AAM Conference Dispatch

Recently, the Burke opened a new exhibit, “Imagine That”(http://www.burkemuseum.org/imagine). It shows off the collections and turns a public eye into the deepest recesses of the Museum. It’s not just the Burke Museum that’s doing this, though—American museums as a whole are starting to turn themselves “inside out”, for a number of reasons, including:

– to increase relevance of collections process for visitors and supporters,

– to help museumgoers learn about how science works,

– in some cases, to engage the public in a dialogue about the museum itself.

This past week, I had the good fortune to attend the American Alliance of Museums conference in our fair city, and there’s been a definite shift in how professionals approach the museum.The current view of many museum professionals is summed up by Kathleen McLean, who argues that museums should be good neighbors in the communities in which they operate. Museums have to find out what their community wants: they should ride the bus, hold potlucks at the museum, coordinate with groups in the surrounding area. “Why can’t a museum be like a coffee shop?” McLean asks, and why can’t a museum offer up its spaces as community gathering points?

Not only is this topic relevant to museum-marauding archaeologists, I think it’s interesting how analogous this discussion is to the one that is currently happening in archaeology. How do we open  archaeology up to a variety of ways of knowing? How do we crack open these hallowed spaces? How do we fight against (or work with) those academics and museum professionals who would prefer to maintain their distance from a world full of different ways to know?

I’m interested in hearing about what people think caused this sea change in the way we think about museums and social sciences.

[I may not be able to participate in the discussion for a while, but I’d still like to know!]

Archaeologists on the Internet

Being most of the way through this course, you might not be be surprised at how much peer-reviewed ink (print or otherwise) is spilled about the presence of archaeologists on the Internet. We’re talking blogs, outreach websites, hinky little geocities pages that are somehow still up—all these are contact points between archaeologists and “the public”. This boundary is porous, of course, but still very real.

This body of literature also asks: how have the Internet and the World Wide Web have changed how archaeologist communicate amongst each other? The answer is, a lot.


The front page. It’s kinda like Facebook, but exclusively dead animal lovers.

One such converging point is ZooBook (http://zooarchaeology.ning.com/). Not the sweet-ass magazines you pored over in kindergarten that were aggressively marketed to you, but a mega-listserv, an entire site dedicated to zooarchaeologists sharing information, articles, and tips.  Identifying bones, osseous pathologies, and a host of modifications are also covered. Groups and forum posts cover ancient instances of domestication, to the very recent historic period.

I know some of y’all are interested in zooarch, or at least plied your way through that class’ tough waters. These new lines of communication effectively allow you to eavesdrop on (and get into) professional conversation. Get a look at how to collaborate with other specialists over the Internet!

The community requires membership—if you’re interested in obtaining one, you can send me a message or e-mail invite@animalbones.org.

let’s talk(,) buildings

Reading over Deetz’s work again, I was struck by how similar their suppositions are to the likes of this fascinating little tome, written in 1977: A Pattern Language. 

The Beer Hall, #90 of 93 patterns enumerated of a Town. (Image credit: http://www.cesar.ws/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/5a.jpg)

A Pattern Language, by Christopher Alexander, et al. is an effort to catalog the architecture of Western human lives. It Identifies 253 patterns which can be combined in a variety of ways to create pleasing homes, towns, and worlds.

The book is divided into three sections; a pattern is appropriate for either Town, Building or Construction. The patterns are grouped into as conceptual nodes. The patterns in these nodes interrelate and are interdependent.

Here is an example from the introduction, which lists several pattern clusters appropriate for a Building:


From A Pattern Language p. xxvii

Strung together, the implementation of these patterns form a spatial sentence. The space is afforded a coherence–a way to communicate welcome.

A Pattern Language is more than woo-woo 1970’s social engineering through Western architectural rulebook; using these classifications as scaffolding, the book bestows grammar and syntax onto something as abstract as space. While Deetz uses architectural patterns to draw conclusions about how people lived in the past, Christopher Alexander and co. lists these patterns to suggest ways for individuals and groups to live in the future.

Interestingly, the authors assert that these patterns are “timeless” (the first book in the series is actually called A Timeless Way of Building). While these patterns are definitely not universal (there’s a little too much talk about chairs and parking for that to be true), it’s worth interrogating whether all of these patterns necessarily result in pleasing public and private spaces, even when we limit our vantage to a Western context.

The entirety of the book is available here:


It’s worth at least a skim; it’s also good for decorating tips–because who doesn’t admire pattern #204, A Secret Space, or pattern #247, Paving With Cracks Between the Stones?

We need better data–Stat!

So let’s get the problems out of the way first:

– Our counts are not evenly distributed across 1875 to 2014; we have one cluster of dates from the cemetery’s dedication in 1889 to 1920, and one cluster running roughly from 2001 to 2014. Between these clusters, it’s kind of a crapshoot.

– We should have planned ahead to randomize our sampling across the cemetery, but it was not to be (i.e. we didn’t think to).

– The sample size is very small.

– There are so many reburials in this cemetery, but they can be difficult to identify, and we do not have perfect knowledge of the site. Reinterment is likely the biggest external confounding factor for our seriation.

But still! We forge on, like true statistics-doers, eager to see what sort of vague, baseless pattern we can squeeze out from terrible data. To investigate the question of changes in title over time, I made a stacked bar chart as well as a stacked area chart—seeing both of them together makes them somewhat more useful for this rudimentary depiction of seriation (Figs. 1 and 2 – to be inserted later)

By far, most markers of men or women bear no reference to familial titles.  For traditionally men’s names, if there is any identifying information besides the name, extra-familial duty can be emphasized: reverends, cops, individuals who worked in the military can be marked in some way, either by simply listing their title, battalion, etc., or by a logo/insignia inscribed on the marker, but familial roles like “Father”, “Husband”, etc. are far less common and appear in far less variety than they do for traditional women’s names.

For these identified women, familial roles are far more emphasized. If there is any inscription besides the name and the dates of life, then the inscription usually includes “Wife”, “Mother”, or (less common) “Sister”. Other flights of fancy like “Mom” or “Nana” are also seen, especially more recently. We found two examples of markers that bore 4 or more familial titles for one person.

Perhaps this is indicative of a true pattern, but it is doubtful. Sure, the data is in line with our perceptions of how men and women were and are perceived, but the data are so poor it’s difficult to say much of anything.


Guns’N’Roses lied

Seattle’s main “Jungle” flanks Beacon Hill all the way to Georgetown. It’s bordered on the west by I-5 and spidery railroads, to the north by 1-90, and it runs, ducks and tapers south down through Beacon Ave all the way to Georgetown. The reason for its existence has always been twofold: first, it dampened out the storm and drang of the railways for residential streets and now it does the same for I-5.

Second, it’s a scrap of slanted woods whose grade is so steep, it’s forgotten by even the shrewdest of developers (at least until the CD is bursting at the seams with techies, and they must naturally flow southward).

It’s forgotten because you can’t build on it.


Image: KING 5 News

Well, but you can.

The Jungle is one of many, even in the Seattle area. Jungles are wooded spaces where people without homes can live in ones they’ve made themselves.

Jungles are generally sneered at, or feared at, by the be-home-ed folk outside, who hear intermittent telegraphs from within—someone dead, someone raped, someone stabbed within an inch of their life and if they hadn’t heard the moans—but, of course, it’s more complicated than that. In a jungle, people commune, too. They share food and stories and spit and latrines. It’s a way of life with as many facets as there are people, in there.

Our Jungle: burgeoning in the 1930’s, like the associated Hooverville. Union folk, itinerant workers, and the disenfranchised colonized the place, as some still do today. Rien de nouveau for more than half a century, and then, in the 1990s, Washington State began to dismantle the community. People watched as their personal homes, their food and sleeping pads and trash were snapped up by giant mechanical claws, or bulldozed into oblivion.

What the government planned to do with the land was anyone’s guess at the time, but they renamed it a greenbelt and sewed a bike path through it, open as of 2011. People in the Jungle are continuously rebuilding, leveled, and building again. They are individuals stuck in attrition with no real endpoint. Our Jungle is one of many.

Mashed taters, chicken cutlet, green beans, doomed love

You’ve seen it, I’ve seen it, it’s shown in glass cabinets, hidden under sauces, or buried in the dirt of historical sites.

bw platter

A classic platter in willow pattern (Image source: http://civilwartalk.com/threads/blue-willow-china.91070/)

It’s got a pagoda, a fence, some pastorality, a boat. It’s a game of telephone played with pictures across a few centuries. You’d better believe it, it’s the Willow Pattern, and it is one of the most-seen images of the past few hundred years.

You might not’ve ever thought about it before. You might have never looked too closely at your grandmother’s plate collection, and their subtle variety. You might have even assumed that this famed icon of china was from, oh, I don’t know… China.


A set of willow pattern ceramics. Image source: http://civilwartalk.com/threads/blue-willow-china.91070/

Nope. It’s unknown who designed the Willow Pattern, but it’s a toss-up between two English dudes from the late 1700s. If anything, the pattern’s an icon of Orientalism: wanna-be aesthetics on wanna-be porcelain.

It was even marketed with a wanna-be legend–two youngin’s in love, an accountant and a Mandarin’s daughter, who run away to be together and are ultimately murdered by the megalomaniacal Mandarin. The gods take pity, and transmogrify their corpses into birds (the story can be found in the form of a delightfully lulling tune by Momus). Yep–those two gallivanting doves you stared down during all those dull family meals–they’re lusty dead youth, transmogrified.

>1 person’s trash

The blah group did whatall and made such-and-such pottery. Easy for us to say, huh? But when we’re confronted with our own archaeological materials, stuff gets a little more messy. In a few senses of the word.

When we look trash from our own place and time, we have a better idea of what’s going on archaeologically. We know the social implications of generic brand ham. We know that when we’re nervous, we fiddle with the tab on our soda can. We know who drinks peppermint mochas, and who’ll chug iced black.

But do we really? I don’t think that’s necessarily the case. Consider! For all our contemporary expertise, we’ve got baggage—stereotypes, assumptions, unacknowledged grey areas in our almost-encyclopedic knowledge about the nuances of modern social interaction on a college campus.

Nevertheless, we might be tempted to draw conclusions about exactly who used that trash bin. We must resist! Profs’ll chew creamsicle-flavored gum, and sporty bros’ll order venti pumpkin spice lattes with two shots of vanilla.

People think garbology is cool because it gives us some greater insight into our own time, through our trash. They’re right—it is, indeed, pretty damn cool. But as we dive into the dumpster, let’s keep in mind that this is about behavior and culture, and let’s keep our assumptions in check.

oooh! subversive!

In the first tiny quarter of the notoriously tough row to hoe that is grad school, I was doing the whole “cloud of utter confusion and misery and doubt” thing. Not that the feeling is too much out of the ordinary, but hey, life choices had happened and now, here I was, poring over esoteric literature based on a theory based on a study based on some really important dude whose name I had never heard (but of course I behaved as if it was as familiar as the name of my mother).

Survival in such an environment requires some really fine Googling. It was during one such all-too-innocuous search of names, rock typologies, and dates that I came across The Subversive Archaeologist.

Rob Gargett’s prolific and sassy blog about the problems (and wonders) of archaeology hit the intellectual spot in all the right ways. A little cheesy, a lot bone-to-pick-y, with a healthy dash of eye-roll to academia, it aired a lot of my own carps, and gave me a bunch of new ones to chew over, constructively. Gargett is no novice archaeologist, and though they don’t have an academic job (gasp!), they’re employed by The Ronin Institute, a little upstart that funds independent research from PhDs through grants and magic $$.

Folks whose work is discussed in the blog routinely join in on the discussion in the comments section—who doesn’t want to see bearded profs forward their arguments with “IMHO”? [side note, can everyone from now on replace as many words in their academic articles as is possible with internet abbreviations? Maybe throw in some emoticons too :3 ].

Gargett’s updates have dwindled somewhat over the past year, but as of a few days ago, they posted an explanation involving mental health, feels, etc. Awesome! (well, suffering=not awesome, but non-academic scholarly work in which that kind of thing is okay=awesome).

Of course, I don’t agree with everything Gargett espouses, and some of it I don’t even really know enough about to have an opinion on, but overall, it’s a solid blog that is big on both fact and opinion, but Gargett makes it clear which is which—and that’s the most important thing.

(also it’s kind of ugly please don’t typeset yer blog in futura bold thank you yes)

Rosie Daniels

Rosie Daniels is a 2nd year graduate student at the University of Washington, in the Archaeology Program. They:
– ambulate, illustrate, punctuate, speculate, and plastinate
– hope to one day dissertate
– have helped make several archaeology exhibits in Tanzania
– enjoy long, moonlit walks through natural history museums
– self-consciously and semi-conscientiously believe in the power of singular “they”
– dissect animals in their spare time
– have strong negative feelings about biographical blurbs that are clearly written by the subject, but nevertheless appear in the 3rd person.