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


Session: “Pop Goes the Pot: Archaeology and the Representations of the Past In Different Popular Media Genres”


Session Organizers:


Alexander Smith, The College at Brockport - State University of New York


Kevin McGeough. University of Lethbridge


ABSTRACT:  The mediation of archaeology through popular culture is one of the fundamental means through which non-specialists have contact with and participate in creating meaning in the discipline. It is a source of both frustration and opportunity for archaeologists and non-specialists alike. This session will continue a dialogue begun in the 2016 TAG Boulder session, Just Google It!, in which scholars working in a variety of disciplines discussed the roles of digital media in popular engagement, public archaeology, educational outreach, and within academic archaeological practice. In that session, presenters and attendees voiced concerns over how the genres of various types of popular media – museum outreach, digital publishing, video games, movies, digital social networks – impacted the representations, public expectations and even practices of archaeology. Different forms of mass media necessitate or facilitate the transformation of academic knowledge in very specific ways to make that knowledge suitable for the consumption practices of different media genres. The goal of this session is to interrogate how the genres of different kinds of popular culture impact the representation of the past and, potentially, archaeological research. How do mass media consumption practices influence the way that archaeological knowledge is understood amongst non-specialists and what impact does this have on archaeological work? Diverse forms of popular culture will be considered, such as video games, children’s literature, and educational displays as will different genres within these forms, such as science fiction, historical fiction, and veristic documentaries. In particular, this session will examine the ways in which popular culture entangles archaeologists and non-specialists and how issues of genre structure that entanglement. It is hoped that archaeologists, cultural critics, and popular media producers can engage in a productive dialogue through this session. Format: The double session will be a collection of papers, each 15 minutes in length, over the course of 2 standard length sessions with a break in between. Each session of 1.5 hours will have 5 speakers with a short panel discussion to conclude.



Individual papers:




You Play an Archaeologist


Andrew Reinhard, American Numismatic Society


Since the 1970s’ video game console revolution, adventure-style games have been popular, and with 1981’s Raiders of the Lost Ark and its 1982 video game by Atari, archaeologists have become a staple of digital interactive entertainment. Over the past 35 years, dozens of video games and video game series have capitalized on an imagined archaeology more informed by Hollywood that by actual theory, method, and practice. How have game developers and players been influenced by film and television? What are the classic archaeology tropes deployed in games, and are these justified? Do video games effect perception of archaeology and archaeologists? And how could archaeology be integrated into video games without adversely impacting entertainment and playability? This presentation explores the above questions using examples from several games, and takes a look at the future of video game archaeology from the perspective of game developers, players, and professional archaeologists.



Kitezh, Shangri-La, and the Metal World: Representations of Heritage and Contestations of the Past in Video Games


Emily Booker, Brown University


Video games like Tomb Raider and Uncharted feature daring adventurers looking for the (often magical) ancient treasures of lost worlds.  There are always roadblocks in the hero’s way, including corrupt organizations intending to use artifacts for evil deeds, other adventurers out for personal gain, a back-stabbing friend or two, and, of course, local communities trying to keep the prized objects secret or safe.   While these games may be considered trivial to some, they are consumed by millions of people world-wide, and they often serve as one of the main ways the public interacts with many aspects archaeology and cultural heritage.


This paper examines the interplay between player, nonplayable characters, and the archaeological record in recent games, including Rise of the Tomb Raider, Horizon Zero Dawn, and Far Cry 4, to better understand the representation of cultural heritage in video games.  The interactions between the player – usually an outsider – and local stakeholders are laden with issues of cultural heritage that can, in turn, shape real-world understandings of and opinions on archaeological heritage. Game representation of attitudes towards both the archaeological record and heritage formation can not only be problematic, but can also result in public preconceptions of heritage, including ownership of the past and archaeological destruction and preservation.




The Armchair Enthusiast: The Role of Infotainment in Modern Archaeological Depictions


Alexander Smith ,The College at Brockport - State University of New York


Infotainment has always been a contentious subject in archaeology. As professional archaeologists, we seek the admiration of the public but are simultaneously skeptical of popular culture media that present archaeological data via narrative-driven or documentary-based television programming. Despite protests from archaeologists as to the veracity or ethical standards of many of these programs’ content, they are in demand and continue to be produced at various levels of engagement with professional or academic archaeologists. With the advent of streaming services and the multitude of platforms with which one can view new and old documentaries or narrative-driven “non-fiction” television shows, the public has more access today to these programs than ever before. The engagement with this form of media has also fundamentally changed, as the public must no longer wait for a certain show at a certain time to appear on television, or even purchase collections of these programs. Instantaneous accessibility has thus produced a few questions. Has the influx of accessible programming changed the nature of the modern infotainment program? Are these programs becoming closer to academic archaeology, or further afield? This paper is an attempt to delve into the genre of infotainment, identifying the role of the archaeologist within the genre and how the concept of archaeology is defined in this ever-growing library of accessible, peri-academic programming. This discussion will focus on recently produced and widely-accessible, archaeology-based programming.



Explaining the Very Ancient to the Very Young: Archaeology in Children’s Literature


Kevin McGeough and Elizabeth Galway, University of Lethbridge


Many archaeologists discuss the impact of their childhood exposure to the ancient world on their later studies of the past. As part of a SSHRC-funded project, Kevin McGeough (a Near Eastern archaeologist) and Elizabeth Galway (an expert in children’s literature) have been investigating how the formal characteristics of children’s literature drive the representations of archaeological work and ancient societies in works for child audiences from the nineteenth-century to the present. Early children’s literature on the past tends to be focussed on creating suitable retellings of ancient literature, especially the Bible and the Classics. Boys’ adventure narratives situate archaeological discovery into a larger context of imperialism. Non-fiction reports of early excavations in outreach to children came to be oriented around iconic objects, narratives of human sacrifice, and class-based discussions of everyday life. Whiggish historical narratives about the triumph of liberalism in relation to despotism were easily supported through the framing of ancient cultures within a teleological view of historical progress. Ancient treasures, autratic in the Benjaminesque sense of the term, function as empty signifiers allowing authors to create meaning that was deemed appropriate for child readers. Antique settings, seemingly supported by archaeological research, meant that these arguments made by authors of children’s literature were, and remain, particularly powerful in naturalizing 19th, 20th, and 21st-century concerns and values regarding race, class, and nationhood.



From Tomb Raider to Time Team: How perceptions of female archaeologists affect the field


Kirsten Lopez, Oregon State University


Chelsi Slotten, American University


Popular culture has, as we know, held archaeology in the great esteem of the exotic, sexy, and forbidding. Women in archaeology, though we make up more than half the estimated professional workforce of archaeologists in North America (Peliska 2015), are rarely included. To be expected as women in any media, physical traits and sex appeal have often been the focus on woman in archaeology. Perceptions of women in archaeology by the public and their peers affect field relations and research. In this paper, we will review the role of women in archaeology throughout popular media from movies, television, video games, and now internet media, how these narratives have changed through time.