That Past “Stage” Performance

I have spent my adulthood (and before) in the excavation of ruins. These past experiences (and their collected memories) have (mostly) involved fieldwork practices that were “performed” during the daylight hours. Any activities that were enacted at night were relegated to lab work, and an analysis of the remains that were unearthed during the day’s excavations. Early on in my archaeological career, however, I also conducted fieldwork at night. This particular fieldwork was confined to specific locations. “Haunted” is an adequate “working” definition for these “other” sites of non-evasive archaeological excavations. These “haunted” sites are also “ruined” archaeological locations. It makes no difference whether its prehistoric, historic, or historically-haunted. These sites remain “ruins”, since they contain fragments of what is left of the past.

A common factor characteristic of all these “haunted ruins” is a particular concept of time. This is not the time of history books, or geneology charts, though history is involved. It is a time that “unfolds”. It is not a “sequence” of time. It is a “lost” and absent time that, nevertheless, can be retrieved. The unearthing of remains in time requires particular participatory practices and certain “targeted” performative roles. The excavation involves the development of a “ghost script”. This script must contain contextual historical and sociocultural scenes and props, indigenous to the haunted setting.

Participation is essential. The node that is excavated is not a place that one merely sits and observes like a theatrical audience. Excavation requires participatory actions. These haunted nodes are also not places that one merely conducts instrument “sweeps” to detect a measured and recorded deviation. An excavation is not a surface probe to detect non-agentic anomalies. It is the unearthing of a contextual manifesting presence, caused by the application of the “ghost script” in a particular haunted space (S.I.M.S. = sensory information memory setting) at the site.

This excavated setting is the space where something that usually remains invisible becomes visible to the senses. Its “effect”, however, plays differently, depending upon the actions and role-playing of the participants (the “ghost excavators”). In the haunted excavated node, theatre (performance), archaeology (layered context), and ethnography (cultural practices) are connected.

A ghost excavator “plays” with all these disparate connections by unearthing a “key” (the ghost script) that re-activates a memory practice of an intelligent past presence. In this respect, the “ghost excavator” is an actor who establishes a connective link between past and present, and between past memory/experience, and contemporary resonating performance. There is a “theatrical ghosting” of a past event or activity. The resultant excavation unearths a former absence that manifests as a contemporary contextual action initiated through the “P.O.P.” (participation-observation-performance) practices of the ghost excavator.

Action in haunted space occurs on multiple levels during a “staged” ghost excavation: in the excavator’s activity as participant and performer, the team’s observations, measurements, and recordings, in the cultural rehearsals, the interpretation of context, the production of ghost script narratives, and the manifesting presence of a lingering, intelligent “dead” entity. The “ghost excavator” performs multiple roles in these haunted and ruined fields: the actor, the interpreter, the agent of manifestation, and the tool by which that past presence is mediated and recorded.

The ghost excavator becomes the individual to whom the public will view the past through the excavation process. A professional public image is essential. The ghost excavator’s “public persona” must be acceptable to multiple audiences: fellow (serious) investigators, the non-professional public, and, foremost, the intelligent past presence. As in any theatrical production, a presence becomes here and now if the role is “true”, “genuine” and “acceptable”. A “haunted ruin” will then become the scenario of a contemporary stage of past performance:

“to contemplate ruins makes you fleetingly aware of the existence of a time which is not the time in history books….It is a sheer time, unlocatable….A lost time which only art can retrieve” (Marc Auge, “Le Temps en Ruines” (“Time in Ruins”), 2003).

That manifesting “art” is the “P.O.P.” of a past contemporary presence!