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Reconciling Science and the Imagination in the Construction of the Deep Prehistoric Past, May 19

Traditionally, archaeologists when writing about the past, favor expository narratives in which the persona of the archaeologist-writer as well as his or her prehistoric people-subjects remain anonymous or – at best – in the far distant bird’s eye view. And how else, you might ask, can you write about the deep past where all that remains are fragmentary remnants of their lives. Writers and film-makers who create fictional narratives about the intimate dramas of prehistoric and early historic people and give them voices are regarded as seductive and engaging for the public, but are not respected as expressions of scientific knowledge or legitimate interpretations of archaeological data. I will introduce some of the ways in which, as an archaeologist-writer, I am exploring an alternative way of writing about prehistory in which the imagination that conjures up sentient prehistoric actors is entangled with the empirical scientific data of archaeological excavations. I draw especially on my current research in the challenging world of pre-literate Europe and Anatolia. For inspiration I draw upon the concepts of database narratives (Lev Manovich), recombinant histories (Steve Anderson), and Microhistories (Carlo Ginzburg).

Ruth is a Professor in the Graduate School (Anthropology) at UC Berkeley and received her Ph.D. in Archaeology at the University of Edinburgh. She is a founder and director of the UC Berkeley Multimedia Authoring Center for Teaching in Anthropology (MACTiA). Currently she is the creative director and president of the Center for Digital Archaeology (CoDA), a recently established non-profit organization. Her research has focused on the transformation of early agricultural (Neolithic) societies and she has directed and published archaeological excavations in Southeast Europe and Turkey (Çatalhöyük). The Last House on the Hill – the first project of CoDA – is the digital publication of the BACH (Berkeley Archaeologists @ Çatalhöyük) project, which she directed from 1997 to 2005. Her current research focuses on creating database narratives and recombinant histories about the life-histories of people, places and things and the multisensorial construction of place. Her interest in multimedia grows out of a lifelong passion for music, puppets and cultivating illusions of reality.

This free public talk is presented as part of the monthly “Science@Cal Lecture Series”. Image acknowledgement http://www.flickr.com/photos/catalhoyuk/