Tag Archives: Archaeology

Becoming Jacquetta Hawkes

It was spring when I began to write and now September has put cool fingers and a few leaves into the air. While I have written, the sea has swallowed a gobbet of land in one place, released a few square yards in another; there have been losses and gains in the flow of consciousness. Again I see the present moment as a rose or a cup held up on the stem of all that is past. Or is it perhaps after all that spiral shell in which I once heard the call of the plover; into which I can look to see all things taking shape and where the bottom-most point is one with this last convolution? From A Land.

The real Jacquetta Hawkes

The real Jacquetta Hawkes

On the surface of it, Jacquetta Hawkes and I are as different as two female archaeologists could be; she’s the “cool and formal” daughter of a Nobel prize winner who had an idyllic, genteel childhood and received a first from Cambridge while I’m a tattooed American who was bounced from one mediocre public school to the next, dumpster-diving and attending community college before I got into archaeology at the University of Texas. So when I received the invitation to participate in Raising Horizons as Jacquetta Hawkes I was flattered but confused, with the first twinges of imposter syndrome that I’ve had in a while.

As an avid theorist and maker of archaeological media, I’d looked into Jacquetta’s role in creating a film on British prehistory, and found myself immersed in Christine Finn’s excellent biography. Jacquetta was legendary, one of the greats of our profession–check out this blog entirely about her achievements. She was able to move within scientific and artistic circles, leading a remarkable life full of love and adventure.

To celebrate 200 years in geoscience, Trowelblazers is dressing up current women in archaeology in vintage costumes, taking their portraits and exhibiting them to provide role models for girls who want to get into science. How could I resist? So I trundled down to London with my baby daughter in tow for a costume fitting at a professional costume supply company, Cosprop. They dressed me up in a tweedy skirt and wellies, stuck a scarf on my head, and there was Jacquetta. I have to admit, still a bit dumpy at four months post-partum, I felt more like I reflected my indifferent roots than the patrician Englishwoman I was meant to portray.

The second trip to London was for the actual photoshoot, and I brought along a copy of A Land that I had kicking around, but shamefully had never read.

Oh–ohhhhhh! Then I got it. While I never had the benefit of posh private (UK public) schools and genteel conversations over tea, I read voraciously, desperately. I was the kid who was always ashamed, saying words the wrong way because I learned them from reading. And writing too–I wrote, wrote, wrote, notebooks full of narratives, poetry, love letters, mostly garbage, really.

When I cracked open A Land on the train, I immediately recognized another prolific, catholic abuser of the English language. Jacquetta is delightfully turgid, catastrophically broad, jumping from Rodin to Mary Anning, to lumbering sea creatures through the appreciation of the Blue Lias geological formation. Yes, she had the good sense to write bestselling books while I witter away in a blog, but still! We both worship at the altars of Proust & DH Lawrence, love adventure, and tap out great gushing gouts of purple prose. Okay.

The Fake Jacquetta Hawkes

The Fake Jacquetta Hawkes

So look out for me and Nicky Milner and Shahina Farid and other fantastic women posing as our honored predecessors in the coming weeks. But also, please support the Raising Horizons campaign.

We want to ensure that women in the sciences not only receive recognition for the accomplishments of a previous generation but also to show girls that they too can grow up to pursue a life of discovery, adventure, and fascination with the past.

A Very Neolithic Halloween

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Mornings at the Çatalhöyük dig house were a chaos of tools and tea cups. Too many archaeologists were crammed into a small outpost in the middle of the dusty Anatolian plain and civility came later in the day, after breakfast. It is a very particular way of living that not everyone can cope with; in print I’ve compared it to Goffman’s Total Institution:

“a place of residence and work where a large number of like-situated individuals cut off from the wider society for an appreciable period of time together lead an enclosed, formally administered round of life”

The specialists would retreat to their respective labs–paleobot, osteo, zooarch, lithics, pottery, finds–but the excavators would climb up the tell to escape, pushing squeaky wheelbarrows full of tools. The real prize was to be the first to get away, as you got the best tools and a wide open vista of blue sky and long, golden-brown grass. For a moment you could imagine that you were alone on that big hill, fat with archaeology and promise. And quiet. A little wind flapping the tent, but otherwise, gorgeous, gorgeous quiet.

Of course the chaos of the dig house would eventually clamor up the hill after you, and the day would roll on, but you’d hardly notice by then as you were stuck in, troweling, drawing, taking photos, bagging samples and artifacts. We were digging in Building 49, a smallish mudbrick building that fit onto a sheet of permatrace–so under 5m square, almost bijoux, but full of paintings and people buried underneath the floor.

All archaeologists are atheists, but we are all atheists with ghost stories. Actually, that is not even remotely true, I’ve met my share of witches and christians in the trench, and we are a profession ripe with superstition. I take it as part of my professional ethics not to believe in ghosts or anything remotely supernatural but if you study humans, then you must acknowledge a sort of placebo-effect of religiosity–if you believe it is true, then it is true for you. This is a convoluted way of saying that if you deal with the remains of people for long enough, you will eventually come across things that creep you the fuck out. Sometimes it’s not even in the ground.

So on that sunny, slightly misty morning in July, I pushed my rusty wheelbarrow up to the side of the trench. There was a fine layer of dew covering the archaeology, plaster floors, low, muddy walls, and pits where we’d dug several of the eventual 15 bodies to come out from beneath the floors of the house. I was preoccupied with a series of scrappy paintings layered on top of each other, black lines, then squiggles, then hands, then red.

That morning, there in the dew, a line of footprints snaked across the floors and platforms that we’d carefully uncovered the day before.  I was digging with two other archaeologists that year and we all stood at the edge of the trench, staring down at the footprints. The feet that had made the prints were bare, medium sized, and it was obvious where they’d came out of the trench and left the tent. What wasn’t obvious is where they’d entered the trench.

You see, nobody was allowed on the tell outside of working hours. I’d worked on projects before where people had illicitly come in the night and messed around in the archaeology to hunt for whatever treasure they thought we were after. In this instance, nothing was out of place. Someone probably just had a sunrise amble across the tell. Barefoot. Yeah.

So after a little while we just got on with it, took out our tools and went to work. But we never figured out who took a stroll through the Neolithic that night and I remember wondering if we should have recorded the prints before I used a small brush to gently whisk them into oblivion.

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Happy Halloween!

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!

 

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.