Posted by Dawid Kobiałka
There is always something to learn from Sherlock Holmes. It is a good sign that an archaeologist has been often identified with the private detective:
The Sherlock Holmes type detective has become a common association with archaeology. Although the detective has been associated with other disciplines too […], the link with archaeology is nevertheless extremely close. As has often been pointed out […], both archaeology and (forensic) criminology draw, in parts, on seemingly incontrovertible material evidence, which is carefully documented and taken to provide significant clues as that what really had happened at the site under investigation (Holtorf 2007: 75-76).
Figure 1. Bredarör on Kivik around 1760 (Drawing by Beckanstedt, ATA/Stockholm) (after Goldhahn 2012).
One of the archaeologists who looks closer at Sherlock Holmes’ logic and its usefulness in archaeology is Michael Shanks (1996: 37-41). The British archaeologist uses as a starting point of his discussion about Sherlock a quote from Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Golden Pince-Nez. It is rather a typical story how Sherlock Holmes by approaching details unseen to the others discovers the truth at the end. What is worth mentioning is the fact that Sherlock’s impressive logic is at work in the very first story about the great detective who lived at 221B Baker Street, A Study in Scarlet (Conan Doyle 2003). The reader is already shocked in the first chapter where Sherlock, only by a quick glance at John Watson, knows that he is a doctor of medicine, who was in Afghanistan, and was injured there, etc. John Watson explains in the next chapter how Sherlock was able to do it only by scrutinising details. This aspect of a Sherlockian thinking is emphasised by Shanks. The British archaeologist (Shanks 1996: 38) describes it in the following way:
Sherlock Holmes, whose method is exemplified in the passage above [a fragment from The Golden Pince-Nez – D.K.] trifling details lead to deep insight. It is not that Holmes is a methodical scientist who calculates all possibilities, never guessing until the truth is clear. Sherlock Holmes in fact depends on inspired guesswork, and this is what makes him so fascinating: he observes, makes a guess on the basis of what he thinks is likely, then tests out the guess.
The above quote should be read as a symptom, that something is wrong in this very reasoning about Sherlock. In other words, when such sophisticated theoretician like Shanks repeats social clichés about Sherlock (trifling details lead to deep insight), then there has to be something fundamentally wrong about it .
Continue reading "Archaeology through the Lens of Sherlock Holmes" »
Posted by Christopher Witmore
I wrote this paper for a session at the 2011 Meeting of the American Association of Anthropology in Montreal called Science and Technology Studies (STS) and Anthropology: What is the status of our descriptions?
It is about time I posted it here. (Note 1)
Archaeological description is rather peculiar. As we work at describing old things it is often the case that we simultaneously participate in their utter oblivion. Excavation, in particular, has often been taken, not only as synonymous with destruction, but also as a kind of unrepeatable experiment, if experiment is even the right metaphor. One can never return to those deposits and cuts that have been removed. One can never engage those features and things in the way that they were prior to an intervention by archaeologists. We accept these losses as a trade off for those gains made in the descriptive process. But what happens if a description becomes suspect?
This paper shares some preliminary considerations that focus on the relationship between archaeological description and doubt. It takes as its ground a series of examples from the 2011 excavations of the erstwhile Roman fort at Binchester, UK –these are divided into three sections: 1) accuracy; 2) association; and 3) definition. More specifically, this paper seeks to understand what the question of doubt reveals about the adequacy of an archaeological description. Even more perplexing is the impossibility of full verification under the weight of scrutiny. Against a standard notion that once skepticism sets in the validity of the statements are called into question or the data become irrevocably suspect, I wish to suggest that the status of archaeological descriptions should always be approached with a spirit of caution, rooted in a deep awareness of just how risky and tentative is the act of reaching an adequate archaeological description.
Continue reading "Archaeological Description and Doubt" »
Posted by Alfredo Gonzalez Ruibal
A session at the US TAG 2013, Chicago
Co-organizers: Alicia Jiménez (alicia.jimenez(at)stanford.edu) and Alfredo
Archaeology leans heavily on typologies and similarities. Narratives about cultural change, the spreading of ideas and diasporas are often linked to things that look alike but belong to different chronological or geographical frames. Material connections between “centers” and “peripheries” are commonly traced by looking at provincial copies of models irradiated from the metropolis. And yet, despite the longstanding tradition of typological studies and analysis of the meaning of style variation (Wiessner, Sackett, Conkey & Hastorf), the role of imagines, simulacra and replicas in the transmission of culture is still relatively ill-defined from a theoretical point of view in archaeological research.
The papers in this session will explore theoretical approaches to an archaeology of the double and ask questions that help us to go beyond the original model/fake copy dilemma. By interrogating the materiality of the replica we hope to be able to analyze the vision/double as essence and not only as a vacuous instance of representation.
Session format: Series of papers followed by Q&A and final comments by a
We particularly welcome papers focusing on:
• The politics of double vision: vision as power / the anti-authoritarian gaze.
• The double as translation and interpretation.
• The double as a purposely inaccurate copy, a partial representation (pars pro toto) or as means of taking the alien within.
• The double as failure and the impossibility of an exact replica.
• The influence of the double or the consequences of “double vision” for the “model”.
• Replicas that make possible the vision of something that is immaterial or
• The role of the double in our understanding of things by means of visualization.
• The importance of replication in constructing pasts (ancestor representation) and futures (material projections of visions).
• The relationship between cloning and social reproduction as well as the
relationship between homogeneous material culture and individuation.
To submit a paper abstract (max 300 words) please email the session organizers by March 10. Session organizers are responsible for selecting papers, and for sending the complete session roster along with all paper abstracts and titles to the TAG-Chicago committee by March 15, 2013.
Posted by Dawid Kobiałka
Archaeology has been for many years identified with its own method, that of excavation. It is the way the public sees archaeology and many archaeologists think of themselves too (e.g. Holtorf 2007). However, Rodney Harrison recently pointed out the crucial role of the surface in archaeological thinking (Harrison 2011, in press).
Metaphors are never just metaphors, so to speak. They shape and drive our thinking. A metaphor of archaeology-as-excavation is one of such tropes. It presupposes the idea of a distant and buried in the soil past (e.g. Thomas 2004). Harrison claims that there are different ways of thinking of archaeology. The Australian archaeologist proposes as an alternative a metaphor of archaeology-as-surface-survey. This allows the so-called an archaeology of the contemporary past (e.g. Buchi, Lucas 2001) to become a creative engagement with the present and only subsequently as a consideration of the intervention of traces of the past within it (Harrison 2011, 141).
I am totally for the archaeology in and of the present proposed by Harrison. This is the reason why I would like to add in this place some examples of such archaeological focus on the surface, what I call surface investigations (Kobiałka in press).
Figure 1: Surface investigations
Continue reading "Against Gandalf the Grey: an Archaeology of the Surface" »
Posted by Christopher Witmore
With the impending publication of an excellent new book, Reclaiming Archaeology: Beyond the Tropes of Modernity, edited by Alfredo González-Ruibal (2013), Gavin Lucas and I have decided that we are somewhat overdue in announcing the book series with Routledge for which this volume breaks the ice – Archaeological Orientations.
Here is our mission:
An interdisciplinary series that engages our on-going, yet ever-changing, fascination with the archaeological, archaeological orientations investigates the myriad ways material pasts are entangled with communities, animals, ecologies and technologies, past, present or future. From urgent contemporary concerns, including politics, violence, sustainability, ecology, and technology, to long-standing topics of interest, including time, space, materiality, memory and agency, archaeological orientations promotes bold thinking and the taking of risks in pressing trans-disciplinary matters of concern.
Providing the comprehensive coverage expected of a companion or handbook, Archaeological Orientations aims to generate passionate, lively and engaged conversation around topics of common interest without laying claim to new thematic territories. Archaeological Orientations asks contributors and readers alike to take two steps back, to cautiously and carefully consider issues from unforeseen, even surprising, angles. Archaeological Orientations embraces theoretical provocation, cross-disciplinary debate and open discussion.
With a host of outstanding contributions that take up the provocation to reclaim archaeology, not as a secondary science that elucidates the past with a borrowed palette of colors taken from other forerunner disciplines, but as an original and creative ecology of practices that adds depth and nuance, diversity and alternative to pressing issues of the present and future, Alfredo’s book exemplifies this mission and sets a wonderful tone for the series.
And Reclaiming Archaeology will be closely followed by another superb contribution: Ruin Memories: Materialities, Aesthetics and the Archaeology of the Recent Past. Edited by Bjørnar Olsen and Þóra Péturdóttir, Ruin Memories draws together the fruits of the ground-breaking Ruin Memories Project, a multi-year, international collaboration that investigates the detritus of modernity.
Proposals for other exciting volumes are in the works, and so more still to announce soon.
In the meantime, please consider this an invitation for any archaeologist willing to connect their work in the trenches with those pressing issues that affect us all.
Each volume typically consists of 25-35 contributions from scholars from around the world, with approximately 90 illustrations and total 260-300,000 words. The volumes should be topically structured to aid comprehension by students and interested readers.
Feel free to send proposals (7 to 10 pages) to either Gavin Lucas or Christopher Witmore.
Posted by Maria O'Connell
Cormac McCarthy is a writer whose novels are haunted by ruins, whether the remains of an old inn in his first novel, or the recent ruins of a destroyed world in his last. His characters find petroglyphs, mummies, and ruined villages strewn along their path. He never gives any kind of exact detail about their histories or how they came to be in the place where they are found. Instead, the things stand for themselves, open to the reader’s observation and interpretation. McCarthy’s archaeological imagination lies in that ability to let the things that are left behind by humans, and other forms of life, to be things with a life of their own and, even more, to be things that resist the imagination and the attempt to translate them into something meaningful for the present. Instead, he is willing to allow for the “diverse lives of things” (Witmore 2009, 516). There are many, many instances, but for the current meditation, I will focus on Blood Meridian and The Road.
Continue reading "Ruins and Memory: Cormac McCarthy's Archaeological Imagination" »
Posted by Timothy Webmoor
The editors and Equinox Publishing are pleased to announce the launch of a new journal devoted to the study of contemporary archaeology and invite submissions for publication, commencing with the first issue in Spring 2014.
Journal of Contemporary Archaeology is the first dedicated, international, peer-reviewed journal to explore archaeology’s specific contribution to understanding the present and recent past. It is concerned both with archaeologies of the contemporary world, defined temporally as belonging to the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, as well as with reflections on the socio-political implications of doing archaeology in the contemporary world. In addition to its focus on archaeology, JCA encourages articles from a range of adjacent disciplines which consider recent and contemporary material-cultural entanglements, including anthropology, cultural studies, design studies, history, human geography, media studies, museology, psychology, science and technology studies and sociology. Acknowledging the key place which photography and digital media have come to occupy within this emerging subfield, JCA includes a regular Photo Essay feature and provides space for the publication of interactive, web-only content on its website.
Call for Papers
Journal of Contemporary Archaeology will publish articles in a number of different formats, ranging from in-depth Discussion Articles, to be accompanied by comments from relevant researchers and an author’s reply; regular Research Articles which are generally shorter and more case-driven; Interviews comprising occasional, edited discussions between researchers and individuals whose academic or creative work makes a contribution to understanding the archaeology and materiality of the contemporary world; Forums, a series of short responses to previously circulated questions; and, as noted above, Photo Essays. Potential contributors should consult the Journal's Guidelines which can be found on the journal's website | link/JCA.
Rodney Harrison, University College London
Laurie Wilkie, University of California, Berkeley (North America)
Alfredo González-Ruibal, Spanish National Research Council (Continental Europe)
Cornelius Holtorf, Linnaeus University
Posted by Timothy Webmoor
. . .continued from Part 1 of 2.
The ethnographic examination of archaeological practice has become an established sub-domain (Edgeworth 2006, 2010; Yarrow 2003), although this reflexive platform has not developed in explicit contact with STS ethnographies of science (Knorr-Cetina and Mulkay 1983; Latour and Woolgar 1986; Lynch 1985). The characterization of scientific activity as craft work (Amann and Knorr-Cetina 1990; Revetz 1971; Shanks and McGuire 1996) has been influential; affirming the skill and material integument bound together in practical activities brings the acknowledgement that archaeologists do not discover the past. Like the accounts of scientific settings in STS that followed the collective effort of rendering textual and media outputs from laboratories, it is a position that undercuts the romantic idea of a neutral “opening up” of (a past) reality.
Such ethnographic and craft oriented appraisals of archaeology merge with more focused studies of the representational forms of the discipline (Shanks 1997; Webmoor 2005; Shanks and Webmoor 2012). Refracting STS lessons through archaeological examples offers a radical break with the inherited view of representing the past in the present.
Archaeology, through unpacking its practices and descriptive work, has bound itself to STS lines of research. This is a point of contact where archaeology’s unique temporality places friction on this line of STS inquiry. And there is much to be gained from knotting these insights. For instance, the descriptions of coordination work in scientific and other settings are often a retroactive activity. Consider, for instance, Latour’s (1988) unfolding of how Pasteur successfully mobilized a vast network in order to establish, through trials of strength, the reality of microbes. Or Law’s (1986) discussion of the feat of heterogeneous engineering that allowed Portuguese sailing vessels to tread vast oceanic distances to trade. We are not presented with the microbes or Portuguese sailing vessels per se. An odd swapping of disciplinary expectations occurs. STS becomes archaeological in the conventional sense. These sociomaterial assemblages leave distributed traces that STSers must gather with their descriptive narratives and recording instruments to offer an account that registers a definite presence of what was otherwise too ephemeral, far flung or unapparent to connect together. It takes keen observation, a willingness to look beyond the apparent, good recording devices and reliable media. Textual records, photographs of configurations of material objects (laboratories or equipment), accepted entities (like microbes), or skeumorphs are critical points of these STS exhibitions. The activity is not dissimilar to long-established archaeological practice.
Continue reading "Symmetry, STS, Archaeology (Part 2)" »
Posted by Timothy Webmoor
Territorial wrangling is a good indicator that there is something emergent which is coveted amongst disciplines. The principle of symmetry, while a topic no longer generating any sustained discussion in its home setting of Science and Technology Studies (STS), is a case in point. Given recent disciplinary exchange involving symmetry, it seems appropriate to post the following piece, a version of which is forthcoming in The Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology of the Contemporary World. It discusses disciplinary agency in terms of Temporality, Representationalism/Performativity, Scale, and Symmetry. It also considers the broader issues of rhetoric and disciplinary politics, and the political economy of academic exchange and scholarship. These come under the banner of mereology, a modernist metaphysics with which the principle of symmetry is caught up.
In the world of knot making, there is a particular arrangement of two ropes that doubles the reach of either singly. It is not an especially complex knot, but it is incredibly useful, even lifesaving, when it is relied upon in circumstances such as Alpine mountaineering. Ropework is an ancient craft and the origins of particular knots are obscure (Hoste 2005). As a matter of course they derive, however, from mundane and practical pursuits. Only later did they re-emerge as integral to the success of rather more lofty pursuits. Though humbly deployed and, when capably acting, receding from immediate attention, we may nonetheless acknowledge their integral, if inconspicuous, role in a multitude of mundane activities and adrenaline-charged courses-of-action. There is all the same a remarkable sophistication to knot-theory and an irreducible elegance in the performance of a finely made knot.
Figure 1: Double Fisherman’s Knot
In sketching the cross-disciplinary setting involving Science and Technology Studies (STS) and archaeology, two fields in which I have held posts, practice as a “boundary scholar” and serve (however loosely) as a knot, I am going to suggest that knots themselves offer a rich heuristic for understanding their relations. I do not want to push the knot metaphor so far that it slips from rhetorical purchase. Yet I am sympathetic with Ingold’s (2000, 2007, 2010) “organic scholarship” with its attempt to forefront craft metaphors and everyday tools for thought. More importantly, these (sometimes) literal conceptual tools such as knots draw attention to ontological relations as opposed to the predominance of epistemological metaphors that figure prominently as guides for modernist thought (e.g. Peirce 1955; Putnam 1981; Rorty 1979). Contrary to these, knots urge “actualism” (Harman 2005, 2009b:291-3); they focus knowing upon the effect, outcome or action accomplished by objects, humans and nonhumans. Most importantly, I find that the topology of a knot aptly describes cross-disciplinary collaboration. Especially as the topology of knots urges our attention along the lines of engagement to discern the crucial distinctions that make a difference: when knots are actually unknots.
The Fisherman’s knot is a symmetrical knot that is itself composed of a series of overhand knots. Symmetry is critical for the overall ‘knot-strength’ of the Fisherman’s, and hence for its reliability in critical situations. To hold, the strands must enfold themselves in such a manner that they “strangle” one another. That way, an increase in the load weight lends greater friction between the ropes—pull harder, add more weight (to a point of course!) and the symmetry of the Fisherman’s folds only tighten together.
Tracing the topology of STS and archaeology under “load”, when they grapple with intellectual problems, it becomes apparent that they are entangled. However, when the weave of these intellectual fields is detailed we find asymmetric tension, but little friction. While the two “lines” of empirical investigation both contribute object-centred inquiries and seem capable, in concert, to extend our understanding of how we are ourselves knotted in the material world, their engagement with one another is passing and not binding in a productive sense. The weave is not a knot.
In this post I will first briefly consider the collegial ideal of disciplinary cooperation. I then move to the points of contact between STS and archaeology, exploring whether there is friction or slippage between the two disciplines. Here symmetry, not just as metaphor of parity but in the specific analytic form of generalised or “radical” symmetry is unpacked as one point of contact between the fields. After the currents of thought in the fields are followed, I conclude by suggesting waypoints for orienting around what I feel to be eddies in the disciplines’ respective radical currents, to offer a knot in the future of object-centred inquiries.
Continue reading "Symmetry, STS, Archaeology (Part 1 of 2)" »
Posted by Christopher Witmore
When deployed in the context of metaphysics, symmetry is an awkward, even unsightly, term. Those of us who have enrolled this principle have been the first to admit this. We have also been the first to state that we are more than happy to take leave of symmetry. But such vocabulary works because it is not meant to carry any empirical weight, but to aid us in taking fresh angles on our matters of concern.
This has all been stated before, so why do so again?
My return to this issue was prompted by a recent article written by Tim Ingold (2012) who takes issue with symmetrical archaeology, under the rubric of material culture studies, on the grounds that it operates with “a conception of the material world and the nonhuman that leaves no space for living organisms.”
Here is what he had to say.
In their efforts to bring things back in, theorists have proposed a symmetrical approach, in which nonhumans of all sorts are allowed to play a role, alongside human beings, in the conduct and continuation of social life (Olsen 2003, 2007, 2010, p. 9; Webmoor 2007; Witmore 2007). With its geometrical connotations, the concept of symmetry is less that apposite, since precisely what is not implied is a relation between terms that are equal and opposite. On the contrary, the approach seeks a way of talking about persons and things that both allows for heterogeneity and is nonoppositional (Latour 2005, p. 76). Humans and nonhumans are different, but they are not to be regarded as ontologically distinct (Witmore 2007, p. 546). What is most remarkable about this principle of symmetry, however, is that it rests on a claim to human exceptionalism, along with a vision of progress from the animal to the human and from the hunting and gathering of our earliest ancestors to modern industrial society, which could have come straight out of the nineteenth century. Paradoxically, an approach that deontologizes the division between the human and the nonhuman and that establishes in its place a level playing field is justified on the grounds that in the manner of their engagement with material things and in the progressive history of this engagement human beings are fundamentally different from all other living kinds. Hardly could a symmetrical approach rest on a more asymmetrical foundation! (2012).
Ingold is correct that mountains and arroyos are things. Ingold is correct about the involvement of things in animal life. And Ingold is correct about being inclusive with respect to animals and plants, air and soil, weather and sun. We couldn’t agree more – this is in fact the whole point – to be open to any entities that may participate in a given situation. Symmetrical archaeology hasn’t forgotten animals – far from it. Just because Bjørnar Olsen doesn’t always mention reindeer, brown bears, minke whales, lynx, or lemmings by name at every turn doesn’t lead to the denunciation that symmetrical archaeology makes no room for them. They are all things, both in Olsen’s vocabulary and in symmetrical archaeology more generally (see Olsen’s discussion of reindeer, for example, 2010, 86-87).
Continue reading "The principle of symmetry according to Tim Ingold: An occasion for more clarification " »
Posted by Michael Shanks
Chorography - a workshop at Durham University July 10 2012 - [Link]
Summer fieldwork. I am less focused on the excavations at Binchester this year [Link]. I am pulling together my long-running research into the region - the English Scottish borders.
How do you tell of such a place? All that is there, and has been?
For me this is a question of representation that takes me back to the eighteenth century and earlier. To the genre of chorography
writing on the land
- a key component of antiquarian engagements with the history, geography, genealogy, anthropology and archaeology of region, site and collection from the sixteenth through eighteenth centuries.
Mike Pearson and I call this chorographic effort, among other things, deep mapping - [Link]:
"Reflecting eighteenth century antiquarian approaches to place, which included history, folklore, natural history and hearsay, the deep map attempts to record and represent the grain and patina of place through juxtapositions and interpenetrations of the historical and the contemporary, the political and the poetic, the discursive and the sensual; the conflation of oral testimony, anthology, memoir, biography, natural history and everything you might ever want to say about a place …"
Mike Pearson and Michael Shanks, Theatre/Archaeology (Routledge 2001) page 64-65. There's more in my new book The Archaeological Imagination
We anticipate a continuing resurgence of transdiciplinary practices that deal with site and region, already so evident in human/cultural geography. To this end Darrell Rohl organized this workshop at Durham. With David Petts, Chris Witmore, Richard Hingley, and myself.
Darrell connected chorography with different kinds of archaeology of place:
- regional archaeological research programs, starting in the nineteenth century, gaining new energy with social and anthropological archaeology developing in the Americas from the 1950s (I think of Gordon Willey's pioneering work in Peru)
- landscape studies, typically rooted in historical geography
- spatial science
- geographic information systems for managing spatially tagged information
- humanistic approaches to the experience of place and typified in archaeology by the influence of phenomenology, including also Richard Bradley's archaeology of natural places
- public archaeology and community involvement
Chorography, given that it doesn't exist as an institutional form, genre or medium any more, is none of these, while also, ironically, encompassing all of their standpoints and agendas, and more. This is precisely due to the genealogy of relationships with place - chorography is the main ancestor of contemporary disciplinary approaches; its genetic imprint is very much with us in modernity.
Darrell's tag cloud for chorography
To this menu David added
- psychogeography - the psychology of space, senses of place
He made an inspired connection between chorography and the dérive
of the situationists
(Guy Debord and after) - the perambulatory, performative engagement with the city, to radical critical and political ends [Link]
Continue reading "Chorography - then and now" »
Posted by Christopher Witmore
(Image by Louis Psihoyos)
Bill Rathje passed away on May 24th – just over a month shy of his 67th birthday.
Everyone who knew Bill well loved him. And there was a lot to love about him. A kind and gentle man, Bill had a laugh that shook the room. This laugh was matched by his sense of humor. Bill never missed an opportunity to make a joke or to enter one into his talks. Garbage was an easy target, and Bill did it with style.
Bill was generous. He provided graduate student with incredible opportunities, which were more than a boon to their professional formation. And at a time when I was without a steady income, he was there to help.
Bill would regularly take graduate students out to lunch and in Palo Alto there was a dozen places where Bill knew all the staff by name; and he knew the names of everyone in their families too. And of course they knew Bill and what he liked.
An innovator in the field of Modern Material Culture Studies, Bill never lost his sense of connection to being a Mayanist and he frequently reflected on this area of archaeological interest. And though retired, of late, he was keen on pushing back on what has come to be known as the archaeology of the present. He was in the midst of writing a piece for a volume edited by Alfredo Gonzalez Ruibal.
Since Stanford, Bill and I had regular phone conversations, which became more frequent over the last couple of years because of a project that we were working on with Michael Shanks. Our last conversation was just before I left for fieldwork at the beginning of May. He was on the good side of a bad week, or at least that was how he put it to me. Most of our talk was about how he was doing. Some was about the project. But he never failed to ask about Liz and our two sons, Eli and Liam.
Bill is missed both personally and professionally. To borrow one of his signature statements: “Ding Hoy Buckaroo!”
Posted by Marko Marila
Abandoned writing implements in an abandoned small house in Southern Finland. Marko Marila, 2009.
There are, I think, two types of philosophies that have set the agenda for archaeological theory after the linguistic turn, namely contemporary continental realism and classic American pragmatism. Both traditions are ample in their supply of realist and materialist thinkers (such as Alfred North Whitehead and Henri Bergson or Charles Peirce and William James) that suit the needs of a contemporary archaeologist interested in things after the ‘material turn’. Current scholars in the field of continental philosophy include for example Graham Harman and Levi Bryant, who have been very influential also in archaeology.
Continue reading "On objects and habits" »
Posted by Darrell J. Rohl
Darrell J. Rohl (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Department of Archaeology
Near the end of the twelfth century Ralph de Diceto, dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, transcribed a tract entitled De Mirabilibus Britanniae, ‘On the Wonders of Britain,’ describing in variable detail 35 extraordinary natural and man-made features across England, Scotland and Wales (British Library Cotton MS. Faustina A.viii, ff. 107–109; Stubbs 1876, I.11–15). Midway through the list that includes barnacles, Cheddar Gorge, Stonehenge, and the hot springs at Bath, a single-sentence entry proclaims:
furnus Arturi, qui factus ad modum thalami rotundi, sine tegmine, et tamen nunquam intus pluvial cadit, nec nix, nec grando, plusquam bene tectus esset. (Stubbs 1876, I.13)
Arthur’s Oven, having been built in the manner of a round chamber, without a covering, and still never falling by rain, nor snow, nor hail; how much better was it protected.
The monument described here is never geographically located by Diceto, nor does it feature in the alternative and better-known ‘Wonders of Britain’ sometimes appended to manuscript copies of the Historia Brittonum and traditionally attributed to Nennius (e.g. BL Cotton MS. Vespasian D.xxi, ff. 1–17; BL Harleian MS. 3859, f. 135). Other documents from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, however, suggest that the ‘Oven’ was an ancient corbel-domed structure that stood on the north bank of the River Carron in central Scotland until its tragic destruction in 1742/3. From the twelfth century onwards, this monument was a perennial favorite of chroniclers, historians and antiquarians, with a colorful and contentious discursive history. This paper, deriving from a recent M.A. dissertation (Rohl 2009) and related ongoing Ph.D. research, is presented in two parts. Part 1 provides a summarized introduction to the monument including a general description, presentation of its various names and interpretations over the centuries, and a discussion of contemporary and later reactions to its untimely demise. Part 2 (forthcoming) will consider possible avenues of inquiry that may help to answer lingering questions about the monument, as well as a series of reflections on some of the lessons and challenges the monument’s story provides for current archaeological research in general. For reasons that will become obvious, Part 1 relies on an unusually large number of pre-twentieth-century sources, including several medieval and early modern Latin manuscripts.
Continue reading "Arthur’s O’on: A Lost ‘Wonder’ of Britain, Part 1" »
Posted by Luca Pisoni
Luca Pisoni PhD
The use of different sources in the archaeology of the contemporary past allows us to obtain interdisciplinary perspectives on similar issues and to verify hypotheses by comparing different kinds of evidence; thus, helping us to discover conflicts between data (Rathje 1992; Buchli and Lucas 2001; Harrison and Schofield 2010). The aim of this entry is to connect the historical-biographical reconstruction of an Italian bandit, Abramo Zeni (better known as "El Castrin"), with related archaeological evidence, which was uncovered in the cave where he hid during World War II (fig. 1; fig. 3; fig. 4).
Fig.1. Southern Trentino (Italy) and some of the places frequented by Abramo Zeni
Continue reading "Archaeology of a fugitive: the cave of “El Castrin”, a deserter who became an outlaw" »