Late Antique and Byzantine Anatolia

Last week I worked my way through John Haldon, Hugh Elton, James Newhard, Archaeology and Urban Settlement in Late Roman and Byzantine Anatolia: Euchaïta-Avkat-Beyözü and its Environment (Cambridge 2018) in preparation for my annual trek to the Eastern Mediterranean for field work. As the major field seasons for the survey phase of the Western Argolid Regional Project have concluded, we have begun to think more about what we need to do to publish our results. While I have tended to focus on the sherds on the ground (and in the project’s GIS), Haldon et al. reminded me that there was much more than just field data to producing a significant regional study. 

I don’t really write reviews here, but here are four or five thoughts on the book:

1. Low Density and Limited Collection. The area around Euchaïta-Avkat-Beyözü produced very few sherds and even fewer that were diagnostic. Moreover, they could only collect sherds from the Roman period and later, and this created a particularly challenging relationship between their study assemblages and the distribution of material on the ground. James Newhard’s clever methods for smoothing ceramic densities over different sized units, different surface conditions, and different visibilities provided a foundation for interpreting the assemblages collected and studied from the survey area. 

A bit less clear was the relationship between these artifact densities and the kinds of sites that the project asserted existed in the landscape. It was a bit hard to understand the difference between an independent structure, house, farmstead, and watchtower, for example, in the text itself, but the detailed discussion of these functional categories appeared in a later appendix. I’m still not entirely sold on this method of creating sites, but there is something compelling about the complexity of the historical, landscape, and archaeological variables considered in site definition.    

2. Climate and the Environment. I tend to look at the surface and artifacts when I think about archaeology. In a pinch, I’ll think about a building or a strata. I rarely step far enough away from the artifactual landscape to think clearly about the environment and climate as important factors in understanding how people in the past lived in their world. This is obviously a blind spot in my research focus, and as I extend my interests into more recent periods, the pressing realities of climate change, for example, and our adaptation to the changing environment in the last 50 years, has nudged me to expand how I think about the archaeological universes that I study.

Archaeology and Urban Settlement demonstrated the potential of a careful study of the ancient environment at a regional scale for understanding the development of settlement, agriculture, and land use in their region. Interestingly, their study area had rather few opportunities for sampling pollen or other scientific approaches to studying paleoenvironmental variable. Nevertheless, the team was able to draw one evidence from Ancient, Medieval and Early Modern texts as well as modern agricultural and climate date to model the ancient environment in useful ways. They demonstrated that the landscape around Avkat was not unproductive, but as relatively marginal in antiquity as it was in the 21st century with most communities surviving on the cultivation of cereals and pastoralism. Climate change appears to be just one of the variable that shaped changes in agricultural practice, settlement and life in the area. 

3. Roads and Routes. In the Western Argolid, we think constantly about roads and routes through our survey area. In fact, travel through the Inachos valley and its relationship both to neighboring Arcadia and Corinthia as well as the Argive plain to the east, was part of the original plan for the survey project from the onset. So far, we’ve written a few papers that attempted to understand settlement and movement in our landscape and have thought about the relationship between water, routes, bridges, and churches. In general, we have not used least-cost path kinds of analysis, in part because we have some ethnographic and archaeological information on movement through the valley, and in part, because the flat or gently sloping Inachos River valley bottom exerts a strong pull on any path through the area. As a result, we’ve leaned a bit more heavily on cultural factors on movement through the valley, and considered the ways and reasons for which known routes defy least-cost expectations to avoid crops and fields, to follow the line of an aqueduct, or to pass close or far from settlements.

 Archaeology and Urban Settlement does a nice job integrating historical and topographic information into mapping movement in their survey area. This not only provides context for the relationship between sites and routes, but also demonstrates the tension between persistent major routes that shaped the significance of major settlements in the region and the dynamism of smaller routes that linked settlements to their fields or rural sites to other rural sites. While such temporal variability across the landscape is hardly surprising, it is worth noting the trans regional movement on major routes likely represented a less common and regular kind of movement in a landscape. The permeability of the countryside, in contrast, might have reflected myriad, changing smaller routes that accommodated more regular traffic on a daily basis. 

4. Foodways and Ceramics. One of the more intriguing sections of the volume was Joanita Vroom’s chapter of Byzantine foodways and ceramics. Because the local ceramic typologies were relatively poorly know, it was rather difficult to identify and date the surface assemblages. Rather than create an unmoored typology or speculate too wildly on potential economic or social links between the ceramics present in the survey area and potential production sites, Vroom focused on the evidence for Byzantine foodways in the region. By compiling evidence for food, trade, and the related vessels need to provide sustenance to communities who lived in the region.

On the one hand, there is little that is specifically related to the region around Avkat, but, on the other hand, her chapter continued her effort to redefine the study of ceramics from the vessels themselves to their role in the everyday life of Late Roman and Byzantine communities. When this attention to foodways intersects with routes through the area, paleoclimate studies, and agricultural history and ethnoarchaeology, and, of course, excavated and survey ceramics, I can imagine an opportunity to connect the broadly general with the individual at the scale of the landscape, and this is an exciting proposition. 

5. Publishing Data. One particularly intriguing element of the book is that most of the maps and many images were published digitally via Open Context rather than printed in the book itself. This is useful for the digital book, where, if you’re on wifi, the image is just a click away. I was reading on my iPad, on a flight, so I lost a bit of that convenience, but back at my laptop everything worked fine. I imagine that for a reader of the paper book, this would be a bit more inconvenient. 

More promising still is the prospect that the project will publish its full datasets on Open Context in the future.  


Slow Archaeology and Privilege

This weekend, during a useful conversation about slow data and slow archaeology, Shawn Graham tweeted that he felt that slow data still evoked privilege and that “to be slow depends on a whole bunch of people hustling as fast as they can.”

Shawn’s a smart and thoughtful guy, and this conversation about speed in archaeology and privilege in archaeological practice is an important one. In fact, the more I thought about Shawn’s critique, the more I realized various facets of slow as privilege have appeared in conversations that I’ve had with any number of colleagues and collaborators over the past few years. In light of that that, I thought that maybe I should write up a blog post on it, in the hope that folks respond, clarify, and nuance what we mean when we talk about slow practices in archaeology. This isn’t meant to challenge Shawn’s critique, but to offer a counter point in the hope of starting a conversation.

I tend to see slow archaeology on a continuum.

1. Slow as Privilege. On the one end of this continuum, the slow movement represents a conscious rejection of “the cult of speed” that is so often associated with the modern world and our use of technology. The close relationship between technology and claims to efficiency is a hallmark of our accelerating present. There is no doubt, of course, that speed has democratized the flow of information. We now have access to more books, articles, and datasets than ever before. Big data (or at least large data) has solved problems (and allowed us to photograph a black hole!). Technology has streamlined archaeology and allowed field projects to produce more accurate, nuanced, and precise datasets and made it possible to share trenches, survey units, artifacts, assemblages, and buildings with collaborators almost instantly. These are good an important things and I have benefited directly from all of these changes in practice. 

Slow archaeology, of course, can present a challenge both to how we produce archaeological information and the kind of archaeological information that we produce. For a recent small project, I kept notes in field notebook rather than on my laptop. These notes are harder to share with other people, more difficult to organize into standardize datasets, and resist efforts to render them interoperable with other forms of information collected by the project. For example, its hard to link my notes to photographs or video taken by the project or with spatial data. To make this happen, someone (probably me) will have to hustle and produce a concordance and at very least scan the notebook pages (and probably transcribe them). In effect, my decision to use the archaic practice of a handwritten field notebook has made my data less accessible and less useful to analysis at scale. This was an unapologetic act of privilege; it was my project, my research questions, and those shaped my field practices. 

At the same time, I do recognize that my notes now represent the best record of two buildings on campus that were destroyed. I have effectively gained possession of these building, their material history, and at least part of their memory by my slow practices. Whatever benefit that I gained by taking notes by hand, it was only a benefit to me (and indirectly to my students with whom I shared my observations verbally during our work). In some sense, my insistence on slow practice abused the opportunities of access and the luxury of time to conduct field work. In the end, whatever I learned by slowing down and taking handwritten notes came at a cost. To balance the cost of this process with the benefits to the community, I’ll have to make my notes not only available but accessible. This is slow archaeology as privilege. 

2. Slow as Process. I regularly tell my students that the “perfect is the enemy of the good” by which I mean that you can spend a good bit of time trying to perfect an assignment to very little benefit in terms of grades or learning. After all, there’s nothing higher than an “A” and time and energy are finite resources. 

For me, slow work often involves writing and reading. A few times a year, I read something really hard. It might be a novel or a book that draws on a complex and densely articulated theoretical apparatus. I’m not good at “the theory” nor am I good at reading and understanding fiction.

I do it anyway and it is a sign of privilege.

A book that takes me a month to read and digest means that three or four other books aren’t read. Time that I spend with fiction and poetry – especially in my capacity as the editor of North Dakota Quarterly –  is time that I’m not spending with archaeological literature not to mention writing and analyzing archaeological data. 

I’m not suggesting that all data analysis is somehow “fast” or less demanding intellectually or practically, but like writing and reading, some texts and tasks are inherently faster than others. Writing a dense and thoughtful and challenging argument should take more time than a formulaic site report. This is not a value judgement. The former could be an ephemeral meditation on the theory du jour, whereas a careful site report might produce new knowledge for generations.  A slow laborious argument might, in fact, be gibberish and reading a complicated and demanding text may produce very little real knowledge. Slow work entails a risk and a commitment to processes that are not easily mediated through technology. Slow writing and reading is painful. As such, we always need to question whether we should read a book or article, apply a theory, or commit to writing a demanding or complex sentence, paragraph, or text. 

A classic example of this kind of slow work comes in the form of analyzing legacy projects. Reading notebooks, building stratigraphic and chronological relationships, and extracting meaning from tangled and often problematic bodies of data is a kind of slow practice. While there is no guarantee that a new excavation or survey will early produce significant new knowledge, a project starting with a blank slate presents a better opportunity to implement more efficient ways to acquire, organize, and analyze archaeological information. Other people’s data introduces other people’s problems.    

To be clear, fast archaeology, fast reading, and fast writing are not necessarily easier or more efficient, but they are grounded in practices that recognize efficiency as a desirable outcome of the process that produce new archaeological knowledge as a result. Spending hours checking formatting on a bibliography might be oddly satisfying, but it only rarely transforms the meaning or value of a text (although see here…). Spinning dense and theoretical texts, reading novels and critical works, and working through legacy data is slow practice, but, the cost benefit for this kind of work remains a bit hard to assess. It is hard to deny that there is something satisfying from recovering data from a challenging past excavation, understanding the complexities of theory, or composing a clever argument, but the value of this work for the larger project of archaeology is less clear. The pursuit of the personally perfect might well alienate the greater good. At the same time, it’s hard to deny the value of wading through hard prose or legacy data.

3. Slow as Value. If slow practices do have value outside the realm of personal privilege, it most certainly exists as a way to recognize the value of work in communities that do not have our level of access to technology and accelerated modernity. At a conference a few years ago, a participant quipped that if you didn’t have the resources to afford digital tools – like iPad and the like – for the field, perhaps you don’t have the resources to conduct good archaeology. To be clear, the participant made this comment off the cuff to stimulate debate rather than as a pointed critique.

At the same time, it is now a common requirement in most grants that projects have data plans. This requirements make clear that digital tools and techniques are increasingly baked into the very fabric of archaeology. Digital practices, however, cost money. Producing and archiving data costs money. And, digital approaches are frequently embedded in particularly methodological and theoretical perspectives. These methods and theories, however, are no more universal than the resources necessary to support their implementation. A small salvage project might use paper notebooks. Forms of indigenous archaeology might employ practices that resist efficient, public, and streamlined recording (e.g. the culturally sensitive practices associated with the excavation of human remains). These practices are not intentionally “slow” in the way that I used a paper notebook to document buildings on UND’s campus, but they share with slow a kind of resistance to accelerated modern practices.

Of course, Shawn is right that extracting data from these kinds of projects will require more hustle, but this kind of slow practice doesn’t map as easily onto the landscape of privilege. In fact, we should recognize that digital tools and their complicity in creating our modern desire for efficiency, interoperability, and transparency represent privilege as well in many part of the world. A slow archaeology can contribute to a decolonial archaeology, indigenous archaeology, and an anti-modern archaeology that expands the access to sophisticated tools for documenting our material past that are not bound up in the commodified, capitalist, and colonial practices of contemporary technology. 


To be completely honest, my slow practices drift back and forth across this continuum (as my recent article in the EJA probably demonstrates; go here for a preprint). I can be slow because I’m a guy, in a tenured position, who is reasonably well compensates. I don’t often work in front of the bulldozer or need to top off my CV to keep my career afloat. I can indulge in bogging down (as may many slow and stalled projects demonstrate), I can destroy the adequate or even good (enough) in a flailing pursuit of the impossible. I often indulge in process without immediate regard for product.

That being said, I also think that slow practices remain valuable. They allow us to engage difficult texts, articulate complex ideas, and reclaim discarded or marginal information. They also push us to recognize the intersectionality of privilege. What might be a concession to an accelerating world in one situation, might be an aspirational or even inappropriate use of technology in another. Slow archaeology provides a space to critique our own practices and to consider their limits.  

Coda: Flow in Collaborative Digital Publishing in Archaeology:

I’m in friendly, if grey, Buffalo, New York this morning at the 12th annual IEMA conference, “Critical Archaeology in the Digital Age.” On Thursday, I posted a draft of my paper, “Collaborative Digital Publishing in Archaeology,” and since then I’ve received some really useful feedback on it. So I’m going to add a coda to my paper.

Here’s that coda (or a draft of it):


There’s a coda to this paper.

My presentation here suggests, in some ways, that workflows – or flow in general – is uni-directional. Flow somehow starts in the field and concludes in publication. I worry that this linear view of workflow suggests that conviviality can serve progress.

This has practical and intellectual implications, of course. We know, for example, that data gains meaning from context and contexts and relationships between data sets constantly change as new data is introduced. Our interest in workflow produces a fluid data that pools but briefly in any one place. Academically, we understand that a book or report is never really the final word on a site or a project, but rather just a stage in the movement of archaeological knowledge. At the same time, we continue to regard the final report as a stable, complete entity and the culmination of the archaeological assembly line. 

The linear progress of archaeological work supports the modern and progressive foundations of archaeological knowledge making, but as data and work become increasingly fluid, there is no reason why our idea of publication should not represent the eddying, recursive flow of knowledge. The untethering of work, data, analysis, and meaning from the linear narrative offers new models representing the dividualted and always tentative character of archaeological knowledge.

In this model, the publisher does more than just usher the manuscript through the final stage of the knowledge making process, but works alongside the archaeologist from the very start of a project and continues to share responsibility for the archaeological knowledge that the project continues to produce into the future.  

Of course, realizing this kind of collaboration in practice is difficult to imagine and fraught with practical concerns from sustainable economic models to redefining areas of expertise and responsibility in production, dissemination, and curation (not to mention area and subject knowledge). For the dividuated 21st century academic, this process is already taking place with a range of positive and problematic consequences that range from the “uberfication” of academic life to our increasingly connected and dynamic transnational networks. I remain hopeful, however, that a convivial approach to knowledge making remains possible.

Collaborative Digital Publishing in Archaeology: Data, Workflows, and Books in the Age of Logistics

This weekend I’m off to the Institute for European and Mediterranean Archaeology’s annual conference. This year, the conference is “Critical Archaeology in the Digital Age,” and my paper is on collaborative publishing in archaeology. The conference line up looks great and if my last IEMA conference was any indication, I expect that the event will be first class all the way around.  

This is essentially the first time that I’ve formally presented a paper on publishing archaeology from my perspective as a publisher. The paper will focus on the work of the Digital Press at the University of North Dakota and continue with some of the ideas that I started to develop in my paper that will appear in the European Journal of Archaeology later this year

It’s kind of nerve-wracking to slowly feel my way forward in this area. Not only is the bibliography vast and largely unfamiliar to me, but I feel like much of what I say is either fairly familiar to folks who think consistently about digital practices broadly or just sort of slightly off. My hope is that presenting some of my first thoughts will sharpen how I understand the relationship between publishing and archaeology in an age increasingly shaped by the social and professional expectations of digital practice. 

Here’s a link to download the paper.

IEMA TALK 2019 FirstSlide

Two Article Tuesday: Cold War and Alienation and Agency in Historical Excavations

One of the great things about the long, slow slide into the summer is the alternation between frantically working on projects that must be finished before field season starts and the aimlessness of the final month of the spring semester when there are too many distraction to start a major project and too much time to just fritter a month away. As a result, I tend to try to catch up on article reading. 

Yesterday afternoon, I read Grzegorz Kiarszys’s “The destroyer of worlds hidden in the forest: Cold War nuclear warhead sites in Poland” from Antiquity 93 (2019), 236-255. The article documents several Soviet Cold War tactical nuclear warhead storage sites in Poland. The Soviets designed these bases to house warheads, missiles, and the trucks on which they’d be launched and transported. They usually consist of several hardened bunkers and then a range of barracks, garages, trenches, control points, and even recreational facilities associated with the soldiers stationed there. Kiarszys argues that documenting even very recent military bases poses certain challenges. First, these bases have left only a fragmentary documentary record based on declassified satellite photos and documents declassified from Polish and Soviet archives. It’s a good reminder that places and spaces from the recent past are not necessarily better known than those from antiquity. In fact, political, economic, and military imperatives often work intentionally to obscure landscapes, objects, and relationships “on the ground.” By

Second, Kiarszys makes clear that military bases are constantly in flux leaving behind a palimpsest of past interventions. As a result bases represent assemblages that are both diachronic and contemporary in character and demonstrate how the pace of change in the modern world creates complex archaeological objects that defy typical archaeological efforts to assign phases or order in time. The preservation of at least one fo the hardened bunkers as a museum only and the looted and deteriorating state of the other bunkers only makes the dynamic character of military installations more obvious. 

Finally, there is something particularly global about an archaeology of the Cold War that reflects the scope of that conflict and the reach of modernity. The sites in the forests of Poland detected by American satellites and documented in Soviet archival documents further complicates how knowledge of the modern world is a global project. 

I also read and benefited from Alison Mickel’s “Essential Excavation Experts: Alienation and Agency in the History of Archaeological Labor,” Archaeologies (2019). She offers a subtle and compelling reading of the alienation of labor in two 19th century contexts, Giovanni Battista Belzoni excavation in Egypt and Sir Austen Henry Layard excavations at Ur. Her article argues that while both excavators relied on local labor to excavate their sites, the local workers engaged in archaeological work in different ways. While Mickel argues that both projects alienated the labor of local workers, she stressed that the responses to this alienation differed. The workers in Egypt, for example, attempted to resist by violence or by strategic indolence. Layard, in contrast, developed the specialized expertise of his labor force and while he claimed the fruit of their work – in the antiquities and prestige associated with the excavation – they resisted by deploying their hard earned knowledge on other projects for further gain. 

Mickel argues that the different responses to the alienation of labor by these 19th century projects shaped the kind of the knowledge that these project produced. More than that, the variation between these two projects reveals the range of strategies employed by local communities and workers across the Middle East and suggest that a greater attentiveness to the relationship between the archaeological labor and knowledge not only will contribute to decolonizing the discipline, but also allow for new and more critical reading of archaeological work more broadly.

Particularly useful for my work are Mickel’s arguments that mid-19th century archaeology in the Middle and Near East did not universally rely on a Fordist (or Talyorist) models of organization in large part because the investment in the workforce not tied at all to their being able to consume the products of their labor. Moreover, Middle Eastern archaeology did not scrutinize the techniques and methods of archaeological laborers in the scientific or rigorous ways implied by Taylorism and scientific management practices, but instead relied on local practices. I more or less accept these assessments, but might suggest that over the course of the 20th century, particularly with the rise of New Archaeology, commercial archaeology in Western Europe and the U.S., and the growing discourse of methodology, field technics and practices have received more attention with a particular interest in improving the efficiency and accuracy of recording and recovery. 

Continuity and Discontinuity: Rome and Greece

This weekend I read a couple of cool recent articles on Roman Greece: Anna Kouremenos “Ρωμαιοκρατια ≠ Roman Occupation: (Mis)perceptions of the Roman Period in Greece” in Greece and Rome 66.1 (2019) and Sarah James’s “The South Stoa at Corinth: New Evidence and Interpretations” in Hesperia 88.1 (2019).

Kouremenos’s article looks at how museums, in particular, depict the Romaiokratia or the Roman period in Greece and suggests that not only does this run counter to prevailing scholt early attitudes toward the Roman period in the East (and Greece), but it reflects an approach deeply rooted in the Greek national narrative that understands it as yet another imposed discontinuity between the modern and the Classical era. James’s article is more technical and presents the results of her excavations in 2015 beneath a Roman period mosaic floor at the South Stoa at Corinth. These excavations produce more evidence for the dating of the South Stoa as well as the phases of activity in this area more broadly.

The issue of continuity and discontinuity remains a topic of fascination for archaeologists and historians alike. The notion that the Roman period, in some way, marks a break in continuity in Greek history has deep roots in both national narratives of Greek history as well as archaeological narratives that sought to distinguish the Greek from the Roman and inscribe value judgements on the two periods.

Kouremenos’s article demonstrates how this discontinuity has shaped national narratives (and vice versa) where continuity with a pre-national past serves to define the character and potential of the national community. James’s article offers a more detailed and site specific approach. She notes that the Roman period mosaic far from destroying or producing discontinuity with the Greek past of the South Stoa, actually preserved Greek levels beneath it. At the same time, the construction of the South Stoa and the careful layering of floor packing and subfloor preserved evidence for earlier, pre-South Stoa, activity at the site. More than that, James suggested an alternate explanation for what appeared to have been evidence for the burning of the South Stoa during the Roman sack of the city in 146. The blackened roof tiles might have been caused by their proximity to iron nails and water in post-depositional contexts rather than the destructive fire caused by the Romans. 

To be clear, the goal of James’s article was not to argue for continuity or discontinuity on a grand scale but to provide a nuanced analysis of the history of a well-known building using new evidence. At the same time, her work offers a compelling way to think about the interplay between archaeological evidence and historical arguments. The persistence of aspects of the Greek phases of the stoa into the Roman period and the interplay between the Roman mosaic floor’s preservation and the earlier levels beneath are reminiscent of Shannon Lee Dawdy’s interpretation of the relationship between the destroyed and buried “House of the Rising Sun” hotel in New Orleans and a later parking lot. The sinking and relatively uncompacted levels of the destroyed 19th century hotel caused drainage and subsidence problems with the 20th century parking lot. The parking lot and its infamous predecessor might appear offer a model of discontinuity in site function and significance, but the former continued to exert its influence over the latter. In the same way, the interplay between the Roman mosaic floor and earlier construction phases in the South Stoa effectively made the Greek period visible and made possible arguments for continuity between the Greek present and pre-Roman periods. In other words, the Roman past whatever discontinuity it provides narrative of Greek identity plays a key role in this case in allowing those arguments to occur.

Assemblages, broadly construed, do strange things with time. They make both discontinuity and continuity visible and possible. While we tend to define assemblages in archaeology according to depositional context, it is clear at sites like the South Stoa that the sequence and character of deposition is deeply embedded within earlier and later activities at the site. The residual character of earlier period material in the South Stoa assemblages and the role of later periods including the early 20th-century valuation of a Roman mosaic produced conditions in which arguments for time are possible. Whatever distain exists for the Roman period material in the popular Greek imagination, this material often preserves traces of earlier periods. The chronological continuity of archaeological and depositional time (exemplified by the clunky utility of the Harris Matrix) complicates and provides a foundation for cultural arguments for discontinuity. 

A Book Proposal: Archaeology and History at North Dakota’s Wesley College

This weekend, I finished reading Alfredo González-Ruibal’s new book, An Archaeology of the Contemporary Era (2019). It is an an exhaustive survey of recent trends in the archaeology of the contemporary that does not shy away from advancing its own interpretative and political agenda. This makes sense since the archaeology of the contemporary emerged from a kind of political engagement with the material present.

González-Ruibal’s book also motivated me to think about both my book on the archaeology of the American experience and one particular lingering project: the Wesley College Documentation Project. This was a eight-week long project that used photography and video, thick description, archival work, performances, and collaborative imagining to understand the history, abandonment, and final months of four buildings associated with Wesley College in Grand Forks, North Dakota. 

This project haunts me, and not just me, my colleague Mike Wittgraf is working on a mixed-media piece that derived from recordings that we did in Corwin Hall, my student-collaborators have approached me about continuing work on the project, and I feel like some of the ideas that I developed during that project cut across a bunch of my current projects – from thoughts on austerity to understanding the life of buildings and technology, to the concept of the contemporary. 

Last semester, I started to write up some of the work we did at this project and before too long, I had about 17,000 words in a document. The words included descriptions of individual rooms:

Larimore Hall, Room 136
9.5 x 14

Description and History: This room was originally the northern part of Room 13 which was probably the waiting room of Larimore Hall where guests could wait for their friends living in this dormitory under the watchful eye of the matron. The east and west walls are original. Access to the room comes through a door with a transom window and a granite threshold in the west wall. The south wall of the room has an observation window and it dry wall. This wall does not appear on the early-1970s one-line plan or the 1979 plan.

In its final phase room 136 extended into Room 15 (on the 1979 plans and the one-lines from the early 1970s). Room 15 was a bathroom and with the removal of the drop ceiling, the changes to structure are visible with the ceiling above the bathroom striped of plaster and pipes from the upstairs bathroom visible.The north wall is largely original except for a 7 ft x 1 ft bump out added to accommodate the plumbing from the adjacent bathroom.


Of course, we didn’t prepare similarly detailed description of each space within the Wesley College buildings, but we documented enough of the buildings to provide high resolution windows that expose the dynamism of these buildings over time. I prepared annotated illustrations of each of the floors.

Sayre 1st floor drawings  2

We also prepared inventories of the stuff that was left behind in these buildings, which still need to be transcribed, and prepared studies of certain classes of artifacts like desks.

IMG 0735

IMG 0729

IMG 0756

IMG 0771

It also includes synthetic histories of each of the architecture and use of each building and of Wesley College as an institution. 

For example: 

Sayre Hall was the earliest of the four buildings. It was funded by a gift of $25,000 by A.J. Sayre, who was born in Harvey, ND and made his fortune in Canada and on the West Coast in land, timber and other business dealings. The building was opened in 1908 as a men’s dormitory and could accommodate 65 students. In 1919, the building was renamed Harold Holden Sayre Hall after A.J. Sayre’s late son who had died in World War One. The rooms, like in its twin Larimore Hall, were two room suites that included a bed room complete with shaving sink and closet, and a living room area, which opened onto the hall. For many years, these dormitories were considered the best on campus (and even today would compare favorably with most of UND’s on campus housing). Over the course of the early 20th century served as the home for numerous well-known UND alumni including Maxwell Anderson, Aviator Carl Ben Eielson, Garth Howland who would go on to found the Art Department at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and Ralph Henry Hancock, the son of John Milton Hancock.


The larger narrative of North Dakota’s Wesley College in the history of higher education in the state and even nationally remains to be written, but having taught a course on the UND budget and the history of higher education, I think this would be fairly easy to prepare. 

As part of this work, I also combed the documents preserved in UND’s Department of Special Collections, and I pulled together the letter written by then President-Emeritus Edward Robertson in 1935 to raise money for Wesley College during the Great Depression. You can download a private “alpha” version of this book here.

This range of material offers a view of perspectives on the Wesley College buildings, higher education, leadership, and abandonment. My plan is not to weave these perspectives together into a coherent or synthetic narrative, however, but to model my book on the buildings themselves. By arranging the materials paratactically, the book will attempt to represent the complex times and histories of the Wesley College buildings and leave the potential narratives to understand this open and dynamic. The buildings themselves are gone, but their time remains through our documentation, through various campus and historical narratives, and through our media interventions.

I started to play with this kind of non-narrative, non-argument, presentation in my little guide to the Bakken oil patch where the structure of the tourist guide allowed for the paratactic juxtapositions of the modern and the historical, the spatial and the conceptual, and site and the landscape. 


Here’s the challenge. I could finish a draft manuscript of this book in a month or six weeks at most. The problem is that I have no idea where I should send it. It will be around 25,000 words, probably, with lots of images, documents, and, if possible, links. 

I’d prefer the press to be peer reviewed and open access, but it needn’t necessarily be the latter. 

More than that, I want a publisher that will get this kind of project and support a more, rather than less experimental approach to what I’m trying to do.

Any thoughts?

Concluding Punk Archaeology, Slow Archaeology and the Archaeology of Care

Today I need to put the final revising touches the article that I submitted a couple of months ago to the European Journal of Archaeology as part of a section on digital archaeology. You can read the original here.

One of the critiques of my paper is that the conclusion is a bit weak sauce (my language not theirs). In part, that’s by design. I don’t want to dictate how people use digital tools in their archaeological practice. The issues are complex and projects, pressures, and perspectives are diverse.

On the other hand, I do want archaeologists to think about how digital tools change the relationship between the local and the global, the individual and assemblage, and archaeological work and efficiency. I’m not sure that I communicate this very well in the conclusion, but here’s what I say:


Ellul and Illich saw the technological revolution of the 20th century as fundamentally disruptive to the creative instincts and autonomy of individuals because it falsely privileged speed and efficiency as the foundations for a better world. The development of archaeology largely followed the trajectory of technological developments in industry and continue to shape archaeological practice in the digital era. Transhuman practices in archaeology reflect both long-standing modes of organizing archaeological work according to progressive technological and industrial principles. The posthuman critique of transhumanism unpacks how we understand the transition from the enclosed space of craft and industrial practices to the more fluid and viscous space of logistics. In short, it expands the mid-century humanism of Ellul and Illich offers a cautionary perspective for 21st century archaeology as it comes to terms with the growing influence of logistics as the dominant paradigm of organizing behaviour, capital, and knowledge.

An “archaeology of care” takes cues from Illich and Ellul in considering how interaction between tools, individuals, practices, and methods shaped our discipline in both intentional and unintentional ways. If the industrial logic of the assembly line represented the ghost in the machine of 20th century archaeological practices, then logistics may well haunt archaeology in the digital age. Dividuated specialists fragment data so that it can be rearranged and redeployed globally for an increasingly seamless system designed to allow for the construction of new diachronic, transregional, and multifunctional assemblages. Each generation of digital tools allow us to shatter the integrity of the site, the link between the individual, work, and knowledge, and to redefine organization of archaeological knowledge making. These critiques, of course, are not restricted to archaeological work. Gary Hall has recognized a similar trend in higher education which he called “uberfication.” In Hall’s dystopian view of the near future of the university, data would map the most efficient connections between the skills of the individual instructors and needs of individual students at scale (Hall 2016). Like in archaeology, the analysis of this data, on the one hand, allows us to find efficient relationships across complex systems. On the other hand, uberfication produces granular network of needs and services that splinters the holistic experience of the university, integrity of departments and disciplines, and college campuses as distinctive places. This organization of practice influences the behaviour of agents to satisfy the various needs across the entire network. The data, in this arrangement, is not passive, but an active participant in the producing a viable assemblage.

Punk archaeology looked to improvised performative, do-it-yourself, and ad hoc practices in archaeological fieldwork as a space of resistance against methodologies shaped by the formal affordance of tools. Slow archaeology despite its grounding in privilege, challenges the expectations of technological efficiency and the tendency of tools not only to shape the knowledge that we make, but also the organization of work and our discipline. The awareness that tools shape the organization of work, the limits to the local, and the place of the individual in our disciple is fundamental for the establishment of an “archaeology of care“ that recognizes the human consequences of our technology, our methods, and the pasts that they create.

The Archaeology of Night Moves

This weekend I watched Arthur Penn’s neo-noir Night Moves (1975) which starred Gene Hackman, Jennifer Warren, and Susan Clark and a very young Melanie Griffith and James Woods. This post involves some spoilers, so if this movie is on your short list, maybe come back to this post after you’ve seen it.

The basic plot of the movie involves a Harry Mosley (Gene Hackman) former football player turned private eye who is retained to track down, Delly Grastner (a scandalously young Melanie Griffith), the wild 16-year old daughter an aging former b-list Hollywood starlet who had run away while seducing a series of older men.

The Delly Grastner case is a McGuffin, and in a clever inversion of the Maltese Falcon, the plot revolves around the smuggling of antiquities. Moreover, for anyone inclined to view this film with an archaeologists eye, the movie is really about time. 

Hank Mosley struggles with his own place in time. A former professional athlete, he has settled into a comfortable life as a private investigator, but his wife, who he discovers is having an affair, and buddy think he’s wasting his life, taking on dead end cases and refusing to use the latest technology to facilitate his investigations. Delly is coming of age physically and uses her sexuality to gain the attention of older men, playing out her own version of her mother’s hyper-sexualized life. In short, like Mosley, Delly is also outside of time living an adult life as a teenager.  

The two narratives of time and age culminate in the Florida Keys where Harry found Delly after tracking her from boyfriend to boyfriend from New Mexico to Florida where she had gone to be with Tom Iverson who was her step-father and his girlfriend, Paula. It turns out that Tom was in business with one of Delly’s earlier paramours. They were smuggling “Mayan” antiquities from the Yucatan to the Keys. On a night swim, Delly discovered the crashed plane with its decomposing pilot. The pilot was one of her former boyfriends but it’s unclear whether she recognized him. The encounter, however, shook Delly enough that she agreed to return to her mother with Harry. Back in Hollywood, she got her extra-card and started working in the movies, when she dies in a car accident on set. The car was driven by a Harry’s friend, Joey Ziegler. 

Harry, like many private investigators in noir and neo-noir, can’t shake the feeling that there was more than meets the eye. He returns to Florida and figures out that the crashed plane had been smuggling antiquities to Tom Iverson. Harry confronts Tom, a fight ensues, and he knocks Tom out. He and Paula then take Tom’s boat go to the submerged crash site. The final scene of the film involves Tom’s girlfriend, Paula, floating a piece of “Mayan” sculpture to the surface from the cash site. As she comes to the surface, Joey Ziegler appears in a seaplane and shoots Harry and then crashes the plane into an unsuspecting Paula. The plane comes apart on impact and sinks with Joey in it. Harry, wounded, is unable to steer the boat and can only set it to drive in circles.

As the smuggled Mayan antiquity emerges from depths, the themes of archaeology and time become obvious. The excavated antiquity floats on the surface as the plane sinks below it and the boat with its wounded investigator circles aimlessly.  

What I loved about the film is the two main character operate outside of time while the others fly above and slide below them. The smuggled artifact appears from the depths just as the plane carrying the gun toting smuggler slide beneath the surface. The ordering of time is pointless. Harry’s former gridiron glory, life as a private investigator, and heroic effort to try to redeem Delly’s life by solving the complicated crimes that surrounded her death led him nowhere but circling in the sea.  


One other note, Susan Clark plays Harry’s wife. When Harry’s shown a smuggled antiquity early in the film, he remarks that they don’t appeal to him because they remind him of Alex Karras. In the movie, this seems to be a reference to Harry’s days as a pro football player, although it’s unclear whether he played offense (in which case Karras would have been a terrifying opponent) or defense (in which case they would have rarely shared the field. Later in the film, Joey Ziegler reminisces about Harry’s interception in a game, suggesting that he played defense, but even that reference is a bit garbled.) In real life, Alex Karras had just met Susan Clark, and they would go on to marry, and it may be that Karras, who had embarked on his own career in film and television was spending time on the set. In the film, Clark’s character was having an affair, so the quip broke through the fourth wall in a way vaguely relevant to the film itself.  

Punk, Slow, and the Archaeology of Care

This weekend, I received the reviewer reports for an article that I toiled on for over 6 months. They were generous and thought provoking reports, which is basically what you want from your peer reviewers and pushed me to make some of the operating assumptions behind my call for both a slow archaeology and an archaeology of care more obvious. 

In the spirit of getting my thoughts together, I thought I’d share some of the critiques and my responses to them. As with any article, the challenge is to incorporate critiques without unbalancing the article or adding another 1000 words to an article that is already at the maximum length. At the same time, I feel like my reviewers offered honest critiques that will make my article stronger in the long run and any efforts to incorporate them will make the piece better.

So here’s what I need to work out:

1. Punk, Slow, and Archaeology of Care. One thing that the reviewers found a bit unclear is the relationship between punk archaeology, slow archaeology, and the archaeology of care. This is, in fact, something that I’ve struggled a bit with over the past few years and while I wanted to understand the development of my own thinking, I was also concerned that being too explicit about this was unnecessarily solipsistic. In the end, I need to include at least a paragraph explaining how the concepts relate. Here’s what I’d like to say (if words and length were no object):

In many ways, punk archaeology was a naive predecessor to slow archaeology. My reading of punk archaeology celebrated the performativity of archaeological practice and the do-it-yourself approaches to both in-field and interpretative problems. Adapting off-the-shelf software to archaeological purposes created subversive and critical opportunities for the discipline and pushed back against a view that structure of the tool, of process, or of method should dictate the kind of knowledge that we produce. Moreover, my interest in punk and archaeology shaped by critique of technology. The proto-cyberpunk and cyberpunk dystopias of Philip K. Dick, J.G. Ballard, William Gibson, and John Shirley informed a skeptical and and anxious reading of technology which, in turn, motivated a call for slow archaeology. Slow archaeology sought to articulate the subversive impulse in archaeological practice by aligning it with various anti-modern “slow” movements that have appeared in 21st-century popular culture (e.g. slow food). While the slow movement has endured criticism of its privileged character of the popular slow movement, these criticisms have tended to focus on the consumerist luxury of slow products, slow time, and the social, economic, and political cost of inefficiency. In response to this, I have suggested that slow practices in archaeology are not a privileged indulgence of the white, tenured, grant funded, and secure male faculty member, but part of a larger conversation in archaeology that emphasizes a more human, humane, reflexive , and inclusive discipline. My colleagues and I have described our interest in this conversation as “the archaeology of care” which seeks not only to understand how our archaeological methods, particular the use of technology in the field, shape the structure of the discipline and produce the potential for both social conditions in practice and knowledge of the past that dehumanize individuals.  

2. Transhumanism and Posthumanism. One of the things that I totally botched in my paper was understanding the complexities of trans- and post-humanism. The latter represents a rather expansive and dynamic field from Donna Harraway’s cyborgs to the bioethics of Joanna Zylinska and the assemblage theory of Manuel DeLanda. My paper doesn’t engage much with post-humanism largely because my interest and the object of my critique involved field methods, technology and social organization in the discipline. It would be superficial to argue that post-humanism doesn’t address the relationship between technology, society, and knowledge production. It does, but transhumanism more frequently foregrounds the practical relationship between digital technology and social “progress.” This has parallels with arguments within the archaeological discourse (that I cite in the article) that celebrate the potential of digital tools and practices to increase efficiency, resolution, and the dissemination of archaeological knowledge. 

I do, of course, recognize that certain strands of technological solutionism from transhumanism are relevant for an understanding of posthumanism and, perhaps more importantly, vice versa. I try to recognize this through my reference to several scholars who have been associated with posthumanist thinking (Bruno Latour, Anna Tsing, and Gilles Deleuze), but their work isn’t really the object of my critique. More than that, it would be irresponsible to attempt to critique their work (which obviously informed what I argue in my article) in 6000 words. I would do well to acknowledge this.

3. Slow and Privilege. I’m not gonna lie. This critique stung me the most. On the one hand, I can’t help but feeling that some of it represents my own failure in making the case that knowledge produced through  a“slow” approach to archaeology needn’t take longer or be incommensurate with traditional archaeological practices. And, I certainly never meant to suggest that slow practices in archaeology produced “better” or “truer” knowledge. I’d like to think that slow practices and embodied knowledge and reflective reactions to our place in the landscape, the discipline, and our work produce meaningful knowledge (and I try to show that in my little book: The Bakken: An Archaeology of an Industrial Landscape.) 

The one thing that bothers me the most is that by seeing “slow archaeology” as privileged, we are effectively normalizing the industrial methods that define mainstream “disciplinary” archaeology. On the one hand, I appreciate the argument that industrial archaeology is democratizing and part of a process of professionalizing of archaeology, by rendering the knowledge produced by archaeologists “scientific,” “impersonal” and “objective.” To my mind the impersonal nature of certain kinds of archaeological knowledge is at least partly to blame for those who obscure the work of all but a few individuals on a project (and creating a divide between data “collectors” and interpreters). In other words, the way I conceived of slow archaeology was as the basis for a less professional, but more inclusive archaeological practice. In fact, taking the time to allow for individuals to reflect on the experience of archaeological work, to inscribe their experiences in more idiosyncratic and less standardized ways, and to resist the accelerating urgency of more efficiency, more technology, and more data to my mind is a more humane and more human approach to understanding the past.