Seventh Cyprus Research Fund Lecture

The Cyprus Research Fund Nominating and Special Events Committee is very pleased to announce this 2016 Cyprus Research Fund Lecturer, Prof. Erin Walcek Averett from Creighton University.

Like the previous seven (!) Cyprus Research Fund Lecturers, on March 3rd a 3 pm, she will be giving a public lecture in the exotic East Asia Room of the Mighty Chester Fritz Library. She is an Associate Professor of Archaeology in the Department of Fine and Performing Arts at Creighton and the Assistant Director of the Athienou Archaeological Project on Cyprus. The folks at Athienou helped us get our little project started at Pyla-Koutsopetria many years ago. So it’s particularly nice to have one of their people come to Grand Forks to present on Cypriot material. With any 

The title of her lecture is “Frightening the Frightful: Grotesque Visages from Ancient Cyprus.”

Here’s her full abstract:

“The image of fright set to frighten the frightful,” was Jane Harrison’s memorable evocation of the apotropaic power of masks and “ugly faces” (gorgons, satyrs, etc.) as part of what she called an “apparatus of a religion of terror among the Greeks.” While Harrison’ views on Greek religion have been challenged over the past century, few studies have tackled the complex role of the grotesque, the monstrous, and the strange in Mediterranean religion and society. This talk investigates monstrous, apotropaic imagery in Iron Age Cyprus. Such demonic images are a common part of the island’s material culture, from sculpted figures and masks found in sanctuaries to furniture appliques and amulets associated with funerary and domestic contexts. The iconography attracts the viewer’s gaze and highlights the grotesque and uncanny through disembodied heads or faces (masks), distorted or exaggerated features, gaping mouths with extended tongues and prominent teeth, or theriomorphic traits. Grotesque visages and monstrous figures have been found in wealthy tombs and palaces and on jewelry and monumental sarcophagi, but also in industrial workshops, sanctuaries, and on furniture, household items, and religious paraphernalia. Thus, the efficacy of their apotropaic power was not reserved (or restricted) to an elite, ruling class, but also protected artisans, worshippers, and even children. By casting these images within the realm of otherworldly, they break the monotony of human and animal subjects and become visually distinct and powerful protective objects.

Here’s a cool flyer.

Cyprus Research Fund 2016 Poster 01

Here’s a pdf: Cyprus Research Fund 2016 Poster.pdf

As per usual, Prof. Averett will give a more technical (and informal) talk at lunch on Friday March 4th. Once we have material for that talk and a title. It’ll likely be something cool and digital. So stay tuned!

Friday Varia and Quick Hits

Week four of our semester. A mild February. Satisfactory progress on a bunch of projects. A Cyprus Research Fund Lecture coming in March. One more series of good cricket to keep our attention. Everything is just swell here at Archaeology of the Mediterranean World Headquarters.

The only thing not lovely in my world is the mankading scandal at the cricket under-19 world cup, and if that’s all I can complain about, life is very good indeed. 

IMG 4176

A Theoretical Epilogue to the Tourist Guide to the Bakken

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been working pretty intensively on revising my Tourist Guide to the Bakken Oil Patch for publication. The section that needed the most work was the final chapter which was probably both half-baked and somewhat unaccessible to the average reader. This is probably not the final draft of this section, but it is a major step closer to making it more fluid and more accessible. Here’s a link to the original draft.

I attempt to weave together four related concepts: 

1. Tourism as a product of and as a producer of modernity. In a post last week, I presented my first efforts to emphasize more explicitly the role of oil in both the creation of the middle class and tourism.

2. Landscapes and Taskscapes. In this section, I argue that the remarkable dynamism of the Bakken has produced particular ephemeral traces of movement in the landscape. The concept of taskscape provides a useful way to understand dense network of traces left across the Bakken landscape.

3. Industrial Tourism offers a model to understand taskscapes shaped by industrial activities and brings together the experience of the tourist and the worker in a single space. The recent trend toward more subversive forms of tourism (toxic tourism, abandonment porn, urban infiltrations, “poorism”) that explore industrial sites in either critical or illegal ways demonstrates how contemporary industrial tourists could twist the goals of industrial to consider the complex legacy of industrial practices. 

4. Industrial Archaeology and Heritage. Finally, industrial archaeology has contributed to the rise of industrial heritage which has both celebrated a shared, modern industrial past, as well as offered an opportunity for historical reflection and critique. 

Any and all comments would be greatly appreciated.

Punk Archaeology at Three

A couple of friends have reminded me this week that we held the first ever punk archaeology conference three years ago. I was honored that close friends contributed to the event: Kostis Kourelis, Richard Rothaus, Andrew Reinhard, Bret Weber, Tim PaschMike Wittgraf, Brett Ommen, and Joel Jonientz.  

Reinhard punk archaeology

Listen to the papers here. Listen to the music here. Or download the book here. Or, if you want, buy the book here.


Andrew Reinhard has worked hard to bring punk archaeology to a wider audience. Other folks have taken time to think deeply about punk archaeology and took it from being this ill-formed empty vessel and transformed it into something meaningful

Grand Challenges of Archaeology

As usual, I’m late to the Doug Rocks-McQueen’s blogfest party, but since he said that he’d welcome latecomers, I’ll show up anyway with four beers from a six-pack of Miller Highlife and a two-day-old dress shirt with a torn sleeve.  

It is endearing as hell that I work in a field that still imagines itself as having “grand challenges.” I envision a conference held at some traditional center, with long tables, and break-out groups, and serious folks in serious clothing with serious ideas. Maybe the conference would be in castle or a modern “centre” or “institute.” It would be intense and very, very earnest.

Despite my romantic imaginings, I think we’re probably not in that kind of field any more. Most of us are tired, focused on our little corner of the universe, concerned with curriculum changes or the latest bureaucratic challenge for a field school or some technical aspect of a grant. My colleagues in the CRM industry seem always to be finishing one report, preparing a bid, researching another project, while planning field work (as soon as the snow melts). While there’s nothing inherent in archaeology as a discipline that prevents us from considering grand challenges, I do think that our field is at its most typical (and maybe best?) when we focus on small challenges. Archaeology has an impressive array of disciplinary tools with which to analyze relationship between strata in a trench, wear marks on a stone tool, the typology of a cooking ware, or the chronology of a particular site. We tend to fall short when trying to generalize this information across time and space.  

That being said, I’d be remiss to not to contribute to the impressive collection voices on the grand challenges of the discipline:

1. Technology. This is not the first time people have fretted about technology changing archaeology, but I wonder whether today the stakes are very high and, so far, the critical attention is only middling. I recently attended a panel recently at a major academic conference where satellite images were used to show the extent of looting and destruction at archaeological sites in the Middle East. Toward the end of one presentation, a speaker even floated the idea that the academic association are looking into purchasing a satellite. Another speaker in the panel discussed the use of drones to track looters and looting and their potential in remote sensing. Airplanes with LiDAR arrays and submersibles with sophisticated sonars are remapping jungles and submerged ruins. Archaeologists have embraced the panoptics of surveillance society with greater attention to ever increasing measures of resolution than the ethical impact of watching – always watching – a site, local practices, or a region. People are talking about BUYING A SATELLITE to watch ruins in the Middle East. Drones to document looting. Lasers in the jungle somewhere.

As Dimitri Nakassis has already pointed out, the same technologies that make it possible for us to collect information have also made it easy to disseminate that information. It is technologically possible for a project to literally publish from trench side or survey unit in realtime. Of course, there are ethical, policy, and practical concerns here, but in an age where getting credit for one’s work (see below) almost outstrips the value of the work itself, surely some scholar, somewhere, will produce the instant publication. And with that will come in the instant critique mediated, no doubt, by the ubiquitous social media. Even now, hardly a month goes by without someone posting something on Facebook or The Twitters that is retracted, regretted, or rejected. The temptation to respond at the speed of scholarly production can lead even very senior scholars to offer a comment which even the most distracted editor would have rejected. 

The rate of “data acquisition” and the quantity (see below) of data has already outstripped our basic disciplinary tools for analyzing it, and while we can bemoan the storage crisis for physical antiquities, we have only begun to consider the storage implications for the recent “deluge” of digital data. The tools at our disposal to collect information from the field, from space, and from the growing number of digital outlets on the internet has put our discipline in a place where our traditional ethics, best practices, and professional codes do not and can not apply. 

2. Research in the Age of Heritage, Cultural Resources, and Commodification of Knowledge. While it’s probably hackneyed and frankly disingenuous to belly-ache about the decline in “research for the sake of research” in archaeology (or in the academy for that matter), I do think that that the changes in North American higher education and growing (and quickening) influence of neoliberal values at these institutions will shape archaeology in profound ways going forward. As a historian (professionally), I have seen this in our growing interest in “public history” which is designed specifically to prepare students to disseminate history knowledge as a commodity to the public. This is not intrinsically bad, of course, and we’re told that a stronger public interest history in history will only benefit the academic parts of the discipline. This might be the case.

Archaeology, on the other hand, has always celebrated outreach and over the last half-century had an important place in the private sector. Academic archaeology, in fact, is probably the minority in terms of the quantity of total energy put into archaeological practice. The question is, though, where will the uneasy balance between private sector practice and academic research lead. Is our fixation on field efficiency, big data, and most nefariously “credit” for our research already marking basic changes in our disciplinary DNA or is this just the continued, slow churn of the same modern morass which over a century ago produced contemporary academia and disciplinary archaeology?

Again, I worry that balance between academic (for lack of better term) research, teaching, and professional archaeology will be lost as we’re pushed within the academy to become more attuned to the needs of the private sector. I’m not sure how to resist these pressures and I’m not sure our resistance will even matter as we already talk easily about “heritage” as a commodity and “cultural resources” as a limited and finite product of the past rather than as an infinitely renewable outpouring of human creativity. Mostly, this just makes me sad.

3. Hyber-Abundance of Modernity. I’ve blogged on this before, but maybe this is will be the lasting impact of archaeology on our world. Both professional and academic archaeologists are in a place to manage how we understand the material transition from the past to the contemporary. A friend of mine recently suggested that we excavate all the Atari games dumped in a landfill in New Mexico. While on the surface, this seems insane and easy to dismiss as impractical (if not dangerous and unlikely to produce new knowledge), it does suggest an important question, though. How do we deal with the abundance of modern material and how will it impact how we see objects, sites, and heritage in the future? I’m particularly curious about how we’ll think about conservation, preservation, storage, and – of course – the sale of modern objects recovered through archaeological methods. Modern objects will push against the idea that heritage is finite and perhaps even force us to think through how archaeology is complicit in the creation of commercial value in objects.

These big picture issues are situated at the intersection of archaeology and the modern world in which we live and work. I’m not sure most archaeologists – including me – have the energy or the disciplinary tools to address these issues in an archaeological way. Maybe. We’ll see, I guess, but I need to get back to checking some footnotes…

Open Textbooks, Cost, and Value

On Thursday, I heard an inspiring talk by David Ernst of the University of Minnesota. He’s the CIO of their College of Education and Human Development and an open educational resource activist. His talk to at UND focused on the importance of open textbooks and was part of a larger “open educational resources seminar” put on by UND’s working group for open access resources. 

The main thrust of Ernst’s talk was that textbooks cost too much and this has had real implication on the quality of education at American universities. You can check out his slides from the talk here. He makes the point that textbooks were the one area of cost in higher education that faculty could control. While I bristled a bit at the suggestion that somehow faculty should feel obligated to solve a problem (that is not of their own making) because they can, I do think his call for action is a reasonable one. No one really benefits from the high cost of textbooks except publishers who actively work against the best interest of the academy in their quest for larger profit margins. He then showed a series of short videos that reinforced the idea that textbook costs were a problem for students, and this led students to make decisions that often worked against the educational goals of the course. 

This is where I began to rankle a bit. I think (and in a very engaging conversation with him afterward, more or less confirmed) that Prof. Ernst conflated the cost of the textbook with its value. As I told him, my experience was that students are just as willing to not read a free or a very inexpensive textbook (and I provide one in some of my classes) as a textbook that cost more money. Moreover, a video that shows a student remarking that he sometimes had to wait until late at night to use a textbook that he shared with a few other students seemed a bit disingenuous. After all, college students have access to copiers, scanners, and – most importantly – smart phones which make it possible to copy and distribute printed material instantly and at a minuscule cost (or, if nothing else, using technologies already at hand). While many of these techniques are strictly illegal, I can’t believe that something as relatively arcane as copyright law (particularly unenforceable copyright law!) would stop a student from making a copy of a book for personal use especially when the alternative is doing poorly in a class or losing out on precious sleep. 

My suspicion, then, is that cost alone is not the factor that is driving frustration over textbook costs and leading students to avoid buying them or engaging in strategies that might appear academically questionable. I think the issue is that textbooks are declining in value to students. Even just 20 years ago, textbooks were invaluable resources for basic information. A history student relied on textbooks for such basic things as names, dates, and maps, and maybe snippets of narrative that do not come from lecture. Today, our putative history student can find much more, and frequently better organized information on the web. And, I’d contend that this is true not just of history students, but of many students in introductory level classes. Moreover, as faculty move more toward problem-based learning or other active learning techniques which ask students to do more than to dutifully follow a narrative in a textbook or complete problem sets. In other words, the more textbooks become sources for basic information, the less value they’ll have for a student and the less inclined the student will be to spend money on them. 

Of course, the declining value of textbooks to students is something that open access resources can impact because many open access resources are easier to divide, modify, remix, and repurpose for a range of educational environments. The downside of this approach, however, is that for universities, and faculty in particular, to take on the development of open educational resources, the funding has to come from somewhere. Fortunately, the state of North Dakota has appropriated over $100,000 to fund the adoption of open educational resources. This is good.

The downside, of course, is that the move to open educational resources and the process of re-valuing the textbook for the 21st century, is not something that can be solved by a one-time infusion of resources. Adopting open textbooks, for example, is not enough. For open educational resources to make a meaningful impact on higher education – and this goes beyond just lowering textbook costs for students and gets to positively impacting learning outcomes – there will have to be a sustained investment in their development, revision, and implementation. Open educational resources is a dynamic ecosystem that requires us to return to the pool at least as much as we consume from it. Cutting publisher profits from textbook costs passes on immediate savings to students, but production costs and revision costs will remain and require subsidy from across higher education. And adoption and adaptation costs will devolve to individual institutions and, if current trends continue, students.

This isn’t to suggest that Ernst’s talk was bad or that the seminar was unhelpful, but it is to point out that however rhetorically useful our focus on student cost is (and there’s no doubt that this rhetorical position got the North Dakota University System funding for this initiative), it is not a realistic understanding of how open educational resources could transform higher education. Cutting out publisher profits from the cost of higher education will not eliminate production and revision costs, for example. Building a better textbook will involve investment in the actual improvement of higher education. In recent years, this kind of systematic, long-term, educational investment has become rare.

Friday Varia and Quick Hits

It’s the time when the semester has settled into a bit of a routine and the excuses that have kept me from the pile of tasks have run their course. Heck, Australia isn’t even playing test cricket right now, football season is nearly over, and NASCAR and Formula One are still weeks in the future. These are the prime productive weeks of the semester.

But before I get back to work, I’d be remiss if I didn’t share some pleasantly distracting quick hits and varia:

IMG 4155It’s call “the wing”

Triennial Review

I’m frantically assembling the paperwork for my first, post-tenure, triennial review which is both a year and about a week or so late.

In do so, rather hastily, I’ve learned three things:

1. I can still list all the significant things that I’ve done in less than 3 full pages of my CV.

2. My records are a mess, and I have no way to “prove” most of the work that I do on a daily basis. 

3. Writing reflections on teaching that is long enough to capture what I think about (and sometimes write about here on the ole bloggeroo), but not too boring or, worse, preachy for my colleagues.

Here’s what I wrote:

Over the last three years, I’ve tried to be more innovative in my teaching. I have abandoned my one regularly taught class, History 240, and continue to tinker with my History 502: Graduate Historiography class by adding and removing readings and trying to keep the course synchronized with recent trends in historical methods and theory. My major effort, however, was revising my History 101 class in preparation to teach this course face-to-face after a several years of teaching it online.

When I last taught the class in a classroom, I taught the class at night, in a single two-and-a-half hour block. The class tended to enroll well, but student engagement was low, retention was poor, and, frankly, the level of analysis, argument, and writing was disappointing. While my first reaction is always to blame “the kids these days,” I soon decided to think a bit more critically and historically about my approach to teaching. My approach to re-thinking this class did not derive from the latest, greatest, teaching trend, but from the history seminars of the late-19th and early-20th century. In these classrooms, faculty and students drew upon a limited library of primary sources and reference works to produce historical arguments that that they then shared with their peers and the faculty leader.

The development of a Scale-Up style classroom on campus in 2013 provided an opportunity to translate the concept of the seminar to the scale of an introductory level history course, and in the Winter of 2013, I began to teach History 101 in the Scale-Up classroom. At the time, I was the only humanities class in this room on campus, and, far as I can discern, I was the first history class to teach in a large, active learning style classroom in the US.

The Scale-Up room contains, 20, 9-student tables and this arrangement allowed me to convert my lecture class to a series of concurrent, if low-level, seminars focused on producing new (if banal) historical arguments and knowledge. Each 9-student table produced three, 3000 word, contributions to a notional history textbook. Each student in the group purchased a used textbook, and the 7-9 textbooks at each table created a basic research library that could be expanded with web resources and an open-access podcast textbook prepared for my online history class. After a series of individual and small-group writing assignments designed to familiarize students with the structure and expectations of historical writing, organization, and argument, each table received a topic, some recommendations on sources, and a series of short assignments designed to lead them through the writing process. Thesis statements, timelines, outlines, drafts, peer-reviews, and final versions of each chapter ensured that each table approached the writing process in a systematic way and had opportunities to both offer and receive critique.

I found that teaching in the Scale-Up room produced a much higher level of student engagement, retention, and regular attendance. Students continued to be concerned that “group work was kinda bogus,” but despite these protests, most students embraced the challenge of working, thinking, and writing together. The final chapters were tidy representations of historical argument and writing, and immeasurably superior to the product of similar assignments in my previously lecture-based History 101 class.

For more on my teaching in the Scale-Up room see the attached article (that was rejected) and some syllabi.


Oil, Industry, and Tourism: Another Draft

As readers of this blog know, I’ve been churning away on a revised version of the final chapter of my Tourist Guide to the Bakken. These revisions have two goals. One is to make it more accessible to non-academics and the other is to reflect on the particular role of oil in the creation both of tourism and the industrial world.

Below is the first part of this concluding section. Enjoy:

The final section to this guide lays out some theoretical consideration central to our decision to choose the genre of tourist guide as a useful way to present and understanding the Bakken landscape. This section is rather more academic than the guide itself and argues that the practice of tourism offers a distinctly modern way for engaging the Bakken. One goal of the guide is to bring order to the apparent chaos frequently encountered during a visit to the Bakken oil patch. The tourist guide is also meant to encourage critical engagement with the Bakken oil patch by locating this text and the visitor to the Bakken in a historical and social context. We hope by surveying some of the recent research in tourism and the archaeology of the contemporary world to suggest that a tourist guide is a particularly suitable form of writing for organizing and analyzing the social, economic, technical, and historical complexities of the modern world.

The organization of this final section is more genealogical than historiographic. In other words, we do not try to trace how a single tread of historical thinking led to the present volume, but, instead, try to weave together the influence from various different disciplines and fields ranging from landscape and industrial archaeology to the history of tourism, tourism studies, sociology, and popular culture. This final section identifies a series of overlapping territories which influenced the development of this tourist guide in much the same way that the Bakken represents a series of overlapping interests, histories, and communities.

The unifying element to this study is oil. The large-scale exploitation of fossil fuels, whether coal, oil, or gas, has shaped our modern world (Petrocultures Research Group 2016). The gradual shift from human labor to fossil fuel powered production during the industrial revolution transformed economic, social, and political relationships around the world. The us of fossil fuels in manufacturing accelerated access to consumer goods, shaped a middle class, propelled mechanized agriculture, and opened new horizons for settlement, travel, and, of course, economic exploitation. At present fossil fuels, and especially oil, foster “capital deepening” in which more capital is increased from human work, and this fortifies our expectation of continuous economic growth. Our oil-driven confidence in economic growth plays a vital role in Western political culture where, among other things, it fortifies our commitment to the equality of economic opportunity. European settlement in western North Dakota has only ever been possible because of fossil fuels. First, coal and oil fueled rail links made it economically viable for permanent settlements in the region to have access to markets. Interstate highways, affordable personal transportation, and mechanized farming accelerated the region’s engagement with the rest of North America and the world. Over the course of the Bakken boom, pipelines joined truck traffic and an expanded rail presence to move sweet Bakken crude to refineries and markets outside the region. That oil, in turn, fuels the cars, trucks, plains and trains that carry oil workers into the region, runs generators that power lights at drilling rigs, and keeps lonely RVs warm during the winter. Modern tourism would not be possible without oil-fueled transportation or the emergence of a middle class with the surplus resources necessary to make travel for pleasure possible.

In this context, a tourist guide seems the ideal tool to link the industrial and historical landscape of the Bakken because it offer an opportunity to emphasize the role of tourism, industry, and oil in the development of the middle-class in the modern world. Most of these ideas came from the sociologist Dean MacCannell. His important book, The Tourist: A New Theory of the Leisure Class, celebrated tourism’s role in allowing the growing global middle class to become a leisure class, at least for the duration of their vacation and travels (1976). This change stemmed from the growing disposable income of the middle class, which allowed them to imitate the upper class traditions of “seeing the world.” It also depended on increased access to low-cost transportation powered by fossil fuels. The first middle class tourists traveled on steam ships and then trains and automobiles. MacCannell and other also noted that by the mid-20th-century tourism offered chance for the middle class temporarily to shake off the stability of suburban life for travel and adventure.

Today, tourism continues to offer the same element of escape, although it remains closely tied to oil. In most cases, lower price of oil makes travel more affordable and, in the right circumstances, strengthens industrial and post-industrial economies inspiring consumer confidence. At the same time, oil presents certain challenges for tourism. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, for example, had a negative impact on tourism along the Gulf Coast of Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, and the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska hurt that states tourism economy. While tourism to the Bakken has a tiny economic impact on the region, the steep decline in the price of oil over the course of 2015 has driven down occupancy rates in hotels and pushed out more marginal businesses serving short term oil patch workers. All this is to show that the relationship between oil and travel, tourism, and local economies is both complex and significant.

The interdependence of tourism and oil has not deterred the development of certain kinds of socially-conscious tourism. Tourists can now go on trips built around critiques of colonial practices, tour sites of catastrophic environmental pollution, and visit slums in order to appreciate the social, economic, and environmental costs of the modern world. This kind of tourism echoes the growing interest in recent past in the field of archaeology. While most people imagine that archaeologists are focused on the cities, temples, and tombs of distant antiquity, over the past twenty years, archaeology has also become more willing to study sites and to address questions of immediate social and political significance to living communities. For example, archaeologists used material culture to revise histories of colonialism, demonstrate resistance to political and economic forms of domination, and to collaborate with communities to develop skills, economic opportunities, and new historical narratives. In Western Europe and North America, archaeological attention to industrial sites and entire landscapes has brought to light not only a history of corporate innovation and profits, but also the experience of workers and families who supported the the growth of the industrial economy (Petrocultures Research Group 2016; Mitchell ). Our tourist guide seeks to bridge the gap between the distinctly modern experiences of tourism and the understanding of an industrial landscape both by commemorating significant sites throughout the Bakken and by offering the tourist a way to experience some of the changing character and hectic pace of the Bakken landscape first hand. In short, the presentation of the Bakken as a tourist guide allowed this work to serve the archaeological purpose of documenting an industrial landscape as well as contributing to a growing interest in socially aware tourism.

Our goal with this book, then, was to produce a practical guide suitable for the needs of a range of visitors to the Bakken ranging from industrial tourists, journalists, scholars, photographers, industry outsiders, and to document the bustling activities in the Bakken in an archaeologically sophisticated way. To accomplish this, we employed the concept of historical and archaeological landscapes. Archaeologists and historians have increasingly used the concept of landscape as a way to describe the interaction of the natural environment, man-made sites, movable objects, and people on a regional scale (Johnson 2007). By presenting the Bakken as a landscape, we locate the various activities potentially encountered by tourists as part of a unified whole. In this way, the Bakken landscape includes big picture features such as the topography and geology of the region as well as more ephemeral activities, like buying Cinnabons at the truck stop at 13-Mile Corner, moveable objects, like trucks, drill rigs, and frack tanks, and individuals that contribute to making this region a distinct place. In fact, some of the most intriguing tensions in the Bakken come from juxtaposing the natural world, long-standing sites in the area, and the short-term changes of the Bakken. Rolling hills, badlands, rivers, and once-abandoned towns frame oil-related activities, temporary settlements, and fleeting encounters with the always changing cast of characters who make their home in the Bakken. This landscape also tries to create space both for nature and historic actors as well as oil company executives, long-time residents, pipeliners, researching scholars, and frack truck drivers. Thus, our notion of the landscape represents both the physical space of the Bakken as well as all the various attitudes and activities taking place there.

Digital Analytics at ASOR in 2016

It’s ASOR (American School of Oriental Research) abstract time for most dedicated ASORdlers (attendees of the ASOR annual meeting). Like last year, I’ve been invited to participate in a workshop on object biography despite my ambivalence toward the concept. This year, we were given a handful of objects and asked to pick one and write some kind of biography for it. 


I don’t know what the objects are or where they were found, but there is no doubt that they are fantastic examples of … something. So I got to thinking about how I would write about objects with which I am completely unfamiliar. I decided to do something mildly satirical, futuristic(al), and fun that imagines how one of these objects came to be discovered and documented. In that way, I’d give the object some digital context befitting the 21st century.

Here’s my abstract:

Excavating in the 21st Century

The object under consideration for this workshop is of less inherent interest to me than the technological processes necessary for it to enter the archaeological context; as a result, I will focus on the dense network relationships led to this objects *inventio*. Because of the remote and unstable location of the objects penultimate deposition, it was uncovered using remote, automated excavation equipment. The primary tool was the Mini-Rathje Remote Excavator (TM) running a prototype of Binford (TM) 2.0 software. This device provides continuous, near-nano-stratigraphic, excavation and on-site, realtime, multispectral and XRF recording of both natural clast and cultural artifacts as well as conventional high-resolution photography and sub-micrometer 3D laser scanning. Data from the excavator was uploaded to a private, geostationary, Cohen Class Fallen Robin (TM) satellite positioned both to ensure continuous communication with the remote excavator and to provide sub-nanometer geospatial accuracy. When sensitive contexts were encountered, we cooperated with the USAF 183rd Archaeological Drone Wing from Grand Forks Air Force Base. Pilots stationed in secure locations around the world deployed Global Tourist Class drones which enabled us to collect realtime aerial photographs and LiDAR imaging. A proprietary suite of software on our CenterTel PowerScreen II (TM) tablets allowed all data collectors to communicate in realtime with our remote base on a repurposed Russian Ekranoplan. Most of the technologies deployed during the excavation remains proprietary, but we feel that our project offers a model of remote, digital analytic excavation for the 21st century.