some people dressed up as the Adena. Not sure Native Americans are too happy about being called “Living Archaeology.”

living_archaeology

Apparently we don’t know a lot about the Adena because they didn’t live next to their mounds and we mostly liked to dig the mounds, as per typical of the archaeologists’ MO. These settlements have probably been destroyed by plowing anyway, we are told.

female_archaeologist

 

There’s a female archaeologist troweling! Though she’s voice-less, and filmed from top-down. TELL US WHAT YOU ARE DIGGING! Dr. Clay steps in to provide a general explanation, not really about what looks like a rodent-holed mess that poor young woman was dealing with. A bit disappointing.

crazy_geo

Quick shot of a crazy geometrical configuration that archaeologists have excavated for some reason. What is that big cut in the middle? Follow the archaeology?? Why have you pedestalled something that was cutting a surface? Madness. I guess at least the sections are straight.

Overall, a good mix of footage gleaned from archives, an interview from a real-beardy archaeologist, landscape shots, artifacts, experimental archaeology, and excavation. A solid introduction to the Adena, if a bit masculinist and lacking in Native American perspectives.

4.5/5

The Archaeology Channel: A-Z

I just finished a big-deal article on the history, genres, and evaluation of archaeological film. It draws from a chapter of my thesis and I am pretty excited about it. While I was editing the chapter it got me thinking…while I’ve seen a lot of archaeological films while teaching, uh, archaeological film over the years I should watch more. A lot more.

So.

I’m going to watch and review all of the Archaeology Channel films. Probably. There’s over 170 of them, so it’s a crazy idea. But why not?

For the inaugural film:

Title: The Acropolis
Year: 1991
Written and photographed by Kenneth and Marjorie Russell
Narrated by Thomas F. Soare, Ph.D.
Location: Greece
Genre: Expository

Authors: Not to be mistaken for the archaeologist Kenneth W. Russell who died tragically in Jordan, Kenneth L. Russell was the founder of the Educational Video Network and a Professor of Education at Sam Houston State University. Marjorie Haw Russell was a photographer and artist. Together they coauthored several educational videos about the ancient world.

title

Review: The opening made me immediately nostalgic for all the documentaries we had to watch in school. The reedy opening music evokes sadness, and a drowsiness with which we view the surrounding landscape. Most of the shots are long, landscape, no humans visible. Several Mycenean strongholds glide in and out of the screen until we get to, of course, The Acropolis.

Pelagasians

The music picks up when we get to the first humans shown–why it’s the Pelasgians, of course! They’re a wallpainting of some dudes with weird eyes carrying fishes. Apparently they were “deeply concerned with vegetation and fertility cults.” Aren’t we all?

After touching on the important people in Greek history (mostly gods and kings), we follow the subsequent history of the Acropolis. I was excited when the Persians busted things up in 480 BC, but not much came of it, except for some column bases now placed in the walls.

Overall, the historical record is not questioned; this is a very art historical approach to classical archaeology. There are no revelations, archaeological investigations, or moving images, for that matter. It is a slide-show with poorly preserved image quality and a didactic voice-over.

People who grew up in the 80s or 90s may want to watch the first 30 seconds to hit a certain muddy technicolor documentary sweet spot.

educational

Waves of nostalgia!

1/5

Dissertation Story

Toward the end of my dissertation writing, I posted a short story on Facebook each time I finished a chapter, describing my victory and advancing a simple storyline. It started in jest, but I began to really enjoy the updates–they were a perfect way to describe the relief I felt at each chapter’s close. While I was struggling through thick, academic verbiage I was imagining what the next bit would be like, the next genre I’d steal from. I’m not sure that the best reward for writing is more writing, but I had fun. Oh and if they appear out of order, it is because I didn’t write my chapters in order, and didn’t do a FB update for the introduction or chapter three. Enjoy!

Chapter Four:

Slowly our heroine drags herself free of Chapter Four’s steaming corpse, pausing for only a moment to consider the 20 photos, comic strip and 13,600 words that comprise the pustulent hulk that she has just slain. Though the journey remains long, and the rewards sparse, she soldiers on–sunny skies now, but the darkness of Chapter Six looming ever closer on the horizon. Alas.

Chapter Six:

With a grim twist of her blade, our heroine gutted the immense, serpentine corpse of Chapter 6.

First she had lost her closest companion to a tiny island in the North, then she lost her home in a fit of insanity. After an eternity of sailing dark tides on a tiny craft, she moored next to a great cave where the beast slept, its oddly pixellated head barely visible in the dim light. With easy confidence she cut off the head, “snicker-snack” but instead of expiring, the beast’s baleful green eye opened and shone with the light of a million computer terminals. The ground shuddered as the rest of the beast lurched into view. Not just a simple dragon–the beast was a hydra. The earlier hope, that this would be an easy part of the quest, was shown to be deeply, deeply foolish. 19,000 words later, she was done.

In the morning she would make sure the hydra was completely dead, but for now she was exhausted. She would continue to the tiny Northern island to retrieve her companion, then plot her course for Chapter 5. The nefarious Chapter 5 lived in the distant shadow mountains, where she would have to clamor up the slopes in the pitch dark, feeling for invisible obstacles as she went along. She had put off this journey, as the hydra was well-known, or so she had thought. Maybe this next one would be easy. Probably not. But now it was time to move on, as time was running out.

Chapter Five:

Her eyes fixed on the giant, flashing display and she cursed and bit her lip. Moving her little silver ship through the edge of the nova had, of course, been a bad idea. She was not ready for the wretched Chapter Fiveians to launch their attack, but she had no choice. After all, they were the prey.

She shoved the display out of the way and cut the blaring alarms. The Fiveians were coming in fast and her visibility was next to nothing, outside of the primitive sensing capabilities of her ship. She took a deep breath, then hit the thrusters hard, the entire craft shuddering around her. Something clanged out of place, probably the dinner that her co-pilot prepared and then forgot. Where was he, anyway? Probably headed off to a side-mission again.

Finally, she got a visual on the Fiveians. Their ship was lean and mean, better equipped with bigger guns, but she caught sight of a massive lacuna–there was virtually no literature on the subject! She aimed the guns on her little silver ship right at the sweet spot and fired, fired again and braced herself for the impact of the return fire, squinting her eyes and turning her head.

There wasn’t any. Our heroine, for once, had caught a lucky break. Chapter Five winked into nothingness in space, and she was free to journey on to her second-to-last destination: Chapter Two.

See you, Space Cowgirl.

Chapter Two:

The dark outline of the saguaro cut into the orange-pink desert skyline, oddly unmarked by the shotgun blasts that disfigured most of the proud cactuses in these parts. The heat of the day had passed, and I tipped the last drops of water out of my canteen to my lips. I had a bottle of whiskey in my pack, but that would wait until later.

The nag under my saddle was once a proud filly, chestnut hair shining, fractious and unforgiving. Her lank tail twitched toward a fly on her flank, but it was an empty reflex, and the fly went on undisturbed.

The shadow beneath the saguaro in the dim evening light was like looking into space without the stars. A figure slowly oozed out of the shadow, until a man was looking up at me, tall boots, battered hat. He spit into the dust. “I know what you came for. Let’s get ‘er done.”

I swung down from the old, faithful nag, patting her on the cheek as I retrieved the long rifle from where I’d strapped it across her shoulders. I unbuckled her saddle and let it drop to the ground, evoking only a mild nicker from the beast. With a sigh, I walked a few paces away, squaring off across from the man.

“It’s a shame, really.” He spit again. “But it has to be done.” I felt around in my heart for something, some hint of emotion like love or guilt or pain. Came up as dry as my canteen. I shouldered the gun, widened my stance, and shot, bracing my shoulder for the impact.

The horse fell heavily to the ground. The man took off his hat and wiped his brow. His familiar features were a comfort. “What was ‘er name, anyway?”

I cleared my throat. “Theory. Chapter Two.”

He gave me a terse nod, replaced his hat. “Well, she’s horsemeat now.”

Poor dead horse. It was time for the conclusions.

The Conclusion:

Battered, bruised, and alone, she approached the giant iron door. She knocked, three leaden tones that rung out in the silence. A very small window opened and a bored and slightly vacant face stared at her.

“You rung the bell?” The doorkeeper frowned.
She crossed her arms. “No, I knocked.”
“Good, the bell is out of order.”
“Whatever. I want to see the wizard.”
“He’s busy, nobody can see the wizard.”
“Look.” She pointed at her feet. “I have the shoes.”
“The ruby slippers! Well come right in!”
“Typical.”

The huge door swung open, revealing a massive throne. A purplish cloud of smoke obscured the top of the throne and suddenly she felt dizzy, nostalgic. Was she really ready?

“I AM THE GREAT WIZARD OF OZ.” A great voice thundered and flames burst from behind the throne.

Instead of being impressed by the display, she was suddenly completely unafraid. With a small shrug, she marched up to the throne and threw a folder full of paper at the seat.

“There it is. Finished. Now give me what is my due.”

“SILENCE.” The papers ruffled slightly, as if a breeze had swept through the throne room.

“STEP FORWARD.” She threw back her shoulders and thrust her chin in the air. Who cares if there was a comma splice in the abstract?

The placid face of the doorman reappeared. In a nasal voice he droned: “Congrats. You’ve got your Ph.D….NEXT!”

She was quickly shuffled out of the throne room and into the hall.

“Well, that was anticlimactic.” She looked down at the ruby slippers. “I guess there’s only one thing left to do.”

She smiled, clicked her heels three times, and disappeared.

Just like that.

Archaeological Dig Houses: the Best, Worst, and Weirdest

Rainbow over the Chicken Shed by Jason Quinlan

Rainbow over the Chicken Shed by Jason Quinlan

About a month ago I asked archaeologists on Facebook and Twitter about their dig house experiences living in a dig house.

What kinds of “dig houses” have you lived in while doing archaeological field work? Weirdest? Dirtiest? Most amazing?

I’ve been putting the finishing touches on a fairly overdue article about a contemporary archaeology of dig houses, an elaboration of our short buildings report on the Chicken Shed at Çatalhöyük. It’s a subject that I enjoy and will probably revisit over the years. Anyway, as expected I received some great responses. All of the authors will be anonymous unless they choose to reveal themselves.

Weirdest: 

Modern monastery in San Ignacio, Belize.

Monk’s quarters in Vescovado di Murlo, upper floor, with bathroom window onto the Tuscan hills.

Ounces Barn at Boxgrove. My room was an old bull shed with mating contraption in the corner

Bush camp in Kruger Park, South Africa, next to river…crocodile eyes at night & woke up to find leopard tracks outside the tent.

Air cadet base on Jersey – woken up by post plane, & nearest drinking hole is the airfield club bar.

Elementary school gym & classrooms in Vescovio.

Recreation hall of an old leper colony

Dungeon of a château in Alsace

Best:

The Princess Room at Giza. Carved king-size bed and two chandeliers.

A very large house backing on to the Thames at Wraysbury.

Rooms above the bar, Stymphalos

Tent in the Alps at 2400 meters

Swiss dig house in Petra

Chan Chich Jungle Lounge and nature reserve, Organ Walk, Belize

Chateau d’Aramont

Historic Commune north of Taos, slept in tipis and tents, used communal spaces and helped garden.

Two-story mudbrick compound in Dahkla, Egypt…except for the gigantic termites living in our dirt-floor bedroom.

Luxury high rise in Downtown Riyadh. Personal dare devil for a driver. Machine gun escorts. Office in the Embassy.

Townley Hall – a 200-year-old Georgian mansion.

On the Circus, Bath, two doors down from Nicolas Cage

Saqqara dig house before it was demolished. Amazing, but still quite colonial.

Worst:

Some kind of adobe mud house halfway up a mountain in central Madagascar. Cockroaches everywhere, dozens of them crawling up the walls, falling from the ceiling into my cup of wine. Didn’t notice at first, took a swig….

A newly redone B&B, no facilities, and owner couldn’t cope with people coming home dirty (cream carpets, floral bed coverings, etc). Constant stress, high additional costs and no comfort.

The infirmary of an orphanage, constantly feeling sick….

Bog in Tipperary, abandoned, rat infested farmhouse, we suspended shopping baskets from roof to store food….

The Curious Case of Mr. Hans Jonatan: Iceland, the Transatlantic Slave Trade, and Genetics in Archaeology

"Islanda", a map of Iceland by Benedetto Bordone in 1547, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

“Islanda”, a map of Iceland by Benedetto Bordone in 1547, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Recent research into genetics and the complicated history of the Transatlantic slave trade has revealed an unlikely but important ancestor of nearly 500 Icelandic people: Hans Jonatan. EUROTAST, a Marie Curie-funded research initiative from a consortium of international universities into “The History, Archaeology and New Genetics of the Transatlantic Slave Trade” has shed light onto the mass forced migrations of people from Africa to the colonies in the west as a whole, but also expressed as the fascinating experiences of a formerly enslaved man.

Hans Jonatan was born into slavery in 1784 on a sugar plantation in St. Croix, a Danish colony in the Caribbean, transferred to Copenhagen, sentenced to go back to St. Croix after the abolition of slavery in Denmark, then escaped to Iceland, where he raised a family. His illegal retention in Copenhagen by his former Mistress, Henriette Catharine Schimmelmann, was at the center of an historic court case that tested the legality of new abolition legislation—did Jonatan’s stay in Denmark set him free, or did his birth in the Danish West Indies make him a slave regardless? The judge determined that slavery was still illegal in Denmark, but that Jonatan was to go back to St. Croix as Schimmelmann’s property.

After this unfortunate sentence, Jonatan escaped immediately, and turned up in a tiny port in East Iceland several years later. Two centuries would pass before authorities in Copenhagen would learn Jonatan’s whereabouts. He settled down, married Katrín Antoníusdóttir, and lived until 1827. It is not known how he was received or perceived by the community of Icelanders, many of whom had never seen a “Negro.” Two of his three children survived and became respected citizens of the community, perhaps indicating a wider acceptance of Jonatan.

The life and eventual ancestors of Hans Jonatan highlights the complicated genetic legacy of the Transatlantic slave trade, and changes the collective perception of historic ethnic “purity.” EUROTAST fellow Anuradha Jagadeesan at the University of Iceland is reconstructing the genome of Hans Jonatan from genetic data available through his descendants. Jagadeesan is using an innovative technique based on the detection of shared identical chromosome segments to determine parental origin. From this gathered information, scientists will reconstruct Hans Jonatan’s genome to make inferences about his phenotype and biogeographical ancestry, setting the standard for the use of genetics to understand the legacy of long dead individuals as well as to better understand the temporal fragmentation of the genome.

Hans Jonatan’s compelling story shows the unique interplay of historical research and genetics in a surprising venue—the seemingly remote and homogenous population of Iceland, as well as the potential for monumental shifts in our understanding of ethnic origins.

ResearchBlogging.org

Kristín Loftsdóttir, & Gísli Pálsson (2013). Black on White: Danish Colonialism, Iceland and the Caribbean Scandinavian Colonialism and the Rise of Modernity: Small Time Agents in a Global Arena DOI: 10.1007/978-1-4614-6202-6_3