Saturday May 20th,  2017  Afternoon Sessions - 1:30pm-5pm


Session: "A Philosophical Marriage: Archaeology and Science"


Session Organizers:


Fan Zhang, IHPST (Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology)  University of Toronto


ABSTRACT: Archaeology and science have a relatively long and happy marriage. From radiocarbon dating, dendrochronology, palaeontology, paleopathology, artifact analysis to the use of microscopy, radiography, aerial photographs, GIS and now 3-D printing, drone and VR, science is an indispensable part of archaeology while archaeology is a legitimate member in the family of science. While archaeology’s love affair with science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) is being reignited with the introduction of new digital technologies and new methods of quantification and visualization, the study of modern science and technologies itself is moving gradually away from conventional narratives, acquiring an increasingly deep archaeological sensibility. Contemporary classics in the field of history of science such as Steven Shapin and Simon Schaffer’s study of the origin of experimental science Leviathan and Air-Pump (1985), David Kaiser’s study of quantum physics Drawing Theories Apart: The Dispersion of Feynman Diagrams in Postwar Physics (2005) and Hasok Chang’s revisionist history of chemistry Is Water H2O? (2012) are infused with visual, spatial, physical and contextual sensibilities familiar to archaeologists. In philosophy of science, the talk of scientific laws and the debate between realists and anti-realists are little by little replaced by the talk of mediating and synthetic power of structure and model, two concepts archaeologists deeply understand on many levels. A few questions immediately arise: (1) Is the marriage of archaeology and science necessarily an asymmetric one? In other words, is archaeology necessarily a net beneficiary of other sciences? How can archaeology contribute to science in general on the philosophical, methodological and technical levels? (2) What’s archaeology’s position in modern science? (3) How is archaeology informed not only by science but also by philosophy of science? New Archaeology’s allegiance to logical empiricism is well known, so are the subsequent impacts of structuralism and phenomenology on archaeology. The question is whether we can expand this rather short timeline to have a comprehensive view of the parallel development of archaeology and philosophy since the early modern period if not further? (4) How has modern archaeology informed by non-Western philosophies? (5) How has non-Western archaeology informed by native philosophy? (6) What’s the philosophical and methodological implications of archaeology’s use of digital technologies? Other possible topics open for discussion: archaeological entities in the realism debate in philosophy; explanation, interpretation and exegesis; experimental methods in archaeology; experiments versus observation; simulation in archaeology; model thinking in archaeology; archaeology and diagrams; visual methods of archaeology; archaeological semiotics; cybernetics and archaeology; archaeology and psychology, etc.


Individual papers:



When should a virtual landscape become an archaeological site?


Kelly Monteleone, Assistant Professor, University of Calgary


Remotely sensed images of potential archaeological sites raise the question of when to classify a location as a “site” or protected place. Spatial and remote sensing technology has allowed archaeologists to investigate landscapes and sites on various scales, with the minimum granularity of a phenomena. These site-less surveys create virtual landscapes and seascapes which archaeologists and the public interact with and experience in unique ways.  Even lacking recovered artifacts and supporting documentation, such as a possible fish-weir identified on a sonar image from approximately 50 metres below mean low water in southeast Alaska, these virtual reconstructions become cognitive images of a possible place that the observer experiences.  Archaeologists and the public alike then become interested and engaged with this reconstruction and the “possible” site becomes a site to many. Virtual landscapes and seascapes allow archeologists to experience the place as a temporal reconstruction.  The landscape may still be lacking memory, but with incorporation of ethnographic and oral traditions, one can begin to understand decision of past people, especially in relation to where they choose to live, hunt, or gather.



Probing Data in the Acoustic Space of VR


Gabby Resch, Critical Making Lab, University of Toronto


Lev Manovich (2002) has described a tension between aesthetics and truth lying at the  heart of the emerging field of data visualization. At its root is a capacity within  visualization media that, according to Manovich, carries "the promise of rendering phenomena that are beyond  the scale of human senses into something that is within our reach,  something visible and tangible," a promise that makes data mapping into  the exact opposite of the Romantic art concerned with the sublime. If  Romantic artists thought of certain phenomena and effects as un-represantable, as beyond the limits of human senses and reason, visualization artists, Manovich claims, aim for precisely the opposite: to map such phenomena into representations whose scale is comparable to

the scales of human perception and cognition. This, Manovich suggests, positions data visualization as a medium primarily concerned with the anti-sublime. Closing the paper in which Manovich first made this argument is a note of caution: rather than trying hard to pursue the rational, data visualization artists should not forget that art has a kind of unique license to portray human subjectivity, something that needs to be considered within the fundamentally new dimension of being immersed in data. Because it is extraordinarily difficult to recognize the grandeur of the sublime in the ocularcentric, screen-based scale relationships we are accustomed to working within, members of our lab have been experimenting with virtual reality, a medium in which normative relationships of scale are destabilized. What motivates this experimentation is a curiosity about how scale manipulation might both re-acquaint us with the sublime as well as help us understand the limits of the anti-sublime. In this session, we will demonstrate some of our work visualizing data (including archaeological data) in VR. VR does not entirely dispel of the vanishing point that ocularcentric representation requires, but its boundlessness and removal of a fixed point of origin conjures a sort of multisensory space in which McLuhan and Carpenter's claims about acoustic space might be extended (Carpenter & McLuhan, 1960).



Reconstructing Scientific Things: Toward an Epistemic History of Experiments in Digital Archaeology


Bryan Markovitz, Performance Studies, Anthropology, STS, Brown University


As part of the post-Kuhnian move away from the dominance of theory in the history and philosophy of science, Hans-Jörg Rheinberger pioneered a distinct methodology for studying the historical and epistemological aspects of the empirical sciences. Rheinberger’s approach focuses on scientific research systems that are characterized by “differential reproductions” in which experimental material and data generates new historical ensembles and trajectories. Within the textual and material epistemology of Rheinberger and his predecessors (such as Canguilhem and Bachelard), archaeological approaches to scientific practice become evident in: 1. the replication of material traces; 2. the generation of anomalous “epistemic things,” and; 3. the reassessment of knowledge via recursive historical analysis. Nowhere in current archaeological practice is this historicizing of the epistemic more apparent than in reproductive digital practices. GIS visualization, agent-based modeling, and the reproduction of archaeological material all generate epistemic anomalies through data-reenactments of the past. Thus, digital archaeology produces its own “trading zone” (Gallison) of technical tinkering and materialized wonderment in which to further our understanding of how to circumvent realist/anti-realist debates in the history of science. Following two examples of mimetic experimentation in digital archaeology—first through an agent-based model of a Paleolithic climate that supplements non-existent data, and then through the precision manufacture of a facsimile of an Egyptian tomb that stands-in for an original—this paper will highlight the insights that a Rheinbergian analysis of scientific research can offer in our efforts to reconnect theories of mediated assemblages with historiographic sensibilities.



Gathering the material culture of science


Erich Weidenhammer, Curator and Researcher,  University of Toronto Scientific Instruments Collection Project (UTSIC), Institute of the History and Philosophy of Science and Tehcnology (IHPST), University of Toronto



Over the past decade, academics at the Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology have established a collection that seeks to gather and document artefacts from across the STEM fields at the University of Toronto. In principle, this is an enormous undertaking that covers a vast range of teaching and research practices across a range of disciplines. This paper presents some of basic ideas behind this collecting process. In a heuristic sense, STEM artefacts fall into two overall categories, or, perhaps they can be situated relative to two poles. Classically, historians and philosophers of science think of scientific technology in the form of technological instruments or apparatus, valued for their role in the production of experimental insight. Charismatic objects—microscopes, brass galvanometers, precision balances—survive readily in cabinets and office shelves; locally made apparatus of plywood or acrylic are typically discarded. One the other hand, there are natural history-type objects—collections of plants, fungi, archaeological objects, anatomical remains. These have tended to fall outside the purview of University cataloguing efforts. Of particular interest are the ways in which these objects change status and context. Most arrive in Toronto through a process of adopting new scientific practices and perspectives; they are assimilated and adapted to local circumstances.  When no longer needed, whether through technological obsolescence or the retirement of the owner of a givenresearch collection, they enter a kind of liminal state. Occasionally they obtain the rarefied status of historical artefact—an object to be stored on a lined shelf and handled with gloved hands. The collections process, taking place amidst a vast and diverse institution is, in a sense, a way of mediating the meaning and role of a research university within the broader community.





How Archeology Helped us Understand the Origin and Evolution of the Six Languages


Robert K. Logan  ( Dept. of Physics and the University of St. Michael’s College, U. of Toronto


Abstract. My talk will discuss the work of archaeologist Denise Schmandt Besserat's work with the clay tokens that led to the origin of written language and mathematical notation. I will explain how this led to my hypothesis that speech, writing, math, science, computing and the Internet form an evolutionary chain of languages. I will also talk about the discovery of the first alphabetic inscriptions in the copper mines of the south Sinai where Jethro of biblical fame and his people the Kenites (which means copper workers) lived. Moses came to live with Jethro after fleeing Egypt and presumably learned alphabetic writing from his father-in-law. Shortly thereafter he went up to Mount Sinai as related in Exodus 31:18: "And he gave unto Moses, when he had made an end of communing with him upon Mount Sinai, two tables of testimony, tables of stone, written with the finger of God" (Ex. 31:18). I would go on to describe the Alphabet Effect, an idea developed by McLuhan and Logan in which we showed that codified law (Mesopotamia), alphabetic writing (Sinai), monotheism (Israel), abstract science and deductive logic (Ancient Greece) created an environment for their mutual development in the narrow geographic zone between the Tigris-Euphrates river system and the Aegean Sea in the narrow time frame of 2000 BC to 500 BC. The theme to be explored in my talk is that archeological finds led to a better understanding of the emergence of media/languages and their evolution.



A view from the bridge: human- and thing-centred approaches to research practice, disciplinary discourse and local engagement with the archaeological record


Zachary Batist, Faculty of Information, University of Toronto

Costis Dallas, Faculty of Information, University of Toronto


The archaeological record can be thought of as a lens, whose contours and imperfections enable the past to be imagined in various ways, as attenuated by the tools, practices and contemporary knowledge mobilized by modern observers. Cultural, taphonomic and longue durée processes thus produce ‘real’ archaeological objects, but an observer’s ability or choice to fixate on them is simultaneously enabled and constrained by her standpoint in relation to the object and to others around her. The past and the present, each of which comprise both human and non-human actors living in concert, together contribute to projections of alternative lived experiences. But how are these entanglements manifested in the archaeological record and in the embodied interactions of people with each other, with their tools and the sensible realities of the field, as well as with the intangible knowledges, methods and instrumental norms of the discipline? How does the ontological shift towards the centrality of things, associated with a post-humanist stance shared by symmetrical archaeology and Actor-Network Theory among others, tally with the epistemological enterprise of understanding archaeology as intentional human practice? What kinds of articulations between past (i.e. archaeological) and present (i.e. epistemic) contexts of cognition and action are enabled at the junction between these two positions? What might be the implication of adopting different positions across the humanist vs. posthumanist divide on a methodological framework for research allowing us to elucidate the archaeological process? This paper focuses on the ways that archaeologists delimit and pursue objects of interest, and outlines a strategy for documenting the interplay between research practice, disciplinary discourse and local engagement with archaeological materials. By assessing these material-semiotic interactions among various human, non-human and conceptual objects, a de-centred, but not necessarily balanced view of the archaeological process can be attained.