Posted by: Johan Normark | September 18, 2012

Anthropodecentric perspectives on hydrocentricity

Anthropocentrism is considered bad in Speculative Realism and Morton points out that searching for anthropocentrism still is anthropocentrism. Maybe we cannot skip anthropocentrism after all. Bogost suggests that it is only by analogy and metaphor that we can perform his alien phenomenology. We always run the risk of falling into anthropocentrism but that is the case for any object/unit. If the correlate (human) subject-object is erased we still need to fall back on some form of centricity. Water senses other objects from a hydrocentric perspective.

Given the “consensus” that archaeology and archaeologists through material remains attempts to understand past human activities, meaning, relations, etc. there is a plethora of “anthropocentric” relations that are attached to objects before any analysis even begin. The only way to reduce the dominance of a half-written anthropocentric narrative is to set the “non-human” objects in center and decentralize the human being. The problem one runs into as an archaeologist is that few other archaeologists will find that move desirable since the discipline often identifies itself as anthropology or part of historical studies. Even I have problem with a move like that since water in archaeological contexts only is of interest if it has a connection to humans and human made objects. An “anthropodecentric” perspective is what I strive for in my hydrocentric project. Of all the real objects water make its own sensual objects, it is the human and the human made objects that are of greatest interest.

Posted by: Johan Normark | September 14, 2012

2012 – Volcanic eruption in Guatemala

This is a test. I repeat, this is just a test. On oaccasion I have made a couple of non-scientific tests on my blog. I simply want to see how many people connect a recent disaster with the supposed end date later this year. Last year’s tsunami in Japan and the dead birds falling from the sky were connected to the “Mayan prophecy” in several ways by people ending up on this blog. One of the most popular predictions regarding the armageddon faction of the 2012 phenomenon is that of volcanic eruptions (more specifically eruptions by “supervolcanoes”). Fuego outside Antigua in Guatemala is probably not one of those supervolcanoes but it is currently erupting. I am sure someone somewhere will connect the dots here. If you are not familiar what these dots are, I’ll give you a hint: it is a volcano, it is located in the Maya area (not where the Long Count predominantly was used but who cares about details?), it happens near the autumn equinox (the end is on the winter solstice), and only a few days after 9-11. Can you come up with other dots that I am missing?

The beginning of the end…?

Posted by: Johan Normark | September 13, 2012

2012 – The “digital poster”

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago I will give a public lecture on October 31, 2012. This is the “digital poster” that will appear on a screen at the university. It should cover pretty much the basic stuff that I will be talking about.

Posted by: Johan Normark | September 12, 2012

Water management at Tikal

Water management studies for the central Maya lowlands have been around for about 30 years now. There are some interesting new perspectives that comes out of this research. In a recent article, Scarborough, Dunning and others have investigated parts of the Late Classic water management system at Tikal in greater detail. Early in the article it is argued that contemporary short-fallow milpa agriculture, logging and cattle ranching have seriously affected the ecosystem and limited the access to potable water. The central lowlands that once inhabited roughly 5 million people “is under environmental siege by a much reduced contemporary population-one organized very differently than in the past” (p 12408). This is pretty much my own point of view when it comes to the Cochuah region. Current and Colonial land use were more disastrous to the ecology than Precolumbian land use ever was.

The earliest inhabitants of the ridge where Tikal now is located were drawn there by springs at the head of a ravine that later was widened and dammed. Later modifications, such as pavements, prevented the recharging of these springs. However, much more water was available in the later reservoir system than from the now concealed springs. Spring water and water runoff filled the Temple Reservoir. On the southern end of the reservoir there is a berm that separates the silting tank from the main reservoir. This berm contained a Late Classic dedicatory burial. The Temple Reservoir is connected with the Palace Dam. This latter gravity dam is the largest known hydraulic architectural feature in the Maya area. The whole system dates to the Late Classic. Although it was in use for quite some time it does not appear to have silted in. Since the topography at Tikal is fairly steep and terraces are unknown, trees may have been maintained around the reservoirs to anchor soils. Hence, stands of trees probably did exist in the site center.

Scarborough, Vernon L. et al. (2012). Water and sustainable land use at the ancient tropical city of Tikal, Guatemala. PNAS, 109(31):12408-12413.

The one year resolution data from a speleothem at the Tzabnah cave in Tecoh, Northwestern Yucatan, is interesting in many ways, particularly with regard to what is not discussed in this study. The study emphasizes droughts during the Terminal Classic. Spectral analysis has shown that positive 18O anomalies indicate dry conditions and these occurred 501-518 (17 years), 527-539 (11 years), 658-668 (10 years), and 804-938 (130 years). During these periods precipitation decreased between 52 and 36% of the present annual precipitation. The later Terminal Classic period is subdivided into eight different drought episodes. If we set these to the side, it is interesting to note that the three other droughts (501-668) were much more severe than any of the single droughts during the Terminal Classic (as seen in figure 6 of the article).

Why did not these more severe “hiatus” droughts collapse the polities of the Maya area (the first drought event actually occurred before the so-called “hiatus”)? The population density was lower than during the Late Classic but it was large enough to cause stress on a local level. Following the logics of the “drought-hypotheses” there would have been drastic population reductions. There is no indication that population dropped by 40-50% during these droughts (like what is argued to have happened in Colonial Yucatan, an area and period that had even less population density). If the “hiatus” population actually dropped by that much we must explain why and how the Late Classic population dramatically increased from an even lower level than previous estimates.

Sure enough, the Terminal Classic droughts were many and people and polities may not have had enough time to recover before the next drought hit but I believe the answer is something else. The major polities remained during the stressful “hiatus” period largely because the political economy that these inland sites depended on also remained. That seems not to be the case during the Terminal Classic when coastal trade began to emerge which became the foundation for the Postclassic political economy. I believe the answer to the final abandonment of the central lowlands had to with changes in the political economy (but the droughts were, of course, not unimportant in this development).

Medina-Elizalde, Martín, et al. (2010). High resolution stalagmite climate record from the Yucatán peninsula spanning the Maya Terminal Classic period. Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 298:255-262.

Posted by: Johan Normark | September 10, 2012

Towards an object-oriented gender archeology

I am writing an article for an anthology that will not be published for quite some time but here is the abstract.

Towards an object-oriented gender archeology

Gender archeology has helped to elucidate and problematize androcentric interpretations of archaeological material. However, what remains a common ground with other Kantian influenced archeology is the anthropocentric perspective that depends on the correlation between subject and object. Centrism is perhaps necessary but the archaeological source of material is not an ancient socially constructed entity a la Butler, Foucault, Bourdieu, etc. The objects of various shapes, temporalities and sizes are our source of material and those should be in center. Within the different versions of object-oriented ontology (OOO) humans as subjects ceases to exist. She is one of many real and sensual objects. In the democracy of objects humans consists of different objects at the same time as she is a part of several different objects. We have to begin with the objects that make up the human first. Latourian relations between these objects are not what determine the object’s capacities or properties. Following the ontologies by Harman, Bryant, Bogost and Morton, this article approaches the much scorned notion of essence (without essentialism). The article illustrates how such an object-oriented gender archeology could work.

Posted by: Johan Normark | September 9, 2012

2012: Red river in Chongqing

The 2012 phenomenon is getting personal with me. Yesterday the Yangtze river in China turned red, particularly around Chongqing, my son’s city of birth, less than a week before his actual birthday…


Posted by: Johan Normark | September 8, 2012

2012: The inofficial anthem of the great apocalypse?

Which would be your “anthem” for the great apocalypse later this year? As a fan of all things “metal” this is my contribution and it comes from Norway: Dimmu Borgir with Progenies of the Great Apocalypse. Is the progeny Bolon Yookte’/Mitt Romney?

Posted by: Johan Normark | September 8, 2012

Colonial period mural found in a Guatemalan house

National Geographic reports on an interesting discovery of a possible 16th or 17th century mural in a house in Chajul, Guatemala. The figures on the mural wear a mixture of Maya and Spanish garb.

Posted by: Johan Normark | September 7, 2012

Water world

My project ”water as archaeological material” is described in the recent issue of International Innovation. This link will take you to my page where some of my articles are posted.

International Innovation is the leading global dissemination resource for the wider scientific, technology and research communities, dedicated to disseminating the latest science, research and technological innovations on a global level. More information and a complimentary subscription offer to the publication can be found at:

Posted by: Johan Normark | September 6, 2012

The Anthropocene and Precolumbian land use

In a short paper that I sent away for review a couple of weeks ago I used a quote from McAnany and Yoffee (p 8) that in hindsight seems wrong. I wrote that “the humanability to impact environment on a global scale is newfound and cannot be pushed back beyond the Industrial Revolution of the 1800s.” This refers to what some geologists call the Anthropocene, the geological time period when human activities affect global ecological processes. There is debate on how far back in time we can push this time period. McAnany and Yoffee clearly think it is around two centuries old. Others trace it back to the “Neolithic revolution”. I have no actual opinion about when it “began” but it seems to be older than two centuries. What made me think differently about this issue was an article by Dull and others (2010) that I read last week. I was looking for climate studies that focused on the Spanish contact period and this article suits my objectives like a hand in glove.

In this article it is stated that Precolumbian land use has been neglected in global greenhouse forcing. It is argued that aggregate carbon footprint of Neotropical farmers (the area between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn) was enough to raise global temperatures via greenhouse forcing long before the European encounter. However, the epidemics that spread around the Americas in the 16th and 17th centuries led to the abrupt abandonment of agricultural clearings. Human fire ignitions therefore decreased dramatically. The Little Ice Age cooling and its decrease in atmospheric CO2 followed the native population collapse (particularly in the Amazon). This thermal anomaly (-0.1 degrees C between 1550 and 1750) has earlier been attributed to solar-volcanic forcing. Climate skeptics have used such “natural” processes to argue against the claim that global warming today is caused by anthropogenic causes. What this study indicates is that the demographic collapse in the Americas either caused or at least intensified the global cooling. The supposedly “normal” temperature before this event was upheld by slash-and-burn farmers.

The more people burn the more fire prone the forest becomes. More burning leads to “more forest openings, more forest edges, drier fuel loads, higher wind speeds, and greater susceptibility to future flammability…Conversely, the absence of anthropogenic fire in most tropical biomes leads to rapid increases in woody biomass…and a “hardening” of the forest against future fire incursions” (Dull et al 2010:758). This is important to know when we study the earlier Maya collapse. With the disappearance of these forest clearings it began increasingly difficult to re-occupy the inland during the Postclassic period. This in combination with new trade routes kept the forest in the central and southern Maya lowlands more or less free from settlements (with the exception of the Itza and Kowoj states and refugees from the later Spanish empire). In fact, there were even less interest in clearing the forest during the Colonial period as the forest was a place for hideout.

McAnany, Patricia A. and Norman Yoffee (2010). “Why We Question Collapse and Study Human Resilience, Ecological Vulnerability, and the Aftermath of Empire.” In Questioning Collapse: Human Resilience, Ecological Vulnerability, and the Aftermath of Empire, edited by Patricia A. McAnany and Norman Yoffee, 1-17. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Dull, Robert A. et al. (2010). “The Columbian encounter and the Little Ice Age: Abrupt land use change, fire, and greenhouse forcing.” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 100 (4):755-771.

Posted by: Johan Normark | September 5, 2012

Water on the radio

I will appear on Vetenskapsradion (“The Science Radio”) tomorrow at 1:20 PM (13:20). It will be the first of two interviews. This one deals with water as an archaeological material/object. The second interview will appear on Vetenskapsradion in December since it deals with the 2012 phenomenon.

Posted by: Johan Normark | September 4, 2012

Agroforestry and caves

Readers may wonder what is happening to my articles and book on caves, settlement change and climate change in the Cochuah region. The thing is that I constantly find new and old articles that I need to integrate in my own texts. I never get to send them away. In the past week or so I have found a couple of articles that is interesting for my claim that the Cochuah cave sites were largely uninhabited and perhaps even were “sacred grooves” during the periods with few known droughts (Early and Late Classic). One such study of interest deals with agroforestry practices at Tikal.

The study by Lentz and Hockaday (2009) focuses on beams and lintels from two palaces and six temples at Late Classic Tikal. Agroforestry practices would have changed as wood resources became scarce and a decline in wood supply would also be reflected in the selection and quality of timbers used in these major buildings.

Only two tree species were used in these buldings. The favored tree for construction was the zapote tree (sapodilla) (Malinkara zapota). It grows in moist mixed upland forest and it grows slow to moderate. An old tree can reach a height of 30-40 m and has a trunk diameter of 1.5 m. The wood is hard, durable and weather resistant. It is carved while still green and then allowed to dry to iron-like hardness. The other tree species used at Tikal was the wetland logwood (Haematoxylon campechianum). It is shorter and is slow-growing. Today it is used as a source of dye. It can become 8 m high and it often has a crooked trunk. The tree needs clayey soil and is tolerant of standing water. Such trees were likely grown in seasonal wetlands. The heartwood is dense and highly durable.

Only sapodilla was used in the first three major temples (II, I and IV). Lintel beam diameters reached their greatest dimension around AD 741 (Temple IV). In the following four decades logwood became important for Temple V and VI. The palaces have a mixture of woods. In the final temple, Temple III, sapodilla wood was once again used but the lintel diameters were much smaller than in the earlier temples.

A lintel from Temple IV, with a radius of 27 cm, indicates that it was 280 years old when it was cut down. This means that the tree came from old growth forest. This indicates that the Maya practiced some kind of forest management since high forest pollen signature remains in pollen records. The trees may have come from ancestor estates/”sacred” grows where the sapodilla was protected and planted.

The switch from sapodilla to logwood indicates that the uplands finally had been depleted of high trees around AD 750. The return to sapodilla in Temple III indicates that a second grown forest had been used.

In my study I argue that since the Cochuah cave sites show two major phases of settlement that coincide with drier conditions, the Late Formative and the Terminal Classic, the areas surrounding the caves during the wetter periods in-between (Early and Late Classic) may have sustained old-growth forest/”sacred” grows. Deforestation and drier conditions may have forced people to settle around these sites during the Terminal Classic to perhaps utilize/burn down the last remaining high forest.

Lentz, David L and Brian Hockaday (2009). Tikal timbers and temples: Ancient Maya agroforestry and the end of time. Journal of Archaeological Science 36:1342-1353.

Posted by: Johan Normark | August 31, 2012

I am a man (79%)

Rosemary Joyce writes about a website (Genderanalyzer) that from the content of a blog analyzes the gender of the blogger (or is it the blog itself?). I made the test myself and they think that this blog is written by man (but they are only 79% sure). Is it because I write about climate change, Maya warfare, male-dominated object-oriented ontology, 2012, etc.? What makes them 21% not sure? My gender studies?

I entered the website’s own address to see if it can analyze itself. It did not work since an error occurred in the analysis: “Sorry, we could not extract enough text from We could only find 178 words. We need more than 300 words to analyze a web page. More text gives better result!” Since the creators of the website have Swedish names I can make a 100% accurate analysis without the help of the website. Genderanalyzer is written by two men…

Posted by: Johan Normark | August 30, 2012

Stephen Colbert, order-words and the Colonial Maya

On facebook I saw this image and a quote of Stephen Colbert that reminds me of Deleuze and Guattari’s discussion of order-words in A Thousand Plateaus. Order-words refer to the capacity to create commitments through statements. It is not related to the communicative functions of language but rather the impersonal transmission of statements.

For people to obey they must believe in the legitimacy of the claims to authority expressed by these commands. A teacher gives order and commands. These are not external or additional to what is being taught. An order concerns earlier orders and hence ordering is redundancy. Order-words are not communicated, they impose semiotic coordinates on a child. Therefore, language is made to be obeyed and to compel obedience. A rule of grammar is a marker of power before it becomes a syntactical marker. Colbert is therefore right that arbitrary rules make us disciplined. They do not teach us logic. Religion and politics are made to make us disciplined. Unfortunately, science also tends to follow order-words. There is probably no way around that.

We can apply order-words on historical and archaeological data as well since order-words are dated. For instance, declaration of war expresses an instant incorporeal transformation of bodies. Farmers turn into soldiers, friends into enemies. Its instantaneousness gives it a power of variation in relation to the bodies. The order-word is a death sentence since it brings death to the identity of those who receive the order. It is also a warning to flee. In this light, the order-words to turn to Christianity or to congregate Maya settlements expressed by the Spanish missionaries triggered flight in Colonial period Mexico. The slow emergence of Maya reducido (William Hanks term for the Colonial Maya language adapted to Christianity) ultimately reduced the lines of flight and territorialized the Spanish empire and the later Mexican state.

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