ANZAC Day

Today (in Australia and New Zealand, and tomorrow in the US and Europe) is the 100th anniversary of the ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corp) landing at Gallipoli in 1915 with the goal of capturing Constantinople from the Ottoman Empire. The Gallipoli campaign proved to be as bloody as any in the Great War with forces from Australia and New Zealand losing over 10,000 men. More than that, however, the troops from Australia and New Zealand brought to their respective homelands a sense of national pride as the “Knights of Gallipoli” won widespread admiration. British journalist Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett famously remarked:

“There has been no finer feat in this war than this sudden landing in the dark and storming the heights, and, above all, holding on while the reinforcements were landing. These raw colonial troops, in these desperate hours, proved worthy to fight side by side with the heroes of Mons, the Aisne, Ypres and Neuve Chapelle.”

Reports like this reached Australia and New Zealand by the end of April (here’s a editorial printed in the Sydney Morning Herald from April 30, 1915) and from 1916, April 25th was commemorated in Australia and New Zealand as ANZAC day.

ANZAC Day at Manly 1922ANZAC Day 1922, Manly, Queensland (via The Wikipedias)

Here’s a page about it from the Australian War Memorial and here’s a guide provided by the government of New Zealand.

The Gallipoli Campaign was significant for Turkey as well with Mustafa Kemal led the resistance to the allied landing. Kemal emerged from the War as Atatürk, the leader of the new Turkish nation. Recognizing the significance of the Gallipoli campaign for Turkish, Australians, and New Zealanders alike, he commemorated the soldiers who died there in a speech in 1934: 

“Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives … You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours … You, the mothers who sent their sons from faraway countries, wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.”

My Australian wife and I usually listen to one of various versions of Eric Bogle’s insanely depressing “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda” which must rank among the most powerful anti-war songs of the Vietnam Era. I prefer the Pogues version:

“The young people ask what are they marching for, and I ask myself the same question”

Punk Archaeology Project Update

It’s been just over 200 days since The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota published their inaugural volume: Punk Archaeology

Since that time, the book has been cited twice. Once in Koji Mizoguchi, “A Future of Archaeology,” Antiquity 89 (2015), p. 20: “”Moreover, we should not be too bothered by the existence of ‘established’ media and the media hierarchy. High- quality e-books (e.g. Caraher et al. 2014)…”

And once by Sara Perry in her contribution to the Alison Wylie and Robert Chapman, Material Evidence: Learning from Archaeological Practice. (Routledge 2015): “Crafting Knowledge with (Digital) Visual Media in Archaeology”.

The book has been downloaded well over 1000 times (and likely about twice that) via my blog and viewed over 5000 times on Scribd. The blog post dedicated to the book has been viewed 3,800 times. The book is available for purchase on Amazon, but we’ve only sold around 50 copies

According to Shawn Graham and Ed Summers, the link for Punk Archaeology was the second most tweeted link from this past week’s Society for American Archaeology meeting, and this has accounted for about 5% of the book’s total downloads. 

In constrast, the second book from the press, Visions of Substance: 3D Imaging in Mediterranean Archaeology. (2015) has about 100 downloads over the past 100 days and 1200 views on Scrbd. The webpage has been viewed about 270 times. My hope is that this book becomes a bit more popular in the fall when it could be a useful, accessible, (and free) addition to a Mediterranean archaeology class. 

Overall, I’m pleased with the performance of the first two books from The Digital Press! If you haven’t checked either book out, please do!

Slow Archaeology, Publishing, and Collaboration

Yesterday, Brett Ommen released, as a kind of epilogue, a podcast made up of recordings of Joel Jonientz, him, me, and Mike Wittgraf. In my little section of the podcast, I talk about what collaboration meant to a guy like Joel as an artist who was willing to work with folks in the humanities.

At the same time, I’ve been working on revising an updated version of “Slow Archaeology” article before I head to the Mediterranean this summer. In my revisions to that paper, I try to put a bit more emphasis on the social organization of archaeological work and how modern archaeological practices, including the growing use of digital tools, has tended to reinforce longstanding social divisions. For example, digital tools have tended to exaggerate the role of  field teams – excavator and field walkers – as data collectors capable of (and obligated to) producing detailed, “pure data” that project directors analyze later. In fact, the view of the archaeological process as fundamentally destructive has pushed archaeologists to place ever more emphasis on the efficient extraction of information from the field. In fact, at the Mobilizing the Past Conference, a comment I made about whether we were perhaps focusing too much on efficient data collection was met with a stern reminder that as archaeologists we need to collect as much information from the field as possible to compensate for our destruction of archaeological contexts. As Gavin Lucas (and others) have rightly critiqued the idea that a site can be reconstructed from the documents that archaeologists produce during excavation and that this reconstruction will somehow reveal the processes that produced the site. Lucas offers the useful observation that this view of excavation frames it as the opposite of construction. Construction begins with plans and ends with a finished building. Excavation starts with a completed context and finishes with a plan view. The archaeological builders of these backward buildings tend to occupy the same role in archaeology as manual labor does in construction. Excavators engage in the dirty, physical phase of the (de)construction process (at least in the traditional view of archaeological practice and knowledge production) and, as a result, occupy a subordinate social position to the trench supervisor (the contractor) and the project director (perhaps the architect). To be clear, I’m not saying that I agree with this or even the idea that excavation is destructive (which implies a finality to this event rather than a stage in a continuum of formation process), but our interpretative assumptions contribute the social organization of archaeological practice. 

Slow Archaeology emphasizes field practices as the proper space for archaeological interpretation. Collecting data is not distinct from analysis and interpretation and any practice that segregates data collection from analysis in the name of efficient and exhaustive recording is guilty of the neglecting the primary context for archaeological knowledge production: the trowel’s edge or the survey unit. 

Now, back to Joel. Joel was willing to collaborate with anyone who could pique his imagination, but he was totally unwilling to subordinate his role in the creative process. So, if he created a poster for your event, he became part of the event. He viewed collaboration as an intensely democratic process and while he was willing to accept critique, he demanded that his views carry weight and that everyone around the table have a voice. 

In many ways, I’ve tried to carry on his perspectives in the development of our Digital Press at the University of North Dakota. I’ve taken to calling it a cooperative publisher which breaks down the barriers between the author, the editor, and publisher. Rather than the author standing apart as content creator and the rest of the publishing process being regarded as subordinate (and maybe even a bit subservient) to the process of authoring content. This not only reinforces a social division between the intellectual work of writing and the (traditionally) manual work of layout and typesetting, but also supports a system that uses this increasingly outmoded division to limit the circulation of intellectual work and to extract value from its production. This is not to say that traditional publishers and editors do not add value to scholarly work, but rather to ask whether this division of academic labor is worth the cost.

Joel saw collaboration as a continuum of practices rather than a division. As a result, the value of collaboration was not generated by those who engaged in one part of the process negotiating their cut of the final results from the those who engaged in another part. Collaboration obligates and entitles every participant (and certainly someone as skilled and assertive as Joel) to both their share and to the final product. This, of course, requires a tremendous amount of trust and a willingness compromise. I hope that I can continue to develop the willingness to trust my collaborators and to find ways to compromise for the greater good. 

Always Touch the Art

IMG_0010A year ago tonight my friend Joel Jonientz suddenly died. Over the past year, I’ve had plenty of opportunities to think about the mark that he made on our community, friends, and my life.

At his memorial service, his colleague Lucy Ganje made a stack of letter press cards that read: “He Loved a Bad Plan.” This is absolutely true, and was a common, endearing, and supportive (in a backhanded kind of way) remark that he made often enough during the 5 years or so that I knew him.

But one story he told has stuck with me even more than his love for a bad plan. A few times, Joel told me about his habit of touching works of art. Apparently, he would go into museums and wait for an opportune moment to go up to paintings and touch them. At first, he argued that as an artist, he was interested in encountering the artist’s technique in a firsthand, tactile, haptic way. But in a few conversations, he told me that he just enjoyed that immediate encounter with art.

As you might imagine, I was equal parts horrified and jealous of his willingness to make physical contact with objects in a museum. As an archaeologist, I’ve been schooled to understand that even prolonged looking at certain works of art will lead to their rapid demise. Photographs are almost always forbidden (and photographs of people posing with objects threaten the very soul of the artifact).

Jonientz Mural Unveiling 50This is a photo by my buddy Tim Pasch which I have ruthlessly cropped. The hand is Joel’s daughter who is being held up by his son, Oskar, to touch his mural in downtown Grand Forks. Tim recorded a great version of The Grateful Dead’s “Ripple” to memorialize Joel.

The more I thought about his habit, however, the more I think I understood what it meant. Joel was willing to try his hand at nearly anything. He was first-and-foremost an artist, but he also developed a video game, he co-produced a podcast, he was planning to score a “space opera,” he rebuilt my porch, he co-founded an academic press, he worked with Mayan children to produce animation, he co-founded an “arts and culture conference,” directed the Working Group in Digital and New Media, he wrote academic papers on the history of animation, he actively sought out collaboration, and he still had time to be a good friend, a good father, and supportive member of the community. In short, Joel made sure that he touched as much art as possible in his life. In a world where we regularly encounter people who are too busy or “really working on saying ‘no’”, Joel was actively touching the art.

People who read this blog know that making time to collaborate is is a bit of a pet cause of mine. I suspect that I got some of these ideas from hanging out with Joel for a few years. Here’s a tribute that our friend Brett Ommen produced for Joel based on their work together on Professor Footnote and some conversations that Brett, Michael Wittgraf, and I had shortly after Joel’s passing:

So, as a little tribute to my late friend, I invite everyone to touch the art. Go and check out Joel’s blog, go and watch one of his insane little videos, go and listen to one of his podcasts, or go and leave some flowers by his mural in downtown Grand Forks (but if you do that, be sure to touch it!). Or listen to his laugh.

Or, go and download a copy of Punk Archaeology, which he designed and laid out, and we dedicated to his memory. (Or go buy one here if you want to touch it.)

Or at least read his chapter from Punk Archaeology:

It’s funny, the month Joel died I had learned that Paul Worley was going to leave town to take a job elsewhere; Brett Ommen had decided to resign his position at the University and put his house on the market. I was worried that Joel would go on sabbatical and leave me stranded by myself in Grand Forks. The reality was much worse.

The Future of a More Public Byzantium

I had a lovely weekend in Boston at the Mary Jaharis Center at Hellenic College Holy Cross and quite enjoyed a range of graduate student papers on Byzantine related topics. The program, hospitality, and conversations with colleagues was first class, and it provided a window into the next generation of Byzantine studies professionals as well as some frank conversations about how Byzantine studies can engage a wider audience.

As per usual, I’ll offer a few observations:

1. Byzantium and the Margins. While the papers presented at the conference were not necessary representative of all the work being done by graduate students in Byzantine studies in the U.S. right now, it does allow us to observe some “trending topics” in Byzantine studies. In particular, I was impressed by the work being done around the margins of the “traditional” Byzantine world. While there were a handful of papers on theology and liturgy, for example, the conference saw little attention to the canonical texts or buildings of the Byzantine capital and a greater interest in geographic and conceptual edges of the traditional Byzantine world.

For example, there were papers on Genovese settlements in the Black Sea, on the art of the Red Monastery in Egypt, on Danishmend and Frankish coinage with Byzantine iconography, on attitudes toward iconoclasm in Arab lands, and attitudes toward the Jews in Byzantium. A paper that began with an image of Theodore Metochites at the church of the Chora in Istanbul, soon departed for Italy and Serbia to understand the headwear of Byzantine elites. What all these papers indicated to me is that the next generation of Byzantine scholars will be less fixated on defining and articulating what is essentially Byzantine and more focused on considering Byzantium in a relational way and locate Byzantine culture and society at the intersection of various currents of interaction and various distinct, but related communities. While this is not a new trend in the study of Byzantium (and reflects larger trends in the study of the premodern Mediterranean), it was remarkable to see how deeply this notion of Byzantium has permeated graduate student research.   

2. Byzantine Data. I was also interested to see how many of the papers drew either explicitly or implicitly on databases. I began to wonder where the great gaggle of data being produced by graduate students as the basis for their arguments goes after they defend (and publish) their dissertations. I got to thinking about a data clearing house for Byzantine related datasets that could support a wide range of research. I began to worry that these bespoke datasets could molder on a hard drive for years after a research project is done, and, at the same time, think about how these databases could provide important complements to ongoing or future research. I wonder how frequently we re-invent the wheel when we don’t share our data and whether making dissertation datasets available would encourage scholars to produce collaborative datasets to the benefit of the larger Byzantine Studies project.

I have to admit that I’m as guilty of this as anyone because my dissertation dataset had lingered relatively untouched on my laptop for years (although to be fair, my dissertation has been available as a free download since 2004!). Perhaps that’s what got me thinking about how these valuable troves of data could expand what Byzantine Studies has to offer the larger community of scholars.

3. Digital Centers and Byzantine Studies. One of the points that Jim Skedros brought up during our lunchtime panel is that there is no single outlet serving to make Byzantine Studies accessible to the general public. Instead, our field relies on personal blogs and a diverse set of institutions like Dumbarton Oaks, the Metropolitan Museum, BSANA and the Mary Jaharis Center to provide support for the study of Byzantium rather than a central institution like the Archaeological Institute of America or even the American Schools of Oriental Research. Considering the small number of scholars working in this field and its trans and interdisciplinary nature, it is particularly difficult that our energies and output are scattered over so many disparate institutions.

I wonder whether one of the institutions committed to the health of Byzantine studies should convene a conference that discusses ways to open the field of Byzantine studies to the wider academic and popular world. The goals of such a gathering would be to establish guidelines and support for a Byzantine outreach page with a dedicated (if not full time) editor, regularly updated content, and a system for driving traffic, dissemination in various (print?) formats, and archiving. These efforts require institutional support and “by in” even if it does not extend to any substantial financial investment. Having a single destination for outreach within academia and beyond would benefit the various stakeholders and perhaps even create a place for scholarly communication on various Byzantine issues and forge a stronger sense of community between various institutions.  

4. Theory and Practice. Finally, I detected a certain aversion to theorizing Byzantine studies both from the students in the panel and the participants in the lunchtime roundtable. I think our aversion to theory contributes to the struggle to connect the world of Byzantine scholarship to the larger project of the humanities or even Mediterranean history. Theoretical terms for whatever their benefit in interpreting and analyzing evidence from the past, provides a venue for engaging scholars working with similar approaches in other periods and fields.

Engaging the popular media and the general public will also require some theoretical savvy on the part of scholars of Byzantium. As the Middle East is going through a particularly dynamic and unsettled period, Byzantinists must be particularly sensitive to any effort to lend a historical perspective to events in this region without awareness of Orientalism, post colonial perspectives, and various models for articulating past perspectives to present events. The graduate students and panelists surely have the knowledge and understanding to make Byzantium relevant to a wider audience, but showing their framework more explicitly will make Byzantium a more active participant in producing useful pasts.

5. The Chapel. Finally, no post on Byzantium would be complete with a photo of a church. In this case, it is the chapel on the Hellenic Holy Cross campus that is modeled (loosely) after the church of the Holy Apostles in the Athenian Agora. According to Kostis Kourelis, the church was designed by Stuart Thompson who had quite a few other high-profile commissions in both Greece and America.

IMG 3089

 

Friday Varia and Quick Hits

The countdown to fieldwork has begun in earnest, I’m trying my best to keep my priorities in order despite a trip to Boston (which will be fun), unseasonably warm weather (which has been great), and a few pressing deadlines (which I’m working through).

These pressures, however, come with the territory and won’t keep me from posting and you from enjoying a little list of quick hits and varia:

IMG 3078

Adventures in Podcasting 8

This week, Richard and Bill welcomed their first guest into the studio: Andrew Reinhard. We convinced Andrew to talk to us about his research on Archaeogaming which is the archaeology in and of video games. We became particularly interested in his assertion that “meatspace” is no different than the virtual space of games. This, as you might guess, triggered some vigorous discussion that eventually devolved into Bill citing Pierre Bourdieu and railing against capitalism, Richard interviewing his 8-year-old son and comparing capitalism and video games to religion, and the homunculus who operates Andrew’s flesh robot almost leaping out of his head. Needless to say, a good time was had by all.

The opening and closing track on the podcast is 80-R’s Pacific Rim. You can listen to it in its entirely here.

Meatspace is a thing.

Over 19 million people have bought the PC version of Minecraft which is apparently Minecraft: Savior of Education and Marginalized Kids, according to the Fargo Forum.

There are only three characters you need to know about in Minecraft:

Steve– your default character

steve

Herobrine– your nightmare:

herobrine

Notch – the Creator:

110px-Notch_Adweek

Read a bit about Herobrine.  Then read a bit more.   This seems to be the ur-CreepyPasta.

Good lord, do you live in a box?  Learn about CreepyPasta.

And, well, we only briefly touch on him, but Slender Man is mixed up in the this a bit – he is the inspiration for the Endermen.  You should probably be aware of the tragic, bizarre and sad, Slender Man stabbing perpetrated by two 12 year old girls in Wisconsin.

A super-brief explanation of why Minecraft is so popular at Kotaku.

Richard’s son Matt reminded him that his prattle about Minecraft needs to be informed by an appreciation of DWARF FORTRESS. Fair enough.  Richard, a historian, responds ZORK – a version of which he played on the mainframe at CampVandyland a million years ago.  But Richard also concedes that Zork is not the same.

We don’t recommend going down this rabbit hole, but here are approximately 2,880,000 videos about Herobrine on YouTube.  (For perspective, Richard’s count is 19, Bill’s is 18, and Dionysus’s is 41,800).

********************

Mancamp Moment of the Week:  ManCamps in Grand Forks, North Dakota!  It won’t be different in the sense that every type of workforce housing that exists in the world exists in Williston.

A Review of Butrint 4

Yesterday, I reviewed some of the larger projects that I’m working on and emphasized that I didn’t really need to finish all of them to feel accomplished on sabbatical. There are a handful of projects with pressing deadlines (or long overdue deadlines) that had to happen before I left. 

For example, I am the author for the Working Group in Digital and New Media’s section of the SOAR survey. This is dreadful, bureaucratized, drivel, but it has to happen before I leave for the Eastern Mediterranean.

I have also agreed to turn my paper on slow archaeology for the publication of the Mobilizing the Past conference and this paper is due August 15 thanks to some impossibly ambitious deadlines set by the publisher.

I’d like to have a book laid out by then so my authors could review galley proofs at their leisure over the summer. I’m not too optimistic about that (too many moving parts), but it is possible (if just barely).

Finally, I had a very overdue book review of I. L. Hansen; R. Hodges; S. Leppard eds., Butrint 4: The Archaeologies and Histories of an Ionian Town. (Oxbow 2013) that was sitting almost complete on my computer’s hard drive. I first posted my thoughts on this volume here back in August of 2013 (yikes!), but now can offer my completed review:

Lessons from a Sabbatiquoll

Despite my effort to keep a balanced perspective on sabbatiquoll, I slowly but surely lost my mind as the end of the my year of freedom, rest, and recovery approaches.

1024px Dasyurus maculatus

So, I’ve learned five lessons and these largely echo the lessons that I learned (and tried to avoid) last time I took a year of leave. I guess I’m incapable of learning.

1. Time, time, time. Over the last 80 days, I diligently used Nick Feltron‘s Reporter app on my mobile phone to document what I did with my days. Reporter asked me approximately 4 times a day (a mode of 5) what I was doing. I would then answer a simple survey that would provide data for analysis.

The most simple question it asks is whether I’m working or not. I answered yes 64% of the time. Since I generally was awake at least 14 hours a day (conservatively), I reckon I was working about 8 hours a day, maybe a bit more. That means that I worked around 60 hours per week. 

2. Write, write, write. Of that 60 hours per week, I wrote about 65% of the time. I spent the rest of the time editing, reading, and in meetings which all account for over 5% of my work time. In hindsight, I probably spent too much time writing and not enough time reading (6.6% of my working time) especially as I look at a stack of unread books for the summer field season, but it was a conscious decision to get as much writing done as possible and load up my folders full of written text for the long, dark time between the end of this sabbatical and the next. 

3. Alone, so alone. I was alone 60% of the time this year, and 32% of the time I was with my wife. That leaves 8% of my time with other people. While I’m not particularly bothered by being alone, I did come to find it a bit oppressive. I suspect the main reason that I was alone so often is that I rarely left the house. I spent 80% of my time in my house and 37% of that time in my home office (29% downstairs in our family room and 12% in the kitchen or workout room). This coincides well with my leisure time activities. 34% of my leisure time was spent eating or drinking primarily in the evening in the kitchen and another 30% of my leisure was spent watching television. 16% of my time was spent on walks either in the workout room on the treadmill or with the mighty Milo-dog. I counted time with Milo as being alone.

IMG 2809

4. Preloading my next two years. I promised myself that I would get things done over sabbatical, but I did not promise that I’d finish things. I was really hard to move a number of projects along without wrapping any of them up (well, except this one). I think I succeeded in keeping my eyes on my next couple of years when I’ll return to teaching full time (or at least university life full time!), and setting up a slate of projects that I can finish while occupied by other responsibilities. 

a. Learning Layout. I spent a good bit time over sabbatical learning how to layout books using Adobe InDesign. I was able to work on some manuscripts without interruption and learn techniques to streamline the production of books. This will allow me to keep my little press moving forward next year. 

b. Digital and Analogue for PKAP. I made steady progress working on preparing a digital copy of PKAP I and am working on getting support from ASOR. We also made a good start on finishing the work with PKAP II. We will need to do some data normalizing over the next 6 months and some editing and revising on the manuscript, but much of it is complete. 

c. Man Camp Projects. Several significant parts of the North Dakota Man Camp Project have moved forward including an edited volume with Kyle Conway, a book proposal for the Tourist Guide to the Bakken Oil Patch, a roughed out edited version of our interviews (Voices of the Bakken), some outreach, and an almost completed manuscript for submission to Historical Archaeology (or someplace similar). All of these projects will require attention in the fall, but most of them have significant momentum.

d. Polis-Chrysochous. Unfortunately, my work at Polis-Chrysochous became the awkward step-child of my scholarly attention. I did not move it forward as much as I would have liked this year, but I did get some preliminary commitments to publishing both the notebook data and the finds data in digital forms. Plus, we have a manuscript for an article that is in pretty decent shape (I think) and will help us guide our 3-week summer study season and will set up some work for next year.

5. Service. As an academic, I tend to be pretty self-involved. My projects trump almost everything else in terms of setting priorities and absorbing energy. Over sabbatical, however, I allowed myself a bit more mission creep. I committed myself to several new, and hopefully productive, service projects that range from stepping up my commitment to institutions that mean something to my various communities – like the American Schools of Oriental Research and the North Dakota Humanities Council – and taking on some new responsibilities with North Dakota Quarterly and (pending a vote) the Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute. A colleague of mine here at the University of North Dakota and I discussed how rewarding it has been to work within our scholarly communities in ways that advanced the work of others as well as our own. I took that conversation to heart and want to continue to seek out opportunities to build communities with shared academic interests and goals.

Articulating Atari

This week, Andrew Reinhard, Richard Rothaus, and I met for a day to discuss a publication plan for the Atari Excavation project. While we all agreed that there is enough intellectual substance from this experience to warrant an edited volume, we also thought that the best way forward was to produce a traditional archaeological report which could provide a basic description of our work and an introduction to the challenges that we faced working on a rather unusual salvage excavation.

The main point of this article, it seems to me, is that the archaeology of the contemporary world represents an awkward challenge to traditional archaeological methods and methodologies. As a result, it provides us with a chance to explore the border between real and “fake” archaeology and consider practices and questions that frame authentic archaeological engagements with the world.

1. Excavation. As an academic archaeologist, I’m used to being very involved in the excavation process. While it is not uncommon for a project to use a bulldozer to remove the top levels of sediment or surface debris from a site, generally we break ground, by hand, starting with the plow zone. At the Atari dig, all of the excavation was done by a huge excavator. Making matters worse, the landfill was remarkably unstable making it dangerous the approach the sides of the trench and impossible to enter the trench. This made first hand observation of the stratigraphy difficult.

2. Stratigraphy. Fortunately, the stratigraphy of the site was rather simple. The excavated area was a trench cut into the desert which was then filled with a three levels of trash and two levels of soil. The levels were very obvious from the material in the excavator’s bucket and in the scarp when it was possible to approach and photograph the trench.

The deposit reflected 5 distinct depositional events with the earliest being the deposit of Atari games spread across the lowest level of the trench. Subsequent deposits involved two dumps of household trash both covered with top soil. Unlike excavations of pre-modern sites, our stratigraphic observations could be confirmed by first hand observation of the deposits themselves. The previous operator of the landfill confirmed the levels of trash and topsoil and photographs existed for the dump of Atari games.

3. Artifacts. The goal of our dig was to confirm the presence of the Atari deposit and to sample the content of this deposit. We were aware from the start that the games would attract interest from collectors and museums. In fact, members of the team had contact with museums prior to the start of excavation and we prepared collections for the city of Alamogordo, which owned the games, for distribution to cultural institutions with an eye toward preserving representative and meaningful assemblages.

At the same time, we knew that the city and the local historical society would sells some of the games on Ebay to raise money for the community and to offset costs of storing and inventorying the games. We caught some flack in social media circles for participating in a project where we knew that some of the artifacts collected would be sold. To be honest, I’m still a bit ambivalent about this, but only because considering the role of “real” archaeology in fortifying the market of excavated objects is tricky business when the artifacts do not qualify under any existing law as protected. You can buy a used Atari game on Ebay without – as far as I am concerned – ethical compromise. Moreover, objects of greater significance and older vintage discovered in other archaeological contexts – from farmer’s fields to suburban garages – regularly circulate in the market without much protest from the archaeological community. As an archaeology of the contemporary world develops over time, archaeologists who participate in this kind of research must come to a more clear understanding of how their work influences the market for the goods that they study. As for the Atari Excavation, I’ll stand by my earlier argument that the games gained value as much because of the media frenzy around the documentary film as our work as archaeologists.    

4. Time, Toxicity, and the Media. Our time at the site was extremely limited and in this way our work paralleled the experience of salvage archaeology projects that operate in conjunction with contractors working on a deadline. Likewise, the media company had budgetary limits and deadlines. Moreover, landfills are toxic and opening a landfill involves a certain amount of environmental risks. As a result, it is never wise to leave a landfill open for longer than necessary. These variable constrained our access to the site and the scope of the excavation.

During our time in the field, these limits were frustrating. We would have liked to have greater access to the trench, to material removed from the trench (other than the games), and have witnessed a more deliberate pace of excavation. After reflecting more, however, I am not as convinced that a slower pace or more extended time on site would have produced more knowledge. The limited complexity of the stratigraphy, the instability of the trench itself, and the very clear goals of the excavation would not have rewarded a significant greater time (and risks) spent with the trench open.

5. Authenticity. The issues summarized in the points above play a key role in determining whether our engagement with this project had archaeological authenticity. All archaeology involves compromises dictated by the environment, political, social, and economic circumstances, and research questions, but archaeologists tend to instinctively recognize authentic archaeological research. The growing interest in archaeology of the contemporary world, however, complicates this as archaeologists have come to recognize all contexts as potentially archaeological and all artifacts as potential objects of study. The abundance of contexts and material encountered in every day life requires both tremendously flexible methods as well as a willingness to filter objects and practices that do not advance a clear research question.

In some ways, archaeology of the contemporary world has the potential to sketch out the limits of archaeological practice and disciplinary knowledge. I’ve received some negative reaction from archaeologists to both the North Dakota Man Camp Project and the Atari excavation. While some of it is typical disciplinary sniping, other critiques at least feel more substantial and complex. Our hope with this article is to attempt to respond and to anticipate some of the critique of what remains a very new approach to archaeology.