Anarchy and Archaeology (The SAA Archaeological Record, Vol. 17 No.1)

I’m very excited to announce that the newest SAA Archaeological Record is available online. As always, it is an open-access pdf file. It will also be arriving in the mailboxes of SAA members shortly. Feel free to print, frame, and hang on your office wall. Matthew Sanger and I co-edited this volume, which grew out of an SAA session in 2015 and a following Wenner-Gren workshop in the spring of 2016. Authors include myself, Matthew Sanger, John Welch, David Pacifico, Carole Crumley, Charles Orser, Ed Henry, Bill Angelbeck, Uzma Rizvi, James Birmingham, Theresa Kintz, James Arias Fajardo, Sophie Marie Rotermund, Lindsay Montgomery, and a follow up article by Leo Faryluk will be in a later issue. There are a number of projects still in the works as well, so if you are using anarchist theory either in research or in practice, please let us know and we’ll let you know about possible publication routes. Anyways, enjoy! And you can check out a website that is still pretty sparse, but will start to fill up with projects shortly at http://www.anarchaeology.org/

 

anarchy-and-archaeology

We made the end of year highlights for Savage Minds.

As many, or at least some of you, are aware. I’m involved with an awesome and ever changing group of archaeologists in a really open ended project of introducing a type of theoretical perspective into our discipline that has been ignored for a very long time. In my view, this is a project not simply built on putting down bricks to create the foundation and steps for an academic career, but also one aimed at at least opening up some new ideas within our discipline and acknowledging some age-old biases that have been impacting social science research for a very long time.

So I’ve been making some publication decisions that are not always considered “smart” decisions in the academic field. This means, that while I am fully engaged with publishing peer-reviewed articles, I am also publishing in formats that will have larger impacts in terms of readership and availability. Part of the reasons that I am making these decisions (for myself) is that I believe archaeology needs to move outside of its basin of research and interact with more social sciences and engage more individuals outside of the social sciences who are in search of answers to problems they see in their lives and in their society.

All of this is a round about way of writing that I’m very excited to announce that the piece I co-authored with a non-hierarchy of fellow authors, and that Savage Minds graciously published in their insightful Decolonizing Anthropology series, was chosen as one of the highlights in their end of the year wrap-up. You can read that article by The Black Trowel Collective entitled, “Foundations of an Anarchist Archaeology: A Community Manifesto” by following the link. And if you have any questions about what a non-hierarchy of authors is, or why we went that route, please feel free to contact me through either email, the comments section, or in an IM.

black-trowel1

In the current US and Worldwide political climate, where thousands of people have suddenly realized that equity and justice are not a given, it is, I think, more important than ever to understand our shared pasts and the lessons in those stories. Archaeology is a great avenue to do that. But it only becomes relevant if we use it critically and if we treat research and preservation and education as points on a continuum instead of as fully differentiated fields. An anarchist archaeology is by no means the only way to accomplish this and for many years Feminists, Indigenists, Marxists, and many others have been doing just that. But for some of us this particular perspective helps shed keen insights onto the past, while critically exposing uncontested biases in our field.

For me in particular, it also reveals areas that archaeologists have for too long ignored because it didn’t seem to be worth their time. Because of this hands-off approach to these claims–and I’m mostly speaking about fringe and psuedoscience archaeology and their often implictly racist hyperdiffusionist arguments–archaeology and archaeologists (myself included) are, in many ways, complicit in the rise of the neo-Nazi and white nationalist groups who have come together and rebranded under the Alt-Right term. While I see friends and colleagues humorously posting images of Indiana Jones happily smacking a Nazi in the face and mentioning that they never thought archaeologists might actually have to fight Nazis, I also don’t see those archaeologists, outside of a select few, many of whom are on the Fraudulent Archaeology Wall of Shame facebook group started by Andrew White, actually using their archaeological knowledge to fight those racist views. In fact, Jason Colavito, one of the best people tearing apart the hyperdiffusionist views that support and gird up many of the racist views of the Alt-Right, is not even an archaeologist (although he should probably stop saying that and admit that he really is at this point. I’ll even induct you, Jason. There’s a ceremony and everything. Very official.). Anyways, I clearly have more to say about that and it’s probably because I’m writing something about it that I’ll publish at some point soon, but the main point is that if you’re looking for a perspective that critically questions yours and others assumptions, anarchism might be a good place to start. And you’ll quickly see the many wonderful and fruitful intersections it has with a lot of other social theory and perspectives.

What Archaeologists do Blog Posts for International Day of Archaeology.

The archaeologists and staff at Archaeology Southwest ran a bunch of blog posts for the International Day of Archaeology #IDA2016 from October 3rd through the 14th. As always with this group, they are a wonderful collection both of daily activities and history of archaeological ideas and practice. I’d really suggest checking them out. Mine was on October 13th and is called Bridges, if you are so inclined.

Here they are:

10/14/16 Decisions in Clay

10/13/16 Bridges

10/12/16 Delegating

10/11/16 The Translators

10/10/16 Painting Party

10/9/16 The Blog Must Go On

10/7/16 A Special Person, Two Places, and My Dog

10/5/2016 Juggling

10/3/16 Indiana Jones and the Artiodactyl-Sized Long Bone Shaft Fragment

 

Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus: Work of Genius, or not.

wittgenstein

In case you didn’t know . . .

Wittgenstein was offered a position at Cambridge after Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus was already published. He didn’t actually have a PhD though, so he enrolled as a PhD student and submitted TLP as his dissertation. It’s said that he told his two examiners that they would never understand it. This may be possible, because one of his examiners for his PhD in 1929 was George Edward Moore. In his examiner’s report, Moore wrote, “I myself consider that this is a work of genius; but, even if I am completely mistaken and it is nothing of the sort, it is well above the standard required for the Ph.D. degree.”

Wittgenstein would later go on to post-humously critique much of TLP, so there may have been a bit of truth in both of the first two clauses of Moore’s sentence. Regardless, it is a pretty amazing statement. And it shows a surprising amount of modesty. I wonder if anyone would be this honest now-a-days.

Tucson Food Renaissance has its roots in the archaeology of the region.

Tucson is in the midst of a culinary renaissance as residents expand the use of native foods and create a local food market based on the unique palletes of the Sonoran desert. UNESCO has even awarded the city with its City of Gastronomy label, joining only 17 other cities across the globe with this designation. Much of this has to do with the deep history of agriculture and cuisine that we know about because of indigenous oral traditions and archaeology in the Tucson region. You can read more about it in these various national and international write-ups. If you live here, you probably already know how lucky we are. If you don’t, you should come visit us. See some of the archaeology that contributes to this culinary history and resurgence, eat at some of the restaurants outside of Tucson like the Desert Rain Cafe on the Tohono O’odham tribal lands that have helped underscore this interest in indigenous foods, and try some of the world class whiskey, beer, and wine that are produced here as well.

http://www.usatoday.com/story/travel/experience/food-and-wine/2016/08/19/tucson-food-scene/85376066/

https://www.theguardian.com/travel/2016/jul/17/tuscon-arizona-downtown-unesco-city-of-gastronomy-restaurants-regeneration

https://www.tucsonaz.gov/integrated-planning/tucson-unesco-city-gastronomy

The archaeology of action figures

As an archaeologist, I’m often confronted with weird professional boundaries that stigmatise how and what types of culturally constructed material objects archaeologists study. This stigma primarily revolves around recent and contemporary material culture. In the UK, this is starting to change and in the US there are researchers such as myself who, regardless of what period in the past they study, think that archaeology is the scientific/social/historic/humanistic investigation of culturally constructed Things. Part of this is connected with what has come to be called New Materialism, a movement to rethink how and why humans and their world of Things (cars, toys, houses, wedding rings, toothbrushes, projectile points, tattoos, etc.) exist in a tangled web of interaction, identity construction, and cultural change.

Years ago, early in grad school this point of how archaeologists are barricading themselves within an in-artfully placed fortress of solitude was driven home to me while listening to a now retired archaeologist who publishes regularly on contemporary material culture self-deprecatingly, and I felt earnestly, note that he no longer writes archaeological literature. This same archaeologist, one of the smartest individuals I know, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and fundamentally changed the theoretical landscape of global archaeology in such an effective way that people now read his work and see it as mere “common-sense” when 30 to 40 years ago it was anything but.

More recently, while talking to a few colleagues in the U.S Southwest, I’ve been publicly criticised for declaring that my side project studying skateboards and the impact the material culture of this pastime and sport has had on processes of identity construction and environmental meaning across the globe is somehow archaeology. Many more have supported my statement in private, but that fear of going public with the idea that archaeology is actually the study of humans and their things, instead of the study of humans and their things from some vaguely distant past is a critical problem . . . in Americanist archaeology at least. I say this as an archaeologist who primarily investigates at a distance of some 600-1000 years in the past. After all, the past is only as far away as the beginning of this sentence.

Recently, for a professional anthropological and archaeological audience, I wrote that the above-mentioned “separation between what we do study versus what we can study creates a situation similar to what cyberpunk author William Gibson calls atemporality. Atemporality is essentially the idea that portions of the human narrative are historical in the Fukuyama sense, that is progressing through history and other parts are ahistorical, which is to say not progressing and disconnected from those periods that are in the flow of history. This creates a separation between skateboards and Clovis points, between worthy versus not worthy for the archaeological gaze. This sets archaeologists off from history and lends to an image of archaeological research by the public as basically frivolous.” I end by discussing what we can use to stitch the pre-modern/modern/post-modern world back together.

Regardless, while archaeologists have been fighting somewhat useless theory wars about how to investigate our (self-imposed) isolated portion of the past, the rest of the world of social researchers moved past us and started constructing their own theoretical understandings of human and object interactions. And so, to get to the point of this blog post, I would like to direct you to one such recently published discussion of the interaction between capitalism, history, and identity on the Atlantic website by University of Twente, Applied Philosophy professor Nolan Gertz. It’s a lot more interesting than I make it sound and looks at the history of action figures, particularly G.I. Joe’s and Star Wars figures. This harkens to an archaeological investigation of Barbie by Marlys Pearson and Paul Mullins that was published in 1999.* These two are definitive readings if you want to understand why and how archaeology can be an important avenue for investigating what it means to be human regardless of the time period. As an archaeologist who works in deep history**, I love research like Gertz’s and Mullins and Pearson’s, because it gives me a fundamental connection between people and their stuff that I can use to explain the past in much more realistic, and truthful, ways than simply saying that clearly these people had to move from A to B because it got too cold or there wasn’t enough rain. Also, they made different pots.***

Anyways, check out both of these readings. Whether you like or agree with the authors, these articles are, respectfully, excellent examples of what archaeologists could be doing and are doing. And feel free to leave comments below. I know I have really only stereotypically captured the spirit of Americanist archaeology and there are many folks who have worked and are working to break us out of our bubble (such as Bill Rathje, Larry Zimmerman, Jason De León, and Andrew Reinhard)

 

*Mullins continues to explore similar themes.

**That extensive period of time before writing was invented but after humans became cognitively the same as modern humans. Previously mislabeled as prehistoric when really it should have been called pre-textual.

***This is an overly sensationalised stereotype of bad archaeology. No one really does this . . . much . . . anymore.

 

Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials and the destruction of cultural heritage

I just finished writing a blog post about an incident that happened a couple days ago. I won’t write too much about it here since it’s been picked up by the Huffington Post. This post is basically to just tie in with everyone who follows my blog so that they can check it out. Essentially, a blog I wrote for Archaeology Southwest ended up migrating to Huffington Post. You can check out the Archaeology Southwest version here and the Huffington Post version here. Anyways, thanks to Kate Gann for letting me delve into some sensitive topics on this one.

On the nature of graffiti, rock art, and creepytings

As some of you may know, I’ve had a varied life, which I feel has positively affected my career. Most people who know me, either personally or professionally, know that my research interests have certainly been fueled by my personal experiences. In a career that can often be dry, this is pretty necessary (and most folks I know are similarly engaged) or else you risk burning out. Anyways, one of my colleagues at Archaeology Southwest, Kate Sarther Gann, asked me for my opinion on the creepytings vandalism across the Western national parks. I think I may have given her a bit more than she was expecting, but I appreciated her asking me as many of the responses to these paintings in the wild had been bothering me partially because of my past experiences with people engaged in street and performance art. These two part blog on Archaeology Southwest is me trying to explain why.

http://www.archaeologysouthwest.org/2014/11/01/creepytings-versus-rock-art-and-banksy/