Next month, I’m slated to give a crazy paper at the American Schools of Oriental Research annual meeting. My paper imagines archaeology in a near future where drones, autonomous robots, and 3D scanning technologies make it possible to systematically document sites remotely and to relay the results to archaeologists aboard a repurposed Russian Ekranoplan.
Fortunately, the paper only needs to be 5 minutes long.
This week, I finished reading Bill Brown’s Other Things which included a chapter that considered object’s in Philip K. Dick novels. Brown used Dick’s novels to explore the concept of authenticity in a modern world increasingly filled with perfect, mass-produced, objects. For Dick, the tension between perfect commodified forms and imperfect authentic objects which sometimes appear in the form of a clay pot or the work of the potter offers a glimpse of a modernist utopia that could emerge from the austere perfection of the commodified present. In some ways, Dick looks forward to the gritty world of Gibsonian cyberpunk which is cluttered with objects (for Dick “kipple”) that appears to reproduce when no one is around.
It seems to me that archaeological objects have similar characteristics. Their authenticity is wrapped up in their imperfection and the interplay between their ragged incompleteness set against the slick reconstructions of digitally mediated surrogates. In my fantasy, archaeologists use our rapidly expanding digital tool kit to document, recover (and save) endangered and hard to access sites by producing digital data that scholars can use to reconstruct the archaeological contexts without the risk, dust, or ambiguity. The digital world represents an alternate view of the unexcavated site.
These ideas are obviously rough and speculative, but I just got a box of Philip K. Dick books to work them out more fully. So, stay tuned.