Tag Archives: Archaeology

On Night, Darkness & the Past

Tokyo, from Thierry Cohen's Darkened Cities Series

Tokyo, from Thierry Cohen’s Darkened Cities Series

This morning I woke up thinking about darkness. It is getting close to the summer solstice; right now the sun sets at around 9:30, but it takes a long time, hovering behind the horizon in indecision. This lingering solstice sun woke me up this morning, too early, turning our small bedroom into an intense white cube. Last year Dan and I were in Iceland at around this time and we never saw darkness, always falling asleep for the hour or so that the sky dimmed. I don’t miss it–I remember too well the gloom of January in the North.

One of the things I miss the most about field archaeology is the stars. In Turkey and Jordan I’d sleep on the roof, watching shooting stars and satellites, feeling the depth of space all around me. In cities, hell, in most places, all the artificial light flattens the sky, makes it a far-away, vaulted ceiling. In moonless nights in the desert the night sky consumes you, so dark and so complete that you feel like the hood ornament stuck on this great globe of ours, crashing face-first through the universe.

This darkness, now precious and scarce, was ubiquitous and terrifying in the past. One of my favorite books to recommend to archaeologists and non-archaeologists alike is At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past. Ekrich reminds us of how oppressive and thorough darkness was without electric lights, how evening figured so prominently as to have many names: gloaming, clock-shut, grosping, crow-time, daylight’s gate, owl-leet, shutting-in. Night unravelled and spun out and had to be shielded against–of all things that we forget about the past, I think this is probably the most blatant, night, the dusky elephant in our ruins.

I make virtual reconstructions of the past, and one of the most common and early revelations is to be able to model different times of year and levels of light in architecture. An evening in the Neolithic, right before the moon rises? Sure. But we are seeing these as displayed on a liquid crystal display that pushes the images as flickering light into our retinas. How can we model the dark, the true dark of Lascaux, the moment before a struck spark brings a wildfire of Aurochs crashing down around us?

Tanizaki’s In Praise of Shadows describes the transition between candlelight and electric lighting in Japan. Candlelight, fire, that ever-murderer of Japan, is romanticized and he extends this metaphor too far, into an essential quality of Japanese people and materiality. Still, candlelight revealed the true beauty of lacquerware to Tanizaki, and to me as well–I always thought the stuff was a bit tacky next to the creamy curves and perfect imperfections of Japanese pottery, humble brown bowls mended with gold. Lacquerware should be seen by candlelight:

Lacquerware decorated in gold is not something to be seen in a brilliant light, to be taken in at a single glance; it should be left in the dark, a part here and a part there picked up by a faint light. Its florid patterns recede into the darkness, conjuring in their stead an inexpressible aura of depth and mystery, of overtones but partly suggested. The sheen of the lacquer, set out in the night, reflects the wavering candlelight, announcing the drafts that find their way from time to time into the quiet room, luring one into a state of reverie.

I think of the glossy sheen of obsidian–sure, obsidian can be clear, gold-flecked, green, smoky, but I think of the black stuff, with traces of light reflecting and pooling in the rippled scars of removed flakes. The faintest touch effortlessly slicing flesh.

I wonder if our constant light has seeped into our current material culture, what do we design for firelight, only for viewing by the faintest sliver of crescent moon? What textures do we make for a sure grip at midnight? Do we value the dull gleam of lacquerware less because we can’t take a proper picture of it with our phone?

Beware of Academia.edu’s New “Feature” – Sessions

 

UPDATE: The email that goes out now when you create a session no longer requests participation from colleagues, it just mentions that you have created a session. Thanks to Academia.edu for making this change.

Screen Shot 2015-05-05 at 11.27.27 AM

I’m not seeing a lot of discussion about this so I thought I’d flag it up. Academia.edu unevenly implemented a new “feature” called Sessions that randomly invites a handful of colleagues to comment on your uploaded work. I was confused and embarrassed when this happened to me the other day–there is a very small tick box when you upload your paper that you must untick on this page:

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If you fail to see it and untick it, you get a lot of confused responses from your colleagues who probably have better things to do than comment on your academic shenanigans. If you’d like an example of this, check out this session on a very brief book review I wrote several years ago and just now got around to uploading:

https://www.academia.edu/s/e1783e3d6e

It shows what an incredible star Angela Piccini is, and how much confusion that this thing generates.

All of this happened when I put up a pre-print of a new paper on archaeological filmmaking in Public Archaeology. You can can download the f’reals, paginated version with images Open Access here:

http://www.maneyonline.com/doi/abs/10.1179/1465518715Z.00000000077

Archaeology and the Moving Image

Archaeological filmmaking is a relatively under-examined subject in academic literature. As the technology for creating, editing, and distributing video becomes increasingly available, it is important to understand the broader context of archaeological filmmaking; from television documentaries to footage shot as an additional method of recording to the informal ‘home videos’ in archaeology. The history of filmmaking in archaeology follows innovations within archaeological practice as well as the availability and affordability of technology. While there have been extensive analyses of movies and television shows about archaeological subjects, the topic of archaeological film has been characterized by reactions to these outside perspectives, rather than examinations of footage created by archaeologists. This can be understood to fall within several filmic genres, including expository, direct testimonial, impressionistic, and phenomenological films, each with their own purpose and expressive qualities. Footage taken on site can also be perceived as a form of surveillance, and can modify behaviour as a form of panopticon. Consequently, there are considerations regarding audience, distribution, and methods for evaluation, as these films are increasingly available on social media platforms. This paper explores the broad context for archaeological filmmaking and considers potential futures for the moving image in archaeology.

SAA 2015: Lithics Cowgirl, Household Archaeologist, Digital Doyenne: A Session Dedicated to Ruth Tringham

Last Fall I announced the session that I organized, honoring the achievements of Ruth Tringham, my most fantastic colleague. Now the time has come and we have a panel that explores a broad range of topics from Ruth’s career: her ground-breaking research on lithics, household archaeology, digital archaeology, and much more. I hope to see you there!

Ruth_SL

Society for American Archaeology 80th Annual Meeting
SATURDAY April 18th, 8:00AM
Continental Ballroom 6

08:00 Michael Ashley—Remediated Roads and Flights of Fancy, Travels with Ruth from Past to Present
08:15 Barbara Voytek—From Russia with Love: Ruth Tringham and the Early Days of Microwear
08:30 Doug Bailey—Who invited the Secret Police?
08:45 Colleen Morgan—A Chimera Spider at Play: Making, Creativity and Collaboration in Digital Archaeology
09:00 Michael Shanks—Ruth Tringham
09:15 Mirjana Stevanovic—Ruth’s Archaeology
09:30 Lori Hager—Who Will Remember the Dead? Embodying the People of the Past in Novel Ways
09:45 Peter Biehl—The Neolithic House: Ruth Tringham’s Interdisciplinary Approaches to (Re)Constructing Prehistoric Village Life in Southeast Europe and Anatolia
10:00 Margaret Conkey—Out on the Ice with Ruth: Taking Chances Together
10:15 Steve Mills—Walking to (A)muse: Exploring Senses of Place with Ruth
10:30 Angela Piccini—Archaeology’s Moving Images
10:45 Henrietta L. Moore—Feminism and Experimentation

11:00 Julian Richards—Discussant
11:15 Ian Hodder—Discussant
11:30 Ruth Tringham—Discussant

11:45 Questions and Answers

CAA 2015: The Death (and Afterlife) of Archaeological Photography

01_CAA_2015-01

Hello from lovely Siena! In about an hour I will be presenting in the Towards a Theory of Practice in Applied Digital Field Methods session at the CAA conference. It’s my first CAA–it is usually too close to SAA to manage, but I thought I’d try both this year. Anyway, here’s my paper title & abstract:

Title: The Death (and Afterlife) of Archaeological Photography

Abstract: 

The second wave of digital photography in archaeology, including HDR, photogrammetry, textures for 3D objects, time-lapse, drone photography, and screen-shots from google earth has destabilized notions of craft, authorship and the archive. Personal photography, taken with cellphones and curated on social media has created a substantial, expressive counter-archive that documents a more personal, experiential account of archaeological investigation. Digital manipulation of photographs has created a genre of hybrid images that combine past and present landscapes, to startling effect. While interplay between analog and digital photographies, inspiring innovation and stealing from one another, demonstrates that the digital age is still deeply embroiled with analog values and aesthetics, the second wave of digital photography in archaeology ventures into what J.T. Mitchell termed the “post-photographic” (1992:225).

While Mitchell characterized the post- photographic era as an “ineradicable fragility of our ontological distinctions between the imaginary and the real, and the tragic elusiveness of the Cartesian dream” (1992:225), this “loss of the real” has instead become a hyperreality wherein the imaginary is intimately linked to reality. The networked image has both decentered the “reality” of the photograph by hosting endless modifications and reproductions of the image while at the same time providing the ability to reference (or trace) the original “real” work. This “real” work is hosted next to the derivations, both de-centering its authority while also providing a citation for the modified images.

The post-photographic era is generative, rendering the act of creation of the photograph as something that will be reproduced and modified, instead of creating a single artifact. The placement of digital photography within an “interactive, networked interplay of a larger metamedia” is termed “hyperphotography” by Fred Ritchin (2009:141). Metamedia can be conceived as a media ecology of “larger personal communication that will keep appointments, make calls, take visual notes, check calendars, order from restaurants, find out about sales in neighboring stores, check blood pressure, and tune in to television, radio and personal playlists” (Richin 2009:145). It is within this media ecology that we must understand archaeological photography, not simply as a separate methodology, but as part of a network of personal and professional digital practice.

Navigating Brutalism at the 100 Minories Archaeology Project

Back in 2012, Dan and I worked at the fantastic 100 Minories project with L-P Archaeology. They’re some of my favorite people, so I was sad that I was not able to work with them on the excavation phase of the project, which is currently in full swing. I have two blog posts about the evaluation stage, wherein archaeologists dug to 7m deep, punching test pits through the thick London stratigraphy:

100 Minories Project
Diggin’ Deep at 100 Minories

They have their own, very nice project website now, take a gander:

http://100minories.lparchaeology.com/ 

And they’ve featured some of the building recording photography that Dan and I did inside the old Navigation School, a 1960s Brutalist structure:

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Check out a few of the rest of the images HERE. I swear we used a scale in most of them, they just picked the ones without!

Mornings in the Manor

A photo posted by colleenmorgan (@colleenmorgan) on

 

It was all so new, a year ago, when I described the over and under and through of my commute to work, walking through a microcosm of English history. Now it passes in a blur, I’m either in my headphones listening to a podcast or buzzing by on my lovely Gazelle–the sturdy Danish bicycle that I steer over frozen cobblestones and muddy, overgrown pathways.

I was delayed this morning by a brief flurry of snow, predicated by an Easter pink and yellow sky. I don’t notice my commute much, and a lot of the culture shock has worn off. Now I hear my previous self in other Americans, going on and on about the subtle differences, the quirks, the realignment of world view, and I hope that I wasn’t that completely tedious. I probably was.

I can understand most of what people say these days, even the most York-shure, and I don’t get as many looks of utter incomprehension when I ask for eggs or butter. Verbal code-switching has become comfortable and useful, though there’s still the occasional confusion with “shop” and “store” and a few other things.

So I was in my at-least-partially-acculturated haze this morning, wheeling my bicycle over the big stone pavers of King’s Manor, when I crossed paths with one of the lovely porters. We don’t really have porters in the States, they’re sort of watchmen/caretakers of the building, but not janitors or rent-a-cop security. They are constantly kicking me out of the building, as I often work until closing time–19:00 (7:00PM)–shockingly early in academia-land. But they do it with a smile, especially after I engaged on a military-esque campaign of extreme friendliness until even the most curmudgeonly porter relented.

As usual, I greeted the porter with a big smile and wave, and, code-switching without a thought, asked him if he liked the snow this morning. He returned my smile and said, in the most charming of accents:

“No, no. We never like the snow.”

Something about his cheerfully brusque response, the big old medieval walls rising around me, and the clatter of my bicycle wheels over the pavers pushed me out of my acculturation and made me notice again, back to being a stranger in a strange land. But I’m okay with that. If anything it made me happy to be reminded of how far I’ve been, how much I’ve changed, and how many adventures are yet to come.

Where are the Female Contemporary Archaeologists?

Citational communities can be at turns fascinating, infuriating, and utterly destructive. Literature is easier than ever to search for, but there’s also an unholy amount of it out there–while I was finishing my thesis on digital archaeology I had to cut off my research references at 2011 or else be crushed under an unending tidal wave of words. It’s worse when you do very interdisciplinary work, and even worse when you move between two very large research communities, USA and Europe, and get reviewed by scholars from all over the world. I’m glad I don’t deal much with other languages or I think I’d run off into the Pennines, never to be seen again. It’s deadening. Impossible. Right?

So it’s tempting to cite Latour, five of your good friends, then send your work off to the journal, figuring that the peer reviewers will ask you to cite THEIR research as well, and be done with it. There’s constant snide struggles between academics at even the top levels who intentionally do not cite each other, and perpetuate this onto their students, who advance within an echo chamber, only occasionally stumbling on the other work later down the road. It’s disheartening.

But sometimes it’s just citational communities–when I took my methods & theory class at UC Berkeley, the professors teaching it told us that they were making us Berkeley Archaeologists, giving us their particular take on current literature. I deeply appreciated this. Still, when we reach outside of our citational community, we tap the works of the Great Thinkers and pat ourselves on the backs for being such fashion-forward interdisciplinary academics, truly expanding the field.

Then you see yet another volume of archaeologists talking to each other without referencing anyone outside of their small circle.

Then you see a talk that provides a survey of a particular subfield where not a SINGLE woman is referenced.

Then you see a whole panel of editors for a new journal without any women.

And this doesn’t even take into account indigenous scholars, people of color, non-Western scholars, etc, because that’s so utterly depressing that I can’t even start.

So it was with great interest that I read Zoe Todd’s “An Indigenous Feminist’s take on the Ontological Turn” who articulates this so much better than I ever could:

So, for every time you want to cite a Great Thinker who is on the public speaking circuit these days, consider digging around for others who are discussing the same topics in other ways. Decolonising the academy, both in europe and north america, means that we must consider our own prejudices, our own biases. Systems like peer-review and the subtle violence of european academies tend to privilege certain voices and silence others.

She provides a “cheat sheet,” a list of people who have been thinking about, in this case, the Ontological Turn for decades. Brilliant.

In this spirit, I’ve started a list of Female Contemporary Archaeologists, for our own “cite this, not that” list. When I emailed the list to a few colleagues to get it started, there was the recognition that a lot of these women don’t have positions in the academy, were not able to operationalize non-standard archaeological practice into so-called “real jobs.” Still, many continue to publish and contribute to archaeology and do fantastic, citable work. The list is editable, please add publications, names, keywords, anything you can think of:

Female Contemporary Archaeologists

I encourage you to set up your own “cheat sheets” and edit them, share them, and consider accordingly evaluating the next hiring decision, the next conference–heck, scan the references of the next paper you write. Who is your citational community? Are you perpetuating a hetero-normative, racist, colonialist, male-dominated academy, even while speaking in emancipatory tropes?