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The University of Southampton
TAG 2016 Southampton

S31. Visualising Words: Archaeological Narrative through Poetry, Image and Performance

Session organizers:

Erin Kavanagh (Independent researcher, ) and Kim Biddulph (Schools Prehistory & Archaeology, )

Session abstract:

'Narratives do not always have to be presented in a purely linear sequential form' (Pluciennik 1999)

Building on the Tyrannical Tales session at TAG 2015 in Bradford, this session explores non-traditional narrative forms within archaeology; such as performance, poetics and graphical expression. We are concerned with their power to engage people emotionally and intellectually with visualising heritage - and also in their potential as alternative methods for realising and commenting on the plausibility of theoretical models about the past.

Words and images meant essentially for peers are released into the world by archaeologists in blogs, books, journals and reports every day. These official ‘stories’ affect the way that archaeology is interpreted, both by ourselves and by others. They establish an epistemic norm which we seek to re-present by asking the following questions:

  • How do we meaningfully construct a feeling, image or event in narrative form - and does its shape have to be chronological?
  • What is the process of constructing an image, feeling or event based on the figures and words of others?
  • Can we use our own emotional experiences to inform practice?
  • How are realities made of possibilities and possibilities of realities?
  • What barriers stand in the way of archaeological communicators making a plausible and well-informed world for their audiences?
  • Can the process of realising theory modify and remake that theory?
  • How do we ‘see’ the past?
  • What role has memory in the visualisation of narrative constructs?
  • Can researchers be challenged to evaluate and rethink their theories through interaction with their audience?

This session welcomes proposals on the value and process of alternative narrative structures as modes of visualising archaeological knowledge; encompassing outreach, practice, education and research. Case studies are welcome but the predominant focus is on process rather than product. We will be pursuing a format wherein each presentation will be followed by an in-audience discussion before the next speaker commences. Emphasis will therefore be directed away from verbalising a standard paper and placed instead upon interactive dialogue, debate and creative expression. In this way we aim to challenge the conventional triad of knowing, explaining, understanding (Droysen, 1858), to explore new boundaries of realisation.

In memory of Mark Pluciennik, 1953-2016.


Droysen, J.G. 1858. Grundriß der Historik in der ersten handschriftliche. In Johann Gustav Droysen, Historik , Historisch-kritische Ausgabe von Peter Leyh. Band 1, pp. 395-411.

van Dyke, R. and Bernbeck, R. (eds.) 2015. Subjects and Narratives in Archaeology . Boulder: University Press of Colara

Moser, Stephanie & Smiles, Sam (eds) (2005). Envisioning the Past: archaeology and the image. Oxford & Malden, Blackwell.

Pluciennik, Mark. (1999) Archaeological Narratives and Other Ways of Telling. In, Current Anthropology 40(5) 653-678

Visualising narrative…

asking questions:

how, what, can

we see

with the audience?

This session welcomes


away from convention,

to explore new boundaries of realisation .

Contributor Abstracts:

Welcome and introduction

Kim Biddulph (Archaeological educator, Schools Prehistory and Archaeology)

Framing the Past

Erin Kavanagh (Geomythologist, Poet and Creative Archaeologist, Independent)

“In archaeology as in most other disciplines…the increasing use of…engaging reflexively with…problems of authority, representation and… theories of…analysis has been critiqued…;…the “slipperiness” of language and the deferral and indeterminacy of meaning…has led to renewed interest in the ways in which members…characteristically present their work.

I wish to concentrate on the use and status of narrative and narrative types…and whether narratives in themselves…can be seen.”

Pluciennik, Mark. (1999) Archaeological Narratives and Other Ways of Telling. In, Current Anthropology 40(5) 653-678



Viewfinder Reversals: Alternative Photo-Narratives of Archaeological Fieldwork by Local Site Workers

Allison Mickel (Program in Writing & Rhetoric, Stanford University)

In this presentation, I braid together two stories: one, of the experiments I ran at two archaeological sites in Jordan and Turkey where I invited site workers to record their perspectives on their role in the excavation process using photography; and two, of how the ideas of multivocality, reflexivity, and narrative structure the form and content of the archaeological record. By presenting the photographs created by locally-hired laborers at Çatalhöyük, Turkey and at the Temple of the Winged Lions project in Petra, Jordan, with the surrounding contexts of their creation, I show what engaging these unrecognized archaeological experts in recording and documentation does to the story of archaeology. I examine how the photos they created in these settings work to transform our conceptions of the events, characters, and plots that comprise the archaeological endeavor.


braid together


on the

archaeological record.

*TBC* The narrative of video

Michael Shanks, Professor of Classics (Stanford Archaeology Center, Stanford University)

(This is a placeholder

for a video narrative


the narrative of video)

(Lorem ipsum reliqua)

Hearing ’ heritage: The Kirkyard of St Mary’s of the Lowes

Dr Iain Biggs (Honorary Research Fellow, University of Dundee & Visiting Research Fellow, Bath Spa University)

Responding to the questions: “How do we [who?] ‘see’ [‘hear’] the past”? and “What role has [whose?] memory in the visualisation of narrative constructs”? This illustrated presentation will take as its starting point a public information board at the kirkyard of St Mary’s of the Lowes. Located in the Scottish Borders region, this now-derelict site overlooks St. Mary’s Loch, the source of the Jarrow Water, a tributary of the Ettrick Water, both of which flow through an area associated with two popular traditional Borders ballads : Dowie Dens of Yarrow and Tam Lin. Drawing on Gemma Corradi Fiumara’s The Other Side of Language and the work of Roger Strand and others in the field of post-normal science, together with a recent archaeological study of the site ( the presentation uses the two ballads to draw attention to what is left ‘unheard’ and so unspoken by the authors of this public information board.

The presentation is oriented by Strand’s concern with the crisis in science as this relates to the formation of a dominant life-world where the illusion of “merely fact-minded sciences” continues to “make merely fact-minded people”, and at the expense of “a genuine humanity” (Husserl 1936/1970:6). As an alternative the presentation builds on a disciplinary agnosticism linked to the practice of notitia as “a careful attention that is sustained, patient, subtly attuned to images and metaphor”, is able ‘to track both hidden meanings and surface presentations’ (Watkins 2008: 419).

‘Hearing’ memory

in the Scottish Border,

traditional ballads

draw attention to

unspoken meanings .

Seeing ’ the past, a dark art? Maps, sections and images of the Palaeolithic past

M.R Bates (Geoarchaeology/Quaternary Science University of Wales, Trinity Saint David)

Past landscapes associated with our earliest Palaeolithic archaeologies are very different to those of the present day; rivers that once existed have been erased from the landscape , major rivers have shifted course by 10’s miles and landbridges linking Britain to the Continent have appeared and disappeared. Reconstructing these landscapes has required the use of geological and geophysical techniques and consequently many practising Palaeolithic archaeologists need to be embedded within, or familiar with, the physical sciences. Despite the empirical basis of such investigations (e.g. hard numerical data in the case of geophysics) archaeologists still need to turn this data into meaningful representations of the past. The process of the creation of the images we use to contextualise Palaeolithic archaeology is, in reality, a ‘dark art’ in which practitioners rarely articulate their methodology or question their results. The images we produce are both an elaboration and simplification of our data created to satisfy the perceived needs of the end user. This practice is needed not only to contextualise archaeological finds but also has real, practical, applications such as locating new sites.

This paper examines how illustrative materials including maps, sections and models are used to create the Palaeolithic past and how the results of this process can be used within the context of developer funded archaeology.

‘Seeing’ a dark landscape

Paleolithic archaeologists

use images

to create the


Scenographic deconstruction of national mythologies connected to the Great War and Second World War in Norway

B. Kjartan Fønstelien (Norwegian Theatre Academy/Østfold University College)

During the last few years at Norwegian Theatre Academy / Østfold University College we have held workshops on the island of Håøya, south of Oslo. The participants are bachelor in scenography students from NTA and international guest students from various art disciplines, lead by professor Serge von Arx and lecturer Kjartan Fønstelien. The students are working with narratives connected to central stories from the Great War and Second World War . The aim of the workshop is to deconstruct national mythologies, making "memorials" responsive to individuals whom have disappeared. These lost stories and forgotten peoples represent the darker sides of Norway’s role in both wars. The paper will mostly focus on the history of several hundred female sex workers forced into slave labor in a dynamite plant on the island 1915-18. The presentation includes students’ artistic research into this history through visual and performative actions within the expanded field of scenography. The reality that police in Oslo basically served the factory with enforced sexual labor has been an total "silence" in the official textual and historical material. In the local communities around the island, the narratives of the girls “working” on the factory and sexual abuse of them remains very strong. The students use performances, artistic and scenographic methods to establish memorials responsive to the enslaved women and their legacy. The students have also excavated items from the production period to use in different installations .

Scenographic narratives

from the Great and Second World War

deconstruct lost stories

with excavated


Drama in Archaeology: Performative archaeology and Process Drama as vehicle for understanding and communicating the past narrative

Konstantina Kalogirou (ESOL, Cathays High School, Cardiff) and Konstantinos P. Trimmis (Archaeology & Conservation, Cardiff University)

Since the 1970s Drama is considered a valuable and effective medium that can communicate difficult and complex ideas to any age audience that has no prior experience or knowledge about the target context that Drama each time aims to demonstrate. The adaptability that Drama offers, has created a variety of applied Drama “sub-disciplines” (e.g. Drama in Education, Sociological Drama, Drama in Prisons) in which Drama is implemented in order not only to engage the audience with the new knowledge, but to assist the audience in order to self- understand and re-acknowledge existing embodied knowledge . This paper aims to explore what Drama-in-Archaeology can offer regarding the cultural heritage, the historic cultures and practice s and the interpretation and understanding of the archaeological evidence. The paper is developed in two stages; first it evaluates previous applications of Process Drama in museum education, experimental archaeology and engagement of unfamiliar audiences with an archaeological context. Second it explores theoretical ideas that can be implementing in order to achieve a better understanding of the use of space, in the context of the use of caves in the Neolithic Balkans and in the post-medieval Kythera island in Greece. Finally, this paper aims to leave a note for the future, that Drama can be implemented as a tool for archaeology and Drama in Archaeology can be a new sub-discipline for drama facilitators.

Process Drama

is a valuable and effective medium

to engage the audience,

to re-acknowledge

embodied knowledge.

This practice

evaluates and explores


for the future.

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