A Brief Post on Paris History and Archaeology

As many in the class are fairly aware of by now, I happen to be quite fond of anything having to do with French culture or history. However I do notice a high emphasis is placed on history that pertains to the more contemporary eras of France, namely the reign of Louis XIV and the revolution that was inspired after our own. Though both these periods are  important to how France was shaped today, I wanted to talk about much earlier French history, namely in the center of Paris where the city was originally founded. The history here is ancient and doesn’t always pertain to the highly Catholic country or the lavish rulers that lived in the chateaux.  For the sake of convenience I’ll be using calendar dates to describe the sites.

I  just wanted to start by saying that Paris itself is a pre-historic city that has its start at about 250 BC (though there is evidence for even earlier occupation by hunting and gatherer groups) founded by a tribe called the Parisii where the city gets its name.



The map here shows the center island of the city called the Île de la Cité (literally translated to “Island of the City”) and was home to the earliest occupation of a walled fort to keep out invaders. Afterwards after the city was united under the rule of Clovis and quickly expanded outwards from the island.

Skipping forward, the famous church that now is the main attraction  with its finish at around 1345 AD with nearly a 150+ years in which there was periodic construction and additions added over time. However what is usually not told in the history of the building is the vast destruction of lower class housing including a large Jewish sector that was relocated to a different section of Paris. This is was a turning point and in later times the cathedral was seen as a symbol of the Church’s power and something that was the center of debates between non-Catholic religions in France.

So what about the archaeology that could help shed light on early Paris history?

I was lucky enough to get to visit the “La crypte archéologique” during my trip to Paris in 2012. Whereas the church of Notre Dame is flooded with tourists all times of the days it is open, the crypt itself was fairly bare despite being only steps away from the church itself. Despite the destruction the church had on the area, it ended up preserving a large amount of foundations and stone work underneath the church itself. Inside there is a gorgeous example of early Parisian buildings and history dating back over 2000 years.



(I should note that a lot of the photos you will find online make the place seem bigger than it really is, the wonders of photography.)

Here we have an example to how the early city functioned and what kind of activities may have gone on. We can see examples of trash pits, wells, early architecture influenced by roman arches and work and living spaces. The site itself is also layered upon each other presenting different styles of stone work as it built over each other. Here we see a stark contrast to how Paris would like to present itself as a rich, sophisticated city where the common folk is not mentioned (probably one of the reasons they had so many revolutions…) and here we can see how chaotic and busy the city actually was with its people. This is one of the main reasons I love the city so much, there is always something hiding behind its walls ready to tell its story.

On a last note, one of the best ways to tell how the city has expanded over the times lies in a surprising factor, the graveyards. In the past it was generally frowned upon to have bodies in the city limits and thus a lot of the burials took place right outside city walls. As the city expanded it absorbed these cemeteries into the city walls.



Here is a picture of Paris with the graveyards marker in green. The center of Paris is marked with a red circle. As you can see there seems to be a ring around the island which is a sign that these are where ancient city limits are. Eventually this caused problems as the graveyards started to overflow (due to a shift of wanting to be buried in the city) and Catholic graveyards were at their limits. It was Napoleon who enacted a program that created the catacombs of Paris which is now home to over 6 million bodies, most of them nameless lower class people who were unlucky enough to be unburied and tossed aside for the newer generation.

It is impossible to accurately describe the history of the largest city in France but I hope this post was a good tidbit of interesting points and using maps and archaeology to tell a narrative that isn’t based on 18th century nobility.

Of boats, bears and a Bernier

Family is never quite where you expect to find it. When dealing with generations of individuals, it seems that we find ourselves face to face with someone or an event that we had never imagined or possibly had overwrought in our imaginations.

Even though I don’t share the last name, while growing up I was surrounded with these fantastic family mythologies: A grandfather who’s friends insisted on calling him Bon Homme(though it always sounded like “buh’num”), French for ‘Good Man’, for reasons I never quite understood. A strong family tradition of boats, from row boats to poorly maintained sail boats sitting listlessly in Puget Sound. The cabin is L’Islet, Quebec that was the destination of numerous summer fishing trips, not to mention the familial obsession with fishing. Then the eventual trip to the Bernier Maritime Museum, the source of an enormous amount of family pride.

Arial view of Musee Maritime du Quebec

The Musee Maritime du Quebec is dedicated to the history of the St. Lawrence River and Arctic exploration. The Bernier Maritime Museum was eventually rolled into the MMQ, but was originally dedicated to Joseph-Elzear Bernier, who between 1904 and 1911 explored the Canadian arctic and claimed the islands for Canada. It turns out Joseph Bernier is a distant relative of mine, a great-great-great uncle.

CGS Arctic, circa 1905

A captain of his own ship by the age of 17, Joseph-Elzear Bernier was the youngest fully licensed ship in the world in 1869.

The majority of his work between 1869 and 1904 was shipping across the Atlantic, and eventually he retired to take up work in Quebec City. This retirement eventually gave way to boredom and his desire to mount a polar expedition. His first expedition began in 1904 at the age of 52.

Perry Island, 1908. Joseph Bernier and his ships Crew standing in front of the metal plaque claiming the island for Canada.

These expeditions occurred numerous times over the next 7 years, and again he “retired” in 1911. As with all individuals with an adventurous spirit, this was not to last. When WWI began in 1917, he took to the seas again, and operated cargo ships delivering supplies to England and other parts of Europe to help the war effort. Even after the war, he couldn’t give up sailing, he continued on exploring the arctic until his “real” retirement in 1925.

For years there was always the story told to the family of “Jack the Bear” Bernier, an ship captain so tough that he didn’t bother to wear gloves on the deck of his ship while sailing in the arctic. Though the name and the anecdote are likely pure fabrications, truth is yet again much better than fiction.

Captain Joseph Bernier, age 73.

The Cowichan Style

If you’ve paying attention to me the past few weeks you’ve noticed I’ve been clicking away at my needles at some sort of project. Today I’m going to discuss my final project for my Ethnoarchaeology class which is to knit some baby booties in the Cowichan style. This archaeology discipline places an emphasis similar to Historical Archaeology that text-based accounts should go hand in hand with material goods to create a narrative that might be obscured otherwise. However ethnoarchaeology places a heavy emphasis on active observation with communities that still exist and can offer insight to how their culture functions and the implications archaeologists can therefor place on former cultures.

The Cowichan

The Cowichan style is an interesting case of how a native people subjected to the advent of colonialism use and adapt new technologies by combining old ones into a new and inspired product. In this case the Cowichan name comes from the Cowichan valley on Vancouver Island. However it didn’t only occur in the areas and the Coast Salish were known to have knitted in the style throughout the area. Coming from missionaries coming into the Vancouver area in the mid 1850’s the Cowichan quickly adapted the new knitting technologies into their new style using an already rich history of basketry and weaving.

The Cowichan brand soon became well known across the US and there are known accounts of sweaters being taken over seas for WWII which soon became popular due to their durable nature and ability to retain heat and keep out moisture. Patterns on the sweater were often inspired by past history or even designs that were fancied. One known example is a sweater knitted with a Chinese dragon motif, inspired by an imported tea box. Sweaters in general have a heavily knitted collar and made seamless through knitting techniques.


However not all is well with the knitting style, in the process of becoming famous there are many “copy cat” styles that although Cowichan “inspired” are not true items in the Cowichan style. This comes by different seam lines, non-native design and various other little tid-bits such as dyed wool and a different treatment process. This has resulting in native knitters taking shortcuts such as bigger yarn and needles and smaller projects in order to keep up with national demand. Judging by the vast number of knock offs the style itself is in trouble of not retaining it’s native origins.



(Note: the booties above are not Cowichan in origin)

For my own personal project I’ve decided to knit baby booties in (hopefully) a similar style. This mostly means yarn types and colors, wool treatment and design. Although baby booties lack the amount of space to make the elaborate patterns the sweaters have become world famous over. They’re not quite done yet, still needing some last minute duplicate stitching to finalize the pattern but I’ll be totting them around class. (I’ll upload a pic on the blog when they are 100% finished)

For a more in-depth posting on the Cowichan sweater and where I got some of the pictures from I suggest looking at: http://blog.ounodesign.com/2009/12/21/the-cowichan-sweater-of-vancouver-island/ for more information!




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.

On Memory

The words of philosophers, like poets, have the tendency to succinctly and powerfully convey intricate abstract concepts and, in the process, engender new understandings. Conducting researching for my final project, I have often returned to the relationship between cultural identity and continuity, especially of Native American communities whose traditions are often put under the microscope in ways not experienced by non-Native people. Reading a book on tribal approaches to CRM (Stapp and Burney 2002), I encountered an example that highlighted this discrepancy and, with the words of Basque philosopher Miguel de Unamuno, recast my thinking on the evolution of cultural traditions.

Stapp and Burney discuss how non-Native people implicitly accept simultaneous change and continuity in Western traditions without question. To illustrate their position, they forward the example of Catholic monastic life and how despite substantial changes in monks’ traditions and observances over the centuries, few would consider contemporary monks inauthentic or non-traditional. Identity is not the product of rigid continuity, they argue, but an adaptive process whereby traditions change and acquire new meaning with shifting times, places, and social contexts.

Preserved within this adaptation however is a thread of continuity, or perhaps more accurately, memory. At this point, the authors let de Unamuno’s words speak for themselves:

“We live in memory and by memory, and our spiritual life is simply the effort of our memory to persist, to transform itself into hope, the effort of our past to transform itself into our future”

Persistence, of traditions, sacred landmarks and resources, and place, runs through the literature on Native American cultural landscapes, but the importance of memory often receives less attention. De Unamuno eloquently reminds us that while identity is constructed in the present, it is informed by the past and the personal and cultural memories we carry and make manifest.

Freedman towns

Davidson (2008)’s article for Tuesday’s readings touched on a freedman’s town in Dallas. I had never heard of this town-within-a-town situation, so when I came across this article discussing a freedman town in Hampton, Virginia, where some 7000 freed man and women resided during the Civil War before Confederate forces burned the town down, I thought it somewhat serendipitous.


The Grand Contraband Camp in Hampton

Note the style of houses shown in the photograph of the camp. Since the camp was burnt down, there may not be any substantial archaeological record of the house and associated structures for the archaeologists working at the site to find. I think this is a great instance in which historical documents of the camp can assist in archaeological interpretation, and give some context to the daily lives (and suffering) of the people who lived at this camp during a politically unstable and dangerous period.

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?

Fort Worden: Life in a Modern Ancient Ruin

Growing up in Port Townsend, I was lucky to live fairly close to three fascinating state parks: Fort Worden, Fort Flagler, and Fort Casey. These were coast artillery bases, positioned to form a “deadly triangle” at the entrance to Puget Sound, to protect the naval bases further into the Sound. They were constructed at the turn of the 20th century–from around 1897 to 1903. Each fort had a series of concrete bunkers and artillery pieces facing out to the straits, and barracks and houses for the enlisted men and officers, respectively.

Plan for the power house, Fort Worden.

Fort Worden barracks, looking South from Artillery Hill.

The forts became obsolete fairly quickly, as the technologies developed during the First World War meant that aircraft could put the stationary artillery pieces out of action without much trouble. Even during the war, some of the artillery pieces were removed from these forts, shipped to Europe, and converted to railway guns. However, the forts remained under the control of the military until the ’60s or so. At some point thereafter, Fort Worden was turned into a sort of reform school for a while, with its barracks housing delinquent youth. After that, it and the other two forts became state parks, with most of the bunkers open to the public.

Firing one of the guns, Fort Worden.

Firing a mortar, Fort Worden.

The early history is fascinating in its own right, but its role as a source of inspiration for me comes more from the forts’ “afterlives.” Although the guns and equipment have been removed from almost all the bunkers (with only a few examples left at Fort Casey), the concrete buildings are mostly intact.

Some had traces of their old fixtures, and occasionally some stenciled lettering on the walls. There was a low-level but constant application of graffiti.  In fact, early on, some of the bunkers in fort Worden were in a remarkable state of benign neglect, perhaps because they weren’t easy to find. I remember in particular one set of underground rooms, with an entrance hidden away in the woods, that the park staff had somehow neglected to lock up. For an adventurous kid, it was a really exciting experience to gingerly descend the old staircase into a pitch-black, asbestos-smelling room with old rusty machinery in it, my flashlight revealing graffiti of a much higher quality than one fond in other parts of the bunkers. There were old burnt-out candles and bottles scattered around–from either a pseudo-Wiccan ritual or a D & D match, I guessed. I will never understand why the park left that room open, but I’m really glad they did. It was a rare bit of excitement and perceived danger in otherwise far-too-safe Port Townsend. It was also a place I could proudly show my friends, something weird that I had discovered. For a while, I walked there almost every day during the summer.

Of course, now they have locked those rooms off, and started “restoring” them to the way they looked in the Second World War, when they controlled radar and magnetic apparatus for the Navy. A nice old volunteer from the Coast Artillery Museum showed me around one day when they were open, and taught me a lot about the purpose behind the building. Indeed, when I was very young, I had always wished that some of the bunkers were kept in the same state they were in during their early days.

However, I was very sad to see that they’d chosen this bunker to “restore.” All the graffiti was painted over, and all the signs of vaguely illicit youth activities had been scrubbed from the floor. The smell of old asbestos insulation was replaced by the smell of fresh paint, and forty or fifty years of activity had been essentially erased from the room, in the interest of showing people the history that the Coast Artillery Museum considered important, which is to say the military history. I’ve always been a military history buff, and so really I should be grateful that the museum has gotten serious about exposing more people to it, but at the same time, the more recent significance of that room–as an example of the bunkers’ significance to the generations that grew up playing around in them–has been subsumed under the desire to express an official history.


History in the Making

A theme we keep returning to in our discussions is historical archaeology’s ability to connect findings from the recent past to the lives and experiences of communities in the present. Last summer I participated in a collaborative project between researchers at Simon Fraser University and the Heiltsuk Nation of Bella Bella, British Columbia. Integrating archaeological and ethnohistorical evidence, the project seeks to document and understand the history of Hauyat, a cultural landscape near Bella Bella that for centuries has been the site of complex interactions between people, plants, and animals. I worked with SFU archaeologists and Heiltsuk members to identify landscape modifications including clam gardens, fish traps, root gardens, and rock art.

Our search for these landscape modifications was driven in large part by the memories, stories, and traditions of Heiltsuk elders who knew where and when certain activities took place. After a long day in the field, we would often spend time at camp listening to recordings of interviews with these elders, some of which were decades old.

One particular evening, our Heiltsuk colleagues showed us how to prepare salmon using traditional ingredients such as dried seaweed and oolichan grease.


(photo by Julia Jackley)

While eating this delicious meal, we listened to an especially moving recording of an elder detailing how she used to visit her family’s root patches, before this territory was fenced off by newly arrived settlers. Woven within this story were reminisces about her family members, jokes they used to tell, and important events that occurred near Hauyat. It was, in short, a richly contextual account of the cultural and personal significance of this landscape.

Eating our distinctly Heiltsuk dinner, listening to this story, and talking about how it related to the places we had visited that day, I was struck by the the presentness of Heiltsuk history. Far from secluded in a museum archive or site report, the history of the Heiltsuk Nation was on display, informing current members of the community and guiding new understandings of their cultural landscape.

For me, this experience highlights that it is not just the products of historical archaeology that can provide relevant and meaningful insight for contemporary communities. Rather, by including community members, knowledge, and traditions, archaeological practice itself can become a mode by which history is remembered, transmitted, and created anew.