Tag Archives: diy

Punk (Archaeology) Part Two

Where were you
Where the hell were you
Not around for punk part two

You know punk is really dead when archaeologists write about it, right?

I published my paper from Christopher Matthews’ 2015 SHA session on Punk Archaeology, which, for me, grew out of my earlier piece for Bill Caraher, The Young Lions of Archaeology. I was able to expand on my earlier thoughts to lay out a program for punk archaeology, and explore its DIY and anarchist roots. It was a fun paper to write, thanks to AP: Online Journal in Public Archaeology for publishing it, and, in particular, Jaime Almansa Sánchez for enduring my endless harassment.

You can read the full paper here:

Morgan, C. 2015. Punk, DIY, and Anarchy in Archaeological Thought and Practice, AP: Online Journal in Public Archaeology, 5, 123-146.

The abstract:

Recent developments in archaeological thought and practice involve a seemingly disparate selection of ideas that can be collected and organized as contributing to an anti-authoritarian, “punk” archaeology. This includes the contemporary archaeology of punk rock, the DIY and punk ethos of archaeological labor practices and community involvement, and a growing interest in anarchist theory as a productive way to understand communities in the past. In this article I provide a greater context to contemporary punk, DIY, and anarchist thought in academia, unpack these elements in regard to punk archaeology, and propose a practice of punk archaeology as a provocative and productive counter to fast capitalism and structural violence.

Here’s a bonus Ghoulies track, covering Billy Bragg’s A New England. Bless the Groovie Ghoulies for their goofy, bouncy, monster-infused pop punk. Sadly the studio versions don’t really convey the speed & snarl of the Ghoulies live show, but isn’t that always the case?

Gesture & Clay: Sunday Ceramics

These are two very different videos about crafting ceramics, yet they both capture the motion of highly-trained hands and the beauty of making.

The first video shows fine art pottery from Icheon, Korea–made on a potter’s wheel, all by men. The technique and attention to detail is astonishing, as they cut, pat, stamp, coax, and dab glaze into clay.

The second is from the British Museum, a collaborative ethnoarchaeological project conducted in Kerala, India. These potters are women, and the ceramics they make are standardized pots, each performing a specific role in the shaping of the pot. You are able to see the entire process, as the women stomp, bash, pat, smooth, and tend the pots.

One pot ends up on shelves in museum galleries, the other over a fire, filled with delicious curry.

DIY, Green Burials, and Mortuary Archaeology

After digging up a few people, most archaeologists come up with a burial plan. One of my graduate student instructors back at my beloved alma mater, the University of Texas, was able to eventually date unmarked 19th century graves to within a year by the style of safety pin that was used to dress the body. He was an expert on all kinds of grave fittings, and knew how much each piece (coffin handles, hinges, etc) had cost–they were all listed in the Sears catalog and minor changes in design were easy to detect. He was going to pick a year and kit himself out perfectly in 19th century burial clothes, correct down to the safety pins, then clutch a shiny new penny in one of his hands.

I’ve heard of archaeologists wanting to get excarnated, donate their bones to their department, and of course, the ever-popular viking boat burial. Antiquated Vagaries has a couple of good posts on the graves of archaeologists, which usually allude to the subject that the archaeologist was investigating.

Cornelius Holtorf wrote about this phenomenon in his chapter in Archaeologies of Remembrance: Death and Memory in Past Societies wherein he writes about a Neolithic passage tomb in Sweden and the memorial for Wilhelm Ekman a few meters away, who died while excavating the tomb. (While this was in 1915, sadly these things happen even today when proper precautions aren’t taken.)

My specific chosen commemoration style has changed from time to time, but my general interest in “green” burials was piqued back in 2005, in the New Yorker article The Shroud of Marin by Tad Friend. In this he details the growing phenomenon of people wanting to be buried without concrete vaults, coffins, embalming, or even a tombstone. If there was a coffin or a tombstone, enterprising DIYers wanted to make it themselves. I was interested in this expression of the environmental movement made material in burials, and it continues to come up from time to time on sites like Boingboing and the Make Magazine Blog.

These updates emphasize the distance that has grown between the (primarily white, Western) bereaved and their dead. Death is now fully legislated, and permits are required for most steps of the burial process, from moving the dead body to digging the hole and placing the body in the ground.

So it was with avid interest that I read the newest archaeology-themed issue of Mortality, an academic journal “promoting the interdisciplinary study of death and dying.”

As widely-read as I attempt to be, I hadn’t heard of Mortality–I’ll have to rummage through their back-issues some point soon. In the introductory article, Howard Williams lays out the engagement that mortuary archaeologists have with contemporary death and what they can contribute to our understanding of modern death and death practices. One of the first points that Williams makes is that “the private, individualized and medicalized nature of death in Western modernity is extensively used by archaeologists as the antithesis of funerals in past, pre-industrial societies” (92). Beyond using modern practice as analogy, Williams also states that “Archaeologists are key stakeholders in current ethical, political and legal debates concerning death and the dead in contemporary society” (93), linking this status to issues of repatriation and reburial. I wonder if there is more to this linkage, this stakeholder status, than Williams allows.

Archaeologists are fairly unusual in the (white, Western) world in that we have a greater intimacy with death and decay. While we certainly deal in lifeways and birth, they are always seen through the yellowed lens of time. Even our contemporary archaeologies are informed by a disciplinary history of studying remains. We count it a boon in many ways–we’ve gained an understanding of materiality that is unparalleled in other disciplines. As contemporary as your archaeology may be, there is a good chance that as an archaeologist, you have dealt more fully with death and human remains than most people.

Our role in handling human remains has been greatly vilified, especially in North America where (white, Western) we are most certainly not handling the bones of our ancestors. We have come under such criticism that a lot of my colleagues will not excavate burials, nor handle them in any way. The intimacy is denied–we will sort through their trash but will not shake their hand. Fair enough. You do not have to brush the dirt off of someone’s pelvic curve to understand their house or their meals. But do we turn our backs on this knowledge entirely?

I wonder if there is a way to use this unusual relationship to death in order to serve (white? Western?) people. In a very specific example, can we help the people that wish to be buried in an environmentally friendly way while not running afoul of very good local laws that protect water tables and prevent disease? Can we use our knowledge of site depositional processes and decomposition, our understanding of burial practices around the world to help people come to terms with the inevitable? Or do we become just another person standing between the bereaved and their beloved? Is there an activist mortuary archaeology?

(This post is also hosted at Then Dig, an archaeology group blog that will premiere in June)

Writing, Editing, Publishing

Last week I was pushing pretty hard to get a paper and a powerpoint together for the UMAC conference that I mentioned briefly before. The paper was apparently controversial (though well received by the majority of my colleagues) and I had to take the photos and the blog for the Dilmun Bioarchaeology Project down for a time. We’ll hope that it will all come back soon, especially since I rather liked my powerpoint and would like to upload it.

So now I shifted over to editing the paper that James and I put together about the worked glass in Kalaupapa–the editor of the volume had a lot of great suggestions for the publication. It’s going to go into an edited volume titled Hybrid Material Culture: The Archaeology of Syncretism and Ethnogenesis, but I’m not sure when the book is coming out. One of the NPS archaeologists that works on Kalaupapa found some really nice glass “cores” recently that reinforce our research.

Finally, the abstract that I submitted for this year’s Visualisation in Archaeology conference in Southampton was accepted! Now I’ll just have to scrape together some money for airfare. I’m excited to see all the folks from Southampton again so soon after we all had such great chats at Çatalhöyük.

Here’s the abstract:

Title: DIY, Edupunk, and the Visual/Digital Archive: A two-tell perspective

Abstract: Frustrated by the limited capabilities of educational and professional software content management systems, Jim Groom coined the term “edupunk” in May 2008. As discussed on several archaeology blogs and mailing lists, the edupunk approach both incorporates and subverts social networking sites and other internet resources to build a distributed, interactive and flexible platform for teaching, research, and collaboration. Faced with limited funding for more traditional approaches of presenting information to the public, the DIY approach has been increasingly attractive for self-publishing and archaeological outreach. Blogging, Facebook, and photo and video-sharing websites such as Youtube, Flickr and Picasa offer non-traditional venues for interacting with an interested public but can be a methodologically impractical exercise in the field.  In this paper I will build on my analysis of the photographic and video archive from Çatalhöyük presented at the Visualisation in Archaeology conference in 2008 and offer an additional perspective from Tall Dhiban in Jordan. In both cases digital media and the resulting online archive have had distinct, yet contrasting effects on archaeological practice. Issues regarding multivocality, interpretive authority, and the emerging distributed archive will also be discussed.

Though I’d seen the term Edupunk previously, I’d be remiss in not linking to Kerim’s great post about it over on Open Access Anthropology. I’m still working out various places to host photo archives–Flickr is a bit too open and Picasa doesn’t have the flexibility and functionality of Flickr, so I’m a bit stuck.

Inspirationsseminar på Moesgård Museum Talk

Reconstruction Stave Church at Moesgaard Museum

Reconstruction Stave Church at Moesgaard Museum

I got back from Denmark yesterday, where I spoke as part of the Inspirationsseminar på Moesgård Museum.  My gracious host, Camilla Bjarnø, showed me around the Moesgård Museum and the Århus Modern Art Museum where there was an exhibit on digital art.  The best was being able to meet more archaeologists and curators who are excited about the possibilities of digital archaeology and who are pushing the boundaries in Second Life and pervasive gaming.  Photos and video from the talk were taken, but I’m not sure if they’ll be used internally or freely available.  My favorite part of my talk was perhaps the most externally incomprehensible–I spoke about the ties between DIY and Maker culture and digital archaeology on the cheap:

As Lev Manovich (2007) notes, remix culture has dominated the beginning of the 21st century, with the term brought out of hip hop culture and applied to visual projects, software, literary texts, and many other forms of media.  But Microsoft, Yahoo, Amazon, and other large IT companies reframed remix further and much of the hip hop culture and ethics context for this particular iteration of compounded style was lost or co-opted if marketable.
This, to a certain extent, has been tempered by a burgeoning “Maker” culture, characterized by DIY projects that create clothing, food and other items typically mass-manufactured and bought from large chain stores.  With a growing economic crisis and a sense of betrayal by major financial institutions, the DIY ethic has become increasingly attractive to a broader swath of people.  This impulse is also fed by the growing ubiquity and rapid decrease in price and relative increase of visibility of technology that aids making and sharing various forms of media.  Importantly, these new “Makers” are part of a community of like-minded individuals who support this culture by sharing instructions, showcasing outstanding works, and buying one another’s items, whether they be musical, wearable, or edible.
Like remix, DIY also partially hales from an underground music culture—punk rock.  Re/Search publisher and long time cultural critic V. Vale identifies elements of the punk rock ethic as expressed in DIY culture as mutual aid, financial minimalism, anti-authoritarianism, and black humor.  He claims observing aspects of these traits at the San Francisco Maker Faire in 2008, wherein amateur builders and scientists exhibit their creations.  Alternately, many Makers find their inspiration in hacker culture, which celebrates freedom, curiosity, and subversion of a perceived dominant paradigm.
So what does archaeology have to do with all of this?  In this context, archaeologists have the potential to develop small scale, inexpensive outreach projects that have a relatively large impact and retain the vision and the voice of the archaeologist.  Too long have archaeologists relied on the popular media to transmit information about our past.  Meg Conkey and Ruth Tringham (1996) forward the concept of decentering authority in archaeology while in the classroom and position archaeology as crucial to contemporary cultural politics.  Further, they identify the popular media as serving the “very same controlling agents that have fostered patriarchal, essentialist, authoritative thinking” and assert that for this reason an “explicit engagement with the media is even more crucial to a feminist pedagogy” (233).
Randall McGuire (2008) seeks to remove the secrecy surrounding the production of “texts, cultural artifacts, and meanings that appear natural, given, and unalterable” (22). With the tools of new media, archaeologists can inexpensively create their own media products, and share them instantly on the internet.  In this way, archaeologists could circumvent the popular media to transparently present their own stories.  Better yet, these same technologies can provide a means to co-creatively construct the past with the active participation of stakeholders.  Rosemary Joyce and Ruth Tringham (2007) raise the legitimate concern of unequal access to digital resources, but argue that technological access quickly reaches beyond the first adopters to benefit women and disempowered groups (330-331).  I believe that the context of DIY and Maker culture provides an exciting environment for education and “serious play” and that it is vital for archaeologists to take advantage of this.

I’ll see what I can do about uploading my slides a bit later.