Category Archives: outreach

A Decade of Archaeology in Action on Flickr

Nya lödöse 150312-2439.

Nya lödöse 150312-2439. Sweden.

I’ve been using Flickr for photographs since 2005, and have administered a group “Archaeology in Action” for almost as long. There’s 630 members and almost 4,200 photographs of archaeologists doing that thing we like doing so well.

Archaeologist Mary Weahkee during an Education Outreach event

Archaeologist Mary Weahkee during an Education Outreach event. New Mexico, USA.

Interestingly, being the admin for the group helped me define what it meant to be an “archaeologist in action”–what does our discipline cover? It also helped me define what an archaeological photograph is, exactly. HINT: NOT YOUR TRAVEL PHOTOS OF THE PYRAMIDS. I delete those mercilessly.

Shilla, South Korea - archaeology, planum

Shilla, South Korea – archaeology, planum

Why? Why should I censor the tourists? Aren’t their experiences of the site just as legitimate as ours? Perhaps. But it wasn’t archaeology. The Flickr group was cultivated to be a resource for educators, and to show a diversity of people doing archaeology. That last, active part was also important. Someone in the photo had to be doing something. Even if that someone was behind the camera. The photographer had to make archaeological seeing visible.

Modele Numerique de Terrain d'un chantier archéologique à Fleury-sur-Orne (Calvados-FR).

Modele Numerique de Terrain d’un chantier archéologique à Fleury-sur-Orne (Calvados-FR).

The group has been motoring on, attracting spam, but also, occasionally, surprising me with gorgeous, raw, photos from around the world of the incredible, strange, delightful tasks of archaeology.

Archaeologist Karen Wening surveys the highway right-of-way at the top of San Augustin pass on US Highway 70, about 10 miles east of Las Cruces.

Archaeologist Karen Wening surveys the highway right-of-way at the top of San Augustin pass on US Highway 70, about 10 miles east of Las Cruces.

Recently Flickr took away one of my most favorite functions–note taking. I loved this function as I was able to annotate maps and photographs to explain different features–it was great for outreach. I heard that they’ll add it back soon. Let’s cross our fingers!

Nya Lödöse Project, working on a Harris Matrix.

Nya Lödöse Project, working on a Harris Matrix.

In the meantime, if you have any photos of archaeology in action, sling them toward the group!

Previous photo-based posts highlighting Archaeology in Action. I probably should have made it a series at some point. Or at least had a consistent naming scheme:

Archaeology in Action on Flickr
Archaeology in Action Update
Archaeology in Action, Another Update
Archaeology in Action Around the World
Archaeology Around the World
Community Archaeology in Action

Breaking Blocks and Digging Holes: Archaeology & Minecraft

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Archaeologists have been playing with Minecraft to present the past and the play around with reconstruction. Shawn Graham, as always, is at the forefront of developing archaeological landscapes in Minecraft and if you’d like to try it out, I suggest you read up on Electric Archaeology. I used his instructions to import a digital elevation model (DEM) from the famous Mesolithic site of Star Carr, currently being investigated by Nicky Milner at the University of York.

After a few tweaks, I managed to get a fairly nice, smooth landscape–Star Carr, now a lovely undulating field, was once on the edge of Lake Flixton. Organic materials such as wood preserve very well in the waterlogged peat and so they find lots of spear points, platforms and a deer frontlet or two.

Red deer antler head-dress from Star Carr at the British Museum.

Red deer antler head-dress from Star Carr at the British Museum.

Sadly we did not reconstruct the frontlets–building things in Minecraft is a lot like using Lego. Not fancy, specialist Lego like they have these days, but the basic set. So I got a reasonable model of Star Carr up and running for Yornight, which highlights European Union-funded research at York. I had a lot of help from other people in the department affiliated with the Centre for Digital Heritage.

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Outreach!

We had several computers running on our own local server and kids (mostly boys) went pretty crazy for it. Our set up:

Well, archaeologists working at Star Car have found these circular houses with evidence of postholes, and we’ve made reconstructions based on that. But we aren’t actually sure what exactly the houses looked like. Can you help us think of different ways the houses might have looked?

The virtual world of Star Carr!

The virtual world of Star Carr!

That was pretty much it. A few of the kids tried to build round houses, but as you may have guessed from the Lego-ness of Minecraft, they were still pretty blocky. Some built other houses, out of brick, some built giant flaming towers, and a few somehow made guns and started shooting at each other! I’d say it was a success.

The dungeon-like barrel vault added to the atmosphere.

The dungeon-like barrel vault added to the atmosphere.

We also had a papercraft Breary Banks, another University of York excavation site, and kids colored and cut out models of the camp. I found that having a mix of tactile and digital activities was more inclusive–kids didn’t have to feel forced into doing anything they weren’t used to or were uncomfortable with.

Breary Banks in papercraft!

Breary Banks in papercraft!

Finally, we had the “real tools” of Minecraft, and that seemed, oddly, to be the most popular. It made the connection between tools that archaeologists used and the virtual tools in the game. We had a big nodule of flint, which is used in the game but many kids never made the connection to rocks.

We’re running it again for the local Young Archaeologists Club and for the upcoming Yornight, which will also feature some experimental Oculus Rift visualization. Digital shenanigans continue apace!

Origins of Doha Re-Photography Featured on CNN

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I was happy to see that a mash-up that did a while ago for the Origins of Doha project was featured on the special Qatar Foundation section of CNN. The photo is near the Souq Waqif, and we located and re-shot the photograph using one of the few landmarks left in that area, a small minaret visible above and to the left of the men walking toward the camera. The black and white photograph comes from the Bibby and Glob expedition to Doha.

I posted some of my initial attempts here:

https://middlesavagery.wordpress.com/2013/01/02/rephotography-in-doha/
https://middlesavagery.wordpress.com/2013/01/07/take-two-rephotography-in-doha/

You can see the full feature about the Origins of Doha Project, as linked from the project webpage HERE, and includes the print versions of the article in Arabic and English.

Heritage Jam Video Series Complete

Over the weekend I finished up the series of short videos for the upcoming Heritage Jam and I’m fairly pleased with them. I have a much larger video project coming up for EUROTAST, featuring the incredible work of the research fellows, and so it was a good way to get back into the video-making groove again.

Each of the videos is a challenge to the participants of the Heritage Jam, as outlined by Dr. Julie Rugg.

Challenge One: Dynamism

Challenge Two: Visibility

Challenge Three: Class

In each video Dr. Rugg identifies some interesting challenges for visual interpretation in cemeteries. I enjoyed learning about cemeteries from her as I edited the videos.

I’m never quite 100% satisfied with the videos that I make either, as there’s always more that can be done. When I teach filmmaking to archaeology students, I tell them that you can pretty much spend an infinite amount of time editing a video, making it as perfect as possible…but I have other projects, so finding “good enough” is not wholly satisfying, but does get the video out there for other people to view. If anything, all of this just makes me appreciate the professionals that much more!

Even if you aren’t participating in the Heritage Jam, the videos may make you look at cemeteries in a different way–they certainly did for me!

(PS: Try to watch them in HD if you have the bandwidth!)

Archaeologists Making Libraries: Di Hu

After working for several years near Pomacocha, Ayacucho, Peru, UC Berkeley archaeology PhD candidate Di Hu was approached by teachers at the local school. They needed quality books to help educate their students. In Di’s words:

High in the Peruvian Andes, the historic village of Pomacocha is nestled among high cliffs, rivers and volcanic mountains. With a population of around 800-1000 people, Pomacocha boasts a preschool, a primary school, and a high school. Despite the curiosity and enthusiasm of the students, Pomacocha does not have a public library. The schoolchildren have only basic textbooks that emphasize memorization of facts. Because of the lack of resources in Pomacocha, the schools cannot afford to buy non-curriculum books.

With all of the high-tech public archaeology and community outreach going on in archaeology these days it is easy to forget that some of the communities we work in still need basic amenities. Things that we take for granted. To serve this relatively low-tech need, Di started a crowdfunding campaign last April on Indiegogo:

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/first-public-library-for-schoolchildren-in-a-rural-peruvian-village

She did incredibly well, beating her goal by $350! I was happy to contribute a little bit to the project, and I’ve been getting updates as Di has made back to Peru. I was very touched when she sent me a photo of the books that I sponsored, with a specialized nameplate:

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The books are:

Muerte en la Vicaria by Agatha Christie (I asked for murder on the Oriental Express, but it was taken already!)

La Mujer en el Tiempo: Cronologia ilustrada que abarca mas de 20 siglos de personajes y eventos que marcaron la historia

500 Años de patriarcado en el nuevo mundo

Good stuff. Thanks, Di!

The New Gig: EUROTAST

Two of the research fellows in the EUROTAST project, looking at samples in the lab at the University of Bristol.

Last December I had the immense good fortune to join the Archaeology Department at the University of York as a EUROTAST Marie Curie Research Postdoctoral Fellow. I’ve been finding my legs in my new job for the last few months, getting the required equipment, and generally settling in. In practical terms, the position is familiar territory for me—digital media and public outreach—but the subject matter is a radical shift: new scientific methods of investigating the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

While my first excavation investigated the home of formerly enslaved Dallas residents, with Dr. Maria Franklin at the University of Texas, and I have worked on historically disadvantaged and enslaved populations since that time, it was not my major research focus. Also, I understood (to a certain extent) the developments in archaeometry of the last decade, but the specifics were a gloss: I put the sample in a bag and sent it to a specialist who dealt with it.

It has been incredibly eye-opening both in terms of the vast wealth of information that DNA and isotopic analyses has to offer in archaeological research and the emotional toll of studying what can only be described as one of the most tragic chapters in history: the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

(After I finished that last sentence, I sat and looked at it for ten minutes. The TAST takes all the words away.)

So. While my postdoc is incredibly amazing—I heard that it was called the “unicorns and rainbows job”—there is…this. How do I digitally remediate difficult heritage? What considerations do I take when I disseminate research on this incredibly sensitive topic, heritage that hurts? There’s also contending with the rather large new body of literature. I find this a benefit, as it provides an outside perspective that is valuable in outreach in demonstrating the interest and vitality of a subject that feels tedious to a long-term expert in the subject. Anyway, I’ve taken to calling my new job digital heritage on hard mode.

Finally, it is fantastic being at the University of York. There’s great momentum in the Archaeology department and beyond, with the Centre for Digital Heritage, the Institute for the Public Understanding of the Past, and the presence of top researchers who are willing to try new things. And we do have some delights in store.

The “Tomb Raider Temple” – Ta Prohm at Angkor Wat

What have you seen?

It’s a common question in Siem Reap, home to the many hostels and hotels that feed tourists to the Angkor Wat temple complex. Sunburnt tourists trade stories while cooling off in the bar with a can of cold, cheap Angkor beer–the famous temple on the label collecting beads of condensation. A list generally follows the question. Oh, I’ve seen Bayon, Angkor, Banteay Srey, the waterfall and the Tomb Raider temple. 

jolie_angkor

Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft at Ta Prohm.

In his 2002 article for the International Journal of Heritage Studies, Tim Winter  outlines the history of Angkor, as UNESCO terms it, “a geographical region, an archaeological site and a cultural concept”. Angkor “emerged as a major seat of power early in the 9th century AD and lasted until the capital’s abandonment in the middle decades of the 15th century” wherein god-kings would construct an irrigation network followed by statues of deceased parents and then a mountain temple dedicated to the king himself. This culminated in Angkor Thom, an extravagant city complex built in the 13th century, the demands of which are cited as contributing to the empire’s eventual decline.

Angkor was “discovered” by French botanist Henri Mouhot in 1862; the overgrown aesthetics leading him to claim that Angkor was a lost civilization, though the local Khmer (Cambodians) would surely disagree. The French colonial administration constructed Angkor as the apogee of Khmer civilization, the abandoned state of which showed Khmer in decline, their culture lost. It was up to the French, of course, to restore this culture, therefore legitimizing their rule. Even after French rule and the totalitarian regime of Pol Pot, Winter notes that “the deeply symbolic national significance of Angkor within contemporary Cambodia” still remains.

When scenes from the movie Tomb Raider were filmed at Angkor Wat in 2000, tourism was already on the rise. Winter establishes the heritage simulacra used by the film producers, who were mimicking the video game world in the real world, dissolving the boundaries between physical and virtual. Sets were built around Angkor Wat, further Orientalizing the Khmer–Angkor was now in the middle of an exotic, chaotic village on stilts in the water. A woman is cooking in a shack as Lara Croft paddles up the the shore amidst the cacophony of a “fallen” society–echoes of the French colonial interpretation of Angkor remaining intact nearly 150 years later.

Ta Prohm, a temple about 3km NE of the main Angkor Wat complex, has been left largely unreconstructed and is being conserved as a partial ruin. This has been intentional, to preserve the photogenic and atmospheric experience so that the tourist may imagine themselves as an early (white, western) explorer, perhaps Mouhot himself. Tim Winter documents “the tourist encounter” at a similar temple, Preah Khan, also being conserved as a partial ruin. The World Monument Fund director who was responsible for preparing Preah Khan for tourism wanted to create specific routes for tourists so that they may “experience Preah Khan the way it should be experienced” and thus create a “more authentic spatial narrative across the site”.

Tomb Raider has reinforced a site narrative at Angkor Wat of discovery, adventure and exploration that has not always been beneficial to the preservation of the site. Winter quotes a Canadian tourist who explained why she climbed over the temple’s delicate rooftops by stating that it made her “feel like Lara Croft exploring the jungled ruins of Angkor.” Ta Prohm is now called the “Tomb Raider Temple” in both guide books and buy the local tuk tuk drivers, which, as Winter writes, blurs the “boundaries across authenticities, realities and fiction” until Angkor is reduced to “a culturally and historically disembedded visual spectacle.”

Ten years after Winter’s article was written, I was not sure what to expect from the “Tomb Raider Temple.” Indiana Jones and Lara Croft have no little notoriety in the archaeological world (Cornelius Holtorf has a nice piece written here about Indiana Jones:
http://traumwerk.stanford.edu/archaeolog/2008/03/hero_real_archaeology_and_indi.html
that is further elaborated in his Archaeology is a Brand!) and I briefly wrote about Lara Croft as an “unavoidable cultural figure for women in archaeology” in 2007: https://middlesavagery.wordpress.com/2007/05/15/toward-an-embodied-virtual-archaeology/

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What I found at Ta Prohm was extraordinary beyond my expectations. A large section of the temple was closed, as it was being conserved. It turns out that preservation-as-ruins was not working out so well for the site as the giant Banyan trees were making the temple perhaps a bit too ruinous and atmospheric. It was a large construction site, yet not a single tourist mentioned this in their description of the site. They were still lining up to take their photographs in the same spots that featured in the film. The process was fascinating. The subject of the photograph and the photographer would wait in a crowd, then the subject would run up to the spot and the photographer would carefully frame the photograph so that the subject would look all alone at the abandoned/forbidding ruin, an early discoverer/adventurer. Sometimes the subject would pose as if they were climbing up the ruins.

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This is not all that uncommon; many photographs of heritage are composed by editing out the hoards of fellow discoverer/adventurers, thereby creating the experience of the site as singular. This was especially fascinating at Ta Prohm, as the tourists self-consciously performed the explorer/discoverer/video game narrative. Remarkably, a girl came up to us and said, “did you notice that the layout of this temple (we were at Angkor Thom) is just like Temple Run?” I did not know what Temple Run was, but Dan did–it’s a popular game for the iPad wherein the adventurer (a female, incidentally) moves through exotic locations looking for treasure. Go figure.

How Tomb Raider and other popular depictions have acted on our imagination of cultural heritage and how we in turn reenact these tropes while building our identity through digital media and online presence is pretty fascinating stuff. The question of what have you seen becomes what are you actually seeing and what are you intentionally editing out of your heritage experience?
ResearchBlogging.org
Winter, T. (2002). Angkor Meets Tomb Raider : setting the scene International Journal of Heritage Studies, 8 (4), 323-336 DOI: 10.1080/1352725022000037218