The archaeologists weigh in

June 27, 2005 on 8:07 pm | In global news | 2 Comments

It had to happen eventually.

When I named this site, I was kind of groping for words, and stumbled on a phrase that seemed to capture this whole timelapse photocollage thing: “Graffiti Archaeology”. It seemed like a good fit, since it conveyed a sense of history, study, and attention to detail. And I felt the work I was doing was at least analogous to the most well-known aspect of what archaeologists do: carefully removing newer layers of stuff to reveal the older stuff underneath, and studying it. I did wonder, though, what real archaeologists would think of the project. Would they scoff, or would they gush, or would they engage critically with the idea?

The answer, apparently, is all of the above.

A few weeks ago, I got a wonderful email from Sarah May, a contemporary archaeologist working for English Heritage. Her field of study, she wrote, was railway lines, and our site had inspired her to start documenting graffiti as well. I asked her what her specific interest was, and she wrote “My interest in railways is rubbish.” I thought that was awfully self-effacing of her, until I read on and realized she was being literal. “The distinctive nature of rubbish on railways, its distribution patterns and what these things tell us about railways as place and non-places. Yes archaeologists are odd.” Odd indeed, but my kind of odd!

Today, Alun, a Phd student specializing in archaeoastronomy, brought a different perspective. He critiqued our site for its lack of discussion and evaluation, saying that without that, it can’t be true archaeology. (Others don’t seem as bothered by this: Alexandra Mack, an anthropologist, thinks it’s a fair term, and Savage Minds agrees.)

Alun’s critique highlights what’s currently missing from the site: a way for us to add metadata to our layers, beyond just place names and dates. Utimately I’d like the photocollages to act as a foundation on which to build all kinds of narratives: for example, the story of one writer’s career, told chronologically by jumping from spot to spot; or the story of an epic battle between crews; or just the story of what it was like the night a certain piece got painted.

This is something we’ve always intended for the site, but it’s not a simple task and we haven’t had time to do a proper job of it. In the meantime, various threads of narrative are spinning into existence over in our Flickr group. I hope some day soon we can weave it all together.


  1. > Utimately I’d like the photocollages
    > to act as a foundation on which to
    > build all kinds of narratives:

    Let’s get cracking. Mike’s down. :)

    Comment by Eric Rodenbeck — June 28, 2005 #

  2. Hi, Cassidy – I,m using this space since I could not get your own mail


    Comment by guido — July 1, 2005 #

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