October 8, 2013

"This is the wave of the future in archeology."

The new archeology is the archeology of all the stuff that's accumulated within the collections of archaeology departments.

Like Hercules assigned to clean the Augean stables, curator Danielle Benden was hired by the UW-Madison anthropology department in 2007 to sort and systematize the final resting place for the department's collection of pots, bones, baskets, spear points, clothing, musical instruments, kayaks and effigies.

The collection in the Department of Anthropology repository was gathered on six continents by roving UW-Madison anthropologists for more than a century. Then it began gathering dust in a warehouse....

20 comments:

n.n said...

This is clutterology. The study or science of "things lying in heaps or confusion".

Ann Althouse said...

Yeah, but isn't that what archaelogists were always doing?

Scott M said...

meta-archaeology?

Scott M said...

The study or science of "things lying in heaps or confusion".

Science cannot advance without heaps.

Mitch H. said...

Wasn't there something about the world's first archeological museum having been excavated in Mesopotamia, Babylonian IIRC? (No, looks like it was Neo-Babylonian.) So the archeology of lost archeological archives is at least eighty-some years old.

LarsPorsena said...

We talking archeology or anthropology?

BarrySanders20 said...

The kids have a great time unearthing and inspecting things collected in my top dresser drawer.

Nick-nacks and whatnot that survived the trash can for some long-forgotten reason.

Larry J said...

Reminds me of the closing scene in "Raiders of the Lost Ark". All that stuff being studied by "Top. Men."

YoungHegelian said...

The UW collection is a drop in the bucket.

The number of uncatalogued items in the Vatican and the British Museum, to choose but two examples, are staggering.

There's a slim chance that someone digging through that stuff may actually find something of major important, like a fragment from lost play of Aeschylus or the like.

n.n said...

Perhaps you are right. An archaeologist is both a scientist of ancient people and a maid for ancient things.

Fritz said...

That's how it was always meant to be; collect new stuff in the summer, work it up and make sense of it (including all the old stuff in the museum) during the rest of the year.

elkh1 said...

Auction them off in lots.

David said...

I once had a tour of the bowels of the natural history museum in Chicago. Donor perk that a friend shared. We had a couple of anthropologist guides. Just a mind boggling array of stuff. Much of which is not cataloged.

The Godfather said...

This sounds like a very worthwhile enterprise. In both archaeology and anthropology (and probably a lot of other ologies), from time to time you read about someone who has applied new techniques, or recent discoveries, to some old and almost-forgotten item that was gathering dust in some collection, and as a result come up with some new understanding or insight. That process requires not only that these old items be preserved, but also that they be catalogued. The creation of searchable databases that could be accessed by scholars in the relevant fields, with lots of information about all the things lying around in heaps and confusion, could lead to lots of valuable discoveries.

Larry J said...

The creation of searchable databases that could be accessed by scholars in the relevant fields, with lots of information about all the things lying around in heaps and confusion, could lead to lots of valuable discoveries.

It could, but it's difficult to maintain databases over long periods of time. The technology keeps changing and it can be progressively difficult to keep moving old data forward. At some point, even common files like JPEG images won't be accessable because they're out of date. Have you tried accessing a floppy disk lately? Ultimately, all of today's digital technology is liable to be unreadable at some point.

Andy Freeman said...

Does "wave of the future" imply that they won't be doing the old wave any longer?

Studying what's already collected is bound to work out just great.

Larry J said...

Studying what's already collected is bound to work out just great.

It can work out very well if you can do analysis that didn't exist when the artifact was collected. For example, you might want to run a DNA analysis on an old specimen collected decades ago.

Sam L. said...

Ah, like that government warehouse the Ark of the Covenant was put in!

Mountain Maven said...

They can't make sense of the stuff they've dug up??
In a sensible world this would hearld the defunding of archeology as an academic discipline. It would demote it into the ghetto occupied by all the "studies" departments. i.e. American studies to pick the least worst of them.

Firehand said...

When they built the new Sam Noble Museum in Norman, they had the chance to unpack/unclog decades of stuff that they'd never had the room to deal with before, let alone display. They also found a LOT of stuff they had no records of: stuff dug up in the 1930's-40's, brought back, and the paperwork was lost or destroyed.

This included a fossil of a species of turtle previously unknown, and the damn thing's shell is about six feet long; it'd been sitting in a crate for almost 70 years, with nobody knowing it was there.