V. Archaeology of Festivals

Organizers: Laurie A. Wilkie, UC Berkeley, and Carolyn White, University of Nevada, Reno

Sunday, May 8th
9:30 – 12:30
Kroeber 221 (The Gifford Room)


As celebratory gatherings, festivals offer a set of challenging tasks for archaeologists interested in recording them. The ideas around which festivals form range from the specific to the amorphous, and the form and function of a festival can change dramatically through time. They are brief gatherings, and, as such, often leave little evidence behind. These gatherings can hold important roles in the cultural definition of a community. In this session we seek to explore the ways that archaeologists conceptualize and execute the study of festivals. We define festival in the broadest manner encapsulating religious, social, cultural, and geographical celebrations of all forms, in all time periods, in all regions.


Reconstructing the Festival Landscape of the Greater Theban Region

Julia Troche, Brown University, Julia_Troche@brown.edu

Scholars have noted the ideological and political meaning embedded in the festival building program of the New Kingdom Pharaoh Hatshepsut in the greater Theban region. She aligns herself, via architecture, with the past, especially the Middle Kingdom. The implications of this have been largely focused on Hatshepsut’s and Thutmose III’s (her co-regent/successor) reigns. I propose that through the study of Hatshepsut’s monuments we can also reconstruct certain Middle Kingdom practices, particularly as they relate to the intersection of festival and architecture. That is, Hatshepsut’s emulation of Middle Kingdom practices sheds light on otherwise poorly evidenced festival architecture of that period.

“The Politics of Feasting in Minoan Crete”: Reflections on the Mediating Role of the Minoan Palaces in the Creation of Asymmetrical Power Relations.

Noach Vander Beken, Heidelberg Academy of Sciences and Humanities, noach.vanderbeken@zaw.uni-heidelberg.de

Like many prehistoric societies, the Minoan elite used performed ritual and ceremony to create and negotiate social status and identity. The architectural analysis of the Minoan palaces shows that they constituted the perfect arenas for social display where large public events were organized both to unite communities and express social inequality simultaneously. The architectural concept behind and the emergence of the Minoan palaces should be seen in light of these large festivals, as they were built to accommodate the performances and strengthen the possibilities in transferring norms and values in a community without true written resources at its disposal.

We Are All Elvis Now: Engagements with Kings

Sefryn Penrose, University of Oxford, sefryn@gmail.com

Elvis’s 75th birthday in 2010 demonstrated –- in re-mastered music, a Las Vegas circus, a town of Australian impersonators –- that death has not hampered his life. The nexus of the moment and matter of a unique and suggestible man and the financial and existential troubles of many has created one of the world’s stranger cults. From the standpoint of contemporary archaeology this paper examines Elvisness through the selectivity and adaptation of its material, performance, and reception, in two modes of ‘Elvis festival’: the traditional ‘ETA’ (Elvis Tribute Artist) competition, and the transgressive Elvis performance as vehicle for political transmission.

Escaping Reality: Ritual and Materiality at San Diego Comic-Con

Jessica Merizan, University College London, jsmerizan@gmail.com

San Diego Comic-Con International is perhaps the most recognized fan convention of its kind and is heavily embedded in American popular culture. Though originally centered around comic books, it has grown to become a celebration of the popular arts and media. This paper asserts that costuming within the space of Comic-Con is a transformative self-exploration initiating performative, repetitive processes that reveal expressions of identity. Through a structural analysis of the four-day event, the argument will be made that Comic-Con is a ritualistic experience where participants may escape the ordinary, entering a hyperreal space where fantasy and imagination are more fully explored.

Home Fires: Archaeology of Burning Man

Carolyn White, University of Nevada, Reno, clwhite@unr.edu

In Black Rock City, Burning Man participants arrive on the playa and create the place where they will sleep, eat, and entertain out of materials transported to the site. These camps vary from single tents to large theme camps with semi-permanent components and quasi-luxury elements. The forms of these spaces are amazingly diverse and possess intriguing commonalities, all of which reflect the priorities and activities of each camp’s occupants. This paper presents findings from two seasons of archaeological survey, mapping, artifact collection, and analysis to interpret the Burning Man festival.

Artifacts Raining Down from the Sky:  Excavating Mardi Gras

Laurie Wilkie, University of California, Berkeley, lawilikie@berkeley.edu

Mardi Gras carnival celebrations are known throughout the world for their energy, chaos, open sexuality, drunken antics, and, strangely enough, its plastic beads.  Tons of trinkets are thrown each year at Mardi Gras as part of two week celebrations throughout Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi.  This paper will discuss the ways that archaeological thought and methodology provide unique insights into the embodied experience of Mardi Gras and to the long-term political, social, aesthetic and economic contexts that have shaped the “throwing game.”

Book Burning in Berkeley: The Archaeology of the Bourdon Burial Celebrations

Frances Bright,University of California, Berkeley, fbright@berkeley.edu

In the late 19th century, students at the University of California engaged in an annual ritual that celebrated the transition from freshman to sophomore for first year students by burying, and later, cremating, their text books on campus.  This annual 30- year festival has left a folkloric legacy, and most probably, an archaeological one.  This paper will discuss the archival excavations of Berkeley’s Bourdon Burials—both its origins and history– and the geophysical explorations to identify the gravesites created as part of these celebrations.

Pageants, Marches and Rallies: An Archaeology of Women’s Political Protests

Kim Christensen, University of California, Berkeley, kchristensen@berkeley.edu

The year 1920 finally saw the enfranchisement of women in the United States with the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment after decades of struggle by suffragists.  Leading up to 1920, rallies, pageants, and marches were commonly used as a means of highlighting the suffrage cause, and were also used to call attention to other reform-related endeavors pursued by women.  This paper ponders how an archaeology of these ephemeral events might be pursued by focusing on the lives and work of two suffragists and reformers of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Matilda Joslyn Gage and May Shepard Cheney.