Posted by: Johan Normark | March 8, 2017

Wulong Karst

I recently came back from a trip to China. During our stay my wife, son, and I visited Wulong Karst which is located in the world’s largest municipality, Chongqing in China. Its main features are the Three Natural Bridges which have been named after dragons. The first one you enter as a tourist is actually a double arch (Sky Dragon Bridge). The arches are between 96 and 116 m in height and they span between 28 and 34 m in width.

You enter the entire karst system through an elevator that takes you down to the bottom of a gorge. Then you descend below the Sky Dragon Bridge. On one of the walls there is an “elephant”-like formation.

At the bottom of this first bridge is a set of buildings built in 2006 for the movie Curse of the Golden Flower. They are built in Tang style.

Not far from these buildings is a statue of a transformer since scenes for Transformers 4 was shot here (there is another transformer at the entrance of the park as well, before the elevator). Here is one of the scenes filmed at this location. There is a small waterfall near this statue.

The next bridge is called Green Dragon Bridge and after that follows the longest of them, Black Dragon Bridge. There is a tiny waterfall here. By the end of the trail there is a pool of water.

Posted by: Johan Normark | February 8, 2017

Settlement topology

I have uploaded the final version of my contribution to an anthology in two volumes that soon will be available. Most of this text was written three-four years ago as the proceedings from the symposium Urban Variation: Utopia, Planning and Practice. My text focus on what I call settlement topology which makes use of Deleuze’s and DeLanda’s concept of assemblage. 

Posted by: Johan Normark | January 25, 2017

Black Swans of the Anthropocene: Multiple ends of Maya Worlds

Earlier today I submitted a project application to Riksbankens Jubileumsfond. This is the English summary:

Resilience has become a buzzword in academic research since it integrates society, economy, and ecology. However, resilience perspectives have no room for improbable and unpredictable events (Black Swans), such as “collapses”. Black Swans are removed in resilience studies by inserting them into a predictable process, as the release stage in an ongoing adaptive cycle. Resilience is based on a naturalist ontology and when applied in social sciences it does not explain how individuals, groups, and greater collectives founded on other ontologies (worlds) behave towards Black Swans.

The project shall study how Black Swans, and responses to them, affect and are affected by dominant ontologies in local and regional collectives during the Anthropocene. These ontologies generate different archaeological assemblages. By studying spatiotemporal differences in these assemblages, before and after Black Swans, the project shall outline a development of ontologies related to these ends of worlds. The Maya worlds in southern Mexico and northern Central America provide ideal case studies since they experienced several Black Swans and different ontologies.

Posted by: Johan Normark | November 1, 2016

Objects as subjects

Yesterday I read an interesting article that pretty much falls into my current trajectory. The article is “The perfect subject (postcolonial object studies)” by Severin Fowles. Since it was published earlier this year in Journal of Material Culture I had missed it since I have strayed away from topics concerning both “material” and “culture” for the past decade or so. For a while I looked into object oriented ontologies (OOO) and tried to apply them on archaeological data with various successes. However, when I attempted to apply it on Maya caves I found that I had very little use of OOO other than in a general sense. This has pushed me in another direction which does not disqualify the previous position altogether (more on that another time). However, I have become more and more dissatisfied with the “Speculative turn’s” tendency to treat objects as oppressed subjects (particularly in archaeology). Fowles’s article explains how we have reached this point. Here is the abstract:

“This article argues that the late 20th-century tradition of material culture studies, as well as its more recent object-oriented offspring, emerged as a response to the 1980s crisis of representation and the deeper postcolonial critiques that accompanied this crisis. As it became more and more difficult to study and make claims about non-Western people, anthropologists and scholars in related disciplines began to explore the advantages of treating non-human objects as quasi-human subjects. Things proved safer to study than people and the popularity of ‘thing theory’ grew, at least in part, for this very reason. More importantly, the analytical shift of focus from people to things had the effect of salvaging – and, indeed, greatly amplifying – the representational authority of Western scholars at the precise moment when that authority seemed to be evaporating.”

Basically, then, “when the West lost its ability to write about non-Western people however it liked, non-humans surfaced as surrogate objects of study” (Fowles 2016:25).

Posted by: Johan Normark | September 29, 2016

Orienting West Mexico

Later today I shall attend Peter Jimenez’s final seminar for his dissertation thesis entitled Orienting West Mexico: The Mesoamerican World-System 2001200 CE. This will be the third dissertation thesis on Mesoamerica from my department.

The article “The Chicxulub impact and its different hydrogeological effects on Prehispanic and Colonial settlement in the Yucatan peninsula” can now be found here. I will probably make it open-access in the near future if I get the funds to do that.

Posted by: Johan Normark | August 30, 2016

The ontogenesis of ontologies

I am currently writing a text on Descola’s ontologies and how they relate to Maya cave studies. This will be a significant departure from my previous focus on emergence (or ontogenesis in this case). Descola has been described as a neostructuralist but I see no major obstacles in transforming his “rigid” ontological schema into something processual. 

This text is also one of several articles that create a frame for a new project preliminary entitled “The ontogenesis of ontologies”. In its current state the project will focus on long-term changes in settlement and land use in the Maya area related to Descola’s schemas of practice. It will also problematize the concepts of resilience and sustainability.

My article “The Chicxulub impact and its different hydrogeological effects on Prehispanic and Colonial settlement in the Yucatan peninsula” has been accepted for publication in WIREs water. Here is the abstract:

The Chicxulub impact ~66 million years ago and subsequent geological processes have created different hydrogeological regimes in the Yucatan peninsula, Mexico. These regimes have affected settlement patterns on local and regional scales. This study focuses on the intersection between three of these regimes; the Buried Ejecta within Saline Intrusion Zone, the Albion Formation and the Ticul Fault Zone. Lake Chichancanab is located in the intersection between these zones. The Prehispanic settlement east of Chichancanab, in the Cochuah region, is distributed evenly whereas the Colonial period settlement of the same area largely stays within the Buried Ejecta within Saline Intrusion Zone. Colonial socioeconomic conditions and the Church limited the Spanish control of the Cochuah region, partially because groundwater access became increasingly more important during the Colonial period.

Posted by: Johan Normark | June 2, 2016

New article – Multi-scalar cognitive time

The final version of my article “Multi-scalar cognitive time: Experiential time, known time, and Maya calendars” has just been published in Quaternary International. It is part of a special issue called: The material dimensions of cognition: Reconsidering the nature and emergence of the human mind.

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.

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