Tag Archives: Archaeology

Digging for DNA on Medium.com

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I’m very pleased with this long-form, popular article that I wrote: Digging for DNA: Archaeology, Genetics & the Transatlantic Slave Trade. I wasn’t sure where to put it at first, as it’s long for many journals, and a lot of places do not accept unsolicited manuscripts. Journalistic writing is surprisingly difficult to break into! It was also one of the more difficult things that I’ve written, as it details very contentious issues in research on ethnicity and genetics.

While my name is on the byline, it received quite a few edits from the researchers involved–precise language is important in discussions of scientific research, and I wanted to be sure that I wasn’t misrepresenting perspectives of the researchers and fellows involved.

It was also interesting to write something for Medium.com, as there does not seem to be much of an archaeological presence there. Additionally, they give you stats on how many people get to the bottom of the article–so far, less than 1/3 of readers muscled their way through the nearly 5,000 words.

Overall, it has been a revelation working with the EUROTAST network, and has considerably shaped my future research projects. I hope you enjoy this discussion of their research! Here’s the first paragraph of the article:

Marcela Sandoval gave me a wry grin, then covered her face with a mask. Next, a covering for her hair, goggles, booties over her shoes, and a crisp, white suit that crinkled when she moved. Finally, a pair of turgid purple latex gloves snapped into place. She put her hands on her hips and impatiently motioned for me to get on with it. I awkwardly pulled on my own clean suit and followed her into the laboratory, where a faint glow outlined test tubes and complex machines.

Here, in this quiet room, was the beginning of a complex, captivating story about genetics, ethnicity, and the archaeological past.

For more, go to:
https://medium.com/@colleenmorgan/digging-for-dna-3c1984ed94d6

The Other Photography of Archaeology

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January has been full on, with three talks (including a keynote!) in three countries and a fourth one next week. Two of them involve representation in archaeology and I was reminded to finally get my Nostalgic, Personal, Neglected, Treasured, Rejected: The Other Photography in Archaeology made into an e-book!

Click here for the low-quality pdf

Click here for the link to the high-quality FREE blurb book

Here is the original abstract for the Berkeley TAG piece in 2011:

Our view of the past is hazy, inaccurate, hard to discern, never quite all there. Yet our record of such uncertainty is becoming dazzlingly clear; professional-quality digital SLR cameras producing high-dynamic range imaging are becoming the norm on archaeological projects and our photographic archives, once highly-curated collections of “scientific,” carefully set-up shots have exploded in size and diversified in content accordingly. Along with this extraordinary, high-tech verisimilitude runs a counter-narrative–photography on sites performed by students, workmen, professionals, and tourists using their cellphones. These images are too casual, personal, low-rez, and are often unavailable to the official project. They find another life online, emailed to friends and posted on Flickr and Facebook, living beyond the archive and often becoming a much more visible public face than the more official photographs released by the project.

Inspired by this tension between the personal and the formal and Damon Winter’s recent New York Times iPhone photo essay of soldiers in Afghanistan, I shed my cumbersome and conspicuous DSLR to explore the affective, casual, and nostalgic qualities of archaeological photography with my cellphone and on-board photo-editing applications. In a session focused on exploring the work that archaeological photography does, I will investigate the hazy, inaccurate, personal, and extra-archival qualities of the archaeological snapshot.

As I said during my talks, interplay with digital and analog, and the transgression of using a camera-phone for archaeological recording felt a lot more edgy several years ago.

I discussed a bit about how I made the original, analog album in the previous blog post, The Other Photography.

The Happy Accidents of Archaeological Drone Photography

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Admittedly, 80% of the 227 photos are of grass. Blurry, impressionistic, green. The camera was set to time lapse, taking a photo every five seconds, and most people in the Heritage & Play group had a turn. A new person at the controls, and the angry-bee-buzz of the small white drone would signal lift-off.

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We all stood around it, watching it aloft, buzz around, then land. We were amateurs–this is not an effective group shot, but it’s lovely. It’s late autumn in England, the sun hangs low in the sky, prolonging the golden hour and lighting up the still-green fields.

DCIM100GOPRO But who is the author of the photo? It was a time lapse, so was it Neil, who set the camera? Or the “pilot” of the drone? The wind played havoc with the camera gimbal, so the drone propellers show up in some of these photos, like fingers left too close to the lens.

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These are the rejected shots, the extra-archival material that I’m always interested in, the visual archaeological marginalia. Drones, tied to vicious, out-of-the-blue attacks on non-combatants by the United States, are tools of surveillance, of state-crafted terror, and take lovely photos of archaeology in the English countryside. We were happy the rain lifted so we could take better photos; in Pakistan a little boy lamented the death of his 67-year-old grandmother who was killed by a drone strike while picking vegetables, “I no longer love blue skies…In fact, I now prefer gray skies. The drones do not fly when the skies are gray.”

Even unarmed, the drones are used for “weaponized photography“–there are a host of rules about where and when and why you can fly drones in the UK. Perhaps that’s why I find delight in these marginal, miscellaneous photos–they are goofy, non-standard and non-threatening, revealing an imperfect technological surrogacy. They’re accidentally lovely.

Who Digs? Craft & Non-specialist labor in archaeology

Dan and I wrote a short polemic for Bill Caraher’s series on Craft and Archaeology. It was a hydra of a piece to write–we wanted to be succinct and direct, but it kept spiraling out of control. We obviously have a lot more to say on the subject, here’s a short excerpt:

Digging is the most evocative archaeological practice, yet it is the most undervalued mode of archaeological knowledge production, least cultivated skill with fewest monetary rewards, and is considered so inconsequential that non-specialist labor is regularly employed to uncover our most critical data sets.

Click HERE to read the rest.

Book Review: Archaeographies

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Real Estate Open House, by Fotis Ifantidis

My review of Fotis Ifantidis’ Archaeographies came out in the Journal of Contemporary Archaeology. I’m not sure why there aren’t figures, but oh well.

A quote from the review:

Out of the thousands of photographs taken at Dispilio, Ifantidis has selected examples that are, on the surface, aggressively non-archaeological. These photographs do not effectively document the archaeological record in a way that is acceptable as standard site photography: scales, when deployed, are haphazard, artifacts are scattered and in partial focus, and site overviews are messy and full of distracting tools or loose dirt. This is entirely intentional.

Read the rest here:

http://www.equinoxpub.com/home/morgan-book-review/

50 Years of Visualization at Çatalhöyük

As I previously mentioned, Jason Quinlan and I co-presented a poster at this year’s EAA in Istanbul. While it isn’t quite as brilliant as Alison Akins’ Plague Poster, I enjoyed putting something together about the photography at Çatalhöyük, especially with one of the primary photographers involved!

Regardless, I’ve put our poster below. Of particular note is the immense increase in the size of the archive after Photoscan was introduced at Çatalhöyük.

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Jason and I collaborated on this remotely, and so there is some funny bits with converting between iterations of Illustrator, most notably in the wandering photo code above.

Let me know what you think!

 

Punks, Hard Drives & Minecraft Archaeology

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The inimitable Sara Perry and I have been working on the archaeological excavation of a hard drive, for science! We’ve been writing about it on Savage Minds, the Other blog about Savages. Here are the blog posts in order:

I’m also very excited that the Punk Archaeology volume has landed, be sure to download it–there’s a photo of me holding a trowel! A leaf trowel, BUT STILL! Many thanks to Bill Caraher, Andrew Reinhard and Kostis Kourelis for bringing the project together and allowing me to make my small contribution. Download it! Love it! Share it!

Punk Archaeology: the Book

While you read the article, here’s the accompanying playlist:

Punk Archaeology Playlist

Finally, with huge amounts of help from our vibrant community of digital archaeologists here at the University of York, I organized a Minecraft & Archaeology event as part of Yornight. I actively did not promote it much, as it was a pilot scheme and I wasn’t sure how it would play out. It went very well though and we were at capacity during much of the evening. I’ve been asked to write it up in a journal, so more details will be forthcoming. You’ll get a sneak preview if you happen to be in Shawn Graham’s class this evening, as I’m a remote guest in the classroom. If it works. We’ve been trying to remotely collaborate since 2006, so fingers crossed!