Toward a Definition of Punk Archaeology

Tuesday, July 28th, 2009 by Bill Caraher

I was asked recently what exactly Punk Archaeology is… and aside from pointing to our blog of that name, I struggled to come up with a clever answer or really any answer.  The best that I could offer was that Punk Archaeology was an empty vessel, a conceptual universe opening to being filled by the careening intersection of punk rock music and archaeology (in almost all of its forms and meanings).  So far the vessel is filled with bits of methodology, some history, some archaeology (in a Foucaldian sense) and even some proper archaeological investigations.  This description, however, does not necessarily explain what Punk Archaeology is.

So, here goes a first effort toward a definition of Punk Archaeology:

1) Punk Archaeology is a reflective mode of organizing archaeological experiences.  Punk Archaeology began as conversations between Kostis Kourelis and other archaeologists who admitted to listening to punk rock music or appreciating the punk aesthetic while studying archaeology.  The result was a collaboration between me and Kostis as we made an effort to probe the intersection between these two choices.  Why would we be drawn to punk rock — or any particular music — and how does this musical choice explain or organize or condition our approaches to archaeological research.  Both of us came around to the question of whether there is a totalizing discourse in our intellectual lives.  Is there some strand that makes sense of our varied interests?

2) Punk Archaeology follows certain elements of the punk aesthetic through the discipline of archaeology.  It celebrates, in particular, the things that can be grouped under the blanket heading of DIY practices: various low-fi podcasts, infield improvised devices, and serendipitous inventions that allow archaeologists to document space, place, and the past.

3) Punk Archaeology reveals a deep commitment to place.  Punk with its tied to garage band sound has always manifest itself spatially. The tensions between urban and suburban (e.g. Little London Boys), east and west coast, and the persistent association of certain sounds and styles with cities or even places (some of which are intended to disorient: Max’s Kansas City).  As archaeology is, in so many ways, a “science” of place, its affinity to a musical genre that self-consciously laced the experience of music with the experience of place would seem appropriate.

4) Punk Archaeology embraces destruction as a creative process.  Archaeologists destroy the very object that they seek to study.  Digging through strata removes artifacts from their physical context and places them in the disciplinary context of the archaeologist notebook, database, plan, map, article, or monographg.  Destruction as a creative process echoes in some ways the process of punk which sought to deconstruct musically the foundation of Anglo-American pop music and build in its place a subversive recontextualized narrative of safe and comfortable bourgeois life.  I am not sure that archaeology is always subversive and I don’t even know whether punk rock forms the best parallel for the recontextualizing process of excavation, but there is a certain symmetry between the two.

5) Punk Archaeology is spontaneous.  The one thing that the Punk Archaeology blog is seeking to capture is the spontaneity of the connection between punk and archaeology.  The performance of punk archaeology through the medium of blogging allows for our definition to remain flexible and fluid.  We can reshape our argument and our juxtapositions and even challenge and contradict ourselves.  In short, we can create distortion, noise, and a kind off creative chaos.  That might, like Punk, have value. 

Or not. 

We’ll see.


3 comments on “Toward a Definition of Punk Archaeology

  1. […] approach to knowledge production; anthropology has also made use of this metaphor.  Movements like Punk Archaeology embrace the DIY movement’s efforts to resist the commodification of both knowledge itself and […]

  2. […] Kourelis, and Andrew Reinhard, pp.29-34.  The Digital Press, Fargo, North Dakota.  Reprinted from July 2009 Punk Archaeology blog […]

  3. […] website, there isn’t an exact definition, although it fits in with punk culture (see at: Punk archaeologists—and I’m largely paraphrasing from the website– are spontaneous, […]

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