Terres Rouges, Luxembourg

Arbed Steel Works, Terres Rouges, Luxembourg by Geoffrey George.
Arbed Steel Works, Terres Rouges, Luxembourg by Geoffrey George.

This is the abandoned Arbed Steel Works, at Esch-sur-Alzette in the south of Luxembourg. I picked it as it’s a well-lit photo and it also has a great sense of distance, which is handy for the coming month. It turns out the site is more iconic than that. From British Pathé there’s a video showing “a molten stream of French ore, Belgian limestone, Dutch and German coke watched over by Italian labour and pouring out of a Luxembourg blast furnace marked the formal opening of the common market for steel of these six European countries.” So this abandoned structure is possibly a birthplace of the EU.

The site launches this week. So far the plan is that I’ll put up a Kindle post on Wednesday, partly because I’ll be at KindleCamp that day. Thursday will see the first Distance post, with Katy Meyers on Bioarchaeology. We have theme posts for Tuesdays and Thursdays for the first couple of weeks, but that still leaves plenty of space on the other days. If you’d like to blog here leave a note below or on our Facebook page, and Colleen or myself will get in touch.

Photo: Terres Rouges by Geoffrey George. Licenced under a Creative Commons BY-BC-ND licence.

Machu Picchu, the classic view

Machu Picchu by Pedro Szekely
Machu Picchu by Pedro Szekely

The LA Times is currently going through 100 facts for 100 years of Machu Picchu. It is a lot older, but its existence was revealed to archaeologists in 1911, so this summer marks the 100th anniversary of work at the site. Exactly what the site is has been debated for many years. Current favourite is that it was a royal estate, but this does not rule out important ritual functions at the site as well. This is the view most people try and take of the site towards the peak of Huayna Picchu, which also has temples on it, so it is possible that Machu Picchu was placed intentionally at a specific point in the landscape, in this case about 2.5km or 1.5 miles up in the landscape.

The ability to farm at high altitude might be due to the llama’s habit of defecating communally, according to a report on the Guardian website. This made the llama dung easy to gather and then use as fertiliser.

As an experiment, you can download wallpapers for June based on this photo in 4:3 or widescreen formats. I’ve prepared them at hi-res, so they may need to be scaled down to fit your monitor. Let me know if they work in the comments below and I can produce more for July onwards.

Photo: Machu Picchu, Peru by Pedro Szekely. Licenced under a Creative Commons BY-SA licence.

Links from Week 20

Katy Meyers has another excellent post at Bones Don’t Lie. To Exhume or Let Rest in Peace This relates to two burials. The first is the Leatherman, who I had never heard of and is a fascinating topic in his own right. The other is the exhumation of the Mona Lisa model. My first reaction to the Mona Lisa dig was “I’d hate to be the artist under pressure to produce a facial reconstruction”. When I found out that was the purpose of the dig I was then baffled as to why. Will the result show that Leonardo Da Vinci was actually an terrible artist and all his paintings are rubbish? My guess is examination of the skull will reveal that the enigmatic smile was more of a toothy grin.

NewMuseumKat at the Museum of Ontario Archaeology blogs about The Roman Britain & Ur Collections.

Michael E. Smith writes Why Anthropology is too Narrow an Intellectual Context for Archaeology. It’s not an argument you get much in the UK, so from my point of view it’s an interesting insight into how Americans view the past in the USA.

From Powered By Osteons comes news of the 9,000-year-old La Jolla Fisherman and -woman. UC San Diego is caught up in a rumpus over whether bones discovered while constructing the university’s President’s house should be studied or given to native Americans.

@archasa posts her slideshare presentation on Research Blogging which is relevant to archaeobloggers.

I spent ages reading this post on Plasauduon, Powys very badly as my Welsh is terrible. In a related discovery Heritage of Wales have also blogged in English on Plasauduon, Powys – Architecture 3D Visualisation Fly Through Animation.

Tropical Paradise, but who needs that?Mick Morrison has photos of his recent fieldtrip to Weipa in Far North Queensland. It takes more than blue skies and tropical seas and a fascinating archaeological project to make me jealous.

Via @nzarchaeology comes the bad news Historic Chatham Islands carvings defaced in the NZ Herald. It’s probably intended as a cultural assault according to the report.

Also from the NZ Herald comes this thought provoking column Brian Rudman: Te Papa holds ghoulish relics too. It’s a comment on the ethics of museums pursuing repatriation of some human remains while holding on to others.

Bad news for hungry archaeologists. The Newcastle Herald (Australia) has the headline 6500-year-old heritage junked and if that’s not bad enough, they’ve been stuck with a KFC outlet too.

The ever impressive CyArk is plugging their Tikal Multimedia Gallery and it’s well worth a visit.

This week’s stunning archaeological site threatened by a dam is are the Basha-Diamer carving in Pakistan. I didn’t know about these, but sadly it looks like I’ll have plenty of people to share my ignorance with.

Scots Gaelic speakers should catch Talamh Trocair: Arc-eòlas coimhearsnachd before Tuesday. It’s from BBC Alba and it’s on the iPlayer. I don’t know if this is available outside the UK. It could be BBC Alba want to protect the commercial rights so that both Scots Gaelic speakers outside the UK have to pay to watch. English speakers can follow the programme on Community Archaeology with subtitles.

Art Daily reports: Pre-Hispanic Cities Reproduced the Narration of the "Sacred Mountain" with Construction of Great Temples which explains what the story is about in the title.

You can found out more about the History of Archaeology at Colonial Williamsburg. I don’t have a note saying where I got that from, so I’ll guess it’s via @brockter.

The Institute for Archaeologists now have an Archives special interest group.

Chasing Aphrodite is a blog to go with the book of the same name reports on the ceremony officially inaugurating the Getty’s controversial statue of Aphrodite in its new museum home in Aidone. The photo does no justice to how amazingly steep, narrow and full the streets are in Aidone, which is the most terrifying place I’ve driven through.

Rollright Stones: aaw, come on! The Heritage Journal is unimpressed by offerings at the Rollright Stones.

An Ancient Greek City Uncovered in Russia is a reminder of how far the ancient Greeks lived away from the country we call Greece.

One of the strangest world’s oldest claims comes from North Carolina with the news that Blackbeard Ship Discovery May be world’s oldest. I thought it was an odd claim as I’ve seen plenty of older ships, but this is the oldest shipwreck in the world that’s off NC’s coast. There may be older shipwrecks in the world, but they’re not off NC’s coast and therefore presumably don’t count.

#Archaeology and #SocialMedia at #ACRNCASPAR

qr codeYesterday the CASPAR, the Centre for Audio-Visual Study and Practice in Archaeology and the Archaeology and Communication Research Network held a workshop at UCL’s Institute for Archaeology. The workshop was hashtagged on Twitter as #ACRNCASPAR and it’s been blogged by Daniel Pett. Below is the Storified collection of tweets by @jessogden.

The embed is proving temperamental at the moment, so if it doesn’t appear below, reload the page.

Wukoki Ruins

Wukoki Ruins
Wukoki Ruins. Photo by Anita Ritenour.

The Wukoki Ruins are part of the Wupatki National Monument in Arizona. The area seems to have been occupied between AD 500 and AD 1225, with the Wukoki Ruins occupied between 1110 and 1210. The National Parks Service has a nice line on their website saying that the current native peoples in the area still see the site as having spiritual significance so, despite no one living there anymore, the site is not abandoned.

This photo uses High Dynamic Range imaging, in order to get the sky and shadows properly exposed. Using the more traditional point ‘n’ click method there’s a good chance the sky and shadow areas would show a lot less detail. For more information on HDR photography in archaeology, see High dynamic range imaging for archaeological recording from the Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory by David Wheatley (doi:10.1007/s10816-010-9100-1). A pre-print of it is available in Southampton’s archives.

Photo: Wukoki Ruins by Anita Ritenour. Licenced under a Creative Commons BY licence.

Links from Week 19

Colleen Morgan reports on the TAG conference session Graffiti and the Archaeology of the Contemporary. It looks like it could have been one of the few conferences where the audience were more nervous than the speakers. She also participated in another innovative session on archaeological photography.

Donald Johanson and Richard Leakey were sharing a stage for the first time in 30 years. The legends wowed the crowd with the classics “We all come from Africa” and “Let’s look at Lucy”. If ogling a three million old ancestor doesn’t send a shiver down your spine then you’re clearly in need of a soul transplant. The Scientific American page uses Storify. Does anyone want to cover Twitter hashtags and Storify in a couple of blog posts?

At Powered by Osteons, Kristina Killgrove has news about Female Sacrificial Slaves. If you prefer your sacrificial slaves to be male, she can cater for that too. It includes some interesting comments on problems communicating between archaeologists in different regions.

Heritage Action look at the possibility that this year might be the last mass opening of Stonehenge at the Summer Solstice.

NUI Galway now has an Archaeological Theory blog. They open with a look at the Dover Boat. (h/t @diggingthedirt)

Antonine Baths at Carthage
Antonine Baths at Carthage. Photo by Graham Claytor.

The ISAW-NYU has been releasing photos from Carthage with a Creative Commons Licence. This one is the Antonine Baths with a Creative Commons BY licence, by Graham Claytor.

The AAA are looking for blog columnists. The work is monthly and based around the themes: Teaching Strategies, Field Notes, Multimedia Matters, Media Notes, Review Roundups. They’re open to other possibilities.

As a follow up to the story that Neanderthals may have died out earlier than thought, comes news that Neanderthals may have died out later than thought, thanks to a paper published this week in Science. (h/t @BoneGirlPhD) John Hawks has the key details from that paper blogged at his site.

Quite a few people linked to the story that Yale is releasing a mountain of digital images for free, and rightly so. It looks potentially very exciting, but I can’t tell as the site seems to be overwhelmed by lots of other visitors who think it also looks exciting too.

Sexy Archaeology has the latest edition of Four Stone Hearth.

Via @paregorios, Forty two sites are being considered for UNESCO’s World Heritage List in June. Some notable candidates are Archaeological Sites of the Island of Meroe (Sudan), Yapese Stone Money Sites in Palau and Yap, which would be Micronesia’s first listing and the Coffee Cultural Landscape (Colombia).

Paris for Perverts by Tony Perottet looks at the brothels of La Belle Époque from the late 19th century to the Great War as heritage site. Historical titillation, or a chance to give a voice to a profession that is usually ignored by polite society? (h/t @astrojenny)

CNN has an interview with Sada Mire, who’s examining the rock art of Somaliland. (h/t @JenniferLockett)

Undergraduates who are probably from the University of York (UK – not York University CA), have been doing a grand job at Harewood House near Leeds. The dig has relevance beyond West Yorkshire, as the fortunes of the Lascelles who built the house were based on sugar plantations in the Caribbean.

Alan Baumler reviews Francis Fukuyama’s new book The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution at Frog in a Well China.

[A]ll in all I would say the book was not worth the money, despite all the promises of China discussions in the Table of Contents. Reading this book will not help you understand China better. I’m pretty sure it will not help you understand Europe better. If you are looking for something that can explain everything in general but nothing in specific, this may be the book for you.

Ouch! If you have a cruel streak you’ll be amused reading the whole thing.

Intelligent Life has a lengthy popular article on the overlooked artistic and archaeological treasures of Kimberley, Australia. Europeans convinced that there is little of interest in Australia should pay careful attention to the dates. The depth of culture is extraordinary. (h/t @astrojenny)


View Kimberley in a larger map

Can archaeology make a small contribution to Big History?

Via @williamjturkel comes news of the International Big History Association which is planning to hold its first conference in 2012 in Grand Valley, Michigan. Big History is a new term to me, though clearly it’s been around a while (PDF). The IBHA site defines it as “the attempt to understand, in a unified, interdisciplinary way, the history of Cosmos, Earth, Life, and Humanity”. This puzzles me. Humans occupy a fleeting small portion of the Cosmos’s past, so how do you pull this all together. David Christian made a presentation at TED.

Sadly my first reaction is that Big History takes a complex and majestic story and abridges it to the point of triviality. My first reaction to Smail’s Deep History wasn’t complimentary either. It’s not that there’s nothing to talk about but rather that combining the story of human action in the past with the biological foundation of human physiology is not new to archaeologists, particularly to Palaeolithic archaeologists. What won me over to Smail’s way of thinking is partly the reminder that Historians are not Archaeologists, and that this is novel to historians, and also Smail’s book On Deep History and the Brain. While cognitive science and neuroscience have an input in Palaeolithic archaeology, this influence seems to diminish as we get closer to an archaeology of the modern-day. There are some exceptions. Lambros Malafouris is exploring the possibility of a Neuroarchaeology of the Bronze Age. I’ve had a go at combining Extelligence and TXM to the classical period, but not with any success that I’d want to publish yet. I’d be delighted to see other examples in the comments, but I think the development of cognition is seen as an evolutionary problem in the palaeolithic more often than it’s seen as a continual learning problem in humans of all periods. It’s possible that Big History could provide a framework to pull similar work into more recent periods.
Continue reading Can archaeology make a small contribution to Big History?

DIY, Green Burials, and Mortuary Archaeology

Photo by Colleen Morgan

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?