Tag Archives: digital archaeology

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!

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!

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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

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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.

New Article Published! The Archaeology of Digital Abandonment

Matt Law and I have published our co-authored article in Present Pasts, The Archaeology of Digital Abandonment: Online Sustainability and Archaeological Sites. Matt had a very nice small data set on the closure of Geocities and how it affected archaeological websites. I keep citing it in my presentations, so I’m very happy to see it published formally. My deep thanks to Matt and the fantastic team at Present Pasts!

Here is the abstract:

After 15 years of hosting millions of user-built webpages, in April 2009 Yahoo! announced that they would be shutting down their United States Geocities webpages. Geocities was once the most common hosting service for low-cost personal webpages, including hundreds of public outreach sites about archaeology. Were the webpages moved to another hosting site, archived, or just abandoned? We tracked and recorded the fate of 88 of these webpages, eventually sending a survey to the webmasters asking them a range of questions. While we received relatively few responses, the answers to the questions were illuminating. Much of the current digital outreach performed all over the world relies on ‘free’ services such as Twitter, Flickr, WordPress, Google Pages, or Facebook to host their content. What can the fate of archaeological content on Geocities pages tell us about the benefits and risks of using commercial infrastructure for archaeological outreach? We propose that sorting through the digital wreckage of past outreach efforts helps us to evaluate the eventual fate of the archaeological presence online.

 

ASOR Blog Post: Turning Dirt into Pixels

I was honored to be asked to contribute to the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR)Archaeology in the Digital Age theme this month on their blog. Check out an excerpt here and follow through to read the whole blog on the ASOR site:

CLEAN * PHOTOGRAPH * DRAW * LEVEL * RECORD * SAMPLE * DIG * SORT ARTIFACTS * REPEAT

In archaeological field work it is easy to become entranced. We have a cyclical mode of work, and it is this work that field archaeologists like the best, the kind that happens when the sun is shining, there’s a cool breeze at your back, and the archaeology is making sense.

We clean the context, we take a photograph of it, we draw it, take levels, start a record of the context, take a sample of the context, excavate it, sort the artifacts, finish the record, then start all over again. While there have been accusations of this mechanizing the archaeological process, single context excavation is more akin to a refrain, a rhythm of work that you must fully understand and internalize before extemporaneous invention. Against this background beat, work can become “fluid and flexible,” emancipatory, or just another day toward a beer and a paycheck.

Read more at:
http://asorblog.org/?p=4775

“Don’t put this on your blog.”

I’m delighted to contribute to Sara Gonzalez and Darren Modzelewski’s WAC-7 session: Activist Archaeology: Connecting the Academic with the Personal with the following paper:

“Don’t put this on your blog.” – An online, activist #archaeology

The current prominence of social media enables archaeologists to broadcast their personal and professional lives online. Updating a blog, using twitter, and commenting on message boards in a professional role can give the online public unprecedented access to archaeologists, bringing forth the best aspects of public intellectualism. Yet the practice is not without considerable detractions and many academic and professional archaeologists do not have the time, lack the technical knowledge, or are simply not trained to engage with the public in a legible manner. Adding a personal dimension to an online presence can be risky for a professional career, yet removing yourself from your discussions of archaeology is disingenuous, especially while writing for the public. Additionally, there are often prohibitions regarding public discussion of archaeological work imposed by the government, the excavation staff, or the indigenous stakeholders and community members involved with the site. Given the complications involved, a meaningful, political social media archaeological outreach schema can be difficult to attain. In this paper, I discuss my experiences “living out loud” and doing online archaeological outreach, including ten years of personal, political, archaeological blogging.

This is the original abstract for the paper–I had to cut it substantially to fit in the program. There were several other WAC sessions that I really wanted to participate in, but I will be organizing some other aspects of social media outreach during the conference so I had to limit my commitments to just this one session. Additionally, I really wanted to get to the SHA this year, but I couldn’t schedule them both and still work here in Qatar.

Finally, there is an initiative to present WAC online, using crowdfunding. Please direct all questions regarding this effort to the project creators, as listed on the webpage:

http://www.pozible.com/index.php/archive/index/12860/description/0/0

Ruth vs. the Intercutting Firepits

The QIAH has been conducting work at Freiha since 2009, revealing dense, complex occupation. This video is a time lapse of my good friend (and coworker) Ruth Hatfield excavating a series of intercutting firepits. Photo and Video Credit: Qatar Museums Authority – QMA.

We built a small structure over a fraction of the firepits to provide shade and then Ruth did her thing, digging all of the firepits under the shade in two hours. This time lapse demonstrates the principles of single context recording on a microscale–Ruth would dig and record the fills and cuts, all in stratigraphic sequence, showing which of the pits were dug last and working back in time. The last little bits were dug (and burned) first and truncated by later firepits. In some ways it is too bad that the camera was on a timer–you only see Ruth measuring or taking photos a couple of times. I’d like to do a time lapse that shows the entire recording process for each feature–but that might be just too tedious. Sadly I had to use iMovie to edit–my old Final Cut Pro license expired and the new FCP is appalling.

Incidentally, the font for the video is one of my favorites, Lavanderia, inspired by the writing in the windows of the San Francisco Mission:
Download Lavanderia

The music is licensed under Creative Commons and is available on Soundcloud:
Kitab el 3omr by Yussof El Marr

Please comment and let me know if you show the video in your classroom so that I can report back to the QIAH and the QMA and show them that making these things is time well spent!