Super excited to announce that at some time in the depths of the night on December 2nd, student and staff posts for the Gallina Landscapes of History field school (#GLoH2018, #GLoH2019) broke 3,000 views. If you haven’t looked through them yet, please do. They’re all awesome.
And you can tell this by the excited face of me and my friends who definitely did not agree to have their image used in this manner.
Another #GloH2019 post is up! This is another unessay, this time by one of our TAs during the Institute for Field Research session. Nina is examining Gallina artistry on rock art, murals, and ceramics for her MA and wrote us an awesome folk song about her research and Gallina archaeology in general. Listen and share!
I know you’ve been waiting! Here’s another #GLoH2019 Institute for Field Research (IFR) student (Henry Zeiwert Kornfeld) blog post about the archaeology we’re working on.
“In the impressive terrain, there is a sense that the history of the place is almost palpably infused in the landscape. And it is hardly surprising to note that people have left a considerable mark. It is not obvious to the casual observer, but looking out at the landscape, it is possible to see these often-subtle impressions. A slight depression in the earth, a scatter of chipped stone, a change in soil color. The land is a witness, yet it is often difficult to obtain and to interpret this testimony of life in the past.”
“Though Pueblo Revival style inherited many characteristics from ancient Pueblo houses, it is still a modern imitation of an ancient house style that should cater to modern lifestyles. The most prominent difference between Pueblo Revival style houses and ancient Pueblo houses is the role of fireplaces.”
New photo blog by one of #GLoH2019 Institute for Field Research (IFR) students is up. This one about preparing indigenous (Dine and Zuni) foods. We all ate these and they turned out really well.
“To make the bread, I needed juniper ash. So, I collected branches of juniper to ash for the Navajo blue bread. I used a Coleman outdoor grill powered by propane and a metal bowl covered in foil to collect the ashes.”
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of grunge, it was the age of Robin Hood ballads; it was the epoch of flannel, it was the epoch of tight rolled jeans; it was the season of techno, it was the season of boy-band pop; it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair; we had everything before us, we had nothing before us . . .
Yep. It was the early ’90s. And I was in high school.
What this meant for me was a whole lot of awkwardness; some purposely bad hair (read: mullet) as a reaction to small-town high school snobbery; punk, grunge, and techno music; and some incredibly bad emotive poetry. Oh…and Latin. And Dungeons and Dragons. And cross-country running. And folk wrestling (i.e. collegiate). And Tae Kwon Do. And skateboarding. And street skating. And flannel. And Chuck Ts. And massively over-sized overalls. Really, just pure nerdery and hormones and more awkwardness.
And angst. Holy crow, the angst.
Oh, man. It was horrible.
The 1990s were actually a pretty incredible time, though. Music had diverged in two important ways that created somewhat overlapping, but dramatically different constituents. Grunge music was as a wake-up call to pop-radio consumers. Techno, trance, house, and drum and bass music flooded the warehouses, farm fields, and clubs in the Midwest along with what, at that time, was a very forward-thinking, optimistic social movement packaged within rave culture.
So, with my eyes opening to capitalism and social repression through grunge and punk and my heart opening to the promise of Hakim Bey’s Temporary Autonomous Zones that the rave community was enthralled by, I took my first high school career placement test on a fancy, dirty white computer that generally just ran Oregon Trail and Scorched Earth.
This test was exciting. I pictured a pat on my back by our counselor as the computer screen was flashing that I was a perfect fit as either an archaeologist or a writer. Needless to say, it was a total shock to me when the first career fit was proctologist.
Okay, so it didn’t actually say “you should be a proctologist,” but that was the first option in the program’s list of what I would be good at. Now, I don’t want to upset any proctologists. Honestly, you all are awesome and deserve far more credit than you can possibly ever receive, but as a 16-year-old romantic . . . well, let’s just say there was a cognitive disconnect.
Clearly, this test is faulty. I should take it again, right? Right. This second time will surely clear things up. Wait…what…bus driver? What the he–? This is about where my counselor walked over and patted me on the back. I got up and slouched out of the office, trying not to trip over my untied Chucks or the huge hem of my baggy overalls. I wrapped my flannel around me like a blanket and set about trying to understand how things could have gone so horribly wrong. Who was I supposed to be?
I still have no idea how those tests work. I’m guessing they were along the lines of an early Buzzfeed quiz. But there I was, apparently destined to be the first operator of a mobile proctology clinic. My solution to this was simple. Flee.
I promptly asked my mom if I could go to a high school archaeology field school. Note that I didn’t choose a writing camp. I can only imagine that, somewhere deep down, a part of me already recognized that lines like, “A tin puppet prepares his twin sorrows / he’ll force nature’s sign” were best forgotten with the other garbage in Al Capone’s vault.
So, off to archaeology camp I went, where I immediately learned far more about historic blue glass, rusted pieces of historic metal, and old pieces of wood than a high schooler who yearned for images of Western skies at dusk could handle. I was done. And not in any good way. Archaeology was horrible. And boring. Definitely. Not. The Bomb.
So, I trudged through the last bit of high school. Graduated and ended up chasing down the writing dream. I put together two mostly horrible novels that I still tell myself I might salvage one-day, a slew of trite and tripe short stories, and more bad poetry than an entire decade of an Introduction to Poetry class could possibly create. I wasn’t a total failure. I did have a couple of poems published and, for a while, there were some bites on my first novel—but I spent more time at the bar than the typewriter, and I never really had my heart in the effort of it. Writing was hard. Drinking was not.
The years blew by. Weird experiences and amazing people (and vice versa) racked up like points in a particularly great pinball game. And before I knew it, I’d put the fiction writing on hold, packed up my heart, said good bye to those amazing people, and moved out to the great American desert. In Albuquerque, after a year of racking up some more points on that odd pinball machine, I landed at the University of New Mexico. There, I started taking anthropology classes and eventually took an Introduction to Archaeology class taught by Dr. Patricia Crown.
School was always pretty easy for me. Minimal effort, maximum return. Then I took Patty’s class. The first test in that 100-level class was a brick to the face. Somehow, I rallied, buckled down, and poured myself into my studies in a way I never really had before. I had to fight against a lifetime of education that had taught me that “smart” should mean “gets it right away” and not “worked at it till it was learned.” But, somehow, I did it, and came out of that class with the first A I’d ever really been proud of. There would be many more that I would fully earn, but that was the first. During that semester, I finally put my hand to the plow, and I’ve been tilling ever since.
Now, there are some other things we could talk about, but I’m getting short on time and am way over the word limit (as always). So, for now, we’ll summarize and discuss.
Life handed me a bus-driving proctologist. I said no way to archaeology. I tried to shoot the moon for writing, but eventually found my way back to archaeology. There, I fell in love with humanity’s detritus. And even more importantly, I fell in love with the sense of humanity you can get from studying the things we love.
Now I get tears in my eyes when I see my daughter’s favorite teddy bear slowly getting older from 6 years of intense love. I choke up when I hear my youngest tell me she’s worried about how damaged her favorite stuffed toy is and that she doesn’t want her friends to see it, but then she still finds her and snuggles with her at night. I do this because I know that as inanimate as these things are, they’re defining my daughters as much as my wife and I are. These things form the spaces within which my children grow, and learn, and become amazing. These things create the shape of who they are and will be as young women and will continue to create the spaces that shape them until they die. And I know that long after I’m gone, things of mine will remain that will preserve a portion of the shape of who I was. Our things are our stories and they are us. And this is exciting and comforting to me.
So…how I became an archaeologist is maybe not the most interesting tale, and it’s definitely not the culmination of a single-minded lifelong quest. Instead, I think it is more the chronicle of this long process of moving from making up stories to realizing that there was already a world littered with stories.
After writing this out, it now seems clear that how I became an archaeologist is also why I became an archaeologist: because I realized that archaeology is an honest way to uncover the story of the people I love. Archaeology holds the story of all of the people I’ve learned so much from. It holds the story of my wife and my children, my family and my friends. All of the incredible, and horrible, people I’ve met, along with millennia of incredible people I could not meet. Because archaeology, once we get past the dictionary definition, is not the study of things, it’s the study of the human narrative and of our humanity. It’s the study of our stories that form in and around our things.
Basically, dear reader, I became an archaeologist because I think you are pretty darn awesome. You and all of your things that make you, you. And I would really like to read that story.
There are many things I love about survey, not least of which is the physical act of hiking. But the main thing I enjoy is seeing much of a landscape and the lives of the people who live and lived in and on it—as well as their objects, potential evidence of thoughts, choices, and desires.
Photo by Lewis Borck.
Photo by Lewis Borck.
For me, survey isn’t really about recording archaeology. At its most basic it is, but every object has embedded in it a complicated relationship with those who created, transported, bought, used, reused, reused again, and then discarded it. In a very real way, material objects are the human fingerprints of the past. For example, the shirt that my co-worker is wearing—made in Thailand—is not simply a shirt made in Thailand. It’s an indicator of the loss of American manufacturing jobs, the subsequent slow slide to mediocrity in production prowess, and the associated strangling of blue–collar America; the backbone, muscle, sinew, heart, and soul (and usually brain) of the American powerhouse. It’s also an indicator of dramatically different values placed on an individual’s labor between countries. To survey a landscape is to see these kinds of dramatic changes played out across valleys and mountains. To survey is to see comparable dramatic changes playing out across the relatively shallow depths of time that are separating me and my crew from the groups living in southwestern New Mexico 1,300 to 600 years ago.
Photo by Lewis Borck.
Survey isn’t about simply answering research questions, creating predictive models and priority plans for land managers, or sustainable management of the past in the present for the future. It is all of these and much more. Survey is also a process by which you connect with an entire landscape and the social processes of harmony and discord—and discard—that are embodied within it. You never know what random thing you will find that might reorient your assumptions or, at bare minimum, force you to confront these feelings and delve deep into a sometimes painful pit to understand why a thing that in reality is so insignificant is incredibly potent.
Photo by Lewis Borck.
Even more intriguing is the often dramatic difference between the material and cultural value of an object. A piece of local sandstone, glue made in Ohio, and two pieces of plastic mass-produced in China serve to confront some of the long-suppressed (or long-overlooked and shrugged off) injustices upon which the West thrived—and still thrives.
Photo by Lewis Borck of found art in southern AZ.
Photo by Lewis Borck.
The American Dream was founded upon much of this crumbly bedrock, and I think that is part of the reason that rusty cars in particular effect me so strongly. They’re not just someone’s particular dead dream wrapped up in oxidized iron and weeds. They’re not just the possible remnants of a family’s day trip with a tedious, or even traumatic, end. They’re not just an American personification of freedom. They’re symbols of what we’ve built and of what we’ve failed to maintain. Of what we’ve been and what we’re becoming. Of what we’ve lost, what we’ve stolen, and what has been stolen from us. Fallen hopes, failed promises, broken treaties, lies, and genocide have oxidized on our cultural landscapes.
On survey, you are occasionally forced to intimately examine your place in the bustle of life. That examination is something that becomes incredibly effective for an archaeologist to undertake, because it forces you to engage with the powerful ideas bound up in even the most mundane objects. Although I know the students came away from fieldwork that year with a firm grasp of the specifics of how and why archaeologists conduct survey fieldwork, I also hope they found themselves reflecting on their relationships with objects. This, in turn, highlights history’s relationship with cultural objects and the importance they have in helping us understand not simply technological change or human environmental interactions, but also the convoluted mosaic of ideas wrapped up in even the most simple tin can or acre of broken ceramic vessels.
Photo by Lewis Borck
Archaeology is the science of things, but it’s really nothing without the ideas embedded in those things. When we study things, we study ideas. When we study ideas, we can effect the modern world. That’s what I generally try to teach students.
I was in Konstanz, Germany over the weekend. I end up here often because I’m working with some colleagues from the university there. I always mean to do some sort of a write up about this amazing city in southern Germany. Part of what makes it so wonderful is that it escaped a lot of Allied bombing during WW2.
Let’s start small.
This first image shows age damage on a carved wooden door that was installed in 1472 CE at the Neiderburg Cathedral. Let’s zoom out.
Now a bit more.
The part of Konstanz where this cathedral is located is quite ancient and dates to the medieval period. The lanes are paths that wind through the renovated townhouses from the 13th-16th centuries.
The church was built starting in 1052 as a pillared early Romantic structure. The sepulcrum vault in the image below is from that early phase of the church.
Various additions occurred throughout the years with a final foreboding Gothic tower in 1856. 404 years after constructing began. The pillars in the picture above are from the later portion of the church as it was greatly expanded. In the cathedral’s plaza, archaeologists have also uncovered the remains of a 4th century Roman fort, as well. This whole area is really like a “tell” or a Southwestern “pueblo” in that there are continuing constructions on top of older, collapsed, abandoned, and filled in structures. Much of these earlier times are completely unknown and there are often surprises during construction and building remodeling in Konstanz.
Konstanz has fluctuated in “importance” through the years. It’s location at the head of the Rhine on Lake Konstanz is a powerful draw. Between 1414 – 1418 CE, Konstanz was also home to the Council of Konstanz where Catholic Clergy converged to decide a number of important church issues, including how to end the Western Schism, which was essentially the existence of multiple popes (it was a lot more complicated then that, but I’ll leave it there). The Council ended with the election of Pope Martin V. The Council is famously remembered by a statue of a prostitute at the entrance to Konstanz’s port.
The statue, called the Imperia, is the artist’s critique of what he saw as the hypocrisy of the Catholic clergy where they would condemn individuals to death on moral issues while spending their evenings, and often discussing their political concerns, with prostitutes. The statue also highlights the intersectional nature of marginality, oppression, and power because it highlights the prostitutes’ portion of the story as well. History regularly ignores members of society that are considered “unclean” or unimportant for a variety of reasons that include being poor, being enslaved, or being a woman (or at least not being a rich woman). For those not well versed in recent feminist theory, intersectionality (briefly) comes from anarchist, queer, black feminism (a la the Combahee River Collective) and is the idea that all individuals have multiple axes of identity that differentially interact with, and are impacted by, social power structures.
So for me, people I interact with will be engaging with me as a Dutch resident, a US citizen, a cismale (i.e. my gender matches my sexual organs and chromosomes), my working class background (or lack of an upper class background), my politics, my activism, my hunting ethics, my education, my career, my parental status, my health, my exercise life, my marital status, and my “whiteness”. And all of these are relative as well. Depending on who I am interacting with, my “whiteness” will be either assumed because of my skin tone, or condemned for that same tone because of my Italian heritage. Even within Italy, racism associated with skin color exists between northern Italians and southern Italians. Intersectionality isn’t just that we’re all made of this giant quilt of identities, though. It’s main point is that these identities shift depending on our social context and that we need to better understand how power structures marginalize individuals and communities across all of these axes. And then we need to understand how those effects interact as well. This complicated mash-up of identity is one of the reasons that modern social movement theorists have decried the older view that religious and social movements are built of cohesively “identified” individuals (the oldest form of social movement theory actually argued that anyone participating in social movements was essentially insane and caught up in crowd frenzy).
In Konstanz there is an oral tradition that places the prostitutes that arrived with the Catholic clergy as central to the decisions made at the Council because the clergy would discuss the days proceedings with the women and men and often implement the prostitutes’ advice. The statue then celebrates how oppressed people can change the world while simultaneously critiquing the toxic nature of patriarchical privilege that marginalizes and destroys so many people. This is noble. I think the nature of the statue simultaneously glorifies prostitution and doesn’t fully address the fact that this was a position most of these women were likely forced into (either physically or because they had no other access to employment and familial/food security). But it’s at least an attempt to right the wrongs of History. Which is sadly quite rare.
This blog originally appeared on October 13th, 2016 on the ever excellent Archaeology Southwest blog. It was written within a series of blog posts about what the day to day work life of an archaeologist looks like.
In a recent Tea and Archaeology talk, I broke ranks with the typical “this is what I am going to talk about” intro and started with “this is how I got interested in the topics I am going to talk about.” I did this because I think how archaeologists and researchers first think of things is important—fundamentally important.
There are examples all over our field of people starting to research children in the archaeological record after they’ve had their own kids. Or, researchers become incredibly engaged with using the archaeological record to examine gender fluidity and queer histories. Frequently, although not necessarily, it is because their lives have been marked in some way by these topics. The main point: an archaeologist’s personal life intruding into their work is not bad.
Though some might consider this bias (and there are ways to minimize bias, including the rigorous peer review we always go through), these types of crosscutting interests actually make our work relevant in the present. They are also one of the things that keep us interested in our job. Most archaeologists love things, but as David Hurst Thomas famously said (now tattooed on my arm), “It’s not what you find, it’s what you find out.” Our interests help us move past the former and into the latter.
And so, in many ways, we drag the present into the past, just as often as we drag the past into the present. In its worst incarnation, the former can introduce bias into our research; in its best form, it helps create a research method (either scientific, historic, or humanistic) that is creative, exciting, and topical. Our concerns in the contemporary world are tested in some ways against the past, just as we use the past to critically examine the present. This is the regular dialogue of research that archaeologists have with themselves. Yet, other archaeologists, researchers, and the public only see half of it. The part that is published, the part that is scientifically or historically tested and examined. What is published is in some ways analogous to Plato’s cave. Our research can seem irrelevant to many people because it kind of seems as though we’re analyzing shadows on a wall.
But when we open up ourselves as archaeological artifacts to be analyzed, we see that we are bridges—what archaeologists would call liminal objects—between worlds. We are analyzing shadows on the wall, but in the process we are understanding, or attempting to understand, the actions of the people casting the shadows. We are in the middle of that process, along with, in the U.S. Southwest at least, Native elders and holders of oral histories, ethnohistorians, historians, and other historical social researchers.
So what are my bridges? My life outside of work involves a lot of long-distance running, and eventually I’ll start working on that archaeologically. My personal investment and interest in tattoos extends to the archaeological record as well. My dog Sancho—aging, deaf, going blind, and suddenly barking to no end at a blank spot on our fence—has led to an interest in canines in archaeology.
My wife Melissa has also fed my intellectual curiosity. She’s maintained a lifelong interest in animal welfare, held a career in that field, and spent many years engaged in animal behavioral analysis and positive reinforcement training. She spent time working for Dr. Patricia McConnell’s former company Dog’s Best Friend. She even beat me to the primary author research publication punch (see article here). She has since moved into a new focus on facilitating the reuse of material culture. This in many ways grew out of our mutual interest in the problems of consumption in contemporary life—upon which archaeology has heavily influenced my views.
We have two daughters who are incredibly inquisitive and raucous and rowdy and just smart. Watching them tackle the world around them and derive incredibly logical but factually ridiculous conclusions from their observations has instilled in me a fundamental interest in how we construct knowledge. I’m applying this in my other job with Leiden University. There I’m beginning a project that will deeply query how archaeological knowledge is constructed and what that means for our data—and by extension, for our understandings of how people purposely and accidentally express group membership, or cultural belonging.
As noted, I’ve talked before about how I gained some of my research interests. This history led to a scenic desert trip with a number of dead ends and an eventual arrival at a dissertation titled, Lost Voices Found: An Archaeology of Contentious Politics in the Greater Southwest, A.D. 1100–1450. The linked talk is mostly about that, but at an hour long, I understand if you aren’t able to watch it.
My elevator-speech version is that there are many hinge points, or transitional periods, in the historical and archaeological record. In archaeology, we’ve often talked about them as either products of environmental change, or inevitable products of social scaling (i.e., increases in population), and sometimes as social reactions to what has been termed “breakdowns of society.” I reanalyzed two case studies in the Greater Southwest, asking not how this happened or why this happened, but why the end result looked the way it did when so many other options were available. That, I think, is an important question that has been missed. And it led me to argue that the history of the Greater Southwest is filled with constant slides into hierarchy as social mechanisms restricting increases in inequality broke down, followed by sudden reactions as groups tore apart those hierarchical institutions and built new limiting mechanisms.
A lot of these interests also came out of an early passion for skateboarding on the street. Although you might see this as an innocent or—depending on your view of the ownership/tragedy of the commons—a criminal pastime, one of the underlying acts of skateboarding is a constant and physical performance aimed at reclaiming public space for the public. In fact, since its inception back in the early 1950s, skateboarding has been a political act. Fun, yes. Amazing to watch, yes. But political all the same. And it is an intensely, material political act. It uses human material culture to impact an environment we’ve built in order to contest restrictive control of space.
So, the theme of subversive actions aimed at questioning who is allowed privileges and rights in society has been with me for a very long time. Looking back, it seems pretty natural that I’d be addressing many of those issues by examining what many people have called transitional periods in the precolonial U.S Southwest from a perspective of understanding who controls space and understanding how that control of space (in this case religious architecture) was contested.
And now I need to get back to teaching my daughters how to skateboard.