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Ancient Muses

Archaeology and the Arts

Edited by John H. Jameson Jr, John E. Ehrenhard, and Christine A. Finn, with con

Publication Year: 2003

Known widely in Europe as "interpretive narrative archaeology," the practice of using creative methods to interpret and present current knowledge of the past is gaining popularity in North America. This book is the first compilation of international case studies of the various artistic methods used in this new form of education—one that makes archaeology "come alive" for the nonprofessional. Plays, opera, visual art, stories, poetry, performance dance, music, sculpture, digital imagery—all can effectively communicate archaeological processes and cultural values to public audiences.

The 23 contributors to this volume are a diverse group of archaeologists, educators, and artisans who have direct experience in schools, museums, and at archaeological sites. Citing specific examples, such as the film The English Patient, science fiction mysteries, and hypertext environments, they explain how creative imagination and the power of visual and audio media can personalize, contextualize, and demystify the research process. A 16-page color section illuminates their examples, and an accompanying CD includes relevant videos, music, web sites, and additional color images.

In their Introduction, the editors invoke the ancient muses to inspire the modern presenters and interpreters of archaeological research. They aptly quote George Santayana, from his poem "The Power of Art":

". . . may our hands immortalize the day

When life was sweet, and save from utter death

The sacred past that should not pass away."

John H. Jameson Jr. is an archaeologist and John E. Ehrenhard is Director at the National Park Service's Southeast Archeological Center in Tallahassee, Florida. Christine A. Finn is research associate at the Institute of Archaeology at the University of Oxford in England.

Published by: The University of Alabama Press


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pp. v-vii

List of Figures

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pp. ix-x

List of Plates

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pp. xi-xii

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Introduction: Archaeology as Inspiration—Invoking the Ancient Muses

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pp. 1-5

As a subdiscipline of anthropology, and as an indispensable tool in the construction, elaboration, and interpretation of history, archaeology uses material culture and vestiges of the past, such as artifacts and historical accounts, to refine, expand, and update our knowledge of the history of humankind. Archaeological methods are used in scientific investigations of past human behavior to produce more accurate historical accounts and interpretations, helping...

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Why We Were Drawn to This Topic: from the Contributors

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pp. 6-14

David G. Anderson: I am an archaeologist at the Southeast Archeological Center of the National Park Service in Tallahassee, Florida. I enjoy technical writing, and I have produced over 200 technical papers and monographs on prehistoric and historic archaeology in various parts of North America and the Caribbean, as well as several published books on local archaeology. I also enjoy...

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1. More Than Just “Telling the Story”: Interpretive Narrative Archaeology

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pp. 15-24

An increasing number of American archaeologists are turning to a narrative approach in presenting and interpreting data. This trend has sometimes been described as simple “storytelling,” usually, but not always, in the third person. Its goal is to make the results of archaeological research more relevant and more meaningful to the members of the public in whose interests such work...

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2. The Archaeologist as Playwright

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pp. 25-39

Stage plays can teach through aesthetic experience, creating settings in which facts, figures, and historical relationships are depicted in an integrated, meaningful manner. Plays also can serve as tools for exploring the past, the archaeologist-playwright experimenting with interactions among individual roles and larger historical events, first on paper and then in production. The use of...

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3. Archaeology Goes to the Opera

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pp. 40-48

Abraham Trimmins, free person of color, and his mule were almost invisible. There was no sound other than the gentle whisper of the wind through the thick draping of Spanish moss. He was crouched on his haunches in front of the old animal, and anyone standing in the glaring noonday sun would not have seen them among the three enormous branches that arched out of the...

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4. Archaeology in Two Dimensions: The Artist’s Perspective

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pp. 49-56

In 1991, my neighbor John Ehrenhard, director of the Southeast Archeological Center (SEAC), approached me about doing a painting for the National Park Service. At the time, I was working as a commercial illustrator and portrait artist. I approached the job as if it were any other assignment, but the subject matter was significantly different from what I was used to. The scene was to...

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5. Art and Imagery as Tools for Public Interpretation and Education in Archaeology

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pp. 57-64

The practice of archaeology, as well as archaeologically derived information and objects, can inspire a wide variety of artistic expressions, ranging from straightforward computer-generated reconstructions and traditional artists’conceptions to other art forms such as poetry and opera. Although some level of conjecture will always be present in these works, they are often no less...

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6. Archaeology as a Compelling Story: The Art of Writing Popular Histories

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pp. 65-71

Because the human past is the foundation of the science of archaeology, relating both the exciting and the everyday details of how earlier people lived is the goal behind the popular histories we write. For the past dozen years we have had the pleasure of learning about recent archaeological discoveries and sharing them in accounts intended to inform and entertain. From the start...

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7. Poetry and Archaeology: The Transformative Process

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pp. 72-81

Poets are editors of the inspirational world. They observe and choose seemingly disparate people, places, and things, essentialize them, and pare and trim and hone the words in the heart, in the head, and on the page. This consideration of poetry as a process is at the center of this chapter. I could have taken...

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8. Reflections on the Design of a Public Art Sculpture for the Westin Hotel, Palo Alto, California

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pp. 82-83

I have always been interested in forgotten people, in the outsiders, the ancient tribes, and Native Americans. Step in Stone (plates 18 and 19) measures 21 feet, 6 inches high by 18 feet wide and weighs 17.5 tons. Completed in 2000, it towers above the El Camino Real in Palo Alto, California, across from the Stanford University campus. This piece, featured in the book Artifacts (Finn...

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9. Pompeii: A Site for All Seasons

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pp. 84-91

How many times has the ancient town of Pompeii been rediscovered? Some would first argue that it was never lost. Indeed, the mesa of volcanic rock upon which it resides so prominently was called “La Citta” in the medieval period. Before that it must have been known to the curious inhabitants of the region who marveled at its odd contours and washed-out artifacts. In the late sixteenth century, Domenico Fontana, a multitalented architect and engineer,

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10. Evoking Time and Place in Reconstruction and Display: The Case of Celtic Identity and Iron Age Art

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pp. 92-108

The aim of site reconstruction and interpretation is to inform and educate the public while also offering entertainment. This may be achieved through displays of structures and artifacts, by presenters in role, by actors offering an interpretation of the past, or by the use of music, language, and art. Museums authenticate their interpretation with the support of artifacts from the past;...

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11. Art and Archaeology: Conflict and Interpretation in a Museum Setting

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pp. 109-119

Is it possible to provide art-oriented museum visitors with a fulfilling experience without harming the cause of archaeology education or short changing archaeology-oriented visitors who come to learn about a past culture? Can a museum’s art be prominently displayed without promoting the demand for (looted) antiquities? This chapter will explore the conflicting values of visitors,...

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12. The Archaeology of Music and Performance in the Prehistoric American Southwest

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pp. 120-127

The compelling quote above illustrates the profound importance of traditional ceremonies to Native peoples of the Southwest. In spite of this, the study of ritual performance has traditionally been the domain of cultural anthropologists because of its ephemeral nature and the critical role of live performers. Archaeologists have addressed ritual, but they have traditionally...

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13. Archaeology’s Influence on Contemporary Native American Art: Perspectives from a Monster

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pp. 128-135

American Indian communities and archaeology seem to be like oil and water, not mixing, repelling each other no matter how much they are stirred. Native people are angered by the cultural imperialism and insensitivity shown by archaeologists in the excavation of sites and the treatment of human remains. Archaeologists, meanwhile, see Indians as obstructionists. While the Native...

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14. From Rock Art to Digital Image: Archaeology and Art in Aboriginal Australia

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pp. 136-151

One focus of contemporary archaeological practice is that of achieving more effective communication with a public audience. This is promoted by both funding and ethical imperatives. The current impetus toward archaeological research being supported by private, corporate, and public funds means that archaeologists are increasingly accountable to people outside the discipline....

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15. Archaeology in Science Fiction and Mysteries

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pp. 152-161

Science fiction and mystery are among the most popular forms of modern literature. Some of the greatest stories in each genre have centered on archaeological themes, have archaeological endeavors for a backdrop, or have archaeologists as protagonists or, occasionally, the villains. Get archaeologists to talk about what they prefer for light reading, and more often than not they will...

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16. RKLOG: Archaeologists as Fiction Writers

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pp. 162-168

A novel way to write archaeology is through fiction. This chapter mostly concerns archaeologists writing novels rather than novelists using archaeological data. Since I firmly believe that there are many wonderful archaeological novels, perhaps not quite finished, residing in bottom drawers in offices or bedrooms, I have founded RKLOG (say the letters aloud) Press, whose mission...

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17. Capturing the Wanderer: Nomads and Archaeology in the Filming of The English Patient

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pp. 169-178

I should preface this chapter with some background concerning its development. I explored the archaeology in Michael Ondaatje’s 1992 novel The English Patient for a paper on nomads and archaeology presented at a conference on that theme in Siberia in 1996. Developing it further to look at the translation of the novel into film seemed to me a logical move, a means of considering the...

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18. Is Archaeology Fiction? Some Thoughts about Experimental Ways of Communicating Archaeological Processes to the “External World”

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pp. 179-192

One day during November 2000 I was watching a program on the NBC evening news concerning the rediscovery of the “real Mount Sinai” by two men, Bob Cornuke and William Larry, who belong to the Bible Archaeology Search and Exploration (BASE) Institute (figure 18.1). Cornuke, director of the institute, writes that “BASE exists to reaffirm the Bible as our reliable message of hope from God to mankind. We acknowledge it as our reliable...

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19. Crafting Cosmos, Telling Sister Stories, and Exploring Archaeological Knowledge Graphically in Hypertext Environments

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pp. 193-204

In 1994, Rosemary Joyce began a long-term collaboration with two non-archaeologists on a hypermedia project based on ethnohistoric materials about sixteenth-century Aztec society. Joyce’s collaboration on Sister Stories ( Joyce etal. 2000) has led her to view hypertext presentation as a potentially powerful medium for the representation of not only archaeological interpretations but...

References Cited

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pp. 205-230

Contributor Affiliations and Contact Information

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pp. 231-232

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About the Editors

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pp. 233-234

John H. Jameson, Jr., is a senior archaeologist with the National Park Service’s Southeast Archeological Center in Tallahassee, Florida. His 20-plus years of federal service have encompassed a broad range of projects involving archaeological fieldwork and cultural resource management in several regions of theUnited States and overseas. A recognized leader in public archaeology, he is a...


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pp. 235-247

E-ISBN-13: 9780817382865
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817312749

Publication Year: 2003

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Archaeology -- Methodology.
  • Archaeology -- Social aspects.
  • Archaeology -- Philosophy.
  • Art and archaeology.
  • Arts and society.
  • Public art.
  • Public history.
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