Posted by: archaeoikon | July 28, 2010

Ye Sygne of Swanne

Off to the North Country  I went to help produce an episode of archaeological television. So, what would  be my line? One of the decisions interns have to make is what aspect of the production they most want to work on. A few months ago I might have said camerawork, but I am firmly moving into direction now, so that was really the position I wanted to shadow.

Very soon after arrival we were challenged to help with a new project, creation of a blog site which would maybe bring the program live to its followers in the future for some interactive  experience from off site. This reminds me of the old  “Challenge Anneka” program which ran in the UK years ago, but at that time it was all done with a bank of phones as I recall.

Setting up a blog at high speed and making it work well in three days turns out to be at least as perilous as you might expect and the logistics are  a bit tricky when doing it from remote sites without much advance planning.  But we got it going, (more or less) and learned some good lessons that will help us improve it when we go south next week to try blogging another dig. New host site, new design, new rules to keep us from doing too much filming and to allow us to do occasional longer edited pieces.

I may adapt the idea to this site in three weeks time when I begin to film for my own planned documentary short in California.

Posted by: archaeoikon | June 26, 2010

In the Courtyard

Last week I participated in the Mini Masterpieces programme being run during summer session at Bristol University. My challenge was to complete a short video, from pitch to final edit in just over two weeks, with the assistance of a professional team. I would direct, something I was a little better prepared for than a month ago, having taken a workshop on directing previously.  I was interested in a particular courtyard (in Cardiff) currently occupied mostly by artist’s studios and wanted to  work out a proposal for a pitch that would focus on this space. Went through a lot of ideas, and we agreed it would be most interesting to find a way of making the structures around the courtyard the protagonist of the film. However, in the time given, for the life of me I could not work out how to do this without  doing something twee.  Anyway, the film got made, and the courtyard was used. I was not unhappy with the way it came out in some ways, but I found the end result a little overpowering. This is a good lesson to me that things have a power on the big screen and you need to rein it in and be more reined in on what you put together because it rather shouts at you in the end on a larger screen.  It would be interesting to re-edit this, to find some way of toning it down and making it more subtle. Definitely  need to work with music differently. Anyway it was an interesting experience, and I will link to the end result soon. The problem of making a structure or an object the protagonist in a film in an interesting way is one I will come back to since it is so useful in archaeological filmmaking. (see also my note at FD4F

Posted by: archaeoikon | February 1, 2010

A Visit with Lucy, Darwin and Michele Guieu

Michele Guieu is a French artist who recently created a largely  ephemeral installation contemplating her own relationship with and influences from palaeontology, Darwinian evolutionary theory and her experiences living in Africa with her parents as a child. The Art Produce Gallery is a small space adjacent to an excellent coffee bar in San Diego. It’s nooks and crannys were used with ingenuity to host a combination of temporary mural art, finely observed drawings, photography, digitised film and a range of artifacts which was woven into something much more splendid than the component parts. The  supportive gallery and  responsive artist were able to create a program of lectures and events that added  further stories, ideas and  musical bricolage  to the installation in an intriguingly free wheeling way. Guieu herself commented that she found it somehow pleasing to create a piece of art which was so  impermanent. In fact the 3 dimensional collage of sound, visual and intellectual stimuli offered by Lucy, Darwin and Me was very successful, and although the run has now ended in San Diego, I hope that she will continue to work with the ideas and bring them to life again somewhere else. This was a particularly intriguing and generous use of mixed media that invited the visitor into a complex dialogue across several cultures and vast tracts of  geological and evolutionary time. Exceptionally engaging.

For further information about this work see: michele

Posted by: archaeoikon | January 31, 2010



This article (and film clip) appeared in the LA Times today. The headline is problematic, since Harrington’s  handling of his fieldnotes meant that the information only came back to the Chumash through the hard work of many who searched out the fieldnotes and deciphered them rather than through some generosity of spirit on Harrington’s part.  I found it very interesting because of my past involvement with  Chumash area archaeology and anthropology, and teaching about the Chumash and about J. P. Harrington  himself as well as having run several fieldschools  where we engaged with aspects of Chumash history and with Harrington’s own story too.  I have a very high regard for the work of  Dr. John Johnson at the Sant Barbara Museum, and I think that the reported  research and Ernestine De Soto’s contributions are very worthwhile, but the background to the newspaper story is the exploration of what lay behind a television documentary that appeared last fall.   Paul Goldsmith made this program called “Six Generations” which  goes much  further into the story touched on the the paper. (Goldsmith posted some of his own notes regarding the production on the web as well  –

He is an accomplished cinematographer with past work in documentary, advertising and fiction films. In this television documentary, done over a period of years,   he directs as well as doing the camera work. Johnson acted as executive producer as well as being one of the subjects of the film, in the sense that it explores his own research along with De Soto’s life, family history and experience with Harrington, both in her own life, and in her work with his papers.

The clip from the film is quite substantial, and I would like to see the whole thing soon, but let’s consider the clip for a moment since this will probably reach a much wider audience than the whole film.  Documentaries, even short pieces like this have conventions which change over time. In this one we begin in the center of things, introduced to Ernestine  as she looks at a museum exhibit  on her people, and she starts by explaining her  personal sense of  Chumash identity, with its roots in personal experience, in  recent genetic research and in deep engagement with collaborative  documentary research over a period of years.

Goldsmith talks about the challenges of structuring the film so that the audience takes away some depth and complexity of information, and not just a general impression that Ernestine is an interesting and attractive woman whose family has suvived through some generations of tough times.  It would be good to hear him expand on this further. He mentions that he tried earlier versions of the film on audiences for several years before arriving at the edit that was broadcast in the end.  He does not yet have anything posted on the reaction to the broadcast, but I think this is likely to be an excellent teaching film for many purposes.

Posted by: archaeoikon | November 28, 2009

Visiting the Purton Hulks

Last week’s field trip involved the reconnoitre of the Severn foreshore between Sharpness and Gloucester on the eastern side, and then down to Lydney on the west bank. This means we largely looked at maritime and industrial  sites, and of those we saw, the most spectacular was the “Purton Hulks”. Also the most interesting in retrospect, because uploading my photos to facebook and putting a few preliminary comments on them attracted quite a polemic litle piece  from one of the other students.

He had been disturbed by some of the narratives about archaeological preservation we have been exposed to in general terms I think, but specifically at Purton had  been irritated by some trritorial claims made by one of the people showing us around the site. Our guide suggested that in the past  he had used his  former military training to scare off someone vandalizing one of the wrecks. He was in full storytelling mode, and I took it with a pinch of salt, but this is an interesting place and it does not surprise me that it attracts some passionate support.He also made it clear that he thinks it almost criminal that this place is not a scheduled ancient monument and  he and others expressed a hope that it will become one.

Sites like this pose a dilemma, it is tempting to  hope they can be protected, but protection  here is an ongoing obligation to  a site that is difficult to manage, has little potential for visitor development of any numeric significance becasue of location, and is under continual attack by the natural elements in a river bank with  significant tidal and flood action on a regular basis.

It seems to me that this is one to interpret using  more boards locally, vodcasts and perhaps cell phone tour technology. Getting money to do anything beyond a vodcast would be expensive, but  might be  dooable crusade.-

Posted by: archaeoikon | November 5, 2009


This is a test post from flickr, a fancy photo sharing thing.

Posted by: archaeoikon | November 4, 2009


Here’s the problem: They make TV dramas about all sorts of occupations; crab fishermen, lawyers, doctors, ice-truckers. The excellent A Very Peculiar Practice even made academic environments look intriguing and Third Rock from the Sun had some fun with anthropology.  So why can’t they make a good dramatic or humorous series about archaeologists then? Bonekickers, a 6 part series shown in the UK on ITV in 2007 was a try at this.  Conceived by writers with a good track record, it featured very  competent actors and  interesting camerawork and editing.  It was reasonably well  funded and marketed.  It was, sadly –  a turkey.  Never renewed,  it attracted embarrassing professional criticism from archaeologists as well as some poor reviews by critics  and  general moans and groans. Why?

The style of the thing was rather  Da Vinci Code meets Time Team meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Mix well,  then overheat.   The result was mildly amusing and engaging  up to a point, but on the whole not good enough to be sustainable. At least not  in the eyes of schedule controllers anyway. Why not?  I  personally think the storylines, cast and so on might have been better off simplified. Anf if  some attention had been given to character development so much the better.   Well, I say that, but actually the stories are probably a little too clever too.   Taking the time to introduce characters properly seems to me to make a better basis for a serial on TV.

Will someone try again? A slightly different genre has produced a great hit in Time Team, of course. If you don’t know it this is a long running series about archaeological excavation featuring real archaeologists working on brief excavations of real sites, and interpreted by the actor Tony Robinson.  Now franchised in several countries including the US, it is  a long term hit.  There are also many one off documentaries of course, or the archaeological contribution to shows like Coast. Just not the same. Hey, you know I did actually go out and buy the Bonekickers DVDs with a full set of episodes so you know I must have a soft spot for it because I don’t buy many DVDs.

Posted by: archaeoikon | October 10, 2009

From the field….

I am currently back to university doing some graduate work  on the uses  of so called “screen media” in archaeological interpretation.   My interests are actually a little broader than this, but focusing on archaeology for now is a useful discipline, and on my course, the definition of archaeology is extremely broad, taking in the study of contemporary material culture as well as the specific materialities of  more traditional archaeological cultures. This experience  involves dipping back into some familiar things for me,  such as getting re-involved in archaeology at all  after having been largely out of it for many years, but also some vey new things- learning some of the problems in technical production of screen media- more complex forms of film editing and other such skills, beginning to think more formally about directing and producing film, and less about personal interpretation which has been my focus for the past few years. While doing this MA, I need to look critically at using screen media as a resource for cultural  and heritage interpretation and I will be visiting, or revisiting many real world and virtual sites that do this.  In this blog I plan to discuss what I am finding.