Digital Archaeology

My digital archaeology work seeks to document the formative years of digital culture and raise the profile of digital preservation. My main focus is Web 1.0 but I’m also interested in early video games, computer art, and CGI. This is my day:

6.10am Woken up by my one-year-old. He’s obviously very excited about the Day of Archaeology 2014.

7.05am Arrange a courier to pick up an original Ruby Red iMac I bought on Ebay. I just need the elusive Blue Dalmation (the spotty one) and I’ll have a full set of the original 13 colours. Yes, I’m a geek.

8.10am Put in an order for Hearth, a toddler proof LED fireplace and future digital artefact (maybe) made by John Popadic and Harry Denholm.

9.30am Bought four brand new CRT monitors, still in their boxes.

10:20 Headed to The Barbican where I’ve curated the Digital Archaeology section of the Digital Revolution exhibition. Giving Paul Alexandrou a tour, a friend of mine exploring the impact of the social web on language.

Digital Archaeology at The Barbican

Digital Archaeology at The Barbican

11:00 Into the exhibition. The first exhibit is Ralph Baer’s Magnovox Odyssey, the first games console and the inspiration for Atari’s Pong. It was also licensed by Nintendo in Japan, their first venture into video games. Two giants of the video games industry owe their success to this plastic box. Nice one, Ralph! He also invented Simon, the first rhythm action game, making it Guitar Hero’s grandaddy.

11:10 Next up is Ed Catmull and Fred Parke’s student project from 1972, A Computer Animated Hand. Ed and Fred went on to found the company that became Pixar. 

11.15 The Aspen Moviemap is playing on the video wall: in 1978 a bunch of MIT students pretty much made Google Street View.

11.20 Then on to Game & Watch, the first mass-market clamshell product and Tetris on Gameboy – the first/ultimate casual game?

11.25 Quick look at the machines that defined the sound of the ’80s – The Fairlight CMI, LinnDrum, and Atari ST.

11.35 Paying our respects to the face that launched the Apple Mac, Susan Kare’s interpretation of the Japanese woodblock print, Lady Combing Hair. Susan Kare then went to NeXT, where she designed the interface that TBL used to make the first website, then on to Microsoft to design the deck of cards used in Solitaire and then a suite of Facebook icons. Not bad, Susan!

Digital Archaeology at The Barbican

Digital Archaeology at The Barbican

11.45 Another iconic image of a woman used to sell computers to young men – a portrait of Debbie Harry created by Andy Warhol on the Amiga 1000. One year earlier Steve Jobs had taught him to use a mouse at Sean Lennon’s 9th birthday party.

11.50 A glance at the Quantel Paintbox, the machine used to make Dire Straits’ “Money For Nothing” video (directed by Steve Barron who also directed the A-ha vid “Take On Me” and Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” before directing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles).

11.55 Net Art! JODI, Olia Lialina and Alexei Shulgin, Masters of the Temporary Autonomous Zone, as Shulgin called the Web in the mid-’90s (my favourite pieces in the show).

12.15 Loads more in between, but another favourite is João Wilbert’s Exquisite Clock, a crowd-sourced, er clock made by João and my old lecturer Andy Cameron at Fabrica.

12.20 The final exhibit is Angry Birds, which signifies the end of digital culture (digital culture just became culture once everyone started carrying a pocket-sized PC with them wherever they went.

Digital Revolution continues with works by Umbrellium,Universal Everything, Chris Milk, Aaron Koblin, Björk, Daniel Rozin, Zachary Lieberman, and a load more of incredible creatives. These are the real stars of the show; my digital archaeology section tries to bring to life the culture they emerged from.

Now over to my studio In Hackney Wick, opposite the Olymic Park, where I have ten old machines to boot up and test.

14.15 Lime Green iMac G3 – doesn’t work – darn

14.35 Tangerine Orange iMac G3 – can’t find the hard drive – not a good start

14.55 Twentieth Anniversary Mac – I know this one works, running Netscape 3 – beautiful

15.20 Snow White iMac G3 – works but a bit beaten up, running OS X, need to downgrade to OS 8.5

15.45 Graphite iMac G3 – works, also running OS X, need to downgrade

16.05 Flower Power iMac G3 – please let this one work- yes! Also running OS X, darn these people who update their machines

16.25 Bondi Blue iMac G3 – works, also been upgraded

16.55 Packard Bell – not a Mac for a change – nice, Windows 98 and Exporer 5 – loving the Pipes screensaver

Digital Archaeology at Fish Island Labs

Digital Archaeology at Fish Island Labs

17.15 Two Macintosh Performa 5200s – both working running Mac OS 7 – more like it!

17.30 It’s Friday! Having drinks with my new colleagues at Fish Island Labs!

Day of (Media) Archaeology

I have always been a Classical archaeologist. I was chosen to become a Punk Archaeologist. I became a media archaeologist by accident. On today, the 2014 Day of Archaeology, I am embodying this Trinity, these three archaeologies in one person. How did this all happen? And why today?

Classical Archaeology

In my capacity as Director of Publications for the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA), I have blogged three times previously (here, here, and here) on what I’m doing with archaeological publication. I still publish the journal Hesperia in print four times a year as well as a digital edition. I still publish print monographs and guidebooks. Today, as the print edition of The Athenian Agora: Museum Guide comes back from the bindery in Athens, I am building an interactive guidebook for it in HTML5 for use on Android and iOS devices to enable guests to browse the collections in whatever order they choose. I’m also entering content into Google’s free Field Trip app for the site of Ancient Corinth (which launched last week for the Athenian Agora), to allow for non-linear, wander-where-you-will exploration of these vast archaeological spaces. Today I am also writing a draft grant proposal to help fund the creation of a new kind of archaeological publication, something without any print component, that will include synthetic text, 2- and 3-D images, 3-D printer specs, query-by-image, -by-map, and -by-time, interactive data tables, and a “more like this” feature for exploring pottery fabrics by what they look like. All of this stems from my love of Classics and especially of the archaeology of the Greek world, and this deep and abiding love drives me to create new, better tools and publications to give this archaeology (and ultimately others) the publications venue it deserves while critiquing its current state and forecasting a better future (something I published here this week). Part of communicating archaeology is making it widely available and accessible to a global readership. The ASCSA’s efforts to make publications available as Open Access continue with 57 titles now available for free to read, download, and share. FieldTripPunk Archaeology

I didn’t invent Punk Archaeology. That was the love-child of Bill Caraher and Kostis Kourelis and can be thoroughly explored via their eponymous Punk Archaeology blog. I came to Punk Archaeology like St. Peter came to Jesus, and was baptized in Fargo at the first Punk Archaeology unconference on Feb. 2, 2013, where I played my first public rock show and published my first album, a collection of Punk Archaeology songs about cultural heritage, teaching, and excavation. In 2014 the book inspired by that unconference, Punk Archaeology, will be published with the appearance of a printed ‘zine. And today I am completing my abstract on Punk Public Archaeology as part of a panel for the 2015 Society of Historical Archaeology (SHA) annual meeting.

Building off of the definition of Punk Archaeology (#punkarch) established by Caraher and Kourelis, I define the movement and method as the following:

  • Apply a do-it-yourself (DIY) aesthetic to archaeology projects, especially when funding, personnel, and other kinds of support are lacking.
  • Study marginalized archaeologies, and conduct the archaeology of cultures and places eschewed by the Academy.
  • Study the history and archaeology of Punk and Punk places.
  • Engage in actively communicating to and involving the public in all aspects/phases of archaeology.
  • Promote a spirit of cooperation and sharing of tools, data, and other resources with all other archaeologists, Punk or not.

punka_cover_1Media Archaeology

“Indeed, what media archaeology investigates are also the practical rewirings of time, as is done in media artistic and creative practice work, through archives digital and spatial, as well as DIY and circuit bending which recycle, and remix obsolete technology as much as they investigate how technology is the framework for temporality for us.”

-Jussi Parikka, Cartographies of Media Archaeology

I became a media archaeologist first through Punk Archaeology, namely in my born-again interest in Punk rock, and an addict’s desire to acquire all the gear to the neglect of all else. I was (and still am) deeply invested in record-bin excavations, and I continue to quest for mix- and demo-tapes, not for their resale value, but on the chance of discovering an unknown band or, better, yet, being able to trace the history of those cassettes throughout a community of listeners 25-40 years ago.

In April 2014, this obsession got a name: Media Archaeology. It came about with my involvement as one of the archaeologists invited to excavate the fabled “Atari Burial Ground” in Alamogordo, New Mexico. Our team, in cooperation with city workers, state environmental agencies, the landfill owner and his family, and a documentary film crew, excavated and documented 1,300+ Atari video games buried there in 1983, in the first-of-its-kind excavation of this kind of media. We were literally digging our own cultural heritage. With the salvage excavation over, we began writing for a general (and general archaeological) readership in Archaeology magazine, and in a forthcoming article for the Atlantic. Another piece written by Joshua Wheeler will appear at the end of the month in Harper’s, and the documentary film, Atari: Game Over, will premier at the San Diego Comic Con on July 25th.

Today I continue to work on my part of the technical article about the excavation that will be submitted to a peer-reviewed academic journal, and I am also continuing to review the photos and videos the team shot before, during, and after the Atari dig in anticipation of making everything Open Access possibly through in 2014 or 2015 once our article is published. I have also just submitted an abstract for a panel on archaeological methods in media archaeology for a conference in Bradford, UK, in September, where I hope to talk more about how we decided to dig and document the way we did, and what we might have done differently.


It gives me great pleasure to be able to do these archaeologies today, and every day, and I encourage everyone to broaden their horizons when it comes to this discipline and how we can communicate what we do.