After a great weekend with the Museum of Science Fiction at Escape Velocity 2017, I must to return to reality, which is a little sad.

Keeping me inspired from 1/2 way around the world, my fab colleague Dr. Becca Peixotta (Swampscapes) is back in South Africa working on the Rising Star Expedition with Lee Berger and the rest of the amazing Homo naledi exploration crew.

The best way to follow their adventures is probably to follow John Hawks (@johnhawks) on Twitter.

I’ll post more links to expedition members and projects later, but now I’ve got to finish revising an article before an editor puts a bounty on my head….

Randy Cordova’s review in the Arizona Republic sums Archaeological horror flick As Above, So Below up nicely:

Alone in the Dark is a 1982 horror movie starring Jack Palance, Donald Pleasence and Martin Landau.
Unfortunately, that’s not the movie we’re watching.

We’re watching Alone in the Dark, a 2005 supernatural/archaeological horror movie starring Tara Reid, Christian Slater and Stephen Dorff.

If that doesn’t give you a sufficient idea of how terrible this movie is, perhaps because you’re drunk or otherwise incapacitated, allow me up the ante: this movie was directed by Uwe Boll.

Uwe. Boll.

And it’s based on a video game. It’s one of Boll’s video game movies. The only movies on earth more awful than Boll’s “original” movies are Boll’s movies based on video games.

Allow Wired’s Chris Baker to sum up Boll’s abilities:

Like a modern-day Ed Wood, or a poor man’s Michael Bay, Boll appears competent in every aspect of filmmaking except the actual making of the film. His movies are haphazardly scripted, sloppily edited, badly acted and, most crucially, brutally received.

There are mild spoilers in this post, but with a movie like this, it’s better to be forewarned.

The movie begins with a crawl. Narrated by Slater, who sounds as though he’s drunk or otherwise incapacitated, this crawl is a prodigious display of word-vomit that provides a video-game-esque amount of backstory that leaves you fervently wishing that the poor man’s Nicholson would just shut up already.

Blahblahblah. 10,000 years ago a tribe known as the Abkani opened a gate between the worlds of Light and Dark. Blahblahblah. Something evil slipped through the gate, possibly Uwe Boll. Blahblahblah. In 1967, a bunch of miners found dangerous artifacts left behind when the Abkani disappeared.Blahblahblah. Something about the government’s Bureau 713, a paranormal research agency run by an archaeologist named Lionel Hudgens. Hudgens has a secret lab. Blahblahblah.

“There, he conducted savage experiments on orphaned children in an attempt to merge man with creature.”

Wait, what? What kind of archaeology is that? What creatures?

Me: Isn’t that also the plot of that Kevin Smith movie we just saw a trailer for? Tusk? The one where the guy tries to turn the other guy into a walrus?
Husband: No. This is different. That guy was a podcaster, not an archaeologist!

Thankfully, while we were bickering about Tusk, the crawl ended. Unfortunately, that meant the movie began.

Edward Carnby (Christian Slater), one of the 20 surviving experimental child-creature subjects, has grown up to be a paranormal investigator. He also knows kung fu. Or maybe the artifact he keeps in his leather jacket pocket gives him super-powers. Who can really say? Actually, Lowrent Nicholson will probably say eventually, because it appears he’s also going to be narrating this steaming pile of cinematic stupidity.

Seriously, what kind of science was Ludgens supposed to be doing? You understand that creating human-demonmonster hybrids is not archaeology, right? Right?

Ludgens is still a working archaeologist. Not a respectable archaeologist, obviously, because he works for the same museum that hired Aline (Tara Reid) as an assistant-curator. Let’s be clear here: I’m not mocking the idea of Reid as a scholar because she’s young and dewy and pretty. I’m mocking the idea of Reid as a scholar because she can’t deliver a convincing line to save her life. She can’t even walk convincingly.

Archaeology movie trope alert: Aline is under pressure to finish the blockbuster exhibit about the Abkani for the major museum at which she is the assistant curator.

A bunch of stuff happens.

Sample dialogue:

Edward: Every culture’s got a story about the end of the world, doesn’t it?
Aline: But not every story starts by coming true.

Oh, hey! Sex scene in an exotically appointed artifact-laden warehouse. I guess Edward and Aline live in this warehouse? Oh no! Now Edward and Aline are being attacked by a monster, who chases them around the warehouse.

Luckily, Bureau 713 arrives with an entire platoon of soldiers and they all open fire on the monster in the dark warehouse while heavy metal music throbs and lights strobe and everyone grunts a lot.

No, really:

Now there are zombies.

Where did the zombies come from? I have no idea. I wasn’t paying attention because I was reading about the 7th Alone in the Dark game (Illuminations), which is scheduled for release this year. Husband, who was paying attention, also has no idea.

We both agree that the games are way, way better that this movie.

We also agree that they should dub Reid’s dialogue. Even if it wasn’t dubbed well her performance would be more convincing. Maybe they could spare Reid the effort of memorizing all of those words. Her dialogue coach could just smear peanut butter on the roof of her mouth like they do when they want to film animals moving their mouth in a way that approximates human speech.

Sweet cheezits! I was just searching my archives for a post I wrote about Boll’s epic vampire hunter flick Bloodrayne (“not as bad as getting your eyelid caught on a nail”) and discovered that we’ve already watched this movie.

Husband: Well, I believe we should commend ourselves for doing such an excellent job of repressing it!

He makes a good point.

Hang on…the braintrust of Aline, Edward, and Bureau 713 Commander Burke (Dorff) seem to have lead Bureau 713’s special forces to the ancient Abkani temple those miners found in 1967.

No sign of zombies. Lots of monsters, though. And a big battle.

Damn, while I wasn’t paying attention the three stooges opened the door between the worlds of Light and Dark and went into whichever one they weren’t already in. Dark, I guess. Or Light. Who knows?

Some “dramatic” things happen and the movie ends.

I don’t want to ruin the movie for you, so I haven’t described the B story, in which we learn the consequences of the child-creature experiments. You should be grateful I decided not to describe it. Grateful on oh so many levels, the least of which is that you’re avoiding spoilers.

In summary: archaeology plus secret experiments involving human-creature hybrids never end well, not when you’re on deadline to open a blockbuster museum exhibit!

Someone edited Alone in the Dark down to 2 minutes, complete with director’s commentary and a guest appearance by Howard Dean!

I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to watch Alone in the Dark II!

Alone in the Dark 2 Trailer:

updated 2:30 p.m. EST with two more links at the end of the post.

I was on campus until rather late last night and didn’t get a chance to update the list of articles critiquing and opposing the National Geographic Channel’s Nazi War Diggers, a proposed 4 part series which appeared to portray archaeology as treasure hunting and showed human remains being excavated in a grotesquely cavalier manner.

My previous link round-up posts are here: Nazi War Diggers: Part II and here: Nazi War Diggers: Part I.

There are some excellent articles that I’ll link to at the end of this post, but I’m going to start with the good news Tom Mashberg reported in the New York Times: “National Geographic Channel Pulls ‘Nazi War Diggers’ Series.”

It should be noted that the show does not appear to have officially been cancelled – it has been “postponed indefinitely,” which can mean a lot of things in the world of broadcast media and video on demand.

Still, it’s a positive sign and one that the National Geographic Channel should be given credit for, particularly in light of how firmly they seemed to be digging their heels in as recently as Friday.

I want to highlight a few sections of the article since it may be behind a paywall for some readers.

First, it’s important to note that the National Geographic Society did listen to the archaeologists affiliated with the society and acknowledged their concerns:

National Geographic Channel said Monday that it would “indefinitely” pull a planned television series on unearthing Nazi war graves after days of blistering criticism from archeologists and others who said the show handled the dead with macabre disrespect.

The channel said that after “consulting with colleagues” at the National Geographic Society, it would not broadcast the series, “Nazi War Diggers,” in May as scheduled “while questions raised in recent days regarding accusations about the program can be properly reviewed.” The show was to have been broadcast globally except in the United States.

Additionally, this section explaining that the Latvian War Museum opposed the show is important because inaccurate rumors about their involvement could have serious consequences for them in the future:

The channel said in its Friday statement that the Latvian government had approved the team’s work, which took place on Latvian and Polish soil. But the critics contacted the Latvian War Museum, which said in a statement that it had opposed the show.

National Geographic also said that none of the items dug up during filming would be sold but instead would be donated to war museums. The critics however found a posting on a military collectors’ online forum in which Mr. Gottlieb described locating a Latvian war helmet in June and preparing it for sale.

On to the links I intended to post yesterday, which raise many relevant questions and concerns and explain why NatGeo TV’s defensive arguments on Friday were so problematic.

I think these are vital reads regardless of the fate of the show because they get to a lot of larger issues that archaeologists, public historians, curators, and others face on a regular basis, particularly in the age of Infotainment and manufactured television “reality.”

Sam Hardy at Conflict Antiquities: ‘No trouble with customs.’ Perhaps trouble with repeatedly written confessions?

Alison Atkin at Deathsplanation: “On the Importance of Context.”

Andy Brockman at Heritage Daily: Springtime for Hitler and “Nazi War [Death Porn] Diggers”

Additionally, this letter from the Presidents of a number of major anthropological and archaeological professional organizations has been added to the American Anthropological Association site:

The Society for American Archaeology (SAA), the Society for Historical Archaeology (SHA), the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA), the American Anthropological Association (AAA), the European Association of Archaeologists (EAA), and the European Association of Social Anthropologists (EASA) wish
to express our deep disappointment and grave concern about the upcoming National Geographic Channel
International’s (NGCI’s) show, Nazi War Diggers. Together, SAA, SHA, AIA, AAA, EAA, and EASA
represent more than 10,000 professional archaeologists and more than 600,000 individuals interested in
archaeology. Our members live and work in all parts of the world, including the areas ravaged by World
War II.

(read the rest of the letter here).

Yesterday, I posted about a new NatGeo TV show, Nazi War Diggers. The list of blog posts and open letters criticizing the show continues to grow.

Alison Atkin (Deathsplanation, doctoral researcher at The University of Sheffield Department of Archaeology) “Dear National Geographic Channel UK.” This post also contains a pdf of the letter the National Geographic Channel has sent out in response to the outcry.

Dr. Donna Yates (research fellow on the University of Glasgow’s Trafficking Culture project): “Nazi War Diggers: Looting war graves on TV.”

Paul Mullens (Archaeology and Material Culture, Chair of the Anthropology Department at Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis): “The Peep Show of Death: Televising Human Remains.”

Even as the National Geographic Channel scrambles to argue that everything will be fine once we see the context of the clip, they fail to acknowledge a key issue. As Mullens writes:

Shows that tear bottles and bullets out of archaeological context violate archaeological ethics because they make no effort to systematically interpret the material record and they quite often recover things simply for commercial benefit. Reducing human bodies to the same status as bottles to be trafficked online has consequential methodological, ethical, and moral implications alike.

Tom Mashberg’s New York Times article, “TV Series is criticized in handling of deceased,” will hopefully reach an audience beyond the bio/archaeology community. The National Geographic Channel is quoted in the article:

“Part of it is our fault because we released a clip completely out of context that was not representative of the show,” he said. “But I hope people will withhold judgment until the show starts.”

This raised many an eyebrow on twitter. The clip, which shows a group of men cavalierly scraping dirt away from human remains and prying a broken femur out of the ground in a manner that no amount of context will make acceptable. The article concludes:

One of the two metal-detecting specialists on the show, Kris Rodgers, said on Twitter that he agreed the show had been promoted with “a very bad clip.” In response to the outcry, however, he added: “Trust me. It was done properly.”

No. It clearly wasn’t.

Additionally, Archaeosoup has a special episode about the show. Although NatGeo TV has taken down the clip, you can see it in this episode.

Oh! Bodies and Academia is also collecting up links about the show: “Grave Robbing” on TV?”

That title sounds like the lead-in to a post about craptacular SyFy movies. Or maybe a political post about the rhetoric around the NeoLiberal military-industrial complex. Sadly, it’s about neither of those things. Nazi War Diggers is an upcoming 4-part series on National Geographic International. TV Wise announced it will begin airing on May 13th.

Nazi War Diggers, National Geographic Channel
Photo posted on Nazi War Diggers show site

NatGeoTV, which is owned by FOX and promoted as a partnership with the National Geographic Society, already airs an ethically-challenged show called Diggers. Despite critiques by professional associations such as the Society for American Archaeology, the show continues to air and is now in its third season.

The clip posted yesterday on the Nazi War Diggers website showed these self-professed metal detector enthusiasts digging up human remains from an unmarked Latvian grave. The clip has since been removed but the page remains and the publicity photos were still online as of this afternoon.

I’ve been rounding up blog posts about the show.

Bioarchaeologist Kristina Killgrove (Powered by Osteons blog): “Who needs an osteologist, volume 11.”

John R. Roby (Digs and Docs): “We don’t need a TV show about looting Nazi battlefields.”

Archaeologist Paul Barford (Portable Antiquity Collecting and Heritage Issues blog): “National Geographic use metal detectors, find new low.”

Conflict Antiquities: “urgent ethical and legal questions for National Geographic, ClearStory and their Nazi War Diggers.”

Alison Atkin of Deathsplanation summed up my feelings with an animated gif: “Nazi War Diggers.”

Archaeologist and TV producer Annelise Baer (Archaeologist for Hire blog): “Let’s talk more about Nazi War Diggers.”

I’ll add posts as I run across them.

Added March 28, 2014: Nazi War Diggers, part II.

Getting messages asking what this year’s Halloween theme is going to be and when I’m going to start posting. It’s October 5th already, isn’t it?

But wait! I’m not 5 days behind! I can make this year’s theme Archaeology & Anthropology in Horror and then I’m actually ahead of the game because I’ve already been obsessing over this for months.

Everybody wins.

I’ve been sick for a while, but posting will resume soon.

As long as I’m not mutating like the anthropologist in The Relic. If I turn into a South American lizard-god we may have to re-assess the project…

Until the running and the screaming starts, I’ll be working on a subject tag for these posts.

On Monday (9/9/13) DC-area artist Gregg Deal appeared on WJLA’s News Channel 8 “Afternoon Report.” Deal went on the show believing he’d been invited into the program to talk about his performance art piece, The Last American Indian on Earth.

Disclaimer: I backed this project during the last Indiegogo campaign and plan to support the current campaign and am a fan of Gregg Deal’s work.

The live 5 minute interview aired just hours before the kickoff of the Washington football team’s season opener. When it becomes available, I’ll embed the clip. In the meantime, I want to dissect it not only to express my thoughts on the segment but because local news clips don’t always live forever online.

This post is lengthy, even after I went through and scrubbed out all of the anthropological and communications theory and the art blahblahblah, but there was a lot to unpack in such a short segment.

The anchor, Dave Lucas, introduces the segment, saying: “While the nation’s capital struggles with the issue of what to call the Washington Football Team, a performance art piece and social project explores how people stereotype Native Americans.”

Cut to a 30 second clip of Deal’s project.

After introducing Deal, Lucas explains to the viewer that Deal approaches his subject from a number of perspectives. He asks Deal about his perspective as an artist first. That makes sense – ostensibly Deal is a guest on the program to talk about his art.

So far, so good.

Then, something interesting happens. This seasoned anchor becomes visibly uncomfortable.

He immediately pops the question.

No, not that question. The question about whether the Redskins should change their name.

Deal shares his opinion (which I agree with) that there still isn’t a much in the way of real dialogue happening – there are Indigenous groups stating objections and local fans stating that they don’t view Indian objections as valid because…history. There are journalists taking a stand and refusing to use the name in media, but not enough to truly create change (yet). Deal makes the point that very little of this adds up to engagement or actual conversation.

Deal offers his observation that, at least on social media, the tone of the arguments are less about the relevance of the name and more about stereotypes.

Indeed, a day-long symposium earlier in the year at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, “Racist Stereotypes and Cultural Appropriation in American Sports,” was accompanied by a profane, abusive, and bigoted stream of tweets repeating stereotypes about Indians and lecturing Native people about how they should feel about mascots and sports names. The facebook and twitter reaction was as depressing as the symposium was enlightening.

But let’s get back to the news segment…

Lucas had already flubbed the introduction slightly, but that could be attributed to any number of things. I’m not one to make assumptions, but what the hell – let’s assume Lucas is nervous.

Perhaps Lucas expected Deal to be less opinionated and verbose and more stoic, like the Indian in the iconic 1970s “Keep America Beautiful” campaign.

Ooops. Digressed again. Back to the segment…

While the anchor clumsily describes Deal’s art for the viewer, this is what the viewer is seeing on screen:


As he struggles to describe Deal’s costume, he uses the word “Indian” as though it, not Redskin, is the slur in question.

The 3rd or 4th time I watched the clip, I paused and wondered whether I should feel sympathy for the anchor. He’s probably attended a lot of cultural sensitivity training over the years and golly gee, shouldn’t we feel sorry for people who are asked to adjust to a world where they theoretically no longer have all the privilege?


Back to the interview…

Deal deftly turns the conversation back to the personal nature of the project, how he understands that not everyone understands how personal it is (a challenge in all performance art) and explains that he’s comfortable allowing viewers “to bring to the table whatever they have…” at which point the anchor interrupts him, saying, “Here’s what I think about this…”

Lucas then states that, in his opinion, the “powerful force” of inertia is “with the redskins name staying as it is.”

To even claim to mistake Dan Snyder’s petulance for inertia is absurd.

Lucas continues, explaining that “until enough people, Native Americans and non Native Americans make a compelling case to change it…We have heard some voices, we haven’t heard enough…”

Except for this messy fact: if Native voices were actually being listened to by people with the power to affect change, we wouldn’t still be having this ridiculous circular conversation.

While I was spewing profanity at my screen, Deal kept his cool. He explains that the Washington Football Team is privately owned and it’s principle owner, Dan Snyder, has made it clear he’s not going to change the name voluntarily.

Lucas responds that Deal wanted to start a dialogue and he has. Deal concludes by talking about how people have strong opinions about the art piece and the concept of Indianness.

Lucas asks Deal about the NCAA rule prohibiting Native American mascots and imagery (with a few exceptions) and contends that “…a lot of people thought making a rule was heavy-handed.”

This is an attitude that makes me grind my teeth. To undo systems that oppress a group with limited power, you have to do things that prohibit behaviors or actions that reasonable people understand to be socially, politically, or economically wrong, even if the people holding power disagree. Segregation didn’t just magically end one day. Suffrage for women didn’t just appear on the doorstep.

Change is hard and scary and uncomfortable.

I’m not accusing Lucas of intentionally defending bigotry, I’m pointing out that this is not a new argument. It’s an argument for inaction for the purpose of defending the status quo (usually with a little victim blaming on the side, to spice things up).

When Deal says he thinks changing the team name is a moral issue, Lucas paternalistically cheers him on, going so far as to interrupt him to interject “…that’s the word I wanted you to say! That’s important!” When I watched the clip the first time, I thought Lucas was enthusiastic about the word “moral” but after watching the exchange a few times, I think he’s applauding “reasonable people.”

I must say, the appearance of his tacit agreement that any reasonable person should change the name gives a new reading to his attitude, but doesn’t change the overall effect of the segment. And no matter what he’s cheering on, the exchange still has the appearance of a wise elder grooming a child for a public appearance.

At the end, Deal makes the point that the popularity of animal mascots illustrates the way that Indians and animals are aligned in many people’s opinion. (See also: Fryberg, Markus, Oyserman, Stone, “Of Warrior Chiefs and Indian Princesses: The PsychologicalConsequences of American Indian Mascots”)

Again Lucas asks Deal how people can start a dialogue, but then returns to the idea he introduced when he mentioned the NCAA rules – that if it’s the right thing to do, people will just raise their voices and do it.

This is the argument people who would like to roll back voting rights make: we don’t need laws. That’s working out great.

An interesting aspect of this is that Lucas begins by asking Deal to appear in his role as Artist. Then he immediately shoves him into the role of Indian. Token Indian, speaking on behalf of a diverse multitude of cultural groups, one of the building blocks of a stereotype. He was asked on this program as an artist who is an Indian, which would have given him greater latitude both performatively and personally. Instead, he was forced into the role of the stoic, long-suffering, wisdom-espousing Indian. This is the image he is enacting in his art, because it’s a stereotype.

I felt like Lucas was inviting Deal to a decidedly non-ironic game of cowboys and indians.

I’m not suggesting that Deal should have gone Wendigo on Lucas and bitten him or started chanting and invoking curses and spectral indians or making prophecies about desecrated burial ground.

What I mean is that the act of asking him to speak for a multitude instead of asking him how he navigates this terrain in which the personal is so vividly political actually depersonalized Deal’s art instead of contextualizing it.

At first Lucas’s tone came across to me as condescending, but almost immediately I realized that a better word would be paternalistic. And I don’t mean in a fatherly sense. The whole segment felt like some sort of runaway train of colonial tropes.

It was an ambush. You could go farther – unpacking how the very act of controlling the place the interview was conducted (the anchor desk) and the date (game day) disempowered Deal’s project politically, socially, and even personally, reducing it to a single issue. The project clearly explores multiple dimensions – stereotypes, identity, power, meaning, existence, the practice of othering, the effects of being othered, aesthetics, place, the politics of land…I could go on for a while, but I won’t.

How about we just agree the project has a lot of dimensions?


Not anymore. Not for viewers of that segment.

Now the project is firmly embedded in the fracas about the Washington Football Team for anyone who saw the segment as their introduction to Deal’s work.

Deal posted this on his facebook page today. I just deleted my final paragraph in favor of embedding this video, because it conveys the spirit of what he’s up to and his motivations in his own words, and when you’ve got those, you don’t really need mine.

See also:
Indian Country Today: The Last American Indian on Earth: Public Displays of Nativeness.

The Huffington Post: Performance Artist Explores Stereotypes In ‘The Last American Indian On Earth’

The University of Illinois Mascot Info Center

The Nation: A History Lesson for the Redskins Owner – Dan Snyder needs a reminder about his team’s attempts to resist integration.

If you’ve gotten this far and you’re going to leave a comment defending the Washington Football Team name, I suggest you also read this article that accompanied the NMAI Cultural Stereotypes symposium I mentioned earlier in the post: Washington Post: Gridiron glory will never be ours again with a team named the ‘Redskins’

Last week I went skipping off to the amazing and fun ScienceOnline Climate Conference for a few days.

My scholarship focuses in large part on the ways knowledge about science, nature, and health are produced, deployed, understood, and/or acted on.

My primary goal in attending this event was to get a better understanding of how science communicators are situating people in their work – whether that means looking at the differing relationship Indigenous arctic people, scientists, tourists, and commercial fisheries have with wild ice or enacting policies on climate change related coastal damage in Southern states or engaging with members of the public who deny climate change is being accelerated by human behavior.

I was pleasantly surprised by how many attendees had an anthropology background or who were very interested in how engaging with the topic from an anthropological perspective could strengthen their work.

I made some great contacts, put faces to a lot of names I only knew online, and saw some old friends. I’ve got posts in progress about 3 workshop sessions: communicating climate change as a non-expert, the role of art in communicating about climate change, and using games to communicate climate change issues.

In the meantime, here are links to Keynote speaker Andy Revkin’s post on his NY Times blog, Dot Earth and Plenary session panelist Dan Kahan’s (@cult_cognition) article at Yale’s Cultural Cognition Project, “Who distrusts whom about what in the climate science debate?”

You can also check in to the conference wiki, where blogposts, pictures, and video of sessions are being added even as I type.

As a child, I ran a bit hot and cold on the whole Curious George issue. I loved him when I was 5 and devoured all the books in short order (I was a precocious reader). In the first grade, much to the chagrin of our school librarian, I found the situation of a monkey in an urban environment problematic. Which was odd considering I lived in a weird place that – in addition to the wide-range of eccentrics, roadside attractions, and sanctuaries, was the winter home of the circus – and didn’t give much thought to the variety of exotic animals all over town.

In the present, discussions erupt now and again in the MeanLouise Lair about whether George is a monkey or an ape. Sometimes other people are involved in these debates, other times I’m just talking to myself.

I think we can retire the subject once and for all because bioanthropology blogging heart-throb Kristina Killgrove has written a truly fab post on her blog, Powered by Osteons, that explores the question, “Is Curious George a Monkey or an Ape?” in fascinating detail.

I bet the Fabulous Miss P. and Heather will both find the post interesting, if not for the science than for the cultural context of those books.

precious. precocious. one of those. my proofreader failed me today ;-)