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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Equity, communalism, and Indigeneity

Hey folks! Shane and I wrote something for the Conversation a couple of weeks ago for Indigenous People’s Day.

This was a difficult kid to give birth too. We originally had a ~6,000 word essay looking at how there is a massive split in the American Dream as an Ideal and the American Dream as Practice, with one oriented towards things like justice, equality, freedom and the other generally deploying things like murder, rape, theft, and general lies and self-ish behavior to allow one group of people to acquire the ideals of the Dream at the expense of another group of people. Over the course of edits with the editors at the Conversation (which was a great experience for the most part) and massive cuts and reorganizations aimed at getting this down to 1200 words a lot of these important discussions were lost. Or minimized. Which was unavoidable since this is really about 5 books worth of writing needed to cover the 5,000 years we focus on.

Some of the goals for the piece that we had that we believed were important, included indicating that Indigenous history can be fundamentally important for changing contemporary political conversations and another of which is that there is a group of Americans with an incredible history who are routinely ignored, treated as non-existent, or worse threatened when they dare to express outrage at their historic and contemporary treatment.

Some small things were changed during edits (The Conversation doesn’t use a track changes style of editing software) that I missed, as well, and didn’t notice until a 50th read through after publication. Small things with huge impacts, like the sentence “archaeologists have long known…” that used to read “Indigenous knowledge-holders and scholars as well as historians and archaeologists have long known . . . ” As a comrade, I thought the second was necessary, but there is some clear academic privilege of my own that allowed the edits to slip through unnoticed. Anyways, this isn’t totally what Shane and I were hoping for. I’m going to write a blog post about the whole process, I think, but I’m also not horrified by the outcome. We geared it towards non-academics outside of Indigenous communities to try and get them to think more deeply on what the American Dream is, how they were able to get to where they are at socially and economically through their own and their ancestor’s actions, and whether there are alternative ways of being and organizing that might help to deal with some of the rampant issues of cultural and economic inequality we are dealing with in our lives. I think that middle goal was lost during our many rewrites. Anyways, clearly I’m conflicted about this. I’ll post the Conversation piece below (which made the front page of the Global edition!). Underneath that, I’ll put our response to many of the critiques, or at least the ones posted as of this writing. If anyone wants to see an early version, let me know and I can post that also.

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When President Barack Obama created Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the 2012 program that offered undocumented young people brought to the U.S. as children a path into society, for a moment the ideals of the American Dream seemed, at least for this group, real.

We call these kids (many of whom are now adults) “Dreamers,” because they are chasing the American Dream – a national aspiration for upward economic mobility built on physical mobility. Fulfilling your dreams often means following them wherever they may lead – even into another country.

The Trump administration’s decision to cancel DACA and build a U.S.-Mexico border wallhas endangered those dreams by subjecting 800,000 young people to deportation.

But the notion underlying both the DACA repeal and the wall – which is that “illegal” immigrants, most of them from Mexico, are stealing U.S. jobs and hurting society – reflects a profound misunderstanding of American history.

On Indigenous Peoples Day, it’s worth underscoring something that many archaeologists know: many of the values that inspire the American Dream – liberty, equality and the pursuit of happiness – date back to well before the creation of the U.S.-Mexico border and before freedom-seeking Pilgrim immigrants arrived at Plymouth Rock in 1620. They originate with native North Americans.

A Native American dream

The modern rendition of the American Dream can be traced back to 1774, when Virginia’s governor, John Murray, the fourth earl of Dunmore, wrote that even if Americans “attained Paradise, they would move on if they heard of a better place farther west.”

The actual term “American Dream” was popularized in 1931 by the businessman and historian James Truslow Adams. For him, its realization depended on not just being able to better oneself but also, through movement and human interaction, seeing your neighbors bettered as well.

The first peoples to come to the Americas also came in search of a better life. That happened 14,000 years ago in the last Ice Age when nomadic pioneers, ancestors to modern Native Americans and First Nations, arrived from the Asian continent and roamed freely throughout what now comprises Canada, the United States and Mexico. Chasing mammoth, ancient bison and the elephant-like Gomphothere, they moved constantly to secure the health of their communities.

The indigenous communities of the Americas knew none of these modern-day national borders. USGS

A more recent example of the power of migration reappears about 5,000 years ago, when a large group of people from what is today central Mexico spread into the American Southwest and farther north, settling as far up as western North America. With them they brought corn, which now drives a significant part of the American economy, and a way of speaking that birthed over 30 of the 169 contemporary indigenous languages still spoken in the United States today.

The Hohokam

This globalist world view was alive and well 700 years ago as well when people from what is now northern Arizona fled a decades-long drought and rising authoritarianism under religious leaders. Many migrated hundreds of miles south to southern Arizona, joining the Hohokam (ancestors to modern O’odham nations) who had long thrived in the harsh Sonoran desert by irrigating vast fields of agave, corn, squash, beans and cotton.

When the northern migrants arrived to this hot stretch of land around the then-nonexistent U.S.-Mexico frontier, Hohokam religious and political life was controlled by a handful of elites. Social mechanisms restricting the accumulation of power by individuals had slowly broken down.

For decades after their arrival, migrants and locals interacted. From that exchange, a Hohokam cultural revolution grew. Together, the two communities created a commoners’ religious social movement that archaeologists call Salado, which featured a feasting practice that invited all village members to participate.

As ever more communities adopted this equitable tradition, political power – which at the time was embedded in religious power – became more equally spread through society. Elites lost their control and, eventually, abandoned their temples.

America’s egalitarian mound-builders

The Hohokam tale unearths another vaunted American ideal that originates in indigenous history: equality. Long before it was codified in the Declaration of Independence, equality was enacted through the building of large mounds.

Massive earthen structures like these are often acts of highly hierarchical societies – think of the pyramids of the ancient Egyptians, constructed by masses of laborers as the final resting place of powerful pharaohs, or those of the rigid, empire-building Aztecs.

But great power isn’t always top-down. Poverty Point, in the lower Mississippi River Valley of what’s now Louisiana, is a good example. This massive site, which consists of five mounds, six concentric semi-elliptical ridges and a central plaza, was built some 4,000 years ago by hunter-fisher-gatherers with little entrenched hierarchy.

Poverty Point: a city built on cooperation. Herb Roe/WikipediaCC BY-SA

Originally, archaeologists believed that such societies without the inequality and authoritarianism that defined the ancient Egyptian, Roman, and Aztec empires could not have constructed something so significant – and, if so, only over decades or centuries.

But excavations in the last 20 years have revealed that large sections of Poverty Point were actually constructed in only a few months. These Native Americans organized in groups to undertake massive projects as a communal cooperative, leaving a built legacy of equality across America’s landscape.

Haudenosaunee

The Haudenosaunee, or Iroquois, offer a more modern example of such consensus-based decision-making practices.

These peoples – who’ve lived on both sides of the St. Lawrence river in modern-day Ontario and the U.S. Great Lakes states for hundreds, if not thousands, of years – built their society on collective labor arrangements.

They ostracized people who exhibited “selfish” behavior, and women and men often worked together in large groups. Everyone lived together in communal longhouses. Power was also shifted constantly to prevent hierarchy from forming, and decisions were made by coalitions of kin groups and communities. Many of these participatory political practices continue to this day.

The Haudenosaunee sided with the British during the 1776 American Revolution and were largely driven off their land after the war. Like many native populations, the Haudenosaunee Dream turned into a nightmare of invasion, plague and genocide as European migrants pursued their American Dream that excluded others.

Native Americans at Standing Rock

The long indigenous history of rejecting authoritarianism continues today, including the 2016 battle for environmental justice at Standing Rock, South Dakota.

There, a resistance movement coalesced around a horizontally organized youth group that rejected the planned Dakota Access oil pipeline.

Native American pioneers continue to fight for the same ideals that inspire the American Dream, including equality and freedom. John Duffy/WikimediaCC BY-SA

The movement centered on an environmental cause in part because nature is sacred to the Lakota (and many other indigenous communities), but also because communities of color often bear the brunt of economic and urban development decisions. This was the indigenous fight against repression and for the American Dream, gone 21st century.

Redefining the North American dream

Anthropologists and historians haven’t always recognized the quintessentially Native American ideals present in the American Dream.

In the early 19th century, the prominent social philosopher Lewis Henry Morgan called the Native Americans he studied “savages.” And for centuries, America’s native peoples have seen their cultural heritage attributed to seemingly everyone but their ancestors – even to an invented “lost” white race.

America’s indigenous past was not romantic. There were petty disputes, bloody intergroup conflicts and slavery (namely along the Northwest Coast and American Southeast).

But the ideals of freedom and equality – and the right that Americans can move across this vast continent to seek it out – survive through the millennia. Societies based on those values have prospered here.

So the next time a politician invokes American values to promote a policy of closed bordersor selfish individualism, remember who originally espoused the American Dream – and first sought to live it, too.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article here.

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Shane and my comments to critiques:

First off, we want to thank everyone for their comments and we’re happy this has started a conversation. We, of course, appreciate those who understood and agreed with our argument, but we also value the discourse that has arisen from those who do not agree with us. There are a number of different critiques, so we’ll sort of break each down briefly. Some, we realize, are supposed to be insults, but are actual high praise when you deconstruct what they mean. For instance, one of the commenters clearly meant to insult us by calling this a typical academic argument (many academics would disagree with our statements, by the way). But since most academic arguments are built on rigorous empirical and historical analysis, we appreciate the complement. #backhandedcomplimentsarecomplimentstoo

 

  • Critique: Dream evolved with the Europeans.

Response: The point of the article is to demonstrate that liberal globalism (ie freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and equality regardless of where you are from) is not uniquely an invention of the US, nor of “Western” society, but that similar ideas existed in the Americas prior to arrival of Europeans. On top of that, the American Dream that emerged out of the “Western” tradition of liberalism (and in the US, liberalism is fundamentally embedded within both the Democratic and Republican parties) was more likely to be put in to practice at the expense of another group of people (i.e. freedom, liberty, and equality for some).

 

  • Critique: There was outside money involved in the Sacred Stone camp and the NoDAPL protests.

Response: This, of course, has nothing to do with the point of the article and doesn’t change the fact that the Dakota Access Pipeline emerged from the actions of a horizontally organized youth group. But, yes, many people were donating supplies to the protestors. There is no evidence of a conspiracy to fund protestors if that is what is being implied.

 

  • Critique: No indigenous humans in the Americas

Response: This, of course, has nothing to do with the discussion in the article. However, this is a particularly common response that is problematic because it is frequently used to justify non-Indigenous decisions that negatively impact Indigenous groups. Folks who argue this also often argue that history is apolitical, etc. It is also purposely obtuse and pedantic to say that the only Indigenous people in the world have to be from where homo sapiens first evolved. This type of comment is also often used to justify social violence on Indigenous communities by governments, and sadly, academic researchers. So yes, there are many Indigenous groups in the Americas.

 

  • Critique: There was no group membership in the past (i.e. group “uniqueness”)

Response: This is neither true within contemporary tribal communities, nor is it correct in archaeological or historic data. One significant component that should be addressed is that, as with many groups, identity is a shifting, intersecting, scalar issue. For many Indigenous members of the US and Canada, identity is not often thought of as tribe first, for instance, if you talk to a Hopi and ask them who they are, they will likely first say clan. If pressed further, or in different social and spatial contexts, they may then say their village, then their mesa, then Hopi. If you ask them who they are while at a meeting together in Chicago, they’ll likely just say Hopi. It’s the same in non-Indigenous cultures. Lewis is originally from Wisconsin, lived in the SW for 15 years, and is now in the Netherlands. When people in Europe ask him who he is, he usually says he’s from the US. When someone from the US asks him who he is, he usually says he’s from the American Southwest. When another archaeologist asks him who he is, he says he’s a Southwestern archaeologist. When his daughters ask him who he is, he says, “Dadda.” There is always, and has always been, group membership. But how we define that shifts within cultural contexts.

 

  • Critique: Missing nautical travel, Hawaiians, and Pacific Northwest Indigenous groups.

Response: We definitely are. And thank you for pointing that out. Sadly, there was not enough space to incorporate all of the relevant groups within this discussion. But those groups, coastal California groups, groups in the Arctic, and Caribbean groups would definitely fit well within this discussion.

 

  • Critique: Sanitized version of history and prehistory

Response: First, there is no human prehistory, at least not as long as we have archaeological evidence for human activity. As for sanitizing history, if what you mean is oversimplified, then yes, it was hard to incorporate the infinite levels of detail necessary to do justice to multiple different regions and 14,000 years of history. If you do mean sanitized, I’m not sure how discussing revolutions, violence, conflict, and slavery amongst Indigenous groups in the Americas is sanitized. Could we have focused on the rise of inequality and the violence surrounding that instead of on ways that groups enacted equitable practices? Yes, but that would be a different article. One that has been frequently written. Do we think our argument is damaged by incorporating the “dirtiness” of history? No. Not at all. Again, this was a simplification to get 14,000 years of history into 1200 words.

 

  • Critique: Prior to the arrival of the Europeans, Indigenous groups in the Americas were just as brutal and violent.

Response: We have a number of responses to this (in fact, we could write a book on it and it’s possible one of us is). We’ll break them apart briefly here:

 This isn’t something we discuss in the article, and if non-state groups in the Americas were as violent as state groups in the contemporary world (or that invaded the Americas), this wouldn’t change the nature of our argument, either. People are incredibly complicated and can exhibit dualities. As we note in the article, violence existed prior to the arrival of Europeans, but that doesn’t change general trends in society (i.e. more concerned with limiting the ability of individuals to control other people versus celebrating it).

            This is also an old critique and first was popularized in “Western” thought with a guy named Hobbes. Hobbes later had a cartoon stuffed tiger named after him, but that doesn’t change the fact that his argument, in his book Leviathan, was that people in non-state societies lived in “continual fear and danger of violent death, and the life of man, [was] solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” His argument is fundamentally situated within the Enlightenment’s views of “the state” as the supreme apex of civilization. It is also wrong. In archaeology we often study how people respond in contexts of perpetual fear of violence. It leaves very distinct signatures in how people build, in where they build, it what artifacts they make. Anyways, it’s categorically not true (neither is the extreme inverse). Hobbes argument is problematic on a number of levels, though.

1) Violence is often used to limit the ability of individuals and/or groups to control others. So, if freedom and equity are some of the founding principles of your society, then sometimes violence occurs to limit those trying to take it away. We see this regularly in the Americas prior to the arrival of Columbus. This sort of violence decreases dramatically within states, because violence becomes regulated. Only state sponsored acts can occur (i.e. police, military, etc.). Anything happening outside of those regulations will be punished.

2) There are mixed results from studies looking at the level of the advent of states. The first critiques of the myth of the Noble Savage (which was popularized in French literature and philosophy in the 1600s and 1700s) that were rolled out empirically in archaeology in the 1990s successfully demonstrated that American Indigenous individuals and groups can be as violent as state level societies on a per capita level, often more so. Again this is per capita, not total numbers. The most popular book to come out of the champions of this view was written by Larry Keeley (although there are many others). And he was right. He was also wrong on a lot of things. I’m not sure that 1 out of 10 (1 person = 10% per capita) dying in a raid is more violent than 3 to 3.7% of the worldwide population that died during World War 2 (70-85 million), but that is the gist of their argument. Fundamentally, it was pushed to stop dehumanizing past peoples and reducing horrible instances of fear and brutality to “ritual” or “ineffective” combat/warfare. That’s besides the point, though, what is the point is that many of these researchers who push the idea that past warfare was more damaging, per capita, than modern warfare focus on warfare instead of more commonly on violence. While Keeley’s actual results are still contested (there is a new paper out in Current Anthropology that reiterates some of my points here and has been written up for the public in Science News on October 20th), it is clear that the total per capita fatalies decreased with the advent of states (this may have happened anyways without states and may be a natural expression of numeric chances). But, again, this argument is built specifically on warfare and doesn’t include dramatic increases in other types of person on person violence. Things like domestic violence (which we know increased under state political organizations), state sanctioned violence like executions, prison sentences. Long story longer, life in the contemporary U.S., Canada, and Mexico, for many marginalized communities, is nasty, brutish, short and full of the perpetual fear of violent death. To be clear on who we are critiquing with that last sentence, it isn’t the marginalized communities.

 

o          Critique: Communalism and Communism are the same.

Response: They aren’t.

 

o          Critique: Tribes were homogenous before the arrival of the Europeans

Response: This is demonstrably false, both empirically and historically. Since we’ve used Hopi already, we’ll draw on their history as an example again. Each Hopi clan has a separate migration story that incorporates centuries, if not millennia, of movement throughout the Southwest, and sometimes farther afield. This has been demonstrated through Hopi historical practices (i.e. oral traditions and tribal knowledge) and archaeological research. In fact, many Indigenous groups in North America, even though identity has become politicized with firm cultural boundaries drawn in recent centuries by the Canadian, Mexican, and US governments, were very heterogeneous with individuals and households having diverse histories (if not in the immediate past, then definitely in the deep past).

 

o          Critique: No mention of Solutreans in the Americas.

Response: It’s true. We don’t. The archaeological data, at this time, does not support that hypothesis. Neither does the genetic data. It also isn’t relevant to this article.

 

o          Critique: 90% of Indigenous groups in the Americas were wiped out by European disease.

Response: While we do mention the impact of plague and genocide on the one period and region we discuss that overlaps with the arrival of Europeans to the Americas, the presence of European diseases doesn’t really impact our argument that liberal globalism was much more effectively deployed (in general) through many Indigenous societies than it was, and is, within the Western state. That being said, we’re already here so . . . since the actual numbers of Indigenous groups present in the Americas varies widely between researchers who attempt to reconstruct what North American demography looked like just prior to the arrival of Europeans, it is difficult to come up with an actual percentage of Native Americans that were killed by European diseases. It is also very important to recognize that Europeans weren’t only accidentally complicit in these genocidal activities and that many times they choose to commit genocide, both through acts of physical violence (i.e. with weapons) and by purposely infecting populations with diseases they knew would wipe them out. The fact that many Indigenous groups still exist with incredibly vibrant cultures and societies in the face of these atrocities speaks to strong underlying community and intra-group, sometimes even inter-group, equitable practices common in many Indigenous cultural practices in North America. Our argument as drawn out in the case studies is that this may not be true always at specific points in time, but through time, periods of inequality, particularly in what would become the U.S. and Canada, were frequently contested and overcome.

 

Final Comments:

One of our goals was to demonstrate that there is a creative persistence in the humanism underlying many Indigenous societies in North America that existed prior to the arrival of Europeans and continues to exist. Of course humans are humans, but human societies work within cultural rules and beliefs that can be written, unwritten, or both. Our main argument, that one of the reasons so many groups practiced forms of equitable rule and that so many instances of transitions into inequality and hierarchy were violently torn down or walked away from, is because the view of individuals as members of a social compact was (and is) often sacrosanct and much more strongly embedded in many North American Indigenous societies than it is in many other societies that allowed states to flourish at the expense of liberty and happiness for all members of society. Migration, which created these heterogeneous and cosmopolitan Indigenous societies prior to the arrival of Europeans, was a huge driver of this success and a recognizable indicator of this globalist impulse through time.

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Okay. That is a lot of words for one blog post, but I thought this would be informative for anyone interested in the topic we wrote about as well as any scholars (Indigenous or non-Indigenous) interested in taking their research out to a broader, diverse audience that doesn’t share your views and can be a bit caustic and dismissive in their disagreement. Not that researchers should be surprised by that. It’s just Reviewer 3, multiplied by a few hundred voices.

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.

wittgenstein

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.

The archaeology of action figures

As an archaeologist, I’m often confronted with weird professional boundaries that stigmatise how and what types of culturally constructed material objects archaeologists study. This stigma primarily revolves around recent and contemporary material culture. In the UK, this is starting to change and in the US there are researchers such as myself who, regardless of what period in the past they study, think that archaeology is the scientific/social/historic/humanistic investigation of culturally constructed Things. Part of this is connected with what has come to be called New Materialism, a movement to rethink how and why humans and their world of Things (cars, toys, houses, wedding rings, toothbrushes, projectile points, tattoos, etc.) exist in a tangled web of interaction, identity construction, and cultural change.

Years ago, early in grad school this point of how archaeologists are barricading themselves within an in-artfully placed fortress of solitude was driven home to me while listening to a now retired archaeologist who publishes regularly on contemporary material culture self-deprecatingly, and I felt earnestly, note that he no longer writes archaeological literature. This same archaeologist, one of the smartest individuals I know, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and fundamentally changed the theoretical landscape of global archaeology in such an effective way that people now read his work and see it as mere “common-sense” when 30 to 40 years ago it was anything but.

More recently, while talking to a few colleagues in the U.S Southwest, I’ve been publicly criticised for declaring that my side project studying skateboards and the impact the material culture of this pastime and sport has had on processes of identity construction and environmental meaning across the globe is somehow archaeology. Many more have supported my statement in private, but that fear of going public with the idea that archaeology is actually the study of humans and their things, instead of the study of humans and their things from some vaguely distant past is a critical problem . . . in Americanist archaeology at least. I say this as an archaeologist who primarily investigates at a distance of some 600-1000 years in the past. After all, the past is only as far away as the beginning of this sentence.

Recently, for a professional anthropological and archaeological audience, I wrote that the above-mentioned “separation between what we do study versus what we can study creates a situation similar to what cyberpunk author William Gibson calls atemporality. Atemporality is essentially the idea that portions of the human narrative are historical in the Fukuyama sense, that is progressing through history and other parts are ahistorical, which is to say not progressing and disconnected from those periods that are in the flow of history. This creates a separation between skateboards and Clovis points, between worthy versus not worthy for the archaeological gaze. This sets archaeologists off from history and lends to an image of archaeological research by the public as basically frivolous.” I end by discussing what we can use to stitch the pre-modern/modern/post-modern world back together.

Regardless, while archaeologists have been fighting somewhat useless theory wars about how to investigate our (self-imposed) isolated portion of the past, the rest of the world of social researchers moved past us and started constructing their own theoretical understandings of human and object interactions. And so, to get to the point of this blog post, I would like to direct you to one such recently published discussion of the interaction between capitalism, history, and identity on the Atlantic website by University of Twente, Applied Philosophy professor Nolan Gertz. It’s a lot more interesting than I make it sound and looks at the history of action figures, particularly G.I. Joe’s and Star Wars figures. This harkens to an archaeological investigation of Barbie by Marlys Pearson and Paul Mullins that was published in 1999.* These two are definitive readings if you want to understand why and how archaeology can be an important avenue for investigating what it means to be human regardless of the time period. As an archaeologist who works in deep history**, I love research like Gertz’s and Mullins and Pearson’s, because it gives me a fundamental connection between people and their stuff that I can use to explain the past in much more realistic, and truthful, ways than simply saying that clearly these people had to move from A to B because it got too cold or there wasn’t enough rain. Also, they made different pots.***

Anyways, check out both of these readings. Whether you like or agree with the authors, these articles are, respectfully, excellent examples of what archaeologists could be doing and are doing. And feel free to leave comments below. I know I have really only stereotypically captured the spirit of Americanist archaeology and there are many folks who have worked and are working to break us out of our bubble (such as Bill Rathje, Larry Zimmerman, Jason De León, and Andrew Reinhard)

 

*Mullins continues to explore similar themes.

**That extensive period of time before writing was invented but after humans became cognitively the same as modern humans. Previously mislabeled as prehistoric when really it should have been called pre-textual.

***This is an overly sensationalised stereotype of bad archaeology. No one really does this . . . much . . . anymore.

 

Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials and the destruction of cultural heritage

I just finished writing a blog post about an incident that happened a couple days ago. I won’t write too much about it here since it’s been picked up by the Huffington Post. This post is basically to just tie in with everyone who follows my blog so that they can check it out. Essentially, a blog I wrote for Archaeology Southwest ended up migrating to Huffington Post. You can check out the Archaeology Southwest version here and the Huffington Post version here. Anyways, thanks to Kate Gann for letting me delve into some sensitive topics on this one.

On the nature of graffiti, rock art, and creepytings

As some of you may know, I’ve had a varied life, which I feel has positively affected my career. Most people who know me, either personally or professionally, know that my research interests have certainly been fueled by my personal experiences. In a career that can often be dry, this is pretty necessary (and most folks I know are similarly engaged) or else you risk burning out. Anyways, one of my colleagues at Archaeology Southwest, Kate Sarther Gann, asked me for my opinion on the creepytings vandalism across the Western national parks. I think I may have given her a bit more than she was expecting, but I appreciated her asking me as many of the responses to these paintings in the wild had been bothering me partially because of my past experiences with people engaged in street and performance art. These two part blog on Archaeology Southwest is me trying to explain why.

http://www.archaeologysouthwest.org/2014/11/01/creepytings-versus-rock-art-and-banksy/

Cormac McCarthy on history and the past

I just finished working as the survey director for an archaeology field school this summer that was run jointly through the University of Arizona and Archaeology Southwest. You can check out my post about that here. You can also check out the blog posts that our students and faculty wrote here. The gist of the summer for me, outside of that I was once again reminded that someone needs to do an ethnography of an archaeological field school, was that incredible ideas can come from the most mundane interactions. On some level that’s really what archaeology and anthropology are about anyways: looking at everyday objects and understanding just how many incredible ideas are wrapped up within those little pieces of material culture. Regardless, one of the students was reading Cormac McCarthy‘s “The Road“, which is one of the more disturbing, distressful, beautiful, and all around engaging novels I’ve read. It reminded me that at one point, I was collecting tidbits of-well, I’d like to call them McCarthyisms, but I suppose that word is forever soiled-what we’ll call Cormac-isms that relate to the past and history. None of them specifically mention archaeology, but it’s hard not to insert my particular way of studying the past into them. Anyways, here they are. I think it’s pretty amazing just how much of anthropological theory, theoretical fights, and paradigm shifts are actually captured within Cormac’s words. I actually have a lot more to say on the current state of archaeology and our failure to effectively understand our disciplinary past that relate to a lot of these changes, but I’ll leave it at this and let Cormac take over from here.

“When I was in school I studied biology. I learned that in making their experiments scientists will take some group–bacteria, mice, people–and subject that group to certain conditions. They compare the results with a second group which has not been disturbed. This second group is called the control group. It is the control group which enables the scientist gauge the effect of his experiment. To judge the significance of what has occurred. In history there are no control groups. There is no one to tell us what might have been. We weep over the might have been, but there is no might have been. There never was.” – All the Pretty Horses

You think when you wake up in the mornin yesterday don’t count. But yesterday is all that does count. What else is there? Your life is made out of the days it’s made out of. Nothin else.” – No Country for Old Men

The universe is no narrow thing and the order within it is not constrained by any latitude in its conception to repeat what exists in one part in any other part. Even in this world more things exist without our knowledge than with it and the order in creation which you see is that which you have put there, like a string in a maze, so that you shall not lose your way. For existence has its own order and that no man’s mind can compass, that mind itself being but a fact among others.” – Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West

“When one has nothing left make ceremonies out of the air and breathe upon them.” – The Road

“Scars have the strange power to remind us that our past is real.” – All The Pretty Horses

“The rain falls upon the just
And also on the unjust fellas
But mostly it falls upon the just
Cause the unjust have the just’s umbrellas” – The Stonemason

“He thought each memory recalled must do some violence to its origins. As in a party game. Say the words and pass it on. So be sparing. What you alter in the remembering has yet a reality, known or not.” – The Road

“There is but one world and everything that is imaginable is necessary to it. For this world also which seems to us a thing of stone and flower and blood is not a thing at all but is a tale. And all in it is a tale and each tale the sum of all lesser tales and yet these are also the selfsame tale and contain as well all else within them. So everything is necessary. Every least thing. This is the hard lesson. Nothing can be dispensed with. Nothing despised.” – The Crossing

 

 

EDITED 7/16/2014: I just found this out yesterday. It turns out that James F. Brooks wrote a beautiful article in 2000 examining how history, and the idea of history, are infused into McCarthy’s stories. If you can, I really suggest reading it. You can link to it here.

This Rusty American Dream

I told a little fib, I suppose. I ended up having time to work on a blog post during the field school. I’ve once again posted it through Archaeology Southwest’s blog. I’ll drop the link here in a second. This one’s a bit more substantive than some of my previous ones, not wordy, not academic, not jargony, it just delves a little bit deeper into what archaeology and anthropology mean to me and hopefully I’ve written it (or at least I’ve tried to) so that if you’re not an anthropologist or an archaeologist, you can get a sense for some of the things we think about on a fairly regular basis. I’m pretty excited about this one as it actually wraps up 3 of the 4 topics that I wanted On Man and Machine to focus on: archaeology, anthropology (which for me these are really the same), and old cars. So read up!