Posted by: Johan Normark | May 10, 2016

Ipoh and Pulau Pangkor

After our trip on Sumatra in 2014 we took a flight from Medan to Kuala Lumpur and headed directly to the city of Ipoh north of KL. Surrounding the town are some impressive Chinese Buddhist temples inside caves. The reason why the flags are at half-mast is because the Malaysia Airlines flight 17 had been shot down in Ukraine the day before we entered Malaysia.

After Ipoh we spent a few days on Pulau Pangkor. The island was largely covered in haze. If you want to see hornbills, this is the place to visit (no, these are not toucans as many tourists believe).

Posted by: Johan Normark | April 13, 2016


It turns out I have not blogged about my travels since October 17, 2013. Since the summer of 2013 I have been back to Indonesia and Malaysia twice, Thailand, China and India. I will write some blogposts about these trips in the next couple of weeks. However, they will not contain much specific information. 

In the summer of 2014 me wife, son and I first went to Bali, Gili Meno and Gili Trawangan before we headed to Jakarta to continue to Medan on Sumatra. A few hours ride from there lies Bukit Lawang where one can trekk and spot orangutans. The bath afterwards was cool.

From Bukit Lawang we went to Berastagi where there are hot baths and the nearby volcano Sinabung who had been erupting only a few weeks before. Later the same day we arrived at Lake Toba which probably was the highlight of this trip. Below are pictures of Batak houses and tombs.

Posted by: Johan Normark | March 11, 2016

An evolutionary trajectory

My academic trajectory has changed several times during the past twenty years. The first course I took was a distance course in Classic archaeology at Uppsala University in 1993/1994. Back then I was interested in ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece and Rome. However, I had begun to read some books on the Maya and that became my main interest in the following years when I became a full time student at the University of Gothenburg (1994-2000). My BA-theses in both archaeology (1997) and social anthropology (1998) dealt with Maya issues. So did a minor thesis (“B-uppsats”) in a course on the history of ideas (2000). Since I began my full-time studies I have not changed geographical/cultural area. However, my theoretical approaches have changed.

In both of my BA-theses I was influenced by Bourdieu’s theory of practice which I had encountered in both disciplines. That theoretical approach also laid the initial foundation for my doctoral project on causeways. Once I became a doctoral student (2002) I became influenced by other agency theories, Gell and Bachelard as well, as seen in my licentiate thesis (2004). This was a development towards a “nanoarchaeology”, i.e. splitting up the units of structurating practices used in Cornell and Fahlander’s “microarchaeology” into even smaller segments. I called this “polyagentive archaeology.”

I continued to call this approach “polyagentive archaeology” in my dissertation thesis (2006). I regret that today since I had turned towards the ontologies of flow, of continuity rather than discontinuity. Bergson became my main inspiration with some late additions of Deleuze and DeLanda. Hence, I ditched Bachelard in favor of Bergson. I maintained Gell and made more use of the Swedish anthropologist Göran Aijmer. Apart from an article on Maya warfare (2007) I have not continued to use the term “polyagentive archaeology”. I am no longer convinced that agency is a useful concept (particularly not object/material agency).

In my early postdoctoral phase I became increasingly influenced by Deleuze, DeLanda, and Protevi. This can be seen in my articles published between 2008 and 2012. DeLanda’s assemblage theory work very well with complex systems theory and therefore it fitted my first postdoctoral project on caves and climate change. However, once I received funding for my “water as archaeological material” project (2011) I had encountered speculative realism and particularly object oriented ontologies. This has resulted in a couple of articles (from 2012 to present date). Although Meillassoux, Harman, Bogost, Garcia and Morton have affected my writing it is Bryant that I find to be of most interest. I will still make use of Deleuze and DeLanda in my upcoming articles that are in press. It may not be obvious but I do use DeLanda in my most recently published article on neuroarchaeology (2016).

So where am I now? Well, considering this trajectory I have mainly emphasized theoretical issues that few Mayanists care about. I will most likely continue with that but I also feel that my archaeological interests go beyond the Maya area today. This summer I will travel to Indonesia for the tenth time but I believe I never will actively work there. I am stuck in the Maya area. However, I am also a bit tired of the ontological stuff but I think I have found a way out of the ontological turn.

I am currently developing a project idea that shall combine two separate topics that I deal with in two articles that I am currently writing: evolution and some aspects of the ontological turn. I see this as a new change in my academic trajectory. Why? Because I do not think archaeology is the discipline of things. I once did think so but what separates archaeology from other disciplines is the study of the long-term development of Homo sapiens. It is time for me to go back to what I initially found interesting in archaeology. 

Posted by: Johan Normark | March 1, 2016

Multi-scalar cognitive time

I have uploaded the abstract for my upcoming article in Quaternary International. It is called “Multi-scalar cognitive time: Experiential time, known time, and Maya calendars.”

Posted by: Johan Normark | February 21, 2016

Mesoamerican research in Gothenburg

On March 18, 2016, Teobaldo Ramirez Barbosa will defend his dissertation thesis Churches, Chapels and Maya Dwellings of Colonial Yucatán and Belize. The opponent will be Professor Elizabeth Graham, University College London (UCL). Teo has Professor Per Cornell as thesis advisor, i.e. same as I had.

Right now doctoral candidate Peter Jimenez is in Gothenburg to present his dissertation project The Archaeology of West and Northwest Mesoamerica 3001300 CE: A World System Perspective. Peter has Professor Kristian Kristiansen as thesis advisor.

Posted by: Johan Normark | February 2, 2016

Talk at the Ethnographic Museum in Stockholm

I will give a talk on the impact of climatic changes in the Prehispanic and Colonial period Maya region (I shall compare these periods and argue that the impact of droughts differ to a substantial degree). This will be held at the Ethnographic Museum in Stockholm on March 16 at 6 PM. Here is the Swedish title and “abstract”:

Klimatförändringars påverkan av det förspanska och koloniala mayaområdet

Mayaområdets samhällen i södra Mexiko och norra Centralamerika har vid ett antal tillfällen påverkats av klimatförändringar. Den mest kända är den ”klassiska mayakollapsen” mellan 750 och 1050 e.Kr. Även om paleoklimatologiska data delvis sammanfaller med övergivande med bebyggelse under förspansk tid utgår forskare ofta ifrån den koloniala tidens skriftliga källor för att förklara dessa äldre processer. Detta leder till ett antal problem i vår förståelse av denna avgörande fas i områdets förspanska historia.

Posted by: Johan Normark | January 28, 2016

Landscape Archaeology Conference 2016

Uppsala University arranges a landscape archaeology conference in August. Most interesting to me are the sessions on landscapes and water. I may submit one (or two) papers. 

Posted by: Johan Normark | January 6, 2016

Encyclopedia of the Ancient Maya

I almost forgot that I contributed with a short text on the Maya causeway/sacbe for the Encyclopedia of the Ancient Maya (edited by Walter R. T. Witschey). The link leads to the unedited text I compiled in 2014. The final and printed version will not appear here.

Posted by: Johan Normark | January 3, 2016

Returning to active blogging

Two years ago (December 21, 2013) I decided to stop active blogging due to an increasing burden of work, etc. I still have plenty to do but I feel that blogging actually helped my thought process because I often summarized or commented on research papers, etc. Now I feel a desire to continue with that activity although it will still be kept at a minumum.

The date of the previous decision was one year after the “end of the world”. Now we are more than three years into the “postapocalyptic” world and I have just published an article on blogging about the fringes of archaeology. I will most likely not write much about these fringes in the future unless there is some “2027” connection. I shall focus on research papers that I find interesting. However, January is a busy month so do not expect much until February.

My current interest pushes me into evolutionary theories and in particularly those associated with Bergson, Deleuze, Grosz, and Ingold. I have discussed these before but never in any depth. In the future I will also focus less on Maya archaeology as I am becoming less interested in that field.  

Posted by: Johan Normark | December 30, 2015

Blogging about the end times: Dealing with the fringes of archaeology

An article where this blog is a major part has just been published in an online peer-reviewed journal called AP: Online Journal in Public Archaeology. Here is the abstract:

The 2012-phenomenon is based on the idea that something important was expected to occur on December 21, 2012, a date associated with the ancient Maya Long Count calendar. Even though the date has passed, the overall phenomenon is unlikely to disappear because the dominant themes of the end of the world and/or a transformation of consciousness can be found in other ‘alternative’ histories. These non-academic histories are ultimately apocalyptic in nature. The 2012-phenomenon is also an example of an ‘incorporeal hyperobject’, i.e. an object widely distributed and repeated. It is not anchored in a specifc time-space unit but it is manifested in many different corporeal objects. The 2012-phenomenon is different from the academic Mayanist incorporeal hyperobject because each of them uses different distinctions of what exists or not. These different objects cannot communicate directly in different media ecologies since different distinctions have formed each one. Hence,there can never be a sincere understanding of each camp. Only by perturbing another object can information be translated into meaning. The blog is such a medium that can affect incorporeal hyperobjects. This article discusses the way one blog has interacted with the 2012-phenomenon.
Posted by: Johan Normark | November 3, 2015

Going against the flow

My “reaction” article in Archaeological Dialogues has just been published.

Posted by: Johan Normark | October 14, 2015

Articles on miniature shrines and caves in the Cochuah region

I have uploaded excerpts of two texts on The chapters will be found in the edited volume The Maya of the Cochuah Region: Archaeological and Ethnographic Perspectives on the Northern Lowlands (University of New Mexico Press). According to the volume should be available by December 1. The first chapter is about Postclassic miniature shrines and the second chapter is about caves seen from a Deleuzeoguattarian perspective.

INAH is hosting a symposium in Cancun next year:

Settlements and the Urban: Architecture and Archaeology in America and Europe

Symposium 16-18th of May 2016

Changes of human settlements over the last decades have been quite dramatic, and there is an expanding bibliography on settlements and the urban, discussing potentials and problems in recent developments. Architects and landscape architects are directly involved in the process, situated at a particular and interesting position, while archaeologists address the problems in long term perspectives, and work the intricacy of time, settlement and society within an historical framework.

The Architecture, Archaeology and Contemporary City Planning network aims at establishing new kinds of dialogues between architects, archaeologists and historians, looking for new ways of addressing issue of settlement planning, as well as a closer cooperation between these disciplines, that allows to generate alternative interpretations for ancient settlements and new ways of facing challenges in contemporary urbanism and its social actors.

America and Europe exhibit certain differences in settlement distribution, in part related to the particularity of the indigenous past in the Americas, and to the outcome of the violent and exploitative colonial encounter, but also related to later developments. Comparing the intricate relation between time and space in the Americas and Europe help elucidate shared problems and highlight differences. We will also like to see a continued discussion, initiated at prior AACCP events, on visualisation and documentation of various kinds, in particular related to the digital revolution and the use of new technologies, both in record and analysis of ancient and modern cities. Involved in this complex theme, questions of aesthetics, deconstruction and “gestalt” are of major importance.

The first AACCP event took place in Florence 2014, and the proceedings can be found at The second event took place in Valencia and the proceedings are on the way.

Papers addressing contemporary case studies, as well as relevant prehistoric or historic cases are welcome, especially those works that analyse settlement transformations throughout time. We invite interested scholars from various relevant disciplines to a productive and interesting congress, to be realised at the Maya Museum in Cancun, México and organised by the Mexican INAH and the AACCP network. The congress will take place between May 16th and 18th 2016. Abstracts in English or Spanish, with a maximum of 250 words, must be submitted by e-mail before January 15th 2016, including name of the author or co-authors (when applicable), paper title, institution and all contact information. Please note that final oral presentations should not exceed 30 minutes in length.

All submitted abstracts will be evaluated by the committee, and all proposals will be notified before February 15th, when the final program of the symposium will be integrated.

Apart of the formal sessions, there will be complimentary excursion tours, from May 13th to 15th of May. Further information will be issued in the next months.

For more information and submit abstracts, please contact:

The Symposium Committee:

Dr. Per E. Cornell. Professor, Department of Historical Studies, University of Gothenburg, Sweden

Dr. Giorgio Verdiani. Professor, Dipartimento di Architettura- (DIDA). ICAR/17 – Disegno. Università degli Studi Firenze, Italy

Dr. Pablo Rodríguez Navarro. Professor, Departamento de Expresión Gráfica Arquitectónica. Universitat Politècnica de València, Spain

Arql. Adriana Velázquez Morlet. Director, Centro INAH Quintana Roo. Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, Mexico

Posted by: Johan Normark | September 21, 2015

The Elders and the Hills

Ten days ago (on 9/11) Stefan Permanto successfully defended his dissertation thesis in social anthropology at the School of Global Studies, University of Gothenburg. Here is the abstract of his thesis entitled The Elders and the Hills: Animism and Cosmological Re-Creation among the Q’eqchi’ Maya in Chisec, Guatemala:

This thesis is based on fieldwork conducted in the municipality of Chisec in the department of Alta Verapaz in Guatemala. Within the context of post-war Maya cultural emergence and the recent introduction of non-indigenous elements this study examines the cosmological notions and ritual practices among a group of elderly Q’eqchi’ men and women. The main motive for this endeavor is the expressed concern of the elders that the younger generations of today are diverting from what the elders consider to be the traditional ways of life that are inherited from their ancestors. The elders fear that if traditional cosmological notions are lost it may eventually wreak havoc in the world. Therefore, these elders have come together not only to narrate and share their vital knowledge amongst themselves but also to transmit it to future generations.

Theoretically, the thesis is inspired by the recent re-definition of the concept of animism within anthropological theory. Stripping the concept of earlier evolutionary notions that debunks it as only irrational understandings of the world, the cosmological notions and ritual practices of the Q’eqchi’ elders are taken at face value and approached as ways of being-in-the-world. While this ‘new’ animism has been deployed in studies among indigenous peoples from Amazonia to South East Asia it has been conspicuously absent in Mesoamerica. By applying the new perspectives on animism to the cosmology of the Q’eqchi’ elders this study contributes not only to the general body of anthropological studies of animism and indigenous societies but expands it to include the Maya region.

Since culture is neither static nor homogeneous the work and ambition of the elders to preserve and transmit their inherited knowledge inevitably gives fuel to a process of rediscovering and re-creating their cosmological roots and ritual practices: a cosmology the elders assert is crucial not only for human and non-human wellbeing but also for a sustainable ecology and cosmic equilibrium.

Posted by: Johan Normark | September 16, 2015

Maya and Iron Maiden

The title track on Iron Maiden’s latest album “The Book of Souls” is about the Maya (the cover is also supposed to depict Eddie as a Maya…). Here is the song and you find the lyrics below (some of it is fairly accurate):

Sacrifices buried with kings
Accompany them on a journey with no end
To an afterlife that’s rich with fruit of all the gods

And to face the demons
Of their underworld hauntsThe sentient is sent to seek out all the truth
A flight to earth that is a given from his birth
To rise from ashes of the dead
Out of the fire is sent to fulfil man’s desire
By power day and night and death he ruled them
The sky and earth and the fires too
Two headed reptile symbol of his reign
Universes of the underworld
A life that’s full of all the wealth and riches
Can never last for an eternity
After living in a golden paradise
The ultimate sacrifice

Prophecy of sky gods, the sun and moon
Passing of old ways will come true soon
Falling of ages, forest of kings
The search for the truth, the book of souls

The rulers of planets and stars
The power of the kings of traders and the wars
Planetary cycles and the phases of the moon
Is in the document a kingdom they will learn
They were praying to the gods of nature
And were living in the cities of stone
Towers reaching upward to the heavens
Sacred wonders for the world unknown
Make their lives be a mystery no more
Records kept and the passing of laws
Sacred gods to the book of lies
When a civilization dies

Prophecy of sky gods, the sun and moon
Passing of old ways will come true soon
Falling of ages, forest of kings
The lost book of souls, destruction begins

Ascending the throne wearing feathers and shells
He brought back their lives from the void
Alien invasion brings nothing but death
Mass exodus and plant life destroyed

Domain of the Earth to the journey of truth
The underworld caves, Mayan slaves
Defeat of the dark Lords
The ultimate proof
In the place where the ancestors rule

The book of souls

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