Tag Archives: Archaeology

Telepresence, Cyborg Archaeology and the Molecular Age

km14_come_around_lost_or_found

Come Around, Lost Or Found, by Kendal Murray

Perhaps the greatest gift of my postdoc has been the crash introduction to the Molecular Age. As a digital archaeologist, I have been immersed in all things technoscience, but it was still a revelation to understand the incredible, diverse detail archaeologists can glean from a single tooth. Finding the interfaces between molecular bioarchaeology and digital methods is incredibly exciting, especially as it allows me to articulate a cyborg archaeology–drawing from Donna Haraway, Elizabeth Grosz and N. Katherine Hayles to understand archaeology, artifacts and bodies.

Found, Hound, Common Ground by Kendal Murray

Found, Hound, Common Ground by Kendal Murray

A theme running throughout my research over the years is telepresence, where you are when you are talking on the phone–not with the person you are speaking to, but not quite in the room you are standing in either.  Telepresence is an incredibly productive metaphor for research on the past, not entirely where you are, not in the past, but somewhere in the middle. These themes within archaeology and science came up in the recent Then Dig themed issue: The Senses and Aesthetics of Archaeological Science.

Telepresence is deeply implicated within the Molecular Age; archaeology must now telescope between vastly divergent scales of analysis, from the traces of aDNA to network analyses of regional and temporal change. Digital technology is the connective tissue, our telephone call to the past. But, it turns out, so is art.

km14_discreet_sweet_deceit

Discreet, Sweet Deceit by Kendal Murray

Kendal Murray’s artwork immediately struck me–her playfulness of scale, in the artifacts containing lifeworlds, microcosms that surround the artifact forever implicated in the artifact. Growing trees from pollen grains found on shoes. With molecular analyses we can hint at those lost lifeworlds, and with augmented reality we can reanimate those lifeworlds, and tie them to the artifacts.

So, yeah. Welcome to my research.

Breaking Blocks and Digging Holes: Archaeology & Minecraft

archaeology_minecraft

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.

DSC_0453

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!

#CritBlogArch Virtual Roundtables

ia-logo

I’m very pleased with the new dedicated issue of Internet Archaeology, Critical Blogging in Archaeology, first conceived at the 2011 Society for American Archaeology sessions in Sacramento. That it has taken so long to publish is entirely on me–working in Qatar and finishing my thesis left me spread a bit thin.

Happily, my postdoc here in the Archaeology Department at the University of York put me in the perfect position to publish the issue in Internet Archaeology, the Open Access journal embedded in the department, edited by the fantastic Judith Winters. Judith put a tremendous amount of effort into producing this issue, and I am deeply grateful for her willingness to be a bit experimental.

We decided to use Open Peer Review, which means that the authors and the reviewers are identified. I’ve found this works really well on Then Dig–peer review becomes less adversarial and more cooperative. Combined with the small group of people doing research on this topic and the complete inability to make these article double-blind, it seemed like a good choice. You can read more about the process in my editorial for the issue.

The other features that we decided to include is the ability to directly comment on the articles and to archive the uses of the #CritBlogArch hashtag on Twitter, to preserve the feedback and conversation surrounding the issue. So far the uptake has been mixed and without clear direction so we decided to create a series of round tables, identifying dates and times to discuss particular articles. The articles are all Open Access, so there should not be any barriers to discussion.

Join us on the following dates and times to discuss these articles on Twitter with the #CritBlogArch hashtag, or leave comments on the articles themselves.

June 16 (16:00 BST)
Mapping the Structure of the Archaeological Web – Shawn Graham
From Blogs to Books: Blogging as Community, Practice and Platform – William Caraher and Andrew Reinhard
Micro-blogging and Online Community – Lorna-Jane Richardson

June 23 (16:00 BST)
Crime, Controversy and the Comments Section: Discussing archaeological looting, trafficking, and the illicit antiquities trade online – Meg Lambert and Donna Yates
Blogging the Field School: Teaching Digital Public Archaeology – Terry P. Brock and Lynne Goldstein
Changing the Way Archaeologists Work: blogging and the development of expertise – Sara Perry

June 30 (16:00 BST)
Online Resistance to Precarious Archaeological Labour – Sam Hardy
Bones, Bodies, and Blogs: Outreach and Engagement in Bioarchaeology – Katy Meyers Emery and Kristina Killgrove
Vlog to Death: Project Eliseg’s Video-Blogging – Joseph Tong, Suzanne Evans, Howard Williams, Nancy Edwards and Gary Robinson

We also encourage responses to Fotis Ifantidis’ photo essay (peer reviewed with other photo essays from Steve Ashby and Jesse Stephen) on Instagram, or Flickr–please drop a comment with a link on Ifantidis’ essay.

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:

Screen Shot 2015-05-05 at 11.29.42 AM

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.