Archive for archaeology

Episode 15 Steampunk Archaeology & the Anthropology of Science Fiction with Gail Carriger

Gail Carriger by photographer Vanessa Applegate (Photo courtesy of www.gailcarriger.com)

Gail Carriger is a remarkable example of an anthropologist whose training informed a creative career shift. A former archaeologist (who still occasionally gets called to the field), Carriger’s expertise in ceramic analysis and technological transitions means that she can determine how a piece of pottery was designed and produced, simply by looking at a small fragment of it. From that tiny piece of material culture, she can read how populations were coming together and sharing technological styles, and how knowledge moved across the ancient landscape.

On the cusp of completing her dissertation in archaeology, Carriger’s life took an interesting turn as she was awarded a book contract for her steampunk fantasy novel, Soulless. Now she is a much awarded, best-selling author whose books mix “comedies of manners” with paranormal romance. But this shift into literature is still greatly informed by her training in, and critiques of, anthropology and archaeology. The world of steampunk Victorian England allows her to explore the role material culture plays in everyday life, as well as how and why technologies arise or fade thanks to their unintended consequences. Her careful research into elements of the past, such as the cuisine of each particular time and place, brings to life the material experience of worlds that live in the historical and fantastical past. In addition, Carriger’s multiple series explore the remarkable diversity of past cultures, which, ironically, are often depicted in nonfiction as far more homogenous than they actually were.

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Episode 7 Ancient Bones & Peaceful Coexistence with Dr. Sara K. Becker

Dr. Sara K. Becker in Moquegua (photo courtesy of Sara Becker)

1000 years before the Inca civilization emerged in Peru and Bolivia, there were the Tiwanaku–a large nation consisting of a complex and ethnically diverse community of people. Today, amid the vestiges of Tiwanaku architecture, pottery, lithics, and other artifacts, Dr. Sara K. Becker’s focus is on the human remains. However, to understand the bones, as Dr. Becker says, you have to understand the culture. To do so, she collaborates with local communities and archaeologists to unlock the lives of this ancient group.

While another contemporaneous society routinely intimidated surrounding groups through physical violence, the Tikanawu managed to control vast regions through nontraditional and mostly nonviolent methods. When we examine the tensions and violence of many contemporary societies, Dr. Becker’s research becomes especially important: what can the ancient Tiwanaku teach us about how we can we live together in unified, diverse, and peaceful communities?

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Episode 3 Digging for Truth on a Cherokee Plantation – with Dr. Lance Greene

Dr. Lance Greene (photo courtesy of Lance Greene)

Looking at a complex moment in American history, when Cherokee were being forced off their land by President Andrew Jackson, Dr. Lance Greene’s research brings to life a nineteenth century plantation in North Carolina, where Cherokees, whites, and enslaved Africans lived and worked together. Dr. Greene pieces together life on a Cherokee/Euro-American plantation through archaeological digs and historical documents, providing insight into both how Cherokee were changing to attempt to fit in to European-American culture and the ways they were resisting it. Dr. Greene walks us through what archaeology on a plantation site can reveal, and how the process of writing fictional stories of everyday life actually helps him fill in the gaps in his research.
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Episode 1 Anthropology Beyond Indiana Jones with Dr. Angela Jenks

Dr. Angela Jenks, Asst. Teaching Professor at UC Irvine (photo courtesy of Angela Jenks)

From Indiana Jones to Bones to that graduate student kidnapped by pirates on Archer, there are many different representations of anthropology in pop culture, but what do real anthropologists do?

Anthropology is the study of what it means to be human. Which means that anthropologists study pretty much everything, including politics, art, medicine, religion, and our relationship with the environment. Some anthropologists take us into communities that are intensely different—ones we may not even know exist—and help us understand them from the inside. Other anthropologists use those same methods to get us to question the familiar—what feels normal to us, and why doesn’t it feel the same way to others?

In this first episode of The Anthropologist on the Street podcast, I have invited Dr. Angela Jenks to explain what anthropology is and why it is important. Dr. Jenks is an anthropologist at the University of California, Irvine, a recipient of an award for excellence in teaching, and the first Teaching “Scholar-in-Residence” for the prestigious journal Cultural Anthropology. She talks to us about humanity, culture, and the paradox of being an American and an anthropologist, where we collectively share a culture of individuality.
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