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Re-Constructing a Haunted Space


How should we explore and document the past at a haunted location? How can we construct knowledge from ephemeral and trace presences? We must begin with practices that have meaning in the past, not popularity in the present! We must appreciate (and understand) that some remains of the past that manifest do form part of a social world that is still present, and not “paranormal”!

We must avoid any strict conception as to what type of fieldwork this should (or should not) be. We must, though, involve ourselves with social re-construction in these spaces, putting manifestations into past (not present) cultural context. We must devise means and tools which enable us to be both sensitive to a past sociability, and be ethical in the process.

By definition, the past cannot be present. That it is (and we see it all around us in architecture, music, dress, etc.) does not make its presence something one considers as “paranormal”. A past has been completed, but other vestiges, traces, residuals, and remains of particular (some biographical) elements of the past still “live on” today. This existence of past presence is not an alternative or parallel universe. It is reality, albeit contemporary archaeological reality (“ruins”) in some instances.

Ghost research, like archaeology, must not be mere observational work (“ruined vistas”), or an observation of what is “excavated”. Likewise, in ghost research, it is not merely the observation of what the instruments are measuring, the monitor is displaying, or the audio is recording (many times in absencia). It must become, first, a participatory practice. We must participate to observe what may be left of the past in particular spaces.

This participatory stance, however, must not be reduced to the status of entertainment, or as a spectacle of excess (an “extreme paranormal” stance). It must be, and remain, contextual, a performance that is rooted to an event (or activity) in the past; or, to a particular biographical past of a known individual, one known to have occupied that “haunted” space (or produced some act there). This participatory-ethnographic trope is the basic premise of a “ghost excavation”. It is how we begin our re-construction of haunted space.

Cultural Identity: The “Missing Link” In Ghost Research Sociability

Cultural Identity: The “Missing Link” In Ghost Research Sociability

In today’s modern world, through the venue of social media, there is a new landscape social setting in which people, communities of followers, and cultures (both popular and scientific) mix. This communicative and interactive (interactional) network (and networking) has created an alternative inter-cultural contextual reality, linking geographical spheres (horizontally) to multiple temporalities, both past and present (vertically). Existing cultural identities, once thought firmly grounded, have attained liminal roles in this global mix. Today, the internet fosters this particular liminal social identity by imposing a new perception of time and space, providing new meanings to “what” and “who” becomes popular, as internet links and pages re-define power and influence, attaching it to the importance of a “popularized” social identity.

This has also led to a shift in contemporary individual consciousness and historical “afterlife” conscious manifestations. The process of globalized communication has increased the perception of haunted space, and interactions with various forms of past presences once thought to be dead and buried. The “hunt” for “ghosts, in this spectral turn, also bring with it a cultural “badge” of identity, acts that define contemporary, not past, behaviors and technology. This has created an “identity crisis” in ghost research today. It is the result of the popular cultural trope of behaviors seen on paranormal reality TV programming, on “ghost hunts”, at “para-celebrity” events, and through social media. The search for a “legitimate identity”, attached to serious fieldwork, has been lost to entertainment and economics.

This is not all that “haunts” contemporary ghost research. A “ghost hunting” identity and mentality, with its stereotype “wardrobe” and “standardized” field acts, has become the basis of a popular individual and collective identity that certainly impedes the cultural understanding of a haunting, and the various means of communicating with interactive past presences. Unfortunately, the concept of “belonging” has become identified with this “ghost hunt” identity and mentality.

In a “ghost excavation”, we do not follow this “ghost hunt” identity. We “perform” to the past, and not the “audience” of the present. On these pages is a small sampling of what we do, hoping to change this “ghost hunt” mentality to a different cultural “identity”, one that resonates with those of the past with whom we are attempting to communicate with, by becoming a part of their continuing social world. Please review our site, and continue to drop by from time to time, as we update the site.   

A Call For Serious Ghost Research

Most of us who seriously investigate haunted space are aware of the resonances and associations that are popularly-connected to that space by others. Knowing is one thing, but participating in it is another! Serious fieldwork must remain separate from these popular tropes. The analysis of the production of past space, and what remains after the event, like archaeology, is the concern of serious fieldwork.

A field investigator must separate an analysis of this production from the consumption of haunted space made by ghost tour operators and para-event promotors. The serious investigator deals with the real past, the source and production of space-making, not spatial entertainments.

It is not within the field of serious research to deal with (or be involved in) this popular consumption of the “paranormal”, its commercial use in “ghost tourism”, or popular reality TV shows that entertain not educate. These manifestations of contemporary popular entertainment are pre-conceived notions belonging to the present and are immersed in economics, not research. Such responses to the popularity of the paranormal treat the presence of the past as a commercial resource for present consumption, purpose, and interest.

Serious ghost research, a concern with the production of haunted space, is meant as a source of knowledge acquisition. Let’s relieve ourselves from the popular, commercial, sentimental, and subjective responses of “ghost hunting”. Let’s separate them from professional and serious study. We must maintain this relevance, and to make that relevance accessible and acceptable to academia. To do otherwise, would be a great injustice to those who still remain after the events in their lives have ended, some perhaps long ago. To think, act, and work with what remains in that subjective and entertaining mode has little to do with what (and who) may actually remain of the past in haunted space. Let’s just focus on the past itself in those spaces considered haunted by lingering presences!

Orbium Coelestium! Scientific anomalies, ghosts, over enthusiasm or misplaced biases? By James E. Beichler, Ph.D.

Presented at The Academy of Spirituality and Paranormal Studies, Inc., Annual Conference 2008 Proceedings:

Orbium Coelestium!

Scientific anomalies, ghosts, over enthusiasm or misplaced biases?

James E. Beichler, Ph.D.

Abstract: Photographing ‘orbs’ in cemeteries and haunted houses has become extremely popular in the past few years, but no one, to my knowledge, has ever conducted a scientific study of these ‘orbs’. Many people, including both professional ghost hunters and skeptics alike, automatically chalk the ‘orbs’ up to reflected light from various types of material particles (either animate or inanimate) using ‘cheap’ low resolution digital cameras. Yet I myself have photographed ‘orbs’ that defy simple explanation as light reflected from dust, insects, water droplets and so on in a variety of physical situations. So my students and I conducted an experiment to determine the nature of the ‘orbs’ in an upper level philosophy of physics course that I taught. We concluded that nearly all ‘orbs’ are more than likely just photographs of common particulate matter that is out of focus, but science should be interested in the very few examples of ‘orbs’ that do not fall into this catchall explanatory category.


     In the fall semester of 2007, I conducted a laboratory experiment on ‘orb’ photography with my students in an upper level college physics course titled ‘Anomalous Science’. The ulterior motive was, of course, to teach my students to be open-minded, but also to approach their open-mindedness with scientific rigor and not jump to unsubstantiated conclusions. The more immediate purpose of the experiment was to determine if, or at least test the plausibility that, ‘orbs’ that are commonly photographed under various circumstances represent something other than normal photographic anomalies. For example, do ‘orbs’ possibly represent anything that could be of interest to either normal scientific or paranormal investigators?

     In essence, we were testing two alternative and opposite hypotheses. On one extreme, there exists an overly skeptical group of people that ‘automatically’ concludes that ‘all orbs’ are just dust, insects, mist, rain drops, snow, or other small particulate matter that is photographed ‘out of focus’ in the light reflected from a camera’s flash. These people usually tend to blame the ‘orb’ problem on the use of ‘cheap’ digital cameras, but usually fail to define what they mean by ‘cheap’. On the other hand, there is a second group of people who claim that ‘orbs’ photographed in graveyards, old houses, hotels and other hot spots associated with haunting are either ‘ghosts’, some form of apparitions or some other undefined phenomenon that accompanies ‘ghosts’ and thus offers ‘proof’ of haunting.

     As with all scientific investigations, science makes predictions from their hypotheses and theories that are then subjected to experimental and observational verification. In this case, we would expect that neither explanation is completely correct, although the dust theory of reflection is probably closer to the truth, so it is being tested in the laboratory portion of the experiment. Under these circumstances, the major goal of the experiment would to be to determine what conditions for a given digital camera will yield photos of ‘orbs’ using different known substances at different distances in the dark. Using the information developed in the experiment, we should be able to set up a table of parameters by which different cameras would yield photos of ‘orbs’ due to ordinary circumstances and substances. Then, and only then, could we determine if photos of ‘orbs’ taken at ‘haunted’ and other suspicious sites could be caused by anything other than normal optical problems and therefore warrant further explanation. This information will help to identify ‘orbs’ photographed with the same camera in graveyards and other ‘hot’ sites.

     The experiment consisted of three separate parts: In part 1, the students and I attempted to duplicate ‘orbs’ under laboratory conditions using various types of particulate matter. In part 2, we took pictures outside of the lab under various conditions in general settings trying to duplicate ‘orbs’ and in part 3, we went to likely haunting sites and attempted to photograph ‘orbs’. We then investigated and analyzed other photos that seemed to exhibit ‘orbs’. The apparatus used in all three parts of the experiment was the same, such that the same cameras were used in all cases. The primary camera used was a Kodak 3.2 Megapixel camera with a flash range of about 7 ft. Most outdoor pictures (outside the lab) used this camera. Only digital cameras were used since film is costly, time consuming and otherwise limited. With digital cameras, it is only necessary to snap away and take as many pictures as can be held in the removable memory. A second camera was also used. This camera was also a Kodak, but it had a resolution of 7.1 Megapixels and a stronger (brighter) flash. Various parts of the experiment were also recorded with either a Sony digital-8 or an Aiptek digital video camera. The results from the video cameras are not included in this report for a lack of video editing computer programs. However, these videos will prove useful for later determining extensions of the basic experiment.

     The lab procedure in part 1 was very simple. All four cameras were set up to take pictures at nearly the same time in the dark. Students would drop (or throw, or spray) a variety of particulate substances when told to ‘go’ and then each of the cameras would alternately take pictures. Sea sand, table salt, house dust, various colors of glitter, rice, demara sugar crystals, Wondra flour, hair spray and water spray were all used. Each substance was dropped (thrown or sprayed) at distances of 2, 5 and 8 feet from the camera.

     Very good ‘orbs’ were obtained with the water and hair sprays at several feet, but the best ‘orbs’ were obtained with the sea sand at distances of three feet and less. In both of these cases, both the 3.2 and 7.1 Megapixel cameras yielded ‘orbs’. So it would seem that the quality or resolution of the camera is not a factor in photographing ‘orbs’. So we can immediately throw out the ‘cheap’ camera hypothesis. The silver and yellow glitter also yielded better ‘orbs’ at two and three feet then the other colors of glitter. This result would seem to indicate that reflective power of the particulate matter is also important in photographing ‘orbs’: The yellow and silver glitter was more reflective than the other colors of glitter, at least in the light spectrum of the camera flash. In normal photography, these would be considered ‘hotter’ colors. The other forms of particulate matter used were not as reflective, so they did not yield sufficient numbers of ‘orbs’ under the specified laboratory conditions. The particles of sea sand and the water and hair spray droplets were the smallest bits of matter used, except for the dust that was not very reflective, so they yielded the most ‘orbs’. The small bits of sea sand are primarily silicon, rendering the sand highly reflective. It could therefore be concluded that the important factors for photographing ‘orbs’ had nothing to do with the quality or ‘cheapness’ of the cameras used. The actual important factors were size, reflectivity and flash intensity, and only then distance from the lens. In any case, it was readily demonstrated that it is easy to duplicate ‘orbs’ in the laboratory.

     In the second part of the experiment, hundreds of photographs of insects and other objects were taken outdoors under various lighting conditions in an attempt to duplicate ‘orbs’ under more natural conditions. No evidence was found that photographing insects could produce ‘orbs’ in this part of the experiment. In the most significant attempt made, swarms of hundreds of small gnats about a half-millimeter to millimeter in size were photographed under several lighting conditions: bright sunlight, shadow, twilight and total darkness with a flash. The swarms were important, because it can be assumed that the gnats were present at all distances from the camera, from a fraction of an inch to six or seven feet, at the same time. In spite of all attempts to get the gnats to yield ‘orbs’, absolutely no ‘orbs’ resulted from photographing the gnats. Nor was there any evidence that any other insects photographed produced ‘orbs’. When ‘orbs’ were obtained under the circumstances, the ‘orbs’ seemed to be random and no source could be found even though the pictures were taken in common places such as backyards, bushes, trees and above grass in fields. If these randomly photographed ‘orbs’ were caused by insects reflecting the camera’s flash, then the insects causing the ‘orbs’ must have been far too small to detect, otherwise they may have just been ‘orbs’ of some type of inanimate particulate matter blowing in the night breeze.

     Of all the ‘orbs’ that were photographed in the dark with a flash, none could be specifically related to any insects, so it can only be concluded that insects would have to be smaller that the size of the gnats (less than a half-millimeter) and far more reflective than the gnats to produce ‘orbs’ when photographed. More random photos of insects and a greater variety of insects need to be photographed in the future before any conclusions can be reached if insects produce ‘orbs’ or not. However, spider webs, under the correct conditions, did yield multiple ‘orbs’. When the 3.2 Megapixel camera was placed as close as possible to the strands in a spider web, approximately two or three centimeters in front of the camera, the strands of spider silk began to look like a line of linked ‘orbs’. So, if such small strands or filaments of web or filaments of other types are blowing in the night air, they could yield ‘orbs’ when photographed in the dark with a flash.

     All that is needed to obtain ‘orbs’ in the dark with a flash are extremely small sources of light that can be photographed out-of-focus with any particular camera. Normal sources of light could be reflected light, original light sources or even light diffracted by particulate matter. When photographs were taken in the second part of the experiment, we found that embers from camp fires and even bright stars produced ‘orbs’. Both are direct sources of light rather than reflected light. A very bright light source can also produce ‘orbs’ due to a reflection off of the camera lenses themselves when pictures are taken in darkened situations. For example, if a person takes pictures of a night football game under the lights, the internal camera light meter will adjust to the darker football field and then the bright overhead lights will produce ‘orbs’ due to reflection between the internal camera lenses. In the final case, ‘orbs’ could also be produced by diffracted light. Diffracted light is light that bends around an object and then causes interference patterns. Diffraction interference patterns from a point source would be small, but larger than the object causing the diffraction, and appear round or spherical. When the light source is behind an extremely small object that is out-of-focus, like the spider web silk, an ‘orb’ can also appear in the camera lens and the resulting photo. Clearly, not all ‘orbs’ are produced by reflected camera flashes. They can be produced by a number of normal circumstances and these circumstances must be taken into account when analyzing ‘orb’ photos.

     However, these explanations do not account for all ‘orbs’. During the experiment, at least in parts two and three of the experiment, some ‘orbs’ were obtained in photographs that seem to defy any easy explanation. In particular, a few cases of ‘orbs’ appearing in background shadow areas during a period of bright daylight were obtained. These orbs could not be connected to any source of light, such that they were could not have been due to either reflected or diffracted light, yet they were not their own sources of light. So their origin is still in question. In yet another case, photographs that I personally took under very dark circumstances, without flashes (because they were not allowed), at Saint Stephan’s cathedral in Vienna, Austria, yielded a few ‘orbs’ like those obtained in the lab, but also bright points of light that mimicked ‘orbs’. These bright point ‘orbs’ seemed to be truly anomalous and without explanation. Until these anomalous ‘orbs’ are accounted for, no conclusions regarding the relationship of ‘orbs’ to haunted sites can be made with complete accuracy. All that can be said is that most of the ‘orbs’ obtained by amateurs in sites associated with haunting are more than likely light reflected from some form of dust particles or microscopic water mist droplets.

     As part of the experiment, I also attempted to have my results repeated and confirmed on the popular TV show, Mythbusters. To suggest a topic for the show, you must first submit the questions to the Mythbusters forum for discussion, which I did. The following is my initial statement proposing the ‘orb’ myths and the first response to my suggestion. My nom de plume on the Mythbusters Forum was Professor Who.

Professor Who: I am a college teacher and I am teaching a course on Anomalous Science. We are looking into the question of whether the orbs that are photographed in cemeteries and supposedly haunted sites can be explained by any other means, such as insects, water mist and etc., that are out of focus. I am conducting an ongoing experiment in photography to discover the conditions under which I can photograph orbs. The myth according to those who believe in hauntings is this: Orbs can only be photographed in cemeteries and haunted sites because they are associated with haunting. Another myth proposed the nay-sayers and doubters is just the opposite: All orbs are just insects, stars, water droplets, mist and such explainable phenomena that are just out of focus. So can the Mythbusters consider which of the myths is true or untrue? Would the Mythbusters be interested in my and my class’s experimental results? This would make a great segment of Mythbusters given the popularity of the subject and the vast number of TV shows on the topic of hauntings.

Dickfez: If you really are a professor, you shouldn’t be teaching such BS as anything other than an urban legend. “Orbs” are a simple phenomenon caused by brightly lit, out of focus, objects between the camera and the object it is focused on. This can be easily demonstrated by taking a digital camera with flash out in the rain or snow under low light conditions and shooting an object.

It is easy to see from Dickfez’ reply that many people, especially skeptics, regard ‘orbs’ as an emotionally charged issue and are willing to suspend scientific rigor and objectivity to have their own opinions accepted, without question. However, the subject of ‘orbs’ will not so easily be dropped by the people who associate them with haunting, either correctly or incorrectly. Science clearly needs to determine if any of the ‘orbs’ could be the product of anything other than common identifiable causes.

     Given the popularity of the subject of ‘orbs’ and the many myths that surround them, as well as the shear prejudice and bias that anyone encounters if he or she attempts to treat the subject scientifically, it has been difficult for most people to take this experiment seriously. No completely definitive conclusions were reached with the experiment as conducted, even though some of the myths associated with ‘orbs’ were exposed to the light of scientific logic and reason. What is certain is that a great deal more research on this subject is needed and this experiment will be continued and expanded.

James E. Beichler

Professor Beichler has been teaching Physics, Mathematics and the History and Philosophy of Science at West Virginia University at Parkersburg for the past seven years, but will soon take an early retirement to conduct his own independent research. He has taught these as well as other related subjects at the university and college level for more than two decades, but only obtained his Ph.D. in 1999 from the Union Institute and University. He earned his Ph.D. in Paraphysics, a branch of theoretical physics. It is the only such degree from an accredited university in the world. Professor Beichler designed his own course of study for the Ph.D. He combined past advanced degrees and doctoral work in Physics and the History and Philosophy of Science with new studies in Parapsychology. He presently edits an online journal, Yggdrasil: The Journal of Paraphysics, and is also conducting theoretical research in Cosmology to explain Dark Matter and Dark Energy, in Physics to explain the nature of life, mind, consciousness and matter and will soon develop a new physical model of the atom. All of these advances are applications of a new fundamental theory of physical reality, called ‘single field theory’ or SOFT, which he has developed. SOFT is based upon a five-dimensional Einstein-Kaluza space-time geometry. Explanations of paranormal phenomena emerge naturally from this space-time structure. Professor Beichler has just published a book, To Die For: The physical reality of conscious survival, upon which this article is based.

The Uncanny and the Paranormal

The “uncanny” is something and someone that is hauntingly familiar. It is the material traces and vestiges of particular individuals and specific events/situations that are “unearthed” in a “ghost excavation”. Within the excavation process, there is a sense of “theatrical ghosting”. It is something that has been done before, but in different situations, and physic-cultural environments. During the “ghost excavation”, time is disrupted. What was once past, buried, and forgotten is now exposed and present.

What is “unearthed” is also uncanny. This is the recovery of similarity, but with a difference. Many times (aka a “ghost hunt”), the remains are “objects”, not “subjects”. These remains, however, though fragmented and traces of a former “personhood”, remain functional and social. The difference is that their perception (in most “ghost hunting”) is not of the original entity. There is an indirect link with the past, by bringing potential past remains into the present without “agency”, the human source of the manifestation.

There are times, however, when past traces of personhood are accompanied by their interpretation as situated cultural behaviors by still “active” past actors. This occurs in a “ghost excavation” through the use of participatory contextual cultural practices in the field. The traces that manifest are sensory in nature: smell, sound, and tactile (usually). This is a difference which makes the experience “uncanny”, but certainly not “paranormal”! This is because those past sensory traces are still human in origin, and is the “afterlife consciousness” that continues to be performed  by a past (physically-dead) actor.


The Extended Mind of a “P.O.P.”

“Much of what matters about human intelligence is hidden not in the brain, nor in the technology, but in the complex and iterated interactions and collaborations between the two….The study of these interaction spaces is not easy, and depends both on new multidisciplinary alliances and new forms of modeling and analysis…a new kind of cognitive scientific collaboration involving neuroscience, physiology, and social, cultural, and technological studies in about equal measure”.

- Andy Clark, “Mindware: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Cognitive Science”, 2001.


This is the extended mind thesis. The central issue is that mental states and processes can spread across physical, social, and cultural environments, as well as bodies and brains, through time and accumulated layers of occupied spaces. Cultural practices from the past can be unearthed as the manifestations of intelligent “dead” individuals.

I believe the use of “P.O.P.” (Participate-Observe-Perform), as a scientific collaboration between theories and field techniques in archaeology, anthropology, and performance studies can unearth the “extended mind” of these (still) interactive “dead” individuals!

The Politics of “Paranormal” Presence

What’s going on at a haunted location? There is no definite answer (yet), and it therefore cannot be answered in only way (“paranormal”)! So, the questions become: how do we take photographs of all that? how do we make a video? what do we measure, etc. The issue is clear: what is the definitive record or representation of something that is the past, an historical event, and a “dead” entity?

Documentation is about empowering. It is about opening (slightly) the door, and “playing” to the performances: remixing, reworking the processes of immersion and engagement. This means a change is “blowing in the wind”, uncovering the site of excavation. The ritual formula of tech sweep, monitor, EVP sessions, watch and wait, a prolonged audio/video review, and “the reveal” is “dead”! Ghost research, in the form of this excavating “wind”, involves participatory acts, observations, and targeted performances which must replace the old field routines.

There are many ghosts lurking unseen that will take generations and multiple excavations of inventive social science to understand a site’s complex haunted scenarios. A “politics of presence” (the title of one of my books) is what is made present and what is kept absent and invisible by contemporary ghost hunting! This “politics” is a crucial issue and determines what we are able to recall, to document, to trace, to measure, and also what should be documented, traced, and measured, and not kept invisible!

It’s about power over the processes of mediation. It’s a critical concern. So much has already be destroyed, concealed, or forgotten. It’s the “politics” that write the history and tell the ghost stories. It is “who” is altering our conception of ghost research! It is not the “what” of a haunted location, nor the “ghosts” that haunt the present. It is the “who”, the contemporary, tech-oriented, “ghost hunter” that is haunting the Past!

Ghost Culture as Theatrical Ghosting: “Play it Again Sam”!

There are those of us who keep talking, who follow a seemingly endless scripted story line, who continue to follow the ways learned early and throughout a lifetime….and beyond. These talking, storied, and learned cultural traits survive as the analects of a shared experience and individual memory within a particular “ghost culture”.

This haunted history is constituted as a continuous and selective replaying of patterns of behavior, and the “still points” of an individual’s storied life. A haunting is the creation of a solo cultural performance which places an interactive entity at the center of events, both past and present. Such a ghost becomes both the narrator of an individual story, and the subject of narration by contemporary investigators who “hunt” for these ghost stories.

The haunted site becomes a theatrical play(back), a way of continuing the talk, and a means to record it. Fragments of the past manifest as fractured plots, providing an investigative team with mixed information (and emotions)! It is the task of the fieldworker, as ghost excavator, to unearth something that remains extremely personal, and which contains specifics regarding form, function, behavior, habit, and memory. These artifacts of excavation must be pieced together in order to define a separate “identity”, one that differs from the present company of actors, “paranormal politicians”, psychics, and other reverants.

At such sites, there is an endless contemporary cry of “what have I got”? The investigator, as critic, makes a different set of judgements than the ghost concerning the suitability, accuracy, and form of each particular material remains that chooses to manifest. The ghost, on the otherhand, uses his/her cultural memory, rather than an electronic devise, for unintentional dramatic purposes. Besides, these phantoms function according to personal principles (not physical laws) that lead the hunter through sudden shifts, and endless repetitions of “sensefull activity” at these locations.

Is it possible to maintain this personal haunting “voice”, while addressing changes to space, time, and participants? How does the ghost do this, one investigator after another? Around such paranormal scenes, all the “players” become actors, forever portraying ghostly characters in a continuing, ongoing haunting scenario of episodic “replay”. After all, what occurs at a haunted location is principally a theatrical ghosting of what had occurred in the past, remains today, and, like a critically-acclaimed movie, will be ongoing as a future presentation of more of the same “Ghost Culture”!

Play it again Sam….or is that Sally? Your one-act play warrants a continued encore performance. There are so many more ghost-hunters waiting in line to enter your “haunted theatre”!

Sometimes, a little subtle humor (?) goes a long way (back to the past) to relieve the tensions, frustrations, and politics of competitive ghost hunting! Pardon my “burying” the “science” for this archaeological moment at “digging” the field I love so much!!

“Excavate” the Ghost with an Anthropological Sense!

The anthropologist is a cultural relativist. He or she recognizes others in our midst who are no so very different than the rest of us, even those who “search”, “hunt”, “survey”, and “dig” for those past remains that actively linger today at certain locations. The eyes of the anthropologist “speak” of presences that walk through the accumulated dust of “ruin”. Today, our tech-oriented society has become “blinded” by overuse (and dependency), and merely records a “deviation”, without context, agency, or understanding. This is not the “human” element of what “survives”. The idea that perhaps we are not alone remains an anomaly in this perspective.

Too often, it is called a “paranormal” event, or something from a parallel universe. These lingering remains are something that comes from our world, not another reality that occasionally merges with our own. If parallel universes (rather than symmetrical spaces) are the agencies of these manifestations, why is so much human cultural context contained in these phenomenon?

Those who investigate the darkness of the unknown are told to “ground” the witness. We should “ground”, instead, the investigation in an excavation context of multi-symmetrical space of unfolding time and various levels of past presence.

“Now in the night

the dark walker came

sliding in shadow”


To “see” in a relative, ethnographic way, is to be open, to take it all in without being taken in, to be aware of the diverse possibilities of the world during the day, and at night. What more could one want as a field investigator? To excavate with that anthropological eye, is to be among those elite who have re-discovered “something” more than a measured anomaly. It is an encounter of the “human” kind. It is the unearthing of the “culture” of the night.

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!