Wednesday, August 24, 2016

From aerospace to everyday life: the trajectory of cable ties.

This is our poster for the World Archaeological Congress in Kyoto in a few days time! My co-author is the wonderful Aylza Donald, who has caught the cable tie love.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

A funny thing happened on the way to the spaceport

Back in 2005, I was lucky enough to visit the Centre Spatial Guyanais in French Guyana. This is where the Ariane rockets are launched. It was amazing. I spent a couple of days in the archives, and drank a lot of ti-punch. Later, I incorporated some of my research into an article.

There were a few other people on the official part of the visit, and we took a group shot at the end. An acquaintance thought it might be amusing to re-imagine the Kourou spaceport as a landing rather than a launching site.....

Friday, June 03, 2016

"Tonight she was glittering and wild": an eclipse of the moon.

A couple of years ago I made an excursion into lunar poetry to commemorate the 45th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969. At the moment I'm investigating the cultural significance of the entire moon in the context of proposed lunar mining. A random train of connections led to this evocative poem by Elizabeth Ridell. I like the conjunction of small domestic events and sensations with the astronomical event happening in the skies above, and the moon wild and glittering.....

Eclipse of the Moon

Elizabeth Ridell

This is a profitable night, the moon’s eclipse
at last a reason for not sleeping.
There is a reason to wake every hour
to observe the shape and size of door and window
and wall and picture frame,
turn on the lamp, open the book
and let it fall away, reason to rise, make tea,
pad to the door,
stand on cool tiles
to watch the invaded moon.
I see a jagged one third of her beauty left
and somewhere, black layers back,
a rim of light.
Sometimes the moon strays into daytime skies
Tonight she was glittering and wild
until the mask slid down,
erasing all her gold.

Source: The ABC Book of Australian Poetry: a treasury for young people compiled by Libby Hathorn (ABC Books 2010)
Found on

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Artefacts are the skeletons of people's minds

The words above popped into my mind recently as I was thinking about the archaeological stuff I wanted to teach the first years. I wrote them on a piece of paper and drew a box around them, to distinguish it from other fragments of thoughts, scribbled in passing on the same piece of paper, which go something like this:

Huxley - Heaven and Hell
World of Chickens

I will figure out what I was thinking about them another time. For now, I'll just try to excavate my thoughts around the bony artefacts. I was thinking about them as physical skeletons, fleshed out by wishes, dreams, meanings, social interactions, the accumulation of touches, the passing of time, the clothing of use.

The brain, of course, already has a bone in the form of the skull. When I'm thinking about the skeletons of mind, I mean the artefacts are the hard bits of the soft brain tissue. They just happen to be outside the cranium and sometimes vastly larger than it.

While living, in its systemic context, the artefact can be visible or invisible depending on where or when it is interacted with. It can be in the foreground or the background. It might appear in dreams as something half-registered, barely impinging on the dream-consciousness. It might be perceived only from its shadow. 

(And indeed this begs the question of virtual worlds and how humans interact with objects which cross different registers of existence).

The artefact moves in and out of our perception in a pattern much like a dynamical system. Then people for whom the artefact was meaningful pass on, or discard it. Eventually, it ends up at the point of lowest energy - it's archaeological context.

Dynamical system. Image courtesy of Henry Harrison

The layers of organs, muscles, skin, slowly decay as it falls out of memory. The forces of taphonomy start to strip it down and pare it back from corpse to skeleton.

Let's take the metaphor further and think about the mineralisation of the once dynamic and malleable artefact. It takes on the character of stone and sinks like one to the bottom of the pool where only the rare worm tunnels through the silt to touch its surface in a polychaete kiss.

And then we dig it up.......and hope to apprehend its place within the brain as a calcreted thought.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Culture on the Moon: bodies in time and space

This is an excerpt from my just-published paper Culture on the Moon: Bodies in Time and Space (Archaeologies: Journal of the World Archaeological Congress 12(1):110-128

This was very much an arena where masculinity was defined for the future of space. Automation and lack of control were equated with femininity. US experts cited Valentina Tereshkova’s successful orbit in 1963 to mean that the heavily automated Vostok vehicle did not require a skilled operator. Margaret Weitekamp argues that ‘‘Demonstrating that a woman could perform those tasks would diminish their prestige’’ (2004:3). So strong was this ideology that the USA did not send a female astronaut into space until Sally Ride became a crew member of the space shuttle Challenger for STS-7 in 1983. 

By contrast, cosmonauts were the epitome of the ‘‘new Soviet man’’ (Gerovitch 2007), the ‘cog in the machine’ celebrated in Bolshevik political and poetic imagination. Sergei Korolev, the leader of the Soviet space program, was opposed to any active role for the cosmonauts, but as they, like the astronauts, were drawn from a test pilot background, the battle to preserve the aviation role of pilot was similarly played out. The unknowns and technological constraints of creating a successful lunar mission led to the development of similar human–machine interfaces and similar levels of autonomy in both programs (Gerovitch 2007). At this level, at least, evidence suggests that a hypothetical USSR lunar landing site might reflect many similarities to the US series. 

The Apollo 11 surface mission was highly choreographed and scripted (NASA 1969), but at that point no person of Earth knew exactly what the experience of being on the lunar surface would be like. In the gaps between the script and the actual actions of the astronauts, there is a window where minds and bodies express their individual and cultural differences. Where there was choice, what did the astronauts choose to do? What determined those choices?
(Gorman 2016:122)

Gerovitch, S. 2007. ‘New Soviet Man’ Inside the Machine: Human Engineering, Spacecraft, Design, and the Construction of Communism. Osiris 22:135–157.

NASA Lunar Surface Operations Office Mission Operations Branch Flight Crew Support Division 1969. Apollo 11 Lunar Surface Operations Plan. Houston: Manned Spaceflight Centre June 27, FINAL version of document.

Weitekamp, M. 2004. Right Stuff, Wrong Sex: America’s First Women in Space Program. John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Dr Space Junk wears the Orbiting Solar Observatory

In this picture I'm wearing one of my favourite pieces of jewellery, a pendant made from a NASA Goddard commemorative plate with spacecraft around the circumference. One of them is an Orbiting Solar Observatory, a satellite series I am quite interested in as it was tracked by Orroral Valley.

I'm actually standing on the balcony at the Camperdown cinema (Vic), a beautiful old heritage-listed building, where I was about to give a talk to introduce a screening of In the Shadow of the Moon. This was in 2008, I think. I had a fabulous time with the Corangamite Film Society and RiAus.