Category Archives: Archaeology

The Lessons of Pokémon Go for Heritage

Pokémon Go at Stonehenge (re: Stu Eve)

Pokémon Go at Stonehenge (re: Stu Eve)

I have to admit, I was mostly ignoring the emergence of Pokémon Go, as I have probably the most gorgeous baby girl in the world to attend to these days. But after my favorite co-conspirator Stu Eve wrote a rather grumpy piece about augmented reality and Pokémon Go, I couldn’t resist.

Stu and I are basically the Statler and Waldorf of digital archaeology.

Stu and I are basically the Statler and Waldorf of digital archaeology. Especially if you don’t cite us.

Stu implores people to go outside, to use augmented reality to enhance and enchant heritage sites or even to ditch technology altogether and preserve and observe the wildlife that is already there instead of cartoon creatures. Stu then goes on to demonstrate that Pokémon Go distracts from heritage, citing a girl on Twitter catching a Pokémon at Stonehenge.

I contend that people playing Pokémon Go at heritage sites are simply extending their performance of identity on social media. It is not enough now to have an Instgram-filtered photo of you and your bestie at Stonehenge. There is a rather interesting one-upmanship in the attempt to capture unique content in the digital visual morass. When everyone has a photograph of Stonehenge, how can yours be the most unique, the most quirky or authentic performance of self in respect to the backdrop?

Stonehenge, Wiltshire, UK

Stonehenge, Wiltshire, UK

An interesting example–in the Volte Face series of photographs, Oliver Curtis deliberately turns away from the heritage focal point to capture the reverse view. This is provocative and compelling in its simplicity; the photographs reveal a blind side, a kind of back-stage for heritage at the same time as anthropomorphizing the heritage site–this is what the heritage “sees.”

Adding a Pokémon Go overlay adds a new element of interest, an unexpected juxtaposition of cartoon characters in a solemn (potentially boring) place. I, for one, welcome the Charizard on top of the Vatican–though I certainly share Stu’s concern for the complete monetization of experience.

The first lesson from Pokémon Go for archaeologists and heritage managers is that people are looking for novel, collective ways to experience and perform heritage. I think it is particularly important to note that Pokémon Go is obviously not a bespoke heritage application. It corresponds with my digital archaeological practice in that instead of attempting to build wholly new heritage-based applications and such, I try to use what people are already using as a form of interventionism, or even, at a stretch, détournement.

Memory maps at the San Francisco Presidio, 2008.

Flickr memory maps for geolocative interpretation at the San Francisco Presidio, 2008.

It is a hacky approach and everything breaks all the time–though bespoke heritage applications might actually have a worse track record–but surprising people by putting archaeology where they are not expecting it is its own reward. Be reactive, try to place archaeology in unexpected places, and don’t be too surprised when it blows up or it is ignored and it slowly fades away.

Perhaps the second lesson from Pokémon Go is that there is a corresponding retreat from digital media in archaeology from some of the most forward thinking digital archaeologists. It may be that the next challenge is to create interpretation so compelling, or so self-actualized that they put aside their phones and completely immerse themselves in experiencing heritage sites. Right? Devil’s advocate though–even if we managed such a monumental post-digital interpretive experience, we’d have to take photos of people engaged with it for the eventual publication. After all, pics or it didn’t happen.

 

 

Archaeologists-Who-Happen-to-be-Mothers Part II!

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Dr. Virginia Rimmer Herrmann (University of Tübingen) at Zincirli Höyük, Turkey.

Alexis Dunlop, field archaeologist.

Alexis Dunlop, field archaeologist.

Dr. Jessica Thompson, Emory University, directing the Malawi Earlier-Middle Stone Age Project (MEMSAP).

Dr. Jessica Thompson, Emory University, directing the Malawi Earlier-Middle Stone Age Project (MEMSAP).

I received an incredible response from the last post, Archaeologists-Who-Happen-to-be-Mothers, not in the least in the form of the contributions of photos, videos, and thoughts about archaeology & motherhood. Many of the contributors acknowledged how difficult (if not impossible) it would be without a very supportive partner, flexible working schedules, and control over their working conditions in the field. I encourage you also to check out the comments on the last post, where you can see the diversity of experience in the personal stories coming through.

I consulted with Dr. Brenna Hassett of Team Trowelblazers and she recommended that we set up a Tumblr for submissions, simply:

Women Digging

There are several more submissions there, I urge you to check it out, and submit your own photos, either with children or doing fieldwork on your own. Alternately, you can still email me photos, stories, and videos at clmorgan at gmail.

The only caveat: we reserve the right to not post photos that are outside recommended Health & Safety procedures, such as unshored trenches over 1.2m, not wearing PPE around heavy machinery, and the like. Stay safe out there, women diggers!

Archaeologists-Who-Happen-to-be-Mothers

Kathryn Killackey, archaeological illustrator.

Kathryn Killackey, archaeological illustrator. Photo by Andrew Roddick.

Professor Nicky Milner, directing excavations at Star Carr.

Professor Nicky Milner, directing excavations at Star Carr.

Dr. Karen Holmberg, visiting scholar at NYU & volcano fetishist.

Dr. Karen Holmberg, visiting scholar at NYU & volcano fetishist.

Dr. Burcu Tung, directing excavations at Çatalhöyük.

Dr. Burcu Tung, directing excavations at Çatalhöyük. Photo by Scott Haddow.

Dr. Rebecca Wragg Sykes, honorary fellow at Université de Bordeaux, Laboratoire PACEA,

Dr. Rebecca Wragg Sykes, honorary fellow at Université de Bordeaux, Laboratoire PACEA

I initially started this photo essay with a long, considered discussion of motherhood in archaeology, how hard it is to fight against the structural forces that inhibit fieldwork and childcare, and how I have benefitted from incredible friends and colleagues who have acted as role-models and mentors. But in the end I deleted it. You don’t need me wittering on–just look at these archaeologists-who-happen-to-be-mothers.

Many of them hesitated to send photos, as it is an incredibly revealing act to expose what is perceived as a major hinderance to women’s careers. Even so, several of them also stated that they did so because they thought it was important to make this visible, to make it normal. I’m happy to say that this is only a small sample of the women I know who are archaeologists & mothers, so there is a great diversity of experience, support and wisdom that I’m lucky to receive.

Me at 27 weeks, surveying in Oman.

Me at 27 weeks, surveying in Oman.

I’m deeply grateful to these women and collecting these photos was a perfect way to start my maternity leave. If you’d like to contribute your own photos, please send them my way (clmorgan at gmail) or post them in the comments.

Painting the Visual Vocabulary of Mesoamerican Archaeology

Adela Breton was apparently “a nuisance” to the men who couldn’t quite figure out what to do with a 50-year-old single woman in Mexico in 1900. Happily, Trowelblazers worked up a short profile on this fantastic artist and scholar and followed up their profile with this tweet:

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I don’t know about you, but when I’m writing something or have other heavy head-work to do, I like to browse through digital museum archives when I need to take a break. Maybe it’s just me. But it paid off big time.

The Breton Collection has 1301 entries, maybe 1/5 of these entries have images online. I can only imagine what else is in their storeroom, because the images that they have online are a glorious feast of archaeological visualization.

Watercolour depicting scene from Chichen Itza, Mexico. Iglesia on left. N.E. corner of building A on the right. Large annex in background. Casa de Monjas. Detached building from the north west. Watercolour depicting scene from Chichen Itza, Mexico. Iglesia on left. N.E. corner of building A on the right. Large annex in background. Casa de Monjas. Detached building from the north west. (Bristol Museums)

Watercolour depicting scene from Chichen Itza, Mexico. Iglesia on left. N.E. corner of building A on the right. Large annex in background. Casa de Monjas. Detached building from the north west. Watercolour depicting scene from Chichen Itza, Mexico. Iglesia on left. N.E. corner of building A on the right. Large annex in background. Casa de Monjas. Detached building from the north west. (Bristol Museums)

Adela Breton is probably one of the most gifted archaeological illustrators that I’ve ever seen.

You see, I was working on a co-authored piece with Holly Wright on analog vs. digital archaeological field illustration, and so going through this collection was even more exciting. Breton didn’t just draw loooovely watercolors of ruins though…her works covered several of the other visual outputs of archaeology.

Map of section of Teuchitlan Hill Fortress, Jalisca, Mexico. Black ink sketch showing mounds halfway up the mountain and the summit.

Map of section of Teuchitlan Hill Fortress, Jalisca, Mexico. Black ink sketch showing mounds halfway up the mountain and the summit. (Bristol Museums)

This hachured plan of an archaeological site would be familiar to any landscape archaeologist, and I love imagining Breton tromping across this mountainside in her Victorian lady-boots, sketchbook in hand, gnawing a pencil, thinking about contours, the relative distances between buildings, and the direction of slope beneath her feet.

Watercolour of two pottery figures. One shows an animal with its back in the form of a bowl. The other is shows two men carrying a canoe like object between them. Costa Rica. (Bristol Museum)

Watercolour of two pottery figures. One shows an animal with its back in the form of a bowl. The other is shows two men carrying a canoe like object between them. Costa Rica. (Bristol Museums)

Breton painted artifacts with such grace that you feel like you can touch their smooth curves. Can you see the chip in the rim of the animal pot?

Watercolour showing three fragments of red pottery with designs incLuding a running dragon-like figure in white, and one fragment of buff pottery with design in brown. National Museum of Mexico City. (Bristol Museums)

Watercolour showing three fragments of red pottery with designs incLuding a running dragon-like figure in white, and one fragment of buff pottery with design in brown. National Museum of Mexico City. (Bristol Museums)

She also drew more pottery in ways that are more familiar to archaeological illustrators, not quite as painterly, a focus on hue and shape. I love that this painting appears to be on the back of stationery from the Palace Hotel.

In addition to the archaeological illustrations, Breton drew ethnographic sketches, geological formations, and…earthquakes?

San Francisco Earthquake of  April 1892, 58 seconds.

San Francisco Earthquake of April 1892, 58 seconds.

Breton put pen to paper during a massive earthquake, even indicating north on the page! The first seismograph wouldn’t even make it to America until 1897. I flagged it up to Karen Holmberg & Elizabeth Angell, both of whom do exciting work on anthropology and natural disasters and can add much more nuance to the analysis of such an incredible visual artifact.

Thank you to Bristol Museums who have kept & digitized this glorious collection! Support your local (and digi-local) museums!

 

The Holocaust, 9/11, the Slave Trade and…Facebook? How Museums & Experts Fail at Social Media

As part of my EUROTAST postdoc I partnered with the Institute for Public Understanding of the Past and Marc Pallascio, a History MA student to conduct a survey of the online outreach of museums and institutions that commemorate so-called “dark” or difficult heritage. At the outset of my postdoc I wrote:

How do I digitally remediate difficult heritage? What considerations do I take when I disseminate research on this incredibly sensitive topic, heritage that hurts? (…) Anyway, I’ve taken to calling my new job digital heritage on hard mode.

This article attempts to address some of these questions through social media metrics and the online interactions of heritage institutions associated with difficult heritage: The Holocaust, 9/11, and the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, with a focus on the latter. Additionally, we looked into existing online communities surrounding difficult heritage that are independent of these larger institutions.

Spoilers: there was little-to-no interactivity between official institutions and online places where people chose to “remember together.” Social media was used by official institutions purely to broadcast, not to interact.

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Institutions and experts were also pretty scarce where there was the most interaction, debate and arguably a need for an informed opinion. It’s a complete cliche online, but we ventured where nobody dares to go: THE COMMENTS.

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These were on a YouTube series for Africans in America, on the “Little Dread” YouTube channel. Even when a link to a reputable source is posted, it is countered with a reference to the van Sertima pseudoscientific book “They Came Before Columbus.” More importantly, there are several online places and communities that are obviously taking up issues of heritage, race, and origins and these are overwhelmingly NOT in ready-made, sanctioned arenas for such discussions. As we state in the paper:

Authoritative voices are absent in non-specialist discussions of heritage online, as experts frame their conversations within official settings.

From the conclusions:

The distributed network of the internet would seem to be an ideal venue for discussions with and between members of the diaspora formed by the descendants of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Yet, there is little connectivity apparent on either websites or social media between academics, heritage interpreters, and the online stakeholder communities…identifying where meaningful performative collective memory is exercised, then engaging with stakeholders on their own terms, may be more impactful than websites or campaigns of outward-facing social media.

Despite the 2015 publication date, the article has just been published by the Journal of African Diaspora and Heritage:

Morgan, C., & Pallascio, P. M. (2015). Digital Media, Participatory Culture, and Difficult Heritage: Online Remediation and the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. Journal of African Diaspora Archaeology and Heritage, 4(3), 260–278.

It’s also available as a pre-print on Academia:

https://www.academia.edu/24144509/Digital_Media_Participatory_Culture_and_Difficult_Heritage_Online_Remediation_and_the_Trans-Atlantic_Slave_Trade

 

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.

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.