I. Strata/Palimpsest

Organizers: Zoe Crossland, Department of Anthropology, Columbia University, Amara Magloughlin, Department of Art History and Archaeology, Columbia University

Saturday, May 7th
9:00 – 12:00
2251 College Building, Room 101 (The Archaeological Research Facility)


How might the contexts we excavate cause us to consider the way in which we
order our accounts of them? Layered, heterogeneous, and full of fractures
and disjunctures as well as blurred boundaries and odd juxtapositions. Gilles
Deleuze has suggested that time itself be viewed as archaeological,
stratigraphic, tectonic. This session explores how we might take our cue
from archaeological stratigraphy and palimpsest to question the ordered
narratives that we write. How might we play with the ghosts, the absences
and inconsistencies of archaeological source material, and write accounts
that recognize temporal juxtaposition and interpenetration as much as
movement and succession?


Shattered Mirror: The Archaeological Aesthetics of Information Overload

Eli Geminder, Columbia University, emg2162@columbia.edu

Everywhere, the post-industrial landscape bears witness to the massive acceleration of the machinery of production. Likewise, the amount of knowledge being generated by archaeological inquiry has exploded. Rather than interpret this as a harbinger of immanent system failure, I propose (drawing on systems theory, Dadaism, and recent archaeological theory) that Information Overload is a positive aesthetic quality that bears analysis. Moreover, as an increasing presence in the post-industrial experience, it is one worth grappling with. How might the intellectual tools provided by archaeological theory aid in navigating these saturated informational landscapes?

Archaeological Memory as Erasure: Community Engagements of Absent Histories

Jenna Wallace Coplin, CUNY, JCoplin@gc.cuny.edu

Active spaces of shared history are made present by publicly engaged projects where the archaeological record is sought as witness, of both remembering and forgetting. Through the re-presenting of peoples on landscapes privileged by the archaeological project social acts of forgetting are made visible. The bodies of modern community collaborators are signs that presence not just forgotten histories but structures of repeated erasure. Through excluded and segregated histories remembering can occur in conflict and without rift. Interrogating the recognition of erasure as shared space can be generative for understanding community memory and the production of archaeological knowledge of ourselves.

Palimpsest, Perspectivism, Privilege

John Molenda, Columbia University, jpm2141@columbia.edu

This paper draws from previous research on Chinese mortuary practice to approach questions of perspective and privilege in archaeological interpretation. These include not only privileging particular questions and groups but also temporal periods and locations. It is suggested by looking at the fragmentary remains of the past as a semiotic field that we can understand both the problems and potentials of closer dialogue between linguistics and archaeology.

Archaeological Poetics: An Exploration

Zoe Crossland, Columbia University, zc2149@columbia.edu

What happens to the enchantment of archaeological evidence when it is dug up and translated into narrative form? Layered, heterogeneous, and full of fractures and odd juxtapositions, the evidence we work with is often oddly enthralling and yet its charm habitually evaporates in the translation into text. This presentation draws on the poetry of Peter Riley to compose a text that tries to capture and refract the enigmatic compulsion of things buried and forgotten.

Digging the Museum of Ethnography

Mark Mulder, Columbia University, mmm2305@columbia.edu

Collected by a joint Dutch-American expedition in 1926 in Papua province, Indonesia, the collection at the center of my research is in many ways just another collection at an ethnographic museum. But it soon reveals itself as a vast disarticulated artifact, dispersed not just over one museum’s space, but over several museums, linking several countries. Objects are only one part of it: all kinds of paperwork (from the field, from the museum bureaucracy, etc), photographs, even film and audio recordings all form part of this assemblage. What actors shaped this collection and how can it be employed for archaeological research?

The Thesis Fetish and the Archaeological Narrative

Albert Gonzalez, Southern Methodist University, ag3113@columbia.edu

We tend, as academics, to fetishize the thesis. But allowing some narrowly focused interest to guide our efforts does more than produce manageable results. The practice transforms aging narratives into the evidentiary material of novel reconstructions, often treading thin ethical ice in the process. My research at the Mexican-era whiskey distillery known as Turley Mill inhabits just such a landscape, proposing archaeological intervention in an historical debate that pits two aging but politically-charged narratives against one another. More specifically, I will explore the ethical minefield of arbitration between a Native American oral history and a documentary history favoring Anglo actors.

Parkland as Palimpsest: Chronotopes of Trace and Absence in Southern Wisconsin

Stephen Berquist, Columbia University, sab2197@columbia.edu

This paper will use the results of a 2009 archaeological survey of Community Park in Delavan, WI to explore our understandings of temporality and the archaeological landscape. The Park is known locally as a site of both a pre-Columbian village and multiple burial mounds. The survey suggests that extensive landscaping has left little of the pre-Columbian archaeological context intact. The resulting traces and absences supplement a chronotope embodied in the changing materiality of the landscape that disrupts narratives of the linear relationship between our “present” and the Other’s “past,” and complicates the manner through which we, as archaeologists, encounter temporalities.

Playing with Ghosts

Brian Boyd, Columbia University, bb2305@columbia.edu

It appears obvious that linear histories, linear accounts of the past, are modernist and largely western constructs. That said, people often want to hear from archaeologists those very linear accounts of the past that seem complete, “true” stories of sites, circumstances, or periods. Drawing on Steven Shapin’s work on the enduring importance of trust in establishing empirical knowledge of the natural world, this paper will discuss the many other ways we can secure knowledge of the past beyond the routine procedures of archaeological thought.

Creating Layers: Ovid, Cocteau, Deleuze, and Me

Amara Magloughlin, Columbia University, asm2161@columbia.edu

In so many words, “What is the nature of your creative act??” asks Gilles Deleuze of an audience of cinematographers in the late ’80s.  Let us ask this same question, indirectly, of Jean Cocteau in regard to his film Orphée, Paris, 1949.  To answer this question, we must excavate each stratigraphic layer of the film until a clear picture of Cocteau’s idea, buried under the screen and in the depths of his psyche, begins to emerge.  Starting with the film itself, projected on a flat surface, we will then look beneath this layer to discover Ovid’s story of Orpheus in the Metamorphoses.  How does Cocteau reformulate Ovid’s ancient idea into his modern one?