It’s only been a year since The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota published Punk Archaeology. Since that time I haven’t given it much thought. In fact, I’ve relied on the relentless enthusiasm and energy of Andrew Reinhard to carry the punk archaeology touch forward toward new frontiers.
For some reason, I offered to give a lecture on punk archaeology in a couple of weeks at the University of Minnesota – Duluth in conjunction with a showing of the Atari: Game Over documentary. Fortunately, I’ve only been asked to give a 15 or 20 minute talk and to keep it informal, breezy, and accessible. This is good because I’m a bit at a loss for what to say.
I titled the talk: “The A, B, Cs of Punk Archaeology” and figured I’d talk about some of my work in the C(orinthia), the B(akken), and with the A(tari) project. So I have case studies, but I feel like I need to frame these case studies in a more meaningful and substantial way.
In the eponymous edited volume, I noted that Punk Archaeology did five things: (1) It was reflective (and reflexive), (2) embraced the DIY, (3) expressed a commitment to place, (4) embraced destruction as a creative process, and (5) was spontaneous. As I look back, though, I wonder how many of these things could be said for most archaeology. What makes these things worthy of a distinct definition?
In addition to the five dubious characteristics of punk archaeology, I got to think about three additional aspects of punk. First, I am becoming increasingly interested in thinking about archaeology as socially responsible practice. Our work in the Bakken has convinced me that the tools developed through archaeology can collect data that informs policy as well as documents our encounter with the contemporary world. Related to this is the interest of punk archaeology in the contemporary world. Punk rock merged traditional music forms (pop music, folk music, even the venerable waltz) with contemporary instruments, concerns, and observations. Archaeology can do the same. Finally, I think punk archaeology has a particular concern for archaeological practice that extends from the edge of the trench or the survey unit to the publication process. Since the publication of Punk Archaeology, I’ve begun to think more about how the systems we use to collect, analyze, and publish archaeological evidence (and arguments) and wonder whether we can be more critical of these practices and be more open to experimentation.
To return to my presentation for Duluth, I think I’ll start with a brief overview of the history of punk archaeology, “from Kourelis and Caraher to Reinhard,” with a brief stop in the Corinthia and my work with David Pettegrew (a proto-punk archaeologist if there ever was one) at the 20th century site of Lakka Skoutara. Here we confronted issues like the abundance of contemporary material, a site where rapid and constant changes occurred, and the presence of living memories at the site. These all required that we adapt our archaeological training to address the challenges of this site.
Without a doubt, my experiences at Lakka Skoutara in the Corinthia shaped my work on temporary housing in the Bakken where we were similarly confronted with a contemporary, dynamic, and hyper-abundant landscape. In the Bakken I also came to recognize that the practice of archaeology mattered to the communities and people who we were working to document. People in the Bakken boom recognized that it was a historical moment for the region, and saw in our efforts to understand and document it, affirmation that people cared about their experiences. This motivated us to work toward publishing the results of our work in the Bakken in free and open access (as much as this is possible) forms.
Finally, there’s Atari. Not only do our efforts represent an effort to deal with hyper-abundance of the modern world, but also the explicitly performative character of punk archaeological work. We were simultaneously props for the films directors and researchers attempting to glean as much archaeological information as possible from the experience. This dual role of archaeologist and performer makes the performative element of our discipline explicit and situates our work both as archaeology of the contemporary world and within the contemporary world.
Now to transform this into a breezy and entertaining PowerPointer…