Monday, June 8, 2015

Social Media - Beyond the selfies

Several times before I've discussed the topic of social media and how it can be used for the positive and the negative. The positive is found in the ability to give voice to the often voiceless especially in countries where medias stay controlled. In other places like Iraq, groups like ISIS have a global reach in multiple languages by manipulating the demographics of social media's key users, often young people.
Photo Credit: 2015 Deutsche Welle

However, there is another value in social media that is less often discussed. Its value as a data collection hub and tracking tool. In nations like Nepal and Japan it an be used to monitor aid need for natural disasters. In America - aside from some of the more social uses - it can be used to track political upheavals. Social media is even used as a tool for monitoring terrorism.

Photo: Black Lives Matter #DCFerguson Protest in Washington DC.
Photo Credit: Katie A. Paul, 2014
Egypt for instance, has become a hub of technology in the Middle East. Millions of dollars from United Arab emirates have been poured into technology in Egypt making it one of the most wired countries in both the Middle East and Africa. Twitter and Facebook became famous in Egypt during the Arab Spring for their role in not only creating a gathering platform, but in sharing and revealing information that was not privy to the presses once the regime cracked down on the media and on TV and Internet output. Social media was used as a tool for the voiceless as was discussed in a previous post about 21st century freedom fighter.

Photo: Katie Paul attending
#DCFerguson protest at Capitol.
Egyptians are not alone in their use of social media for socio-political change. In recent months, there has been a flurry of activity across the United States regarding the use of excessive force by the police in cities across the nation. I was able to participate in more than one of the  #BlackLivesMatter protests as a result of following the information by protest organizers on social media.

Social media has gone far beyond the social and launched a society whose history and movements are forever digitally recorded in archives of the Internet.

Additional Reading:

Monday, June 1, 2015

Aliens and Other Worldly Conspiracies - Theories that never seem to die

For years pop culture has used the concept of aliens or some form of extra terrestrial being in order to explain periods of history that have often been deemed unexplainable. 

One of the of world’s greatest historic icons – the Great Pyramids of Giza – is subject to all manner of other-worldly conspiracy theories.

In the fourth Indiana Jones – which was widely met with disappointment among diehard fans – was the insertion of aliens into the stories in Peru.

One side or the other, passions can run very high when discussing conspiracy theories and the science – or lack there of – around them.  On April 15, 2015 a video surfaced on YouTube showing the culmination of a yet-to-happen debate between Graham Hancock and Egypt’s former Minister of Antiquities Dr. Zahi Hawass.  Though the video is only about two minutes long and cast in poor lighting, the ‘lively’ nature of the argument has generated over 100,000 views in the month and a half since its release. And trust me – it’s not because archaeological debates are riveting viral material – it’s all about the drama. 

This argument centered around Hancocks showing of a slide that contained Robert Bauval’s Orion Correlation Theory in which it is believed that the stars in the Orion Constellation have a relationship to the kings of the Great Pyramids of Giza.  However, this has been regarded by many scholars as pseudoscience or junk science.  For archaeologists and other scientists that have spent lifetime examining ancient peoples and understanding the depth of their technological and engineering capabilities, it may come off as an insult to surmise that astrological-type pseudoscience has a place in the world of academia except for its role in Archaeology 101 of what NOT to do. 

Keeping in mind that this dramatic debate encounter caught on film was more than simply an argument, but a deep fundamental disagreement, was Dr. Hawass still unwarranted in his fervent disagreement to the Orion Constellation theory and its proponents?

Let us know your thoughts on this and other pseudo-science and conspiracy theories in archaeology on twitter @ArchaeoVenturer

Further Reading:

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Breaking Gender Boundaries in the Middle East: It take balls, brains, and bravery

The past month in the US has proven big in gender and LGBT issues – Bruce Jenner’s transgender interview changed the way America sees trans individuals, the supreme court makes a decision on proposition 8 regarding same sex marriage, and the nation faces the potential of its first woman president with Hillary’s bid to run.  And though there are still major strides to be made, America seems to be accepting change at an increasingly accelerated pace.

Source: Huffington Post
What do changes in social gender norms mean in nations outside of American boundaries?  Change is in the air in the post-Arab Spring Middle East as well.

As parts of the MENA region face increasing oppression under fierce dictators and the rule of terror groups like ISIS – there are young people in areas outside of terror control that are breaking the gender boundaries such Islamist groups seek to maintain.

During the 2011 Egyptian Revolution, women were pivotal in leading the cause to advance their   But even as laws change in a few short years, social fabric can often take a generation.  In Egypt, women have been taking this into their own hands.  Recently, Egypt awarded a mother, Sisa Abu Daooh, who dressed like a man for more than 40 years in order to provide for her family.  Illiterate and widowed, she was forced to find work to support her children - being a woman in Egypt can be dangerous, being a woman in the work force equally so, but she courageously worked to do so – albeit dressed like a man.
rights and place in Egyptian society.

However, there are women of a younger generation that are trying to break traditional work barriers without the gender-bending cloak and veil.  Mennatullah El-Husseiny sought to break taboos of women’s place in the public social fabric of Egypt by doing jobs considered to be “only for men.”
Turkish male belly-dancer (zenne) performing.
Photo Credit: Al Monitor 

Women are not the only ones who are trying to crack the glass ceiling they face in the Middle East - in Turkey, young men are brining back an age-old art – the Ottoman tradition of male belly dancing. 

Known in Turkish as zennes, rakkas, or koceks, the art died out during the Ataturk era and has only recently resurfaced, but in the current political atmosphere is considered part of a homosexual culture in Turkey – a sentiment that while still considered taboo in many parts of Turkey, is becoming more accepted in its modern and increasingly globalizing society.  And although the zenne scene in Turkey is becoming more accepted, one of the male dancers interviewed in an al-Monitor last December still declines to have his name and photo revealed - cracking the glass ceiling can still come with a price...

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Time to Change the Digital Dialogue on Religion and Violence

In preparation for writing this blog I scanned the Internet looking for images – and came across the horrific news of the Ethiopian Christians killed by ISIS in a newly released video.

Photo Source:
Throughout history we have seen the repeated loss of innocent lives in the name of one religion or another – during the crusades, many Muslims lost their lives at the hands of Christians.  Yet at no point in time have these values of death in the name of god held to the true message of religion – peace, alms for the poor, and understanding of the plight of others. 

As I struggled to digest the recent news from ISIS, I tried to determine what I wanted to emphasize most in this new blog – and although history seems to continue to repeat itself, one thing that is left out is the reality of the situations – religion does not justify the killing of others.
Photo Source: Women News Network

Our media perpetuates so much information about the Islamist terrorists whose campaigns are sweeping the Middle East and North Africa – but what is often left out of the media is the distinction between Islamism and Islam.  One of the first things that is important to understand about the Jihadi Salafist ideology that is sweeping the world today is that this is NOT true Islam. 

Baghdad was once known as the ‘City of Peace’ (Madinat al-Salam) - but that was in another lifetime. And today, even with the trillions of images that exist online, one would be hard pressed to find any images representing Baghdad and peace.

Viral Photo Shows Muslims Protecting Church in Egypt as Congregants
Attend Mass Amid Threat of Attack
In an effort to illustrate that Islam is at its core a religion of peace, I attempted to find images to display this for my blog – I was truly shocked at the dearth of imagery available to illustrate this point.  One of the few stories available in the “recent memory” of the Internet that truly illuminated Islam and the peaceful nature of the religion came out of a period of turmoil – the Arab Spring. During the 2011 Egyptian Revolution, while Egyptians rallied together, Muslims stood guard to protect the Coptic Christians from violence during prayer – and the Copts did the same.

Every time an image of a group like ISIS or Ansar Al Sharia is reproduced, or clicked on, it only feeds the propaganda machine these groups are trying to proliferate.  As they bastardize religion by using it as a justification for violence, they are at the same time killing the true peaceful nature of that religion in the minds of those outside of it – feeding the Islamaphobia beast – and furthering their cause against those for hating Islam. 

Let’s stop giving them free propaganda.  Send the ArchaeoVenturers Project your images of how Islam represents peace.  Let’s change the dialogue together. 

Monday, April 6, 2015

Why we developed the ArchaeoVenturers Project


Photo Credit: Eric H. Cline and
Biblical Archaeology Review
For years my family silently suffered behind their smiles and nods as I would go on – and on – and on about archaeology, anthropology, the Middle East, or whatever it was that I was working on or researching that week. The problem is – the details I found fascinating were not quite as fascinating to those around me – except for Justine, of course! We realized that there are so many important and amazing topics in history, science, and global affairs that would be interesting to so many – if only we could change, and shorten, our discussion of them. We developed the ArchaeoVenturers Project to break down all of the awesome stuff and put it into a more easily digestible format for those both in and outside of the field.

Katie when she was a Sports Illustrated
'College Cheerleader of the Week'
while at Miami University. Check out
Katie's SI interview HERE and the photo gallery HERE
Photo Credit: Peter Schlitt, Sports
What you see as available on television for the characterizations of a scientist, archaeologist or engineer, always seems to fit people into these little boxes – and women even more so. One of the amazing things about my family and Justine’s – aside from their putting up with our constant drawn out discussions of science and history - is that they never told us that we couldn’t do something. Being women never once hindered the way we conducted ourselves as school, in the field – or in fashion. Only when I got older did I realize the obstacles women faced in one field or another. I love digging in the field, getting dirty, and working outside in 100-degree weather – I enjoy getting entrenched in academic research and examining new ways of looking at the world. Both of these are commonplace for someone in a social science or humanity – but what I later learned wasn’t so commonplace were some
of my extra circulars – namely, being a cheerleader in college – and for those who know the cheerleading lingo, I was a flyer. I had no idea these two roles in my life were considered mutually exclusive by many. I never liked the idea of women needing to fit into these little boxes – you often hear about a renaissance man – but less often a renaissance woman.


Katie and I have known each other since graduate school and something we started to talk about more over the years was how we engage a different audience for our archaeological pursuits. Her work at the Capitol Archaeological Institute at GWU fueled her need to find creative ways to make archaeological lectures more appealing and then when we started to work directly together, we tried throwing archaeologically-oriented events that would reach a broader audience. This in part was because of our friendship with the founder of Thirst DC who did exactly that- only more heavy on the science and with bigger audiences. We decided that in order to engage the current generation in their digital world, being active on social media would be only the tip of the iceberg. When a sample of today's generation was asked if they preferred to watch a YouTube video or read a blog, 9 out of 10 hands raised their hands for video, and yet the average length of time they watch videos averages on 30 seconds- so that's why we decided that videos were clearly the avenue to pursue but they needed to be short and concise - the blogs are for folks who are likely our age and older, people who are still interested in gathering supplemental information via the written word.

So, for me at least, and luckily Katie shared the same view- we just wanted to engage a more general
Check out Justine's BBC Radio
interview on 'The Conversation' HERE.
audience than just our colleagues, and it seemed like the logical thing to do would be to follow these growing online trends. I've learned that pursuing archaeology doesn't mean much to me if there is no one to interact with, whether that's a descendent community member, a student diver in Youth Diving With a Purpose, or someone who just found ArchaeoVenturers online randomly. We need to be sharing it with more people, or we are going to be outgunned by those who do make it more interesting. On it's own, even without the glamorous pull of lost treasure, archaeology can be fantastically exciting and I think that as a rule, we should be doing all that we can to captivate our audiences.

The #AVProject was developed for all of the renaissance women, men, girls and boys out there – the people that are breaking stereotypes on their way through the glass ceiling. #LetYourAVflagFly

Monday, February 9, 2015

Monumental Destruction: Condemnation vs Celebration

Monuments are a curious concept in modern society – just as the victors often write history, those in power are also responsible for determining what is valuable – what is worth memorializing and what should be forgotten.  What defines “good” destruction from “bad?” 

Although upon first hearing that question one would likely wonder what destruction of a monument could ever be “good?”
Pieces of Berlin wall for sale. Credit: NBC

November 9, 2014 was the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall – an event many would argue as a major turning point toward a more unified Germany, more unified Europe, and a more prosperous West – its destruction overall.  Few today would argue that the Berlin wall should have remained intact.  Yet, will archaeologists hundreds of years from now consider the destruction of the wall a loss of important tangible heritage?  Only time will tell.  But today, as nations the world over work to have pieces of cultural heritage repatriated to their homeland, it may seem contradictory that we laud the sale or loss of some of these items yet celebrate the sale of others, in particular pieces of the Berlin wall.

On the one hand, the argument can be made for the sale of such a (literally) dividing piece of history in the sense that it empowers a people to reclaim their society and take back their freedoms. However, once this history becomes antiquity will future minds have changed about the sale of this major portion of history? Even decades later, past tourists are returning pieces of monuments such as those at Pompeii – yet at the same time a piece of the Berlin wall can be found on eBay.

On the left: A man uses a sledgehammer to smash a statue of Lenin during
a rally organized by supporters of EU integration in Kiev, Ukraine,
on December 8, 2014. Credit: The Atlantic. On the right: Members
of ISIS purportedly destroy a 3,000 year old Assyrian statue
- a widely condemned move. Credit: Aina
But admittedly, Europe is not my forte – so let’s look at an example that may have more resonance with the current era: the toppling of Saddam Hussein statue in Baghdad’s Firdos Square on April 9, 2003 after the US invasion of Iraq.

You’ve seen this scene before – from the invaders of ancient history conquering their enemies, to the demonstrators of Ukraine protesting communism today, to the destruction of ancient societies by modern ones – such as the recent campaign of ISIL today. Why is it that we lament the losses from destruction of the ancient world, while lauding the same types of destruction for monuments today? 

Perhaps it is the fact that some believe that time can make something valuable.

Yet, if an object’s worth appreciates with time - are we then undermining the value of our future by not lamenting the destruction of modern history in the same way that we condemn the destruction of our past? 

Should we only be condemning the demolition of our past and not our future? Who should determine what is ok to destroy and what is not? These are questions with many answers, and we are looking to you to send us your thoughts!

Here’s some further reading to help you inform your thoughts on the argument: 

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Archaeology in Pop Culture: Helping or Hindering the Discipline?

When most people hear “archaeology” one of the first things that comes to mind is Indiana Jones.  How is it that a pop culture icon became the mascot of a scientific discipline?

Archaeology – and all of the romanticized tales of ancient mummies and temples that come with it – has been entwined in pop culture since people first began literally digging into our history.  

In the late nineteenth century, common fads for elites involved “mummy unwrapping parties.” Although today many would see this as a desecration of a deceased person, most elite Victorians didn’t see anything wrong with damaging pre-Christian bodies.

Credit: American Art
Mummies were simply a curiosity of the orient. But as the study of the ancient Near East became a common place academic discipline – particularly after the deciphering of the Rosetta Stone in 1822 by Jean François Champollion – archaeology found its way into the imaginations of the West and the increasingly developing world of popular culture.

Credit: Dr. Sphinx's Blog
Ancient Egypt was used to sell everything from cigarettes to soap.  And it carved out its own niche in Hollywood well before the days of Indiana Jones and Tomb Raider.  

Elizabeth Taylor’s famous role as Cleopatra is still well known in popular culture today as one of the iconic images of Cleopatra – never mind that many historians believe that it was not physical beauty, but wit, wisdom, and womanly cunning that made the real Cleopatra a legend of history. In reality, she is an example of what women should be valued for in society – their intellect and strength of character – but this was not the idealized beauty that Western culture wanted to portray.

Politics of women in history and Hollywood aside – one question remains: do the common misconceptions created by archaeology in popular culture hinder or help the overall discipline?

Some may think that if the public is going to learn about archaeology or history is should be with accuracy from the beginning. 

However, here’s my person opinion: As someone who began studying the discipline just at the cusp of the recession and finished grad school with the effects of an economic crisis in full swing, I must say that anything that gets the public interested enough in a discipline to patronize a museum or donate to an archaeological excavation is something worth containing.  Most people get into a science one way or another based on a romanticized view of what it is.  Unfortunately, cut backs in government funding for research and an economic crisis that has made many funding sources at foundations and universities tighten their belts means that other routes of funding must be sought.
Crowd funding has become a new means of revenue for archaeologists to seek in gathering funding for their research.  But with a source of funding that relies on the public, archaeologists must be able to appeal to the internet world’s non-scholars to get their attention – and of course dollars. This kind of appeal would not be nearly as effective if it weren’t for all of the fantasized, glorified, and heroic archaeology adventures that Hollywood and western culture portray – regardless of how inaccurate it is.  Those inaccuracies provide an opportunity to grasp the imagination of the wider public and engage them in a way where those misinformed interests can be put to rest in the name of science.

But this is a debate that can go on forever – so what are your thoughts on archaeology in pop culture?  Does it damage the mind of the public or expand it?

For further info on crowdfunding your archaeo-project  and archaeology in pop culture, check these out: