Punk Archaeology at Three

A couple of friends have reminded me this week that we held the first ever punk archaeology conference three years ago. I was honored that close friends contributed to the event: Kostis Kourelis, Richard Rothaus, Andrew Reinhard, Bret Weber, Tim PaschMike Wittgraf, Brett Ommen, and Joel Jonientz.  

Reinhard punk archaeology

Listen to the papers here. Listen to the music here. Or download the book here. Or, if you want, buy the book here.


Andrew Reinhard has worked hard to bring punk archaeology to a wider audience. Other folks have taken time to think deeply about punk archaeology and took it from being this ill-formed empty vessel and transformed it into something meaningful

Two Articles: One on Punk Archaeology and One on Data

As I gear up for the start of the semester, the Archaeological Institute of America annual meeting, and catching up on some overdue or soon to be overdue projects, I’m going to lean on some other fine folks for some content on the ole blog.

First, go and check out Colleen Morgan’s fine study of Punk Archaeology in Aqueologia Publica 5 (2015): “Punk, DIY, and Anarchy in Archaeological Thought.” She unpacks the potential scope, history, and significance of punk archaeology by situating it within larger academic and social movements committed to social justice, DIY practice, and anarchy. She not only established the history of punk’s place within archaeology and academia, but provided some loose guidance for its future (as is only fitting). The only thing I would have added to the essay is that the book, Punk Archaeology, that came out of our 2013 conference was the inaugural volume for the Digital Press which took the notion of the zine and applied it to academic publishing. The book is both about punk, and punk in its publication. The co-editors collaborated throughout the publication process and participated in every aspect of the work from lay-out to copy editing, proof reading, and distribution. While the institutional affiliation of the The Digital Press probably distances it from being genuinely anarchic, an approach to publishing that intentionally challenges conventional organization of academic production and emphasizes the process as well as the product. 

You should also go and check out Andrew Bevan’s very recent piece in Antiquity 89 (2015), “The Data Deluge”. In this short, but direct article, Bevan thinks critically about the quantity of data archaeological projects are producing and the limited tool kit that we currently deploy to understand that data. He urges archaeology as a discipline to both develop better tools for understanding archaeological data, and to think more critically about the data that we are producing. 

Punk Archaeology in the Media and a Trip to Duluth

Just a short post today as I’m headed to Duluth for the weekend to give a couple of talks at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. 

Here is the info on those talks.

Today, I’m giving an updated version of this talk, which will draw heavily on a soon to be submitted article:

Reconstructing Communities on Cyprus from Broken Pots and Ruined Churches

Tomorrow, I’m going to talk about punk archaeology:

The A B C s of Punk Archaeology Three Examples of Punk Practice in Archaeology

If you still can’t get enough, check out this article on our work in the Bakken on Vice Motherboard. It appeared, briefly, above the fold:

Motherboard Home Motherboard


Of course, I’ll be keeping my eye out for a dog with a rabid tooth while I’m there. 

The Present State of my Punk Archaeology

It’s only been a year since The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota published Punk Archaeology. Since that time I haven’t given it much thought. In fact, I’ve relied on the relentless enthusiasm and energy of Andrew Reinhard to carry the punk archaeology touch forward toward new frontiers.

For some reason, I offered to give a lecture on punk archaeology in a couple of weeks at the University of Minnesota – Duluth in conjunction with a showing of the Atari: Game Over documentary. Fortunately, I’ve only been asked to give a 15 or 20 minute talk and to keep it informal, breezy, and accessible. This is good because I’m a bit at a loss for what to say.

I titled the talk: “The A, B, Cs of Punk Archaeology” and figured I’d talk about some of my work in the C(orinthia), the B(akken), and with the A(tari) project. So I have case studies, but I feel like I need to frame these case studies in a more meaningful and substantial way. 

In the eponymous edited volume, I noted that Punk Archaeology did five things: (1) It was reflective (and reflexive), (2) embraced the DIY, (3) expressed a commitment to place, (4) embraced destruction as a creative process, and (5) was spontaneous.  As I look back, though, I wonder how many of these things could be said for most archaeology. What makes these things worthy of a distinct definition?

In addition to the five dubious characteristics of punk archaeology, I got to think about three additional aspects of punk. First, I am becoming increasingly interested in thinking about archaeology as socially responsible practice. Our work in the Bakken has convinced me that the tools developed through archaeology can collect data that informs policy as well as documents our encounter with the contemporary world. Related to this is the interest of punk archaeology in the contemporary world. Punk rock merged traditional music forms (pop music, folk music, even the venerable waltz) with contemporary instruments, concerns, and observations. Archaeology can do the same. Finally, I think punk archaeology has a particular concern for archaeological practice that extends from the edge of the trench or the survey unit to the publication process. Since the publication of Punk Archaeology, I’ve begun to think more about how the systems we use to collect, analyze, and publish archaeological evidence (and arguments) and wonder whether we can be more critical of these practices and be more open to experimentation.

To return to my presentation for Duluth, I think I’ll start with a brief overview of the history of punk archaeology, “from Kourelis and Caraher to Reinhard,” with a brief stop in the Corinthia and my work with David Pettegrew (a proto-punk archaeologist if there ever was one) at the 20th century site of Lakka Skoutara. Here we confronted issues like the abundance of contemporary material, a site where rapid and constant changes occurred, and the presence of living memories at the site. These all required that we adapt our archaeological training to address the challenges of this site. 

Without a doubt, my experiences at Lakka Skoutara in the Corinthia shaped my work on temporary housing in the Bakken where we were similarly confronted with a contemporary, dynamic, and hyper-abundant landscape. In the Bakken I also came to recognize that the practice of archaeology mattered to the communities and people who we were working to document. People in the Bakken boom recognized that it was a historical moment for the region, and saw in our efforts to understand and document it, affirmation that people cared about their experiences. This motivated us to work toward publishing the results of our work in the Bakken in free and open access (as much as this is possible) forms. 

Finally, there’s Atari. Not only do our efforts represent an effort to deal with hyper-abundance of the modern world, but also the explicitly performative character of punk archaeological work. We were simultaneously props for the films directors and researchers attempting to glean as much archaeological information as possible from the experience. This dual role of archaeologist and performer makes the performative element of our discipline explicit and situates our work both as archaeology of the contemporary world and within the contemporary world.

Now to transform this into a breezy and entertaining PowerPointer…  

Punk Archaeology Project Update

It’s been just over 200 days since The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota published their inaugural volume: Punk Archaeology

Since that time, the book has been cited twice. Once in Koji Mizoguchi, “A Future of Archaeology,” Antiquity 89 (2015), p. 20: “”Moreover, we should not be too bothered by the existence of ‘established’ media and the media hierarchy. High- quality e-books (e.g. Caraher et al. 2014)…”

And once by Sara Perry in her contribution to the Alison Wylie and Robert Chapman, Material Evidence: Learning from Archaeological Practice. (Routledge 2015): “Crafting Knowledge with (Digital) Visual Media in Archaeology”.

The book has been downloaded well over 1000 times (and likely about twice that) via my blog and viewed over 5000 times on Scribd. The blog post dedicated to the book has been viewed 3,800 times. The book is available for purchase on Amazon, but we’ve only sold around 50 copies

According to Shawn Graham and Ed Summers, the link for Punk Archaeology was the second most tweeted link from this past week’s Society for American Archaeology meeting, and this has accounted for about 5% of the book’s total downloads. 

In constrast, the second book from the press, Visions of Substance: 3D Imaging in Mediterranean Archaeology. (2015) has about 100 downloads over the past 100 days and 1200 views on Scrbd. The webpage has been viewed about 270 times. My hope is that this book becomes a bit more popular in the fall when it could be a useful, accessible, (and free) addition to a Mediterranean archaeology class. 

Overall, I’m pleased with the performance of the first two books from The Digital Press! If you haven’t checked either book out, please do!

Some Thoughts on Punkademia

Over the last few weeks I’ve been slowly making my way through Zack Furness’s edited volume Punkademics (2012), which brings together a wide range of academic voices on the influences of punk rock on the “ivory tower.” As a colleague of mine quipped, I like that this book exists. In fact, I wish I had known about while putting together Punk Archaeology; Furness would have been a great contribution to our work.

The book consists of a wide range of essays that, generally, interweave the history of punk with the personal stories from professional and academic life. The contributions are generally readable and a pair of interviews with Alan O’Connor, who studied the punk scene in Toronto, and Milo Aukerman, a research biologist with DuPont who is a member of the Descendents, added to the immediacy of the volume. 

I won’t do a full review, but I do have a few quick, day-before-Thanksgiving, observations:

1. Politics over Aesthetics. One of the key points of this volume is that the punk movement was more than just aesthetic posturing by bored, image-conscious youth (as postulated by, say, Dick Hebdige’s 1979 classic, Subculture: The Meaning of Style), but a legitimate form of political expression. Furness and company paid particular attention to the late 1970s punk scene in the U.K. where bands like Crass brought together left-wing, anarchist sensibilities in their lyrics and approach to performance and the music industry. The devoted less attention to, say, the American version of punk rock which developed in close connection with the New York art scene of the late 1960s and had close ties to, say, Andy Warhol’s Factory. American punk particularly as it developed in New York City had a much greater focus on aesthetic challenges to the increasingly banal world of American consumer culture. This was a critique of consumer culture, suburbia, or even the absurdity of everyday life, but it was less overtly political. 

2. Gender, Race, Orientation, and Community. Furness’s contributors considered the tensions that existed between the attitudes within the punk scene toward women, minorities, and gay and queer participants. These attitudes vacillated between the open and accommodating to the overtly hostile. Even a casual listener to the punk rock music can appreciate the misogynistic sentiments expressed in punk lyrics and the use of insensitive (at best) and intolerant language in the sometimes tense relations between groups and bands. While in some ways, the anarchic and left-leaning politics of punk created a safe place for minorities of all kinds, the aggressive tone of the music and adversarial posturing could sometimes create a hostile environment as extreme political and social rhetoric masked puerile oppositional showboating. 

I was particularly struck by the critique of gender in punk, and it made me very aware that the first, published iteration Punk Archaeology was very much a boys’ club (with the exception of Colleen Morgan, the Patti Smith of the Punk Archaeology movement, Kris Groberg, and Heather Gruber). This was all the more troubling because Mediterranean Archaeology has tended to be an (old) boys’ club in many ways and remains almost exclusively the domain of white folks.

3. Punk Pedagogy. Several authors dealt explicitly with the influence of punk on their classrooms, and it was fun to see some of my approaches to teaching considered to be punk pedagogy. Two particular things stand out. First, I share with punk pedagogy a willingness to cede power to my students, within limits, and to attempt to create a space for radical creativity in my classroom. I think that some of Furness’s authors would see the punk in my experiments in the Scale-Up classroom which drew heavily on the thinking of Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Moreover, I was happy to see that punk teachers shared my deep skepticism of the industrialized academy, but none appeared interested in exploring what a return of a craft approach to higher education might look like (at least in those terms). 

4. DIY. The essays advocate do-it-yourself practices that sought to intentionally undermine our dependence on mass produced consumer goods and practices. Of course, this has become increasingly difficult in an academic setting as the creeping spread of regulations, standards, assessment practices, and corporatized expectations has encroached upon our ability to operate outside of institutionally controlled practices. It was interesting to me that few of the articles spoke to any resistance to DIY practices from institutional concerns. For example, there was considerable outcry surrounding the development of a DIY book scanner, and the increasingly stringent copyright laws which we’re told protect our “intellectual property” often make it more difficult to produce meaningful scholarship or to circulate our works. DIY practices offer a way to subvert, endrun, and defy these policies and practices, but also carry increasing risk as our intellectual and creative autonomy is seen as a threat to those who want to monetize it.

(Some day, I will write about my efforts to start a press at the University of North Dakota.)

5. Punk as Failure. One of the most redeeming things about this book is author’s openness regarding the successes and failures of their efforts to … (continued below)


Ok. I really want to continue this post, but when we woke up this morning our dog looked like this:

IMG 2374

His eyes usually look like this:

IMG 2367

So now I’m going to take him to the vet. I’ll finish this post when I get back.


… integrate a punk ethos into their academic lives. The stories of failed efforts to create a punk infused classroom or to integrate their intellectual and political commitments to the shrill rhetoric of punk performance. The willingness to the contributors to admit and scrutinize the failures of punk to accommodate the academic life and professional world was heartening to me as I look back on my own struggles to bring my most ambitious and personal projects to satisfactory completion. The process of punk is perhaps more important than the product. Or, as my colleague quipped: I’m like that this book exists. 

Have a very punk rock Thanksgiving.

Atari Auction Update

A few days ago, I promised an update to the ongoing Ebay auction of Atari games excavated from the Alamogordo landfill last spring.

Check out Andrew Reinhard’s and Raiford Guin’s very recent blog posts on this event to get a better sense of what’s going on. You can read mine too, I mean, if you haven’t already.

So far, the highest bigs are on ET games in their original boxes which top out at close to $650. You can check out the auction here. One thing my fellow Atari archaeologists have been pondering is whether there’s a good way to scrape bid history from Ebay into a spreadsheet. Can anyone help with this?

Please don’t bid against me!

I’ve also been amazed to witness the conflation of punk archaeology and our participation in the landfill excavation in Alamogordo. The highlight of this has to be the appearance of our lovely visages at Vigamus video game museum in Rome. 


Stay tuned for more on this!

What is Punk Archaeology?

Over the last few weeks, Punk Archaeology, both the book and the movement, have received some good press. This weekend, in fact, it was included in a feature length article on the Spanish Huffington Post which grouped the punk archaeology a group of punk scientists like Greg Gaffin from the band Bad Religion who earned a Ph.D. in biology at Cornell. This was flattering.

El Huffington Post última hora noticias y opinión en español

Later this morning, I’m chatting with a local reporter from the Grand Forks Herald and while I’ll stress that we’re really big in Spain (that video makes me very uncomfortable) right now, I still feel like I’ll need to define punk archaeology somehow. In my previous engagements with the media, this has been a bit of stumbling block for me. Typically, I tell the story of how Kostis Kourelis and I had some conversations in 2007 or 2008 about how quite a few Mediterranean archaeologists have punk rock associations. Kostis, I think, then compiled a list of punk archaeologists and maybe posted it on his blog (although I can’t find it) or maybe he posted it on Facebook. At some point after the famous list appeared, we created the Punk Archaeology blog and began writing short essays that explored the intersection between punk rock and archaeology. Most of my essays looked at archaeological methods and how punk and archaeology shared a do-it-yourself ethic, a kind of irreverence toward received tradition, and an interest in abandoned spaces. Kostis’s contributions tend to focus on the archaeology of music or the biographical and intellectual links between archaeologists and avant garde. After a few years of blogging, Aaron Barth and Andrew Reinhard took on the mantel of punk archaeology and the former organized a conference in Fargo and the latter shepherded a book focused on the blog posts and conference through the publication process. This is a great way to describe the origins of a band, but not a very effective way to describe what punk archaeology actually is.

So, I’m sitting here in my decidedly unpunk kitchen this morning, drinking coffee, and trying to figure out how to respond to the reporter who will invariably ask “what is punk archaeology?”

I am sorely tempted to say that it is an effort to disrupt the traditional structures, institutions, and practices of archaeology, but the word “disrupt” has been appropriated by capitalism, and I’m not sure that we’ve been very disruptive. In fact, I am skeptical whether punk rock music was disruptive. The bands sometimes were, of course, with their stage antics, rowdy lyrics, and mercurial fame, but the music itself was pretty conservative. Most of it derived from pop music and, with a few exceptions, had a verse-chorus-verse structure. In fact, punk pioneers like Lou Reed made money writing endearing pop ditties before embarking on the more ambitious project of the Velvet Underground. The tendency of punk rockers to cover pop standards, albeit in unconventional ways, and to gravitate toward folks and blues music (e.g. the Knitters, Jack White) reinforces the strongly conservative strains in punk rock. Maybe that punk archaeology originated in Mediterranean archaeology, which has long been a rather traditional branch of the discipline of archaeology, accounts for the conservative character of punk archaeology (at least in form). But even if I accepted this take on the punk archaeology, I’m not convinced that it is ideal for journalistic consumption.

Maybe it’s better to rely on the simple explanation that the punk archaeology movement uses punk rock music as a tool to think about archaeology in different, more playful ways. For example, both punk rock and archaeology offer unconventional, yet familiar, ways of providing social criticism of the present. As I have been thinking a good bit about my almost completed tourist guide to the Bakken and how has parallels to a punk rock approach to the North Dakota landscape. It takes a familiar genre of work – the tourist guide – and applies it to an unconventional place and set of circumstances – the modern oil patch. The message of the guide will be ambiguous and situated between a post-ironic earnestness and a space for the critical distancing conducive to both contemplation and escape.

I’ve also thought about the Atari excavations in New Mexico and wondered whether encountering and presenting the buried games as archaeological artifacts likewise had the effect of providing some distance from the familiar and opening these objects up to new forms of critique. 

So maybe I need to emphasize how punk archaeology is a tool that encourages us to approach the familiar in unconventional ways. It complements conventional archaeology which likewise provides a distance for critically understanding objects from the past, but in most cases these objects are already unfamiliar to the modern viewer. Maybe I need to emphasize how punk archaeology makes the familiar and everyday unfamiliar.

Punk Archaeology: The Book

I’m impatient. So, I decided to push the button and publish Punk Archaeology today. This is the first book published by The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota. We’re so punk that we don’t really have a webpage.

That being said, we’re also so punk that we will release a book here for free.

Download it here or here.

I have one favor to ask. If this book is something that you think sounds cool, spread the word. Facebook it. Tweet it. Ello it. Tell everyone you know about it. Since this press has no budget, no staff, no offices (and you might suspect no editors…), I need my readers to serve as our marketing wing. Blow up the internet, please.

PunkA cover 1


Punk Archaeology is a irreverent and relevant movement in archaeology, and these papers provide a comprehensive anti-manifesto.


This volume was made possible by a whole community of folks ranging from the relentless Andrew Reinhard who proofed this over and over and over again to Aaron Barth who put together the conference which produced these papers. The authors were great to work with except Richard Rothaus who insisted that we include his handwritten paper. (I kid, I kid). Support for the whole deal came from the Cyprus Research Fund, the Center for Heritage Renewal at North Dakota State University, the North Dakota Humanities Council, and the delicious beer makers at Laughing Sun Brewing in Bismarck. Administrators at the University of North Dakota are to be commended for raising their eyebrows politely and ignoring what I was doing.

This book would not have been possible without the efforts of Joel Jonientz who did the cover design and layout. I wish he was around to see the results. The book is dedicated to him.


Other Details:

The print copy should be ready to go by the end of the week and available at Amazon. I’ll post a link to that. It should cost around $30.00, but look like a million bucks. Make sure to order copies for friends and families as well as university libraries and private collections.

Here are links to the papers being read at the conference on Soundcloud thanks to Tim Pasch, Chad Bushy, and Caleb Hulthusen for recording the event:



And listen to Andrew Reinhard’s soundtrack here:


Here’s the book, folks:


Book Blurbs: Pyla-Koutsopetria and Punk Archaeology

As I’ve said elsewhere on this blog, I’m not much of a book writing person. Most of my ideas can be most profitably explored at about 10,000 words. Every now and then, I figure out some idea or concept or gimmick that deserves more words, and over the next month or so, two of those ideas will appear in book forms. Of course, none of this would be even remotely possible without the collaboration of coauthors, editors, and colleagues. 

One of the most fun parts about getting a book together (you know, more fun than page proofs or sorting out that one last figure that requires attention!) is writing and receiving little blurbs that are used for marketing new books. 

My coauthors and I wrote the little blurb for Pyla-Koutsopetria I: Archaeological Survey of an Ancient Coastal Town. American Schools of Oriental Research Archaeological Report Series Number 21:

Pyla-Koutsopetria I presents the results of an intensive pedestrian survey documenting the diachronic history of a 100 ha microregion along the southern coast of Cyprus. Located around 10 km from the ancient city of Kition, the ancient coastal settlements of the Koutsopetria mircoregion featured an Iron Age sanctuary, a Classical settlement, a Hellenistic fortification, a Late Roman town, and a Venetian-Ottoman coastal battery situated adjacent to a now infilled, natural harbor on Larnaka Bay. This publication integrates a comprehensive treatment of methods with a discussion of artifact distribution, a thorough catalogue of finds, and a diachronic history to shed light on one of the few undeveloped stretches of the Cypriot coast.

I’m also on the verge of releasing my first book as publisher: Punk Archaeology.  

Punk Archaeology Cover

The process has been a bit slower than expected, but I invited some sympathetic voices to provide some short perspectives on the book.

The first is from Brett Ommen, hobo academic:

The <Punk> of Punk Archeology exists as acipher, an empty signifier. The value of this volume lies in its commitment to variously loading <punk> with meaning based on the epistemic uncertainties that mark human civilization and its study. This volume traverses the supposed rules of theory and praxis, of art and science, of conservation and change, of information and meaning by way of the unruly <punk>. <punk> helps these authors locate their work and our world, not because it functions as a particular concept but instead because it refuses any particular mode of divination. As such, Punk Archaeology offers all academic fields a lesson for utilizing the anarchy of the cipher to negotiate the perils of disciplinary rigidity.

The second is from photographer, geek, and author Kyle Cassidy:

Archaeologists are at home in the dirt. They start the season respectably enough, in khaki’s and sensible shoes, but after four weeks of living in a tent and sifting rocks for bits of bone all day they’ve stopped shaving (if they ever did to begin with), possibly eschewed grooming altogether and no longer resemble anything you’d expect to see in the front of a classroom. When an archaeologist needs to get a wheelbarrow of backfill across a trench, they build a bridge out of whatever’s lying around; they do it this way because they’re in the middle of nowhere and they know the swiftest way between point A and point B is to do it yourself; because the coyotes aren’t going to do it for you and the board of trustees isn’t going to do it for you. This DIY attitude is how they manage to transport & house two faculty members and five grad students in Syria for three months for less than one lab in the med school’s spent on glassware during the same time period.

Archaeologists rely on themselves because they have to. They are the cassette tapes of academics; played through one speaker, loudly, and full of passion, blasting a song that so many people can’t understand the words to, but are moved by experiencing. Punk Archaeology is filled with this music: In Richard Rothaus’ “Punk Archaeoseismology”, scientists try to understand the destruction of a town 1,600 years ago by racing to  Güllük, Turkey the day that it sinks into the sea, killing every single inhabitant, during a terrible earthquake. It is as personal and visceral as any Xeroxed Zine because it is ultimately about science poured from the crucible of very personal chaos. Colleen Morgan’s account of continually explaining her tattoos to workers is an explanation for everyone in the sacrifices we all make to identify our tribe. Kostis Kourelis’ singling out of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania’s unheralded place in the creation of Punk and New Wave reminds us of Philadelphia, Turkey and it’s likewise mostly forgotten place in Byzantine history — archaeologists know better than most anyone else that kingdoms rise and kingdoms fall and the small things that are meaningful to us now won’t even be footnotes in eighteen hundred years unless someone tracks them down.

This book is about archaeology, and more than that, it’s about music, but when you peel back all the power chords, the distorted guitars, the sweat, the frenetic drums, Ramone’s stickers and the cheap beer, most of all, this book is about trying to fit broken pieces together to make sense of a world in which you are constantly reminded that everybody dies in the end, because you’re looking at veritable mountains made up of their triumphs, their failures, and their very bones.