Monthly Archives: March 2016

Springtime in Arabia

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Qatar, 2011.

In the desert there is a perfect proportion of dun sand and blue; a Rothko division between land and sky that horizontally bisects the lens. I can’t help but pop the colors on my photos of the desert, it is a magical saturation of yellow-orange and blue abused by movie directors into banality. Yellow! Blue! Yellow/Blue! By mid-March the colors are slowly bleeding into bright white, the desert is overexposed, blurring into shimmering haze.

I arrived in Qatar during a rare, late series of thunderstorms that pelted perfect circles into the dust on our windshields. I delighted in the lightning and rolling thunder–I had missed weather–and the odd green dusting left on the desert by the uncommon wet. It rumpled up the landscape of Qatar, coaxing the small creatures out and painting new eddies and rivulets in the sand. I realized that I think of Qatar very much like I think of a crisply folded white piece of paper, sharp, unsparing, a bit clinical, the knife-crease of a freshly starched thawb. But everything is a bit sandier after the rain, and it was nice.

The Origins of Doha project started excavations at Fuwairit this year, and I was excited to go back, after surveying the kilometer-long site in 2011. I wrote about the site then, and it’s funny to see that I discuss the same things–unusual rain, being at home in the desert. My role has shifted from excavation to handling digital media and outreach. I’ll be releasing several videos about the project shortly.

After backfilling the trenches on the beach, we moved on to Oman, where Dan is doing his PhD work. Where Qatar is stark and bright, Oman is a piece of colorful velvet left out in the sun. Hot, hot, slightly faded on the surface, but full of plush depth and texture when you part it with your fingers. I’m not sure it is entirely productive to have a synesthetic approach to the feel of entire countries, but I guess it at least breaks up the great, homogenous other of Arabia.

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Oman return/return to Oman.

Where Qatar was archaeology on a beach next to a mangrove, in Oman we’ve been walking through the dry wadis, finding purplish squared rocks in lines in the ground perched on the sides. I fell in love with such a site last year on our grand tour of all things Bronze Age and otherwise oldish, but tried to stamp it out, as I thought there was little chance of us doing more there. But we went back there this year, and there are plans for more work, and I’m trying to keep it cool and detached when all I want is to dive in with with both hands. A feverish, adolescent oh-god-oh-god-should-I-text-him sort of anticipatory glee that is truly improper when it comes to scatterings of 4,000 year old pottery in the desert. I guess I’d be more of a scientist if I didn’t have such a great love for this stuff.

I’ll be back in England next week, where the creep of spring doesn’t come in bold swashes of Hollywood color, but pushes small flowers into the air; the leaden gray skies breaking up into miscellaneous and slightly whimsical feather-clouds. In the meantime, I’m trying to wrap the desert around me, keep it close, an immaculate yellow/blue geometry cross-cutting my mind.

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The Archaeology of Far Cry Primal

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The professors were in their places, the Twitch stream went live, and Micheál Butler, one of our MA students in Mesolithic Studies started the count-down to 10,000 BC. I am always excited when experimental play sessions come together, as it’s rare to find the right combination of archaeological and technical expertise and the will to bring it all together. We had Professors Nicky Milner (Mesolithic expert, director of the fab Star Carr excavation) and Matthew Collins (encyclopedic knowledge of all things cutting edge in archaeological science) discussing…a video game.

It was a bit quiet at first–I hadn’t heavily promoted the event as I was not sure it was going to work and I was completely frantic at the end of the term with teaching and other responsibilities, but it did, and now Nicky and Matthew were discussing the size of the cowrie shells worn by the characters, hunting in the Mesolithic, saber tooth tigers…and then the questions from the audience started streaming in.

How common was the consumption of raw meat and fat during this period? Did early humans not get sick with parasites and disease often?

Cowrie shell wrist wraps. Accurate, appropriate, fashion-forward?

How often did early humans venture out at night to hunt and scavenge? Further, did early humans operate on the same night/day cycle as we do?

Great questions! Nicky and Matthew were able to bring several archaeological examples into the conversation. I was able to chime in a bit about representation and video gaming in general. You can watch the play-through and conversation here:

Part One:

Part Two:

I am particularly appreciative of this, given that I’ve been dealing with and thinking about video games & archaeology for almost ten years (Tomb Raider & Embodiment, Tomb Raider & Angkor WatMy Game Biography, Video Game Cartography, Avatars I, II, Gone Home, World of Warcraft, Minecraft, and oh god so much Second Life). It has been fantastic to see initiatives like the Value Project and Play the Past–and check out Tara Copplestone’s blog on our Far Cry playthrough, where she thoughtfully describes the relationship (or lack thereof) between academic archaeology and video game makers and players.

Further, I appreciate my colleagues here at York for possessing a quality that I’ve previously described as “being game.” That is, being open to experiences of all kinds, and importantly, letting this allow you to see your archaeology in new and interesting ways. It’s my #1 most important trait for people I collaborate with, and can be extremely rare.

So here’s to more play-throughs, gaming, and elbowing out a bit of room for fun in archaeology.

Feminism & Scholarly Piracy: A Love Note

Dear Feminist Archaeologists,

Not enough of your writing is freely available online. I feel like a bit of a jerk for pointing this out, but it’s becoming a real problem. I know, you fought like hell for your education, your academic position, and your publications where you finally risked all of these things to write about feminism and archaeology. And now you are being asked to give it away for free? Yeah, I know. I feel the same way when I cross my little Creative Commons/Open Source/Open Content fingers and publish with one of the Big Bads in hope of having a “real job” someday. How dare I ask you to make knowledge free when you’ve paid every single personal price just to get to the point where you can write something meaningful, good, true, and, astonishingly, get it into print?

But you are rapidly becoming invisible. These classics, these gems of texts that I hold closest to my heart are often buried in edited volumes–Susan Kus’ Ideas are like burgeoning grains on a young rice stalk: Some ideas on theory in anthropological archaeology, is a gray, dead non-link. The horrible smudged photocopy I read when I was an undergraduate lit my brain on fire! Sometimes you can get pieces of these classics through Google books, like Julia Hendon’s Feminist Perspectives and the Teaching of Archaeology: Implications from the Inadvertent Ethnography of the Classroom, but only pieces, and it has a low citation score. This is crap. This is Not Right.

Perhaps playing into the self-promotion game is too masculinist–a lot of the trowelblazing feminists of the 1980s and 1990s are retiring, have better things to do, and don’t seem to engage with the ragged glory of struggling for name recognition in our freakish neoliberal academic rat race. Worse yet, a lot of these authors found refuge in edited volumes, where their ideas found traction amongst like-minded authors and weren’t batted away by journal gatekeepers who did not find value in feminist ideas in archaeology. Yet the mid-90s edited volume is a particular publication black hole–too recent to escape copyright policing, and too old to be pirated and passed around in pdf.

So I submit to you, our finest doyennes of feminist archaeology, put your publications online. Put them in as many places as you can. Sow & germinate widely. I jumped for joy when I saw Diane Gifford Gonzalez’s You can hide, but you can’t run: representation of women’s work in illustrations of paleolithic life was available. Hilarious! Divine!

We need your archive. It is not enough to be tucked away on a shelf any longer. There is no reward for the intrepid researcher to unearth your lovely writing–peer reviewers are unlikely to point out the omission. Because the reviewers haven’t read it. They don’t even know it exists. There is so much that is more readily available and it’s damned unfair that you are disappearing in the deluge. Please, it’s too important.

Love & all my esteem,

Colleen