Punk Archaeology 2022

Tomorrow I’m giving a talk in a colleague’s class on punk archaeology. This is a nice chance to think a bit about punk archaeology again and try to find a way to articulate what it was that we were thinking to a new audience. As with so many things in archaeology and life, it’s easier to understand what punk archaeology is or was in hindsight than it was at the time, and this talk will give me a chance to pull some things together.

First, since this is a class of undergraduates many of whom will have been born in the 21st century, I think it might be useful to try to define what we meant when we thought about punk as a musical form, as a loosely defined cultural movement, and as an approach to music and life. I will do what I can to situate punk music in the post-industrial city and working class suburb and exurb and in the tumultuous economic and social transformations taking place in the post-war West. This helps, then, to make sense of the anti-consumerism that is part of the punk aesthetic, the tendency of punks to accentuate generational, ethnic, and class divides, and their general skepticism toward the new world order emerging during the Cold War. A certain tendency toward anarchism, for example, reflected a jaundiced view of the promises of democracy and capitalism (as opposed to communism, in a Cold War context) among punks who only too willing to point out the cynical limits of the political, social, and economic promises of western freedom. 

With this as a background on punk as a movement, I will then propose that punk archaeology focused on three things.

First and in the most basic way, punk archaeology is the archaeology of the punk movement and while these efforts remain in their infancy in the US, the work of guys like John Schofield in the UK who has worked on sites associated with the Sex Pistols.

In a broader sense, there is “punk adjacent” work being done on the archaeology of music venues in Detroit, at activist sites like the Burning Man festival and Occupy Wall Street, and in among the homeless who have struggled to maintain access to public space in the face of increased private interests. While none of these projects are articulated clearly as “punk archaeology” they share a growing interest in archaeology’s ability to reveal the inner workings of popular culture, to celebrate dissident and marginal groups, and to critique the reliance on economic and social inequality upon which outward expression of freedom and prosperity depends.

Second, as punk archaeology emerged from a group of scholars who primarily worked in Classical and Mediterranean archaeology. Historically, Classical archaeology was deeply invested in the larger colonial project of tracing the essential characteristic of “Western Civilization,” with all the associated assumptions of superiority. This led to a tendency to celebrate certain periods in Mediterranean archaeology – particularly the Bronze Age and “Classical Antiquity” – as well as certain kinds of materials – particularly those associated with elite and urban life. 

Those of us drawn to punk archaeology tended to have an interest in undermining this paradigm in Mediterranean archaeology (and, to be clear, we were not alone in this!). In fact, we tended to study periods that fell to the margins of the dominant interests in Classical archaeology and this contributed to our own marginal status in the discipline of Mediterranean archaeology more broadly. Thus, we envisioned punk archaeology as contributing to the larger project of critiquing the dominant paradigms and priorities in our field. 

Finally, punk archaeology had an explicitly methodological component. Punk embraced do-it-yourself practices and often rejected the ready-made solutions offered by commodified culture. Punk archaeology embraced the spirit of this by publishing our own book and developing a collaborate publishing platform (The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota), by critiquing the growing emphasis on commercial technology in archaeological practice (slow archaeology), and by celebrating ad hoc practices developed on the fly to document dynamic and active contemporary sites (North Dakota Man Camp Project). In this regard, it overlaps with community and public archaeology 

With this as a rather lengthy introduction, I thought I would then introduce four case studies that show how I’ve thought about punk archaeology in practice.

First, I’ll introduce book, Punk Archaeology, and discuss how its publication led to the founding of the open-access press,  The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota, and some reflections on the nature of publishing as part of the research process in the discipline of archaeology. 

Second, I’ll introduce slow archaeology as a methodological critique associated with punk archaeology. As readers of this blog know, slow archaeology tends to see the need for efficiency, speed, and technological innovation in archaeology as a sign of its growing dependence on private sector influences – particularly development, evidence for the modern origins of the discipline, and a certain amount of ambiguity regarding the way in which archaeological practices contribute to knowledge making.

Third, I’ll talk a bit about how the North Dakota Man Camp Project developed both as way to document the ephemeral world of an oil boom (and provide critical perspectives grounded in the material culture) as well as how our methods developed organically on the ground through interviews, photography, video, and revisits. I’ll talk a little bit about our books, some of which are open access, and one of which, The Bakken: An Archaeology of an Industrial Landscape, takes an unconventional approach to thinking about the Bakken as an archaeological site.

Finally, I’ll introduce a weird little anecdotal conclusion which looks at an archaeology of the jazz musician Sun Ra. This will consider how thinking about the intersection of music and archaeology opens the door to new ways of thinking about our past and a more expansive view of our discipline. The alternative archaeology of Sun Ra, which is easy to deride and dismiss, reflects the deft re-interpretation of early 20th century archaeological narratives, filtered through mid-century anxieties about race, the Cold War space race, and the growing commodification of popular music and culture. In this context, the study of Sun Ra from the perspective of punk archaeology reveals an artist, thinker, and musician whose work reminds us that archaeology, for all its disciplinary commitments and methodology, only offers a narrow window onto the past. Combining archaeology with activism, social critique, literature, art, and MUSIC expands that window into the past and makes it more vibrant and meaningful.

Live Blogging Music, Reading, and Cooking on Thanksgiving

I’m going to try a bit live-blogging this morning to document my Thanksgiving day adventures. There’s nothing particularly exciting about my morning, but there is something vaguely archaeological about the intersection of reading, cooking, and listening to music. Hopefully this live blog will bring some of that out. 

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6 am

The turkey is in the smoker and sitting at about 210°. 

I’m hunkered down by the fire reading Krysta Ryzewski’s Detroit Remains and listening to Lee Morgan introduce the band for the Friday, July 10th 1970 performance at The Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach, California.

I’m reading with significant interest Ryzewski’s account of how her work at the Ransom Gillis house in Detroit involved negotiating with an HGTV program for access and collaboration. While I’ve just started reading this chapter, it’s struck me as not entirely dissimilar to the negotiations conducted by Andrew Reinhard to get us access to the Atari excavations at Alamogordo. 

I’m aware that Lee Morgan does not have any particular connections to the Detroit jazz scene, but the 7.5 hours of music (starting with pianist Harold Mabern’s “The Beehive” which features a scorching “post-Coltranesque solo by Bennie Maupin, one of the underrated voices of late-1960s saxophone. Morgan’s solo is so slick and smooth.)

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6:15 am

As Morgan introduces the band members and heads into the Bennie Maupin number “Something Like This,” a quick check on the smoker shows that the temperature has dropped to about 160°, so I reopened some vents. It’s about 2° F outside so keeping the heat up today might be a challenge!

It seems fitting that I’m fussing with the grill temperatures as reading about Pewabic pottery manufacturing at the turn of the 20th century in the stable behind the Ransom Gillis house in Detroit!

6:30 am

A quick update shows the temperatures have settled to about 210° F and another Bennie Maupin composition “Yunjana” is on the stereo. It’s quieter and a bit more settled which makes it an appropriate complement to the stabilizing temperatures on the grill.

7 am

I’m cutting out on Bennie Maupin’s lovely flute solo on the first track of the second set from July 10th, “I Remember Brit” to check the heat and maybe start some more coals. It’s now 1° outside!

It looks like no new coals are needed and while I missed most of Lee Morgan’s lyrical solo, I’m thoroughly enjoying Harold Mabern’s piano work on “I Remember Brit.” The long tail of bebop makes a great backdrop to Ryzewski’s chapter on the Blue Bird Inn in Detroit where bebop found a home in Detroit’s musical landscape in the late 1940s.

7:20 am

The temperature is still a steady 210° and there’s been a car accident outside our house. The cops are on hand and they have a dog working to try to find the driver of the car, which was apparently stolen. It’s a bit dramatic, but the cops seem very intent on getting it sorted.

Jymie Merritt’s bass solo at around the 15 minute mark in his “Absolutions” is pretty great. 

I’m enjoying reading about Paradise Valley in Detroit and its vibrant music scene and thinking about it also as the place of origins for the Nation of Islam which would developed in the decade before the bebop heyday of the Blue Bird Inn, but which would go on the exert an influence over music (and especially jazz) in its own way especially when it relocated to Chicago in the early 1930s.

Now, I get to fret about when to start a fresh batch of coals. There’s no need to add them if the temperature hangs at 200°-ish.   

Wrapping up the second set of July 10th with another rollicking version of Lee Morgan’s “Speedball” before the 3rd session of the night begins with Bennie Maupin’s bass clarinet on his “416 East 10th Street.”

8:00 am

I had some breakfast and started a new chimney full of coals. The temperatures are dropping from 210° to 200°. hit the turkey with the first round of smoke. I’m going with cherry wood and a just a bit of hickory. 

I’m listening to Lee Morgan’s classic “Sidewinder” from the 3rd set of July 10th. It’s scorching and the absolutely outer fringes of hard bop just as it should have been in the 1970!

Back to reading about the Blue Bird Inn and the state of both Black owned entertainment venues, recording, and music in late 1940s Detroit.

8:30 am

Lee Morgan’s “Speedball” from Set 4 on Friday, July 10th feels even a bit more “out” than the version at the end of Set 2. It was hard to drag myself away from it to check on the bird in the smoker. Temperatures are still around 210° with the addition of wood chips adding just about 5° to the heat. I probably started the additional coals prematurely, but better to be prepared, I guess.

The work of various stake holders on the Blue Bird Inn is fascinating. I appreciated the performance of music in the venue once again by some members of the Wayne State music program and would have loved to hear a recording of their set. I wonder how it would compare to live recordings made in the venue in the 1950s (with Phil Hill’s band apparently). My work in the Wesley College buildings on UND’s campus included working with Michael Wittgraf to record in the Corwin Hall recital space and to think of these recordings as a way to preserve not only the original use of the space, but its changes over time. It was a small offering to the debates 

I’m now onto Set 1 from July 11th with begins with Mabern’s “Aon” which is very much hard bop and feels just right to get the audience ready from the more adventurous offerings to follow.

9:00 am

I finally had to add some coals to the fire to keep the heat closer to 210° than to 180°. Temperatures outside were about 2° so this seems reasonable. 

Fortunately, it’s warm by the fire inside and Bennie Maupin’s lyricism is on full display during his opening solo on his “Yunjana” from the first set on July 11th. Lee Morgan’s reflective solo complements Maupin’s perfectly and keeps the mood going.

The slow, but not sluggish lyricism of these songs is a lovely backdrop to Ryzewski’s work of “slow archaeology” at Gordon Park in Detroit where she and students conducted repeated pedestrian surveys to chart how the park established to mark the start of the 1967 uprising in the city changed over time and endured episodes of neglect and revitalization.

9:30 am

There’s a point my operating the smoker where I can’t quite figure out if the best way to keep the heat up is adding more coals or adding more air by opening the vents. I opted to add a bit more coals and restrict air flow right now with the hope I can open the vents and stretch the coals until close to noon where I’ll take the first temperature of the turkey. 

The second set of July 11th opens with Mabern’s “I Remember Brit” and it’s lovely round based on “Brother John” (or Frère Jacques) that eventually gives way to steady dose of a hard bop melody. You can similarly hear the musicians trying to manage the heat of their sets. You need to keep it warm enough to pull in the listener, but too much fire and the entire show begins to combust too soon and too hot. “I Remember Brit” does just that and it’s a suitable backdrop to the start of coal management work in my smoker. Of course, things get hotter after that with Mabern’s “busy” track “The Beehive.”   

10:00 am

Temperatures are cruising along at around 210° and Lee Morgan’s quintet is finishing Set 2 on July 11, 1970 with “Speedball,” before starting Set 3 with Maupin’s bass clarinet on his “Neophilia.”

I’m just getting into Ryzewski’s chapter on the Grande Ballroom in Detroit which witnessed a wide range of remarkable shows. She’s focusing on its history as a rock music venue and its subsequent history of neglect, abandonment, and deterioration. I’m just getting into the chapter and was pleasantly surprised to see the reference to “punk archaeology”! I’m looking forward to reading about the kinds of archaeological documentation deployed in working to understand and interpret this significant building.

The first temperature check on the bird will happen at around noon, and until then, we’ll be in coals management mode!

10:30 am

The heat is too high!! So I closed some vents and opened the ones on the lid to bleed some heat, but this is a good sign for the rest of the morning because I can conserve coals and cut the heat down to low and slow.

Bassist Jymie Merritt’s “Nomo” appears in Set 3 of the July 11th performance of Lee Morgan’s crew. It has a loose, but deep groove and Morgan really shines on his solo midway through the track. It’s clear that funk, soul jazz, and the spirit of late hard bop come together in this track. 

The chapter on the Grande Ballroom in Detroit is really remarkable. Not only did the work from Ryzewski’s crew show how survey methods can be adapted to document standing buildings in ways that reveal their transformation over time, as well as their main phases of use. Interweaving the discoveries from the building and its history helped me appreciate the role of John and Leni Sinclair in the musical history of Detroit. I’ve appreciated Leni Sinclair’s photography of jazz musicians and her work for Strate Corporation on their cover art and now I can connect her and her husband to the rock and proto-punk scene fueled by the MC5 (who John Sinclair managed) and bands like the Stooges who performed regularly at the Grande Ballroom.

11:00 am

The heat has settled back into the acceptable range, and I’ve added a bit of cherry wood to add some smoke. I’ve also recalled a certain yellow dog from his turkey guard duty as the temperatures outside hang around in the single digits.

Lee Morgan’s guys are into Set 4 on Saturday night and playing Bennie Maupin’s “Peyote” with a kind of comfortable intensity that feels like it should naturally lead into Jymie Merrit’s “Absolutions” as the final number of the night.

I’m also onto the final chapter of Detroit Remains which involves documenting a 19th century log cabin which was quietly preserved in the frame of a 20th century house in a Detroit neighborhood.  

11:30 am

The smoker is just chilling at 200° and my hope is that we’re well on out way to a smoked turkey. Stay tuned for a temperature check in about 30 minutes.

Set 1 from Sunday, July 12, 1970 begins with Bennie Maupin’s “Something Like This.” While this set’s performance may lack the fireworks of those recorded on the 10th and 11th, it certainly has a copious amount of feeling and soul. It was worth the wait.

The final chapter of Detroit Remains, likewise offer a healthy dose of feeling as it deals with the demolition of the log house discovered in Hamtramck by the Detroit Land Bank despite efforts made to preserve and move the building. As someone who has seen any number of significant historical buildings demolished in my community, I can empathize with the disappointment expressed by the authors and stakeholders.     

12 pm

The first temperature check and, miracles of miracles, the bird is done: 165° on the dot.

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Happily, my reading of Detroit Remains is done for the day too. Ryzewski’s reflections on Section 106 reviews in the aftermath of the Hamtramck log house demolition resonated with my own experiences on the State Historical Review Board and our local Historic Preservation Commission. While locally we continue to see innumerable 106 reviews, we also recognize how much these remain dependent upon the collective good will of the city, contractors, developers, and the community. Raising awareness of historical preservation issues always involves threading the needle between being outspoke about the value of the past in general and navigating the complicated interests that establish the value of specific pasts to specific communities and stakeholders. 

Finally, “I Remember Brit” from Set 2 on Sunday, July 12 is playing in the background and I sort of feel like pressing pause on this track and listening to the final performance during dinner in an hour or so. And this probably means pressing pause on this bizarre experiment in live blogging.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Punk Archaeology and the Shit Fireplace (a great way to end 2020)

As a publisher, it’s always nice when a book is recognized by a positive review, prominent citation, or an enthusiastic reader. 

This year we enjoyed an even higher honor:

Shit Fireplace decided to burn a copy of Punk Archaeology in their annual shit fireplace. Shit Fireplace is a collective artists in Regina, Saskatchewan who have produced an annual shit fireplace. Here’s a link to their Facebook page, their YouTube channel, and their Insta (and a link to their Insta video of burning Punk Archaeology).

Here’s this year’s entire Shit Fireplace. It’s perfect viewing for New Year’s Eve!

Punk Archaeology was the first book published by The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota and it is available as a paperback and as a free digital download. The book itself brings together the papers at a small and riotously informal conference held in Fargo in 2014. It also includes a number of essays written by myself and Kostis Kourelis on the Punk Archaeology blog.

Aaron Barth decided at some point, a few years ago, that Shit Fireplace needed to burn a copy of Punk Archaeology and somehow made it happen. There’s something about the materiality of the shit fireplace and the materiality of a paper book on punk archaeology that makes it a perfect combination. The intersection of materiality, consumer culture, and those terrible holiday fireplace videos offers an almost boundless canvass for social commentary especially in 2020.  

More than that, it seems like this project is a good time. You can watch their director’s commentary here, which I’ve helpfully cued to the burnin of the Punk Archaeology.

Punk Archaeology on a Podcast

I’m recording a podcast today for Tristan Boyle’s Archaeology Podcast Network. The plan, from what I gather, is for me to discuss punk archaeology, which should be pretty interesting since I haven’t necessarily thought much about that lately or, better still, some of my ideas of what makes punk archaeology a thing have changed over the past few years.

I apologize to regular readers of this blog who probably could write this post for me, but I think I’ll take the time to write out some of my current thinking about punk archaeology so I can sort through them before we record later today. 

First, when I first thought about punk archaeology, I really was interested in the intersection of DIY and performance in archaeology. Indeed, those interests also inform this blog which from the start sought to put on display how archaeological thinking worked in real time. In other words, I wanted to make visible how the sausage was made. In this way, my blog and punk archaeology more broadly was distinct from a view of public archaeology grounded in practices meant to present facts and interpretations about the past to an uninformed public. Rather than resetting archaeological knowledge within a new set of interpretations and truths, punk archaeology sought to destabilize the entire joint and show how all archaeological knowledge was provisional and shifting and fundamentally contextual. 

Over the past few years, I’ve started to think more about how punk practices inform archaeological labor more broadly. This has manifest itself, in particular, in slow archaeology which sought to consider the impact of industrial practices and digital technology on how we do archaeology in the field and how we organize archaeological practice. In effect, my interest in the way that punk’s interest in process informs a reading of archaeological methods and practices, produced slow archaeology with its questioning of technologically mediated efficiencies and rigors.

Second, punk archaeology set the stage for my interest in open access publishing with The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota and my work with the literary journal North Dakota QuarterlyLast year, I wrote up a piece that connect some what I am trying to do as a publisher with larger trends in archaeological practices. In short, I’m interested in blurring the lines between field work, interpretation and analysis, and publishing, and in this way, I’m not only returning to the idea that archaeological practice is a kind of performance but also advocating for a stronger connection between “analysis” and “publishing” by breaking down the long-standing barrier between the researcher-writer and publishers. 

One model that has loomed large in my mind is the cooperative and artist owned record labels that gave artists not only greater control over their creative work, but also created opportunities for artists to share the labor of producing and promoting their works. Of course, this model has precedent in the punk movement with its interest in radical politics, collective and cooperative labor, and new ways of presenting work.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I’ve thought a good bit – especially lately – about how much space I take up as a scholar. I think when I started talking about punk archaeology, it was really easy to feel a bit disaffected and marginal in my field. After all, I did survey archaeology, was interested in Late Antiquity, and worked on Cyprus, and these things located me at the margins of my field. 

Of course, this feeling of marginalization is really relative. I’m a tenured, male, white, academic. More than that, I have a presence on the internets via my blog and my social media feed. I have access to publishing opportunities across a wide range of venues from my own press to a literary journal, edited volumes, and high-powered collaborators who not only hear me but also help amplify my voice. In fact, the podcast today is a great example of how I have a platform.

I hope that I’m able to get beyond my own way of thinking and talking about punk archaeology, and archaeology more broadly, and give credit to the thoughtful contributions to punk archaeology by folks like Colleen Morgan and Lorna Richardson and Andrew Reinhard. More than that, I’d like to think about punk archaeology might be a way to think more inclusively in our discipline, but for me this involves practice as much as pronouncements. Over the last few years and indeed the last few weeks, I’ve tried to be more deliberate in thinking about inclusivity, and whether punk archaeology with its emphasis on performance, DIY, and cooperative practices offers one way to make our field better. 

We’ll see how today goes. I hope that I manage to stay out of my own way and talk about the things that I value in our field as part of a larger conversation rather than as pontificating, middle-aged, white, male, tenured academic. 

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.

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.   



Punk Archaeology, Slow Archaeology, and the Archaeology of Care: Prepublication Draft

Readers of my blog know that I’ve been struggling with an article that comes from a paper that I delivered at this fall’s European Association of Archaeologists annual meeting. The paper brings together a number of different strands of thinking and the broader concept of transhumanism to speak to the potential implications of a digital archaeology.

For those of you familiar with my work, much of this will seem familiar, but I also hope that I’ve added some nuance to my thinking incorporated the works of Jacques Ellul, Ivan Illich, and Gilles Deleuze.  

The paper is also punk rock. It’s rough. The ideas are not fully formed and sometimes it will read like a concept album that was scrapped during production and then released anyway, because no one really gets concept albums anyway. Other times, it’ll read like a dystopia fueled by a teenager’s fascination with Philip K. Dick. The only thing I will stand by, however, is that this article is honest. It represents my thinking at this moment in time with its inconsistencies, feedback, and distortion. 

I’m not sure when, or if, I’ll get back to these topics in such a focused way (if ever), but if you want to know how punk archaeology and slow archaeology turn out … download the paper here.

Five Minute Version of “Punk Archaeology, Slow Archaeology, and the Archaeology of Care”

Because one of the panels that I’m on at the EAA meeting has pre-circulated their papers, they’ve asked us just to give 5 minute versions of our ideas.

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As you might expect, the ideas in my paper have continued to develop since I wrote it in July and it was pre-circulated in August, but I think the major contours of the paper remain more or less intact.

Here’s my effort a sub-5 minute summary.

This paper is an expression of anxiety more than anything. I’m particularly anxious about the growing role of digital tools in archaeological work both in the field and during the analysis, interpretation, and dissemination of archaeological knowledge. 

My paper considered the role of digital tools and processes particularly through the lens of archaeological practice (punk archaeology) where technology has expanded the range of human perception, memory, organization, and analysis. While my arguments were rather diffuse, I pursued a line of thinking that began with a consideration of two mid-century Christian anarchists, Ivan Illich and Jacques Ellul, who argued that technology, and modernity more broadly, have undermined the organic creativity of conviviality by emphasizing efficiency and convenience in the name of human interaction, embodied knowledge, and a respect for place. It is hardly surprising that these anti-modernist thinkers would offer a potentially useful critique of the modern discipline of archaeology.  

The second point I try to make, then, is that Ellul’s and Illich’s critique aligns with a recent strand in the discussion of digital tools in archaeological practice. Digital tools represent improvements in efficiency and accuracy, as well as the transparency and portability of digital (or digitized) archaeological information, but often rely on the fragmentation of archaeological knowledge into streamlined and integrated workflows. These practices, however, are not particularly surprising considering the significance of the assembly line on the organization of archaeological work where the regimented adherence to methods and procedures incrementally build new knowledge. The term “raw data” is analogous to “raw materials” that form the basis for industrial production. The influence of a modern, industrial approach to archaeology presents a counterpoint to archaeology as craft (and slow archaeology). 

Finally, and this point did not appear in the paper that I precirculated, I suspect that the mobile, modular, and granular nature of digital data anticipates a shift away from the assembly line and toward a very 21st century form of industrial organization: logistics. The assembly line manufactures a valuable product, whereas logistics involves the streamlined and decentralized distribution material, services, and goods that produces values through their relationship across space. These are both transhuman forms of producing value, but the former tends to structure the relationship between humans and machines in a linear way organized around a particular place, and the latter attends to a diffuse and decentralized relationship between objects, movement, standardization, while challenging or even just overwriting the notion of place and relationships that have long remained important to our idea of community and disciplinarity.

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The goal of my paper is to offer a more focused critique of the role of recent digital trends on the rhetoric, structure, and organization of archaeological practice, and to attempt to articulate some of the risks associated with these trends not just to the knowledge that we produce but to the kind of discipline that archaeology wishes to become. 

Punk Archaeology, Slow Archaeology, and the Archaeology of Care: A Revised Draft

Over the last week or so, I’ve continued to iterate on the paper that I’ll deliver at EAAs next week. Like all conference papers (or at least all of my conference papers), it’s a bit too much of everything and not enough of what matters resulting in it being a pile of “meh.”

That being said, the complete draft that I pushed out a couple weeks ago was also too long and diffuse. So while its flaws should still be apparent (and my apologies to all those who provided comments and tried to convince me to make it better), but it will at least be a bit more focused.


Punk Archaeology, Slow Archaeology, and the Archaeology of Care

William Caraher
University of North Dakota

Rough Draft of Paper for the European Archaeological Association Meeting
Barcelona, Spain
September 4, 2018


My paper today is an effort to identify some of my own anxiety related to transhumanism in archaeology by thinking about technology in archaeology in an expansive historical way. This will, of course, run the risk of making my generalizations easy enough to dismiss with examples from actual field practices or implementation. My hope is that exceptions to my vision of the future of archaeology will provide reasons for optimism grounded in an advanced state of critical engagement with the way that digital tools are shaping the discipline. At the same time, I do think that long trajectory of digital practices in archaeology (and in our transhuman culture) remains unclear as folks like Jeremey Huggett have recognized (Huggett, Reilly, Lock 2018).

The title of this paper reflects some of my earlier efforts think broadly about archaeological practice. In 2014, I published a collection of reflections on “punk archaeology” (Caraher et al. 2014) which offered a view of archaeology grounded in radical and performative inclusivity, and, this formed some of the backdrop for a pair of articles on slow archaeology (2015, 2016) that juxtaposed the “slow movement” with a particular strand of scholarship that celebrated the increases in efficiency, accuracy, and precision associated with digital field practices. While both efforts have received substantive and thoughtful critiques that have demonstrated the limits to these analogies (archaeology is LIKE punk or LIKE the slow movement; see Richardson 2016; Graham 2017), I still hope that they offer some useful perspectives on the relationship between how archaeology produces the past in the present.

My interest today is to trace some of the threads proposed in these earlier efforts while focusing in particular on how digital tools and techniques intersect with new approaches to archaeological knowledge and disciplinary practices. In particular, I’d like to try to argue that our interest in efficiency in archaeological work has contributed to a view of archaeological practice that draws upon logistics as a model for a distributed knowledge making.

Ellul and Illich

My point of departure for this paper are two mid-century Christian anarchists, Ivan Illich and Jacques Ellul, who wrote critically on the rise of modern institutions and technology. Without over simplifying and eliding their different perspectives, both men saw the shift toward modern practices as profoundly disruptive to traditional values which supported embodied practices that shaped human communities.

Ellul’s is perhaps the more intriguing for any consideration of archaeological practice. He suggested that the rise of rationality and technology and its distinctive form of “technique” severed the careful attention of the individual from work itself (Ellul 1964). In its place emerged practices which, in the modern era, followed the logic of efficiency. While scholars have noted the ambiguities and limits to Ellul’s definition of efficiency (Wha-Chul Son 2013), his relationship between technique and efficiency anticipates recent understandings of technological agency that view human autonomy and individual choices as part of a distributed relationships between humans and their tools. The quest for efficiencies remains in Jennfier Alexander’s words, “an iconic mantra in the high-tech industries,” and a key consideration for how archaeology is organized and uses tools (Alexander 2008).

Ivan Illich shared many of Ellul’s concerns and proposed that modernity, technology, and the state disrupted the conviviality that existed in the premodern world and among premodern societies (Illich 1975). For Illich, conviviality represented the opposite of modern productivity (with its interest in speed and efficiency) and emphasized the free, unstructured, and creative interaction among individuals and with their environment. For Illich, like Ellul, the use of technology does not result in a society freer, but one that is increasingly bereft of the conditions that allow for creativity as the need for efficiency and speed create a kind of dominant logic in practice.

Illich’s and Ellul’s critiques of technology fit only awkwardly with much recent scholarship, of course. Efficiency itself has become increasingly regarded as a problematic term deeply embedded in practice and the coincidence of human and material agency (e.g. Shove 2017). Bruno Latour and others have demonstrated that any effort to unpack the complexity of energy in any system — social, mechanical, environmental, et c. — requires abstract acts of purification that define and separate energy and effects from their complex network of entangled relationships and practices (Latour 1993; Shove 2017, 7-8). This greater attention to the interaction between individuals and objects has provided a compelling theoretical framework for understanding the interplay of technology, tools, objects, and agency in the construction of archaeological knowledge.

On the other hand, this work has only just begun. A recent conference and publication dedicated to digital tools in field work, Mobilizing the Past for a Digital Future, was laced with discussions of efficiency and workflow in digital practices. Among the most widely cited and read articles from Journal of Field Archaeology is Christopher Roosevelt’s (and team) thorough presentation of the digital workflow from their project in southwest Turkey.

What remains less developed is a conversation on the impact of digital tools on the organization of archaeological practice (although see Pickering 1995; Taylor et al. 2018), the nature of archaeological skills and expertise, and issues of archaeological preservation and publication (Huggett 2017). In fact, changing views of agency have created new views of ethics in archaeological practice as well as in the social organization of discipline (e.g. Dawdy 2016). Perhaps this entangled view of the world gives the work of Illich and Ellul new relevance for archaeologist concerned with the social issue of disciplinary practice across the field.

Transhumanism and Disciplinary Practice

As the organizers of this panel know well, transhumanism offers a way to consider the interplay between the individual, technology, practice, and performance (e.g. Haraway 1984) in archaeology. It also offers a roadmap to anticipate the social and disciplinary implications of new approaches to producing archaeological knowledge. Indeed, for most of the later 20th century archaeologists have embraced methodology and seen knowledge making as an explicit relationship between particular techniques, tools, and situations. In this way, archaeological work does not end at the limits of our bodies, but extends reciprocally through technology, techniques, and social organization to create the hybrid space of archaeological knowledge making.

The dense interdependence of tools, techniques, methods, and individuals embodies a transhuman archaeology that shapes the social organization of archaeological practice. Digital technology, for example, whatever its integrative potential, relies, in part, on the industrialist and Taylorist approach of dividing complex tasks into rather more simple ones with the goal of final publication at the hands of a project director. However, unlike the relatively linear progress of Taylor’s assembly line which emphasized a rather immediate relation between the body of the worker and the object of work, digital practices embrace efficiency through the distributed logic of logistics (Cowen 2014). These transhuman networks depend both upon distributed assemblages of tools and technologies as well as interchangeable media which allows for information to move and be aggregated in different ways. As such, digital practices continue the fragmented work of the assembly line but emphasize new efficiencies by facilitating the distribution of work, knowledge, and information in non-linear ways. Streamlining the archaeological “workflow” mitigates differences in experience and expertise among specialists and facilitates new combinations of archaeological information.

As one example, Open Context provides a platform for the highly granular publication of archaeological data, which allows archaeologists to establish a stable URI for each artifact. The allows for artifact (or strata or survey units or photographs) to be shared, linked, combined, and remixed in different ways, and also highlights the pressures and potential to fracture and fragment digital data. Another example, various crowd-sourced research projects (e.g. Sarah Parcak work) have likewise shown how digital tools allows for fragmented bits of knowledge to be marshaled to address complex archaeological problems. Digital mediation in these contexts allow for the collecting of archaeological information from an unstructured cluster of participants. Obviously the use of crowdsourcing, where a large community acts as a kind of mechanical turk, is not ideal for all forms of archaeological knowledge making, but where is it applicable, it does present a distinct form of deskilling. With the increasing mobility of archaeological information, ease of integrating diverse collaborators, and granularity of specialization, the social impact of these kinds of systems on the disciple remains unclear.

I’m tempted to see that shift in the organization of archaeological practice from one based on the assembly line to one grounded in logistics parallels contemporary thinking in archaeological ontologies that see relations and assemblages as producing meaning. Just as an approach to archaeology grounded in assemblages of individuals, objects, places, and pasts, has produced new and hybridized ways of understanding the past in the present, so the distributed character of digital practices and their reliance on computer algorithm or software introduces distinctive logic of practice to field work and interpretation.


If 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, then this same strain of reasoning in archaeological practice should give us pause. My conclusion is a call for an “archaeology of care” that take cues from Illich and Ellul in considering how interaction between tools, individuals, practices, and methods shaped our discipline in both intentional and unintentional ways.

I’ve been concerned by a process that Gary Hall has called “uberfication,” which he has applied to changes in higher education in the United States (Hall 2016). The Uberfied University uses data to map the most efficient connections between the skills of the individual instructors and needs of individual students at scale. To be clear, this is a dystopian vision rather than an actual plan, but it reflects larger trends on public and private sectors which see the analysis of data as the key to efficiency within complex systems. It likewise relies on the ability not only to link individual agents to particular needs but also on the network’s ability to shape the behavior 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 shaping the entire assemblage. It’s logistics.

The issue, of course, isn’t the existence of the assemblage; in fact, our recognition of the assemblage is what makes both its existence and its critique possible. What causes me anxiety is that the tools and techniques available to the transhuman archaeologist are as embedded in archaeological practices as they are in the logic of capital, efficiency, and modernity. The performative context of archaeological practice, whether “punk” or otherwise, offers the space for critical engagement. “Slow archaeology,” despite its grounding in privilege, nevertheless offers an ideal archaeological future that challenges the expectations of efficiency. Finally, an “archaeology of care” is my term for an approach to the discipline that embraces human consequences of both our methods and the pasts that they create.

Punk Archaeology, Slow Archaeology, and the Archaeology of Care: A Completed Draft

I’ve spent the last three months toiling over a paper that I’m scheduled to give at the European Archaeological Association meetings in September. I’ve posted parts of it here on the blog and gotten feedback from various folks. My panel is supposed to pre-circulate their papers today, and I do have a draft, but it’s pretty rough around the edges.

But since I’m pre-circulating it anyway, I thought I might as well post it here on my blog too. You can download it here, or go and mark it up using Hypothes.is here

The paper is for a panel on transhumanism, which I probably should have focused on more fully. Instead, I conflated transhumanism with a watered down version of Donna Harraway’s idea of the cyborg and reflected very broadly on the role of technology in shaping how we produce archaeological knowledge. 

The paper ended up being a bit more conservative than I would have liked, but that is probably true both to the “slow” paradigm that I’ve embraced for archaeology and, more obviously, the work of Jacques Ellul and Ivan Illich, which tend toward the explicitly un-progressive. That being said, I think there is a space for reflecting on how epistemologies, ontologies, methodologies, and the organization of disciplinary practice interact, and my paper parallels, perhaps in a not too distant way, some of the recent work being done to reconsider the value of antiquarian practices. Some of these scholars have seen antiquarianism as an avenue for understanding un-modern (and anti-modern) ways of producing archaeological knowledge that are, at least partly, free from the political and social burdens of modernity and colonialism

That being said, I don’t think that I get everything right. For example, I do see the recent interest in shifting the dominant metaphor in archaeology from excavation and revealing to surface survey and assemblage building as a way to integrate a wider and more diverse range of voices into process of archaeological knowledge making. In fact, Shannon Lee Dawdy’s and Olivier Laurent’s works do just that by showing how distinctive views of time, narrative building, values, and relationships contribute to place-making practices at the local level that operate outside disciplinary methods and arguments. At the same time, I see in the kind of assemblage building the potential for greater fragmentation in disciplinary practices which echoes the way in which digital tools create networks of independent devices linked by data broken into discrete fragments. 

In any event, I’m pretty sure that I didn’t get this paper all right, but as always I’ll appreciate any comments that you’re willing to offer.