Punk Archaeology- Not Just for Punks

When one thinks about archaeology, the mind drifts towards ancient ruins and discoveries connected to lesser-known cultures. Hunting for infamously terrible Atari games in a trash dump in New Mexico sounds unconventional. This example of punk archaeology uses artifacts to learn about human behavior– as do other examples of archaeology. But this case of punk archaeology challenges societal norms that people take for granted. It pushes against 21st century capitalism by exposing a corporation’s reaction to its own mistake. For this reason, punk archaeology proves its relevance for today’s society. Punk archaeologists hypothetically could hold corporations accountable for their actions by sharing their findings with the public.

In addition to exploring the actions of a corporation, punk archaeology calls into question the established modes of thought of what archaeology should uncover. The team of punk archaeologists searched for something common and not ‘over-hyped’. While ‘over-hyped’ is an arguably inappropriate description for artifacts from the Mayan civilization, the punks have a point. Within the field of archaeology, people know that artifacts can be common items (even available for purchase online at a low price). However, the majority of the public would not guess that. Punk archaeology succeeds in challenging the masses’ ideas about archaeology, rather than the structure and function of archaeology.

Figure 1: Excavation of landfill in Alamogordo

Figure 1: Excavation of landfill in Alamogordo

Who is archaeology for? Here is a question that punk archaeologists answer in a unique way. While the team in New Mexico had a number of goals, they recognized that the dig would primarily serve as ‘entertainment for gamers and geeks’. Punk archaeology reaches out to groups that would normally have little interest in the field and findings of archeology. Also, most archaeological processes and findings are not captured in a documentary like this one was. With a documentary rather than an article published in an archaeology journal, the information from this excavation appeals to a potentially different and broader audience.

Figure 2: A member of the team holding the Atari 2600 game 'E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial'

Figure 2: A member of the team holding the Atari 2600 game ‘E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial’

These punk archaeologists used the dig to consider America’s fascination with success and the underdog- two themes that are often associated with the punk aesthetic. By examining these ‘punk ideas’, punk archaeology presents a new take on how archaeology helps, influences, and connects to contemporary society. Punk archaeology alters the mainstream reputation and perception of archaeology in a way that maintains the traditional processes of archaeology. Time will tell to see if this trend catches on and can continue to present new ways of thinking about archaeology that will attract a wide audience.

Resource: http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2014/08/why-we-dug-atari/375702/

Figure 1: http://www.anthropology-news.org/index.php/2014/05/01/punk-archaeology-and-excavating-video-games-in-new-mexico/

Figure 2: http://www.dayofarchaeology.com/tag/punk/

Additional reading: http://www.ign.com/articles/2014/04/26/the-dig-uncovering-the-atari-et-games-buried-in-new-mexico-desert



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