Posted by: Johan Normark | November 12, 2013

Identity, fragility, Black Swans, neuroscience

I just placed an order on Amazon. Within a few weeks I hope to be able to read these six books:

How Things Shape the Mind: A Theory of Material Engagement by Lambros Malafouris and Colin Renfrew; The Fragility of Things: Self-Organizing Processes, Neoliberal Fantasies, and Democratic Activism by William E Connolly; The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb; Place and Identity in Classic Maya Narratives by Alexandre Tokovinine; Politics of the Maya Court: Hierarchy and Change in the Late Classic Period by Sarah E Jackson; and Ruins of the Past: The Use and Perception of Abandoned Structures in the Maya Lowlands by Travis W. Stanton and others.

The books all relate to my current, past and future research topics. The first and last book in this list belongs to my future “neuroarchaeological” project on how ancient ruins shaped Postclassic Maya calendars. The other four books melt together both my former “climate” project and my current “water” project (too complicated to go into detail here).

Posted by: Johan Normark | November 8, 2013

Cochuah volume

Good news from last night (Swedish time that is): the volume on the archaeology and anthropology in the Cochuah region (edited by Justine Shaw) has been accepted for publication by The University of New Mexico Press. My contribution consists of two articles; a traditional one on Postclassic miniature shrines and a Deleuzean inspired one on the caves in the region. I thought about writing yet another article on the causeways for this volume but my colleague Alberto Flores covers that part this time.

Posted by: Johan Normark | November 7, 2013

The 2012-phenomenon and the (new) age of hyperobjects

I have finally settled for a preliminary abstract for the conference on art history in London that I mentioned a week or so ago (I shall try to combine Meillassoux’s contingency with OOO). There might be some slight changes but here is the abstract:

Apocalyptic and new age fantasies focusing on the erroneous “end-date” of the Maya Long Count saw some absolute purposeful meaning encoded in an ancient calendar. However, as Meillassoux’s take on facticity indicates: there is no absolute reason or ground for reality. The absolute is contingent.

The 2012ers also failed to see that what they were and still are part of: the growing awareness of hyperobjects. Timothy Morton’s hyperobject is an object so massive that we encounter it everywhere and nowhere at the same time. Global warming is Morton’s preferred example. We encounter its local manifestations in rain, puddles, news, political debates, etc. However, we can never point out its specific time-space location. In fact, the hyperobject emits time and space. The appearance of the hyperobject is the past, it is what objects encounter in any situation. The withdrawn essence of the hyperobject is the future, it is what it will generate in new relations. A hyperobject has a birth, life and death although on a scale beyond humans.

The 2012-phenomenon is such a hyperobject. Its parts consist of objects and other hyperobjects such as the Aztec Calendar stone, Tortuguero Monument 6, the precession of the equinoxes, the Milky Way, archaeological text books, the Bible, Capitalism, Internet, etc. The 2012-phenomenon is a symptom of the ecological crisis. Despite that the “end date” has expired it has not ended since its parts will become part of a new hyperobject in the years to come since the symptoms of the ecological crisis remain.

Posted by: Johan Normark | November 6, 2013

Alexander Bard on the Meillassouxian God

The Swedish artist, song-writer and philosopher Alexander Bard mentions Quentin Meillassoux’s inexistent God in his presentation which ends by declaring Internet as a God (among several gods). 

Posted by: Johan Normark | November 5, 2013

Collapses in Brussels

The latest European Maya Conference in Brussels was the first one I have attended since 2006. I had a paper that was accepted for the Krakow conference four years ago but I retrieved it because the conference coincided with a workshop at Stockholm University. Hence, I am not a frequent attendant. Why you may ask since I am working in the Maya area? It probably has to do with the topics at the conferences. Over the years my interests have gradually spilled over from Maya archaeology to ontological aspects in archaeology. Few Mayanists care about the latter issues and my work is therefore better appreciated outside Maya archaeology.

I found several of the papers in this year’s conference to be useful for my own projects. The research paper that probably will have the deepest impact in Maya archaeology was delivered by Takeshi Inomata. He showed how the current chronology of the Maya highlands relies on bad radiocarbon dating. His revised version now puts it in better agreement with the lowland chronology. There is now an “Olmec” collapse in 400 BC and a revival in the highlands around 100 BC followed by yet another collapse in AD 150, thus, around the same time as the “Mirador Basin” collapse.

Nikolai Grube’s paper also shows that the historical dates in Maya inscriptions change towards period dates. Women disappear from the inscriptions at the same time when alliances cease to be important. Between AD 780 and 800 long war narratives dominates. This is followed by a roughly 50 year long period (800-850) when the old order is reconstructed. The final 3 katuns of inscriptions (850-909) focus on period endings and rituals. I may add that the latter focus is what continues into the Postclassic and, in my view, has laid the foundation for various erroneous interpretations of the “meaning” of the Maya calendar (such as the 2012-phenomenon).

My former licentiate thesis opponent Jesper Nielsen focused on the concept of spolia, the reuse of decorative elements in other architecture. The glyph for K’ak’ (fire) sits at the western entrance of the monastery at Izamal. This Jesper believes is not a coincidence since the major temple Izamal was dedicated to K’inich K’ak’ Mo’ (however, this is not the mound upon which the monastery sits). Spolia is therefore an example of how the Maya maintained connections and memories of their past in the new Colonial order. Jesper also brought up the Habsburg double headed eagle as an example of how the Maya use Spanish imagery but fill it with another meaning. Such an eagle has also been found in Aktun Santa Cruz in the Cochuah region. 

No visit to Brussels is complete without visiting this place

No visit to Brussels is complete without visiting this place

Posted by: Johan Normark | October 30, 2013

The 18th European Maya Conference in Brussels on Saturday


Posted by: Johan Normark | October 29, 2013

Maya Arte(Facts)

I have been invited to a session at the Association of Art Historians 40th  Annual Conference in London at the Royal College of Art, 10-12 April 2014. Although I am not an art historian I have covered certain aspects of Maya art in my previous studies. However, it is not my knowledge of Maya art that is the cause for the invitation. It is my coverage of Speculative Realism (SR) and Object Oriented Ontology (OOO) on this blog.  Two of my latest articles, one on senses and one on gender, cover some aspects of SR but most of my articles on SR and OOO issues in archaeology are either in press, in review or in preparation. This session, organized by Dr Aron Vineger, allows me to do a Meillassouxian analysis of Maya art. So far I have not come up with an abstract but suggestions are welcome. Here is the abstract of the session: 

This panel looks to the debates surrounding the concepts of fact, factuality, and facticity in order to ask questions about the material and ontological aspects of art making in conjunction with those raised by the fact-family of terms in (social) science, history, and philosophy. And if we extend a preoccupation with fact, to the concept of the ‘fetish,’ which shares the same root as fact, we also encompass religion, economy, anthropology, and colonialism. One might make the argument that facticity is one of the most compelling ways of exploring the interconnections between all of these domains.

Some version of the fact/value issue has always been operative in art history, criticism, and aesthetics. For artists and theorists, a notion of the ‘pictorial fact’ has been integral to claims of objectivity, singularity, and a sheer ‘thereness’ in excess of any signification, meaning, and value. This panel is also spurred on by some compelling new thoughts about factuality and facticity that have been launched in the last few years. For example, Bruno Latour’s concept of the ‘factish,’ Quentin Meillassoux’s notion of ‘factiality,’ and Jean-Luc Nancy’s reinterpretation of Kant’s ‘fact of reason,’ have reawakened an interest in and critique of phenomenological and social scientific articulations of fact in relationship to politics, freedom, contingency, and the absolute.

This panel encourages speculative and concrete reflections on matters of fact in relationship to the intersections of art, history, visual culture, ethics, and politics whatever the manifest content, location, or time period. 

Santa Cruz

Posted by: Johan Normark | October 17, 2013

Candi Sukuh

Contrary to Gunung Padang the information regarding the Hindu temple (candi) of Sukuh is more easily accessible (and less affected by pseudo-archaeological claims). This “Hindu” temple, built around 1437, is located on the western slope of Gunung Lawu east of Solo (Surakarta). Hence, it is roughly 2000 years younger than Gunung Padang in western Java. Despite the presence of Hindu and Buddhist influences in-between their construction periods, both sites have a terraced (“step-pyramidal”) layout.

There are other temples on the slope of Gunung Lawu (such as Balinese looking Candi Ceto). They belong to the last phase of Hindu temple constructions in Java before the royal courts of the island turned to Islam in the 16th century. The main structure is located at the far end of three terraces and it differs from the typical Javanese Hindu temples, probably because the religion had become influenced by other Javanese beliefs. Yes, it looks very much like a small Mesoamerican pyramid (more similar to pyramids at El Tajin than a Maya pyramid). 






Posted by: Johan Normark | October 17, 2013

The sorites paradox, evolution and the archaeological record

I recently ecountered the sorites paradox in a book and I realized that I have used this in my licentiate thesis without knowing that it had a name. The paradox is that if you have a heap of sand and gradually remove one grain there is no point at which the heap disappears. The opposite is also the case. If you add one grain to another grain that is not a heap and there is no magic number when the additional grains become a heap. This paradox is also known in evolution; where shall we draw the line between species in time and space? Darwin knew this problem all too well and therefore there is no real “origin of the species”. It is the evolutionary perspective that I used in my licentiate thesis. Here is a quote from this thesis (Normark 2004:46f). Note that I no longer use the term “materiality”:

“The use of chronology has associated the archaeological record with the fossil record (Binford 1983; Schiffer 1976; Thomas 1996). I will use the analogy of the fossil record for another reason. In the fossil record, palaeontologists can distinguish different individuals as examples of species of animals or plants and categorize them into larger group such as classes (mammals, reptiles, etc.). This is similar to the typological approach in archaeology. The slightly skewed picture palaeontologists get as being short-lived beings who study a small and random sample of past species (or rather individuals) can thus be applied to archaeologists as well. We do not experience the slow process of biological evolution itself (neither the Lamarckian, Darwinian, nor Bergsonian). Our parents are not of another species. Two thousand years ago we were the same species, but maybe not two hundred thousand years ago. The genetic changes are usually slow (even if they are “fast” geologically speaking). Species can only be distinguished if we cut out a sequence or a point of time of the past. Even at certain points in time there are species which can mate with each other and produce sterile offspring (such as when a horse and a donkey produce a mule). There is always some variation within every species and form. If we had the opportunity to travel in time and follow each “individual” from the “origin” of life to now, we would not be able to see when one species turned into another. There would not be any species in a continuum. Only an isolated event, an instant, as when an individual dies and is covered by sediment makes it possible to generalize fossilized individuals into species.

Although animals are entities quite unlike artifacts who are manufactured by humans, I believe I can make a brief analogy between them (but not in a social-evolutionary sense) if we relate the artifacts to the events associated with them. Applied to archaeology, this means that what we are seeing in the archaeological records are only events as “points in time” (only literally, not in reality), made possible to distinguish and categorize because of their instantaneous endings. For Bachelard (2000b:66-68), evolution is punctuated by creative instants. This is how the archaeological record appears for us. It consists of “snapshots”, and not of a continuum. These snapshots are separated from what went on before and what went on after by the instant moment when an action ended. We can not see beyond this event horizon. Thus, a building with a long construction history has “isolated points” or “segments” of materiality (our archaeological reference points) in which the past acts or practices are deprived of their temporality and spatiality since for me only the present exist, and the past is non-existent. Some other social practice(s) took place before and after the formation of the materialities we study, but the event itself is isolated as far as the material remains are concerned. The causes for the artifactual effects are not there directly to see.”

In my licentiate thesis I relied primarily on Bachelard’s discontinuous view of time whereas I moved on to Bergsonian and Deleuzian continuous duration in my dissertation thesis and in my various post-doctoral articles (influenced by DeLanda). Since I am now more influenced by object-oriented perspectives, my old view on time as discontinuous is much more suitable to this direction (with some major revisions). I will bring this up at TAG.

Posted by: Johan Normark | October 10, 2013

Maya chaosmos

I finally got around to scan an older article of mine since one of the funds wanted a copy of the text.  I just posted it on my page. It deals with my cave and climate change project. A note to the reader: I am currently doing the final editing of another article on the Chicxulub impact which will use a more updated map of the hydrogeological effects of the region. The map shown on page 96 was based on the idea that four rings formed after the impact. That idea has now been dropped by geologists. However, the idea of a geological (and hydrogeological) difference between the northern and southern part of the Cochuah region stands.

Update: The first version I uploaded came directly from the scanner. Cameron Griffith was kind to send me a cleaned up version which I have uploaded instead of the former one. Thanks Cam.

Posted by: Johan Normark | October 9, 2013

Brief comment on the female hand-prints in caves

Yesterday National Geographic launched the news of a new study of Palaeolithic cave art. It has often been assumed to be made by men. The new study, or at least NG’s coverage of it, indicates that women did the paintings (at least most of them). However, if you read the article it is the hand-prints that have been analyzed, i.e. not the paintings themselves. How sure can we be that the person behind the hand-print also did the paintings? Not sure at all is my non-specialist conclusion or there is some more evidence that was not mentioned in NG.

Posted by: Johan Normark | October 9, 2013

Books have arrived

When I came back to my apartment fifteen minutes ago I found my book package from jammed into the door. Apparently the mail man/woman is unaware or do not care  that thieves may walk into the building. However, if a thief stole this package he/she would have been disappointed of its contents. I highly doubt that he/she would enjoy the books Realist Magic and Maya Ideologies of the Sacred. Hopefully I will although I am more interested in the book that was not sent with them but which will arrive next week or so, and that is Hyperobjects

Safely delivered

Safely delivered

Posted by: Johan Normark | October 8, 2013

Hail archaeology

No, I am not hailing archaeology. I am rather referring to an interesting blog post that opened my eyes for a new aspect of my “water as an archaeological object” project. A hailstorm seems to have killed at least 200 pilgrims in Himalaya more than 1000 years ago. I had not included hail in my coverage before but googling “hail” and associated terms a few minutes ago shows the disastrous effects hailstorms can have

Posted by: Johan Normark | October 5, 2013

Gunung Padang

One of the most intriguing archaeological sites I have visited is called Gunung Padang in West Java. I went there on July 7 during my vacation in Malaysia and Java. Although the site has been known since at least 1914 it is not very well known among people interested in ancient history. Unfortunately the available English information about the site is confusing and sometimes riddled with pseudoarchaeological speculations. If you check out Wikipedia you will get the impression that this site is at least 13,000 years old and possibly the “cradle of civilization” (if you see such claims you can be sure that it is not an archaeologist doing the writing). Fortunately I ran into the archaeologist (Dr. Ali Akbar) who is in charge of the survey and excavation of the site. He could inform me that this megalithic site dates to around 500 BC.

There is a series of terraces that leads up to the top. This form of construction (“step pyramid”) can be found in later Hindu architecture as well. It seems that the site is aligned towards the volcano Gunung Gede. The surface of the site and the walls of some of the terraces are filled with andesite columns. Since little information is available I will simply post some images without information. Go and visit this site NOW!








Posted by: Johan Normark | September 29, 2013

Pixar’s Planes and Mayanesque imagery

Earlier today my son, wife and I saw Pixar’s/Disney’s animated movie Planes (a spin off of Cars). Towards the end of the movie the planes arrive in Mexico and the airport at Mexico City had some interesting Mayanesque/Teotihuacanesque architectural features (I guess Teotihuacan’s Avenue of the Dead provided some inspiration). There are some views of modified historical monuments as well, such as Taj Mahal and the Great Wall of China.

El Chupacabra

El Chupacabra

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 157 other followers