How Bad Poetry Can Lead to a Career in Archaeology

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of grunge, it was the age of Robin Hood ballads; it was the epoch of flannel, it was the epoch of tight rolled jeans; it was the season of techno, it was the season of boy-band pop; it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair; we had everything before us, we had nothing before us . . .

Yep. It was the early ’90s. And I was in high school.

What this meant for me was a whole lot of awkwardness; some purposely bad hair (read: mullet) as a reaction to small-town high school snobbery; punk, grunge, and techno music; and some incredibly bad emotive poetry. Oh…and Latin. And Dungeons and Dragons. And cross-country running. And folk wrestling (i.e. collegiate). And Tae Kwon Do. And skateboarding. And street skating. And flannel. And Chuck Ts. And massively over-sized overalls. Really, just pure nerdery and hormones and more awkwardness.

And angst. Holy crow, the angst.

Oh, man. It was horrible.

The 1990s were actually a pretty incredible time, though. Music had diverged in two important ways that created somewhat overlapping, but dramatically different constituents. Grunge music was as a wake-up call to pop-radio consumers. Techno, trance, house, and drum and bass music flooded the warehouses, farm fields, and clubs in the Midwest along with what, at that time, was a very forward-thinking, optimistic social movement packaged within rave culture.

So, with my eyes opening to capitalism and social repression through grunge and punk and my heart opening to the promise of Hakim Bey’s Temporary Autonomous Zones that the rave community was enthralled by, I took my first high school career placement test on a fancy, dirty white computer that generally just ran Oregon Trail and Scorched Earth.

This test was exciting. I pictured a pat on my back by our counselor as the computer screen was flashing that I was a perfect fit as either an archaeologist or a writer. Needless to say, it was a total shock to me when the first career fit was proctologist.

Okay, so it didn’t actually say “you should be a proctologist,” but that was the first option in the program’s list of what I would be good at. Now, I don’t want to upset any proctologists. Honestly, you all are awesome and deserve far more credit than you can possibly ever receive, but as a 16-year-old romantic . . . well, let’s just say there was a cognitive disconnect.

Clearly, this test is faulty. I should take it again, right? Right. This second time will surely clear things up. Wait…what…bus driver? What the he–? This is about where my counselor walked over and patted me on the back. I got up and slouched out of the office, trying not to trip over my untied Chucks or the huge hem of my baggy overalls. I wrapped my flannel around me like a blanket and set about trying to understand how things could have gone so horribly wrong. Who was I supposed to be?

I still have no idea how those tests work. I’m guessing they were along the lines of an early Buzzfeed quiz. But there I was, apparently destined to be the first operator of a mobile proctology clinic. My solution to this was simple. Flee.

I promptly asked my mom if I could go to a high school archaeology field school. Note that I didn’t choose a writing camp. I can only imagine that, somewhere deep down, a part of me already recognized that lines like, “A tin puppet prepares his twin sorrows / he’ll force nature’s sign” were best forgotten with the other garbage in Al Capone’s vault.

So, off to archaeology camp I went, where I immediately learned far more about historic blue glass, rusted pieces of historic metal, and old pieces of wood than a high schooler who yearned for images of Western skies at dusk could handle. I was done. And not in any good way. Archaeology was horrible. And boring. Definitely. Not. The Bomb.

So, I trudged through the last bit of high school. Graduated and ended up chasing down the writing dream. I put together two mostly horrible novels that I still tell myself I might salvage one-day, a slew of trite and tripe short stories, and more bad poetry than an entire decade of an Introduction to Poetry class could possibly create. I wasn’t a total failure. I did have a couple of poems published and, for a while, there were some bites on my first novel—but I spent more time at the bar than the typewriter, and I never really had my heart in the effort of it. Writing was hard. Drinking was not.

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This sign I found blown under my car in a parking lot in Albuquerque is one of my prized possessions.

The years blew by. Weird experiences and amazing people (and vice versa) racked up like points in a particularly great pinball game. And before I knew it, I’d put the fiction writing on hold, packed up my heart, said good bye to those amazing people, and moved out to the great American desert. In Albuquerque, after a year of racking up some more points on that odd pinball machine, I landed at the University of New Mexico. There, I started taking anthropology classes and eventually took an Introduction to Archaeology class taught by Dr. Patricia Crown.

School was always pretty easy for me. Minimal effort, maximum return. Then I took Patty’s class. The first test in that 100-level class was a brick to the face. Somehow, I rallied, buckled down, and poured myself into my studies in a way I never really had before. I had to fight against a lifetime of education that had taught me that “smart” should mean “gets it right away” and not “worked at it till it was learned.” But, somehow, I did it, and came out of that class with the first A I’d ever really been proud of. There would be many more that I would fully earn, but that was the first. During that semester, I finally put my hand to the plow, and I’ve been tilling ever since.

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My good friend and colleague, Dr. Julia Clark. We’re standing next to our excavation unit in front of Pueblo Bonito during the Chip Wills’ and Patty Crown’s Chaco Stratigraphy Project.

Now, there are some other things we could talk about, but I’m getting short on time and am way over the word limit (as always). So, for now, we’ll summarize and discuss.

Life handed me a bus-driving proctologist. I said no way to archaeology. I tried to shoot the moon for writing, but eventually found my way back to archaeology. There, I fell in love with humanity’s detritus. And even more importantly, I fell in love with the sense of humanity you can get from studying the things we love.

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My daughters in 2014 with their favorite things: Taggie and Bear. Taggie is now packed away and has been replaced by a Raggedy Anne style Doll. Bear is still with us and has traveled quite a lot at this point.

Now I get tears in my eyes when I see my daughter’s favorite teddy bear slowly getting older from 6 years of intense love. I choke up when I hear my youngest tell me she’s worried about how damaged her favorite stuffed toy is and that she doesn’t want her friends to see it, but then she still finds her and snuggles with her at night. I do this because I know that as inanimate as these things are, they’re defining my daughters as much as my wife and I are. These things form the spaces within which my children grow, and learn, and become amazing. These things create the shape of who they are and will be as young women and will continue to create the spaces that shape them until they die. And I know that long after I’m gone, things of mine will remain that will preserve a portion of the shape of who I was. Our things are our stories and they are us. And this is exciting and comforting to me.

So…how I became an archaeologist is maybe not the most interesting tale, and it’s definitely not the culmination of a single-minded lifelong quest. Instead, I think it is more the chronicle of this long process of moving from making up stories to realizing that there was already a world littered with stories.

After writing this out, it now seems clear that how I became an archaeologist is also why I became an archaeologist: because I realized that archaeology is an honest way to uncover the story of the people I love. Archaeology holds the story of all of the people I’ve learned so much from. It holds the story of my wife and my children, my family and my friends. All of the incredible, and horrible, people I’ve met, along with millennia of incredible people I could not meet. Because archaeology, once we get past the dictionary definition, is not the study of things, it’s the study of the human narrative and of our humanity. It’s the study of our stories that form in and around our things.

Basically, dear reader, I became an archaeologist because I think you are pretty darn awesome. You and all of your things that make you, you. And I would really like to read that story.

 

 


A version of this essay originally appeared on Archaeology Southwest’s blog as one of many blogs about how archaeologists ended up working in our discipline: https://www.archaeologysouthwest.org/2015/10/12/how-bad-poetry-can-lead-to-a-career-in-archaeology/

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An Archaeology of Choice

Hi! I’m properly citing this borrowed idea (Brughmans 2016) of taking hang-out photos with something I wrote that was just published.

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The book is called Foreign Objects: Rethinking Indigenous Consumption in American Archaeology. It’s edited by Craig Cipolla. It’s full of a lot of great work by archaeologists using and expanding consumption theory.

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The chapter I wrote with Barbara Mills is about using consumption theory to analyze the archaeological record as a record of human choices. As we say in the chapter, pots are not people, but they are choices.

“An archaeology of choice revealed through consumption patterns recognizes that decisions are involved at every step along the consumption continuum. In an archaeology of choice, ceramics, for example, are liminal objects that transition the archaeological record from one of things to one of acts, decisions, and experiences. Ceramics are evidence of historical choices. Each pot moves beyond the corporeal field of the material and into the incorporeal field of human history” (Borck and Mills 2017:30).

Anyways, the book is available through the University of Arizona Press and you can read our chapter here.

Call for Papers-EAA 2017: Island Networks: Analytical and Conceptual Advances in the Archaeological Study of Intra- and Inter-Island Relationships

Session 150

Island Networks: Analytical and Conceptual Advances in the Archaeological Study of Intra- and Inter-Island Relationships

Dr. Jason E. Laffoon, Leiden University/Free University Amsterdam—The Netherlands: j.e.laffoon@arch.leidenuniv.nl

Dr. Lewis Borck, Archaeology Southwest/Leiden University—USA/The Netherlands: lsborck@gmail.com

This is a call for papers for archaeological researchers working on inter- and intra-island networks and relationships to submit an abstract for the upcoming conference of the European Association of Archaeologists (EAA). The conference will be held in Maastricht (The Netherlands) from August 30th to September 2nd, 2017.

Many island settings throughout the world represent archaeologically understudied spaces with turbulent histories. These regions often offer complex interconnections of settler and indigenous dynamics further complicated by restricted terrestrial environments. These colonial/indigenous relationships are also frequently built on existing inter-community indigenous relationships that can be difficult to uncover. Archaeologists have used a wide variety of analytical and conceptual tools to understand and highlight the existence of these pre- and post-colonial interactions, and to explore how these relationships were built, maintained, modified, and abandoned. These include network analysis (both quantitative and conceptual), châine opératoire, consumption frameworks, artifact biographies, communities of practice and enculturative learning paradigms, and actor network theory. While surficially different, these forms have underlying similarities in that they all focus to varying levels on relational qualities found in various forms of data, including between individuals, archaeological settlements, groups, material culture, and steps in the production process. Relational analyses like these allow researchers to build bridges between multiple temporal periods and between the islands (and often the mainland). In this session, to represent the truly heterogeneous nature of data and relational methodology, presenters will use a varying mix of historical documents, oral traditions, and a multitude of analytical techniques applied to the material record to examine historical inter- and intra-community social relationships present within and between islands.

If you feel you have research that would fit within these themes, you have until March 15th, 2017 to submit your paper title and abstract directly at http://www.eaa2017maastricht.nl/deadlines by scrolling down to the submission section. For questions, email either Lewis Borck or Jason Laffoon.

More information on the conference is available at: http://www.eaa2017maastricht.nl/

Anarchy and Archaeology (The SAA Archaeological Record, Vol. 17 No.1)

I’m very excited to announce that the newest SAA Archaeological Record is available online. As always, it is an open-access pdf file. It will also be arriving in the mailboxes of SAA members shortly. Feel free to print, frame, and hang on your office wall. Matthew Sanger and I co-edited this volume, which grew out of an SAA session in 2015 and a following Wenner-Gren workshop in the spring of 2016. Authors include myself, Matthew Sanger, John Welch, David Pacifico, Carole Crumley, Charles Orser, Ed Henry, Bill Angelbeck, Uzma Rizvi, James Birmingham, Theresa Kintz, James Arias Fajardo, Sophie Marie Rotermund, Lindsay Montgomery, and a follow up article by Leo Faryluk will be in a later issue. There are a number of projects still in the works as well, so if you are using anarchist theory either in research or in practice, please let us know and we’ll let you know about possible publication routes. Anyways, enjoy! And you can check out a website that is still pretty sparse, but will start to fill up with projects shortly at http://www.anarchaeology.org/

 

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We made the end of year highlights for Savage Minds.

As many, or at least some of you, are aware. I’m involved with an awesome and ever changing group of archaeologists in a really open ended project of introducing a type of theoretical perspective into our discipline that has been ignored for a very long time. In my view, this is a project not simply built on putting down bricks to create the foundation and steps for an academic career, but also one aimed at at least opening up some new ideas within our discipline and acknowledging some age-old biases that have been impacting social science research for a very long time.

So I’ve been making some publication decisions that are not always considered “smart” decisions in the academic field. This means, that while I am fully engaged with publishing peer-reviewed articles, I am also publishing in formats that will have larger impacts in terms of readership and availability. Part of the reasons that I am making these decisions (for myself) is that I believe archaeology needs to move outside of its basin of research and interact with more social sciences and engage more individuals outside of the social sciences who are in search of answers to problems they see in their lives and in their society.

All of this is a round about way of writing that I’m very excited to announce that the piece I co-authored with a non-hierarchy of fellow authors, and that Savage Minds graciously published in their insightful Decolonizing Anthropology series, was chosen as one of the highlights in their end of the year wrap-up. You can read that article by The Black Trowel Collective entitled, “Foundations of an Anarchist Archaeology: A Community Manifesto” by following the link. And if you have any questions about what a non-hierarchy of authors is, or why we went that route, please feel free to contact me through either email, the comments section, or in an IM.

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In the current US and Worldwide political climate, where thousands of people have suddenly realized that equity and justice are not a given, it is, I think, more important than ever to understand our shared pasts and the lessons in those stories. Archaeology is a great avenue to do that. But it only becomes relevant if we use it critically and if we treat research and preservation and education as points on a continuum instead of as fully differentiated fields. An anarchist archaeology is by no means the only way to accomplish this and for many years Feminists, Indigenists, Marxists, and many others have been doing just that. But for some of us this particular perspective helps shed keen insights onto the past, while critically exposing uncontested biases in our field.

For me in particular, it also reveals areas that archaeologists have for too long ignored because it didn’t seem to be worth their time. Because of this hands-off approach to these claims–and I’m mostly speaking about fringe and psuedoscience archaeology and their often implictly racist hyperdiffusionist arguments–archaeology and archaeologists (myself included) are, in many ways, complicit in the rise of the neo-Nazi and white nationalist groups who have come together and rebranded under the Alt-Right term. While I see friends and colleagues humorously posting images of Indiana Jones happily smacking a Nazi in the face and mentioning that they never thought archaeologists might actually have to fight Nazis, I also don’t see those archaeologists, outside of a select few, many of whom are on the Fraudulent Archaeology Wall of Shame facebook group started by Andrew White, actually using their archaeological knowledge to fight those racist views. In fact, Jason Colavito, one of the best people tearing apart the hyperdiffusionist views that support and gird up many of the racist views of the Alt-Right, is not even an archaeologist (although he should probably stop saying that and admit that he really is at this point. I’ll even induct you, Jason. There’s a ceremony and everything. Very official.). Anyways, I clearly have more to say about that and it’s probably because I’m writing something about it that I’ll publish at some point soon, but the main point is that if you’re looking for a perspective that critically questions yours and others assumptions, anarchism might be a good place to start. And you’ll quickly see the many wonderful and fruitful intersections it has with a lot of other social theory and perspectives.

Last year’s Archaeology Southwest International Day of Archaeology blogs

To follow up on this year’s International Day of Archaeology #IDA2016, here is the blog roll from Archaeology Southwest’s #IDA2015 participation. The archaeologists and staff at Archaeology Southwest each wrote how they ended up in the discipline. Unsurprisingly for those who know an archaeology, for most, it was not a straight path from “as a child I always wanted to be an archaeologist” to “professional archaeologist”. Mine is on 10/12/2015 and is titled, How Bad Poetry Can Lead to a Career in Archaeology, if you are so inclined.

Here they are:

10/17/2015 Happy International Archaeology Day!

10/17/2015 Fortuities

10/16/2015 How a Sense of Place Made Sense of the Past

10/16/2015 I Found Nothing

10/15/2015 The Perfect Field

10/15/2015 Deep Roots and Archaeological Obsession

10/14/2015 From Arrowhead Hunter to Archaeologist

10/14/2015 Fateful Bananas

10/13/2015 The People

10/13/2015 A Long and Winding Road

10/12/2015 How Bad Poetry Can Lead to a Career in Archaeology

10/11/2016 Other Archaeologists

10/10/2016 The Making of a Preservation Archaeologist

10/9/2015 The Reluctant Archaeologist and Archaeology as a Gateway

What Archaeologists do Blog Posts for International Day of Archaeology.

The archaeologists and staff at Archaeology Southwest ran a bunch of blog posts for the International Day of Archaeology #IDA2016 from October 3rd through the 14th. As always with this group, they are a wonderful collection both of daily activities and history of archaeological ideas and practice. I’d really suggest checking them out. Mine was on October 13th and is called Bridges, if you are so inclined.

Here they are:

10/14/16 Decisions in Clay

10/13/16 Bridges

10/12/16 Delegating

10/11/16 The Translators

10/10/16 Painting Party

10/9/16 The Blog Must Go On

10/7/16 A Special Person, Two Places, and My Dog

10/5/2016 Juggling

10/3/16 Indiana Jones and the Artiodactyl-Sized Long Bone Shaft Fragment

 

Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus: Work of Genius, or not.

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In case you didn’t know . . .

Wittgenstein was offered a position at Cambridge after Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus was already published. He didn’t actually have a PhD though, so he enrolled as a PhD student and submitted TLP as his dissertation. It’s said that he told his two examiners that they would never understand it. This may be possible, because one of his examiners for his PhD in 1929 was George Edward Moore. In his examiner’s report, Moore wrote, “I myself consider that this is a work of genius; but, even if I am completely mistaken and it is nothing of the sort, it is well above the standard required for the Ph.D. degree.”

Wittgenstein would later go on to post-humously critique much of TLP, so there may have been a bit of truth in both of the first two clauses of Moore’s sentence. Regardless, it is a pretty amazing statement. And it shows a surprising amount of modesty. I wonder if anyone would be this honest now-a-days.

Tucson Food Renaissance has its roots in the archaeology of the region.

Tucson is in the midst of a culinary renaissance as residents expand the use of native foods and create a local food market based on the unique palletes of the Sonoran desert. UNESCO has even awarded the city with its City of Gastronomy label, joining only 17 other cities across the globe with this designation. Much of this has to do with the deep history of agriculture and cuisine that we know about because of indigenous oral traditions and archaeology in the Tucson region. You can read more about it in these various national and international write-ups. If you live here, you probably already know how lucky we are. If you don’t, you should come visit us. See some of the archaeology that contributes to this culinary history and resurgence, eat at some of the restaurants outside of Tucson like the Desert Rain Cafe on the Tohono O’odham tribal lands that have helped underscore this interest in indigenous foods, and try some of the world class whiskey, beer, and wine that are produced here as well.

http://www.usatoday.com/story/travel/experience/food-and-wine/2016/08/19/tucson-food-scene/85376066/

https://www.theguardian.com/travel/2016/jul/17/tuscon-arizona-downtown-unesco-city-of-gastronomy-restaurants-regeneration

https://www.tucsonaz.gov/integrated-planning/tucson-unesco-city-gastronomy