From Atari to the Argos: Mediterranean and Modern Archaeology at UND

Last month, I was prompted to write a little press statement for office of university relations at the University of North Dakota. It appeared on UND’s home page today with a little story. What made this even cooler was that my story appeared at the same time as the announcements that a paper by one of our undergraduate’s, Joe Kalka’s, had won the Merrifield Prize.

UND University of North Dakota

It’s always interesting to see how the office of university relations changes my text. Here’s the original:

Less than a month after excavating the famous Atari burial ground in Alamogordo, New Mexico, Bill Caraher traveled to the small sea-side village of Myloi, in the region of Argos, Greece to start his newest field project. The Western Argolid Regional Project is a collaboration between scholars at the University of Colorado, University of Toronto, and Wilfred Laurier University to study the archaeology of settlement and movement in a valley in the rural Greece. Caraher was invited to participate in this project as a specialist in Mediterranean archaeological survey, Geographic Information Systems, and data management.

The work in Greece is very different from his punk archaeology adventures in the New Mexico desert where he encountered a media circus surrounding the well-publicized excavation of thousands of Atari game cartridges from a landfill. The three-day dig in New Mexico attracted international media attention and even earned mention in the Grand Forks Herald.

“Being part of the team supervising and documenting the Atari dig in New Mexico was great. It gave me more first hand experience working in late-20th century archaeological contexts. This is work at the fringes of the traditional disciplinary definitions of archaeology which has tended to privilege the ancient or at least ‘really old’ artifacts.

“The Atari dig, however, can speak to us a in a very immediate way about how we live today. The rapid pace of change in contemporary world propels objects from being things we can’t live without to things that we cast aside, want hidden away from us and buried in a landfill. Archaeologists tend to study things that were, for whatever reason, cast aside, but with the Atari dig we had a chance to witness and participate in the rapid cycling of culture where something as common and popular as Atari games is desired, discarded, and, then, excavated as cultural, and historical artifact. So for us, the process of discard and discovery creates a cultural artifact, and the interest of the Smithsonian in some of the excavated games confirms the enduring importance of what we did and what it produced.”

His work in the Argolid, Greece is more consistent with what we imagine as traditional archaeological practice. The field project will focus on a valley that connected to prominent regions of the ancient world. Caraher will help manage the archaeological data both in the field and in the digital realm. He will draw upon over a decade of running his own projects on the island of Cyprus:

“Unlike the Atari dig where we basically has to combat the idea that what we were doing wasn’t archaeology because the objects and processes that we studied were so recent, work in Greece has to challenge the idea that the seemingly remote and picturesque Greek landscape has never been modern. In fact, the valley we’re studying has been a significant thoroughfare for thousands of years including today where Greece’s most modern highway runs along its north slopes. This should lead us to see the valley as unchanging over time, but to push us to understand how this region functioned in different economy regimes, political powers, social and religious systems over time. So to put it another way: by saying that the ancient is so similar to the modern, we’re observing not that the rural world of modern Greece is somehow static, but rather that we have every reason to assume that rural Greece in antiquity was every bit as dynamic as our modern age. The ceramics scattered across the surface of the ground are antiquity’s Atari cartridges and can tell us about how people lived and worked in the Classical, Hellenistic, Roman, or Medieval periods.”

The progress of the Punk Archaeology movement, his work on Greece and Cyprus, in the digital world, and all sorts of other stuff appears almost daily on his blog:

His work this summer can be followed on the hashtag #WestARP on the Twitters.

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