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The Materiality and Significance of a Site’s Haunted Sensugraphy

The concept of materiality is a powerful “tool” to understand the relation between the physical elements of a haunted location, the social practices that took place there, and the uncertainties that continue to manifest. This is a view of a location’s haunted stratigraphy as material cultural remains. This stratigraphy includes:

-individual deposits of uncertainty (trauma, accident, fond memories, death).

-depositional practices which materialize (sounds, smells, visuals, voices, tactile sensations, movements, etc.).

-passages of time between each layer (Revolutionary War, Civil War, Victorian Era) in the course of a localized haunted history.

An analysis of this stratigraphy would include:

-How many haunted layers are there?

-What is manifesting in each layer?

-What and where are the “gaps” in this strata? and

-What internal spaces are haunted, and which are not?

These material remains are the principal evidence for cultural expression, contact, and exchange. Materiality is the means by which ongoing past social relationships manifest (aided by P.O.P. practices), and are constituted (by resonating cultural acts).

A resonating P.O.P. builds specific ways of making haunting phenomenon happen. It is a principal component in identity and relationship issues in ghost research. The key to this identity and relationship remains in an accurate understanding of the materiality of a particular level of a site’s haunted stratigraphy

Participation, Observation, and Performance (P.O.P.) in Ghost Research: Is it “Live” or a “Recording”?

I am an archaeologist. I re-define the past through the material remains of past presence that I unearth through excavation. The past becomes present in this archaeological process. But what happens when that past continues to percolate “live” (and is not a residual material remains) in the present? As an archaeologist, I know that the past is not “dead”. I uncover its remains through excavation and reconstruction. But what happens when that past manifests (and interacts) because of some field practice that I have just performed?

These are questions aimed at an archaeologist who is also a “ghost excavator”. My goal as a “ghost excavator” is to unearth a “live” past presence, one that is framed within an archaeological context (a particular strata of past uncertainty), and when “acting” in the roleplay of an ethnographic (culture-specific) performance.

As a trained anthropologist conducting “ghost excavations”, I participate and perform as a cultural being, enacting practices and behaviors that would resonate with a past intelligent entity. If certain “ghosts” and intelligent haunting scenarios are manifestations of “dead” cultural beings, their behavioral presence at a particular place and time should reflect this cultural behavior. This assertion reflects my belief that an intelligent haunting is not a “paranormal” event or anomaly. It is a “staged” performance. It is “twice-behaved behavior”, Richard Schechner’s oft-quoted characterization of a performance. The “ghost” performs his/her behaved role as “human” twice: first, as a member of his/her culture while “alive”, and second, as a memory practice in a “ghost culture”, the cultural behavioral patterns of that former role (recalled after physical death as habit memories).

If these so-called intelligent entities are not manifesting to resonating anthropologically-oriented participatory/performative practices, then these manifestations are merely physically-unexplained (according to present perceptions of reality) and non-contextual anomalies. They are not the responsive actions of “dead” individuals. The “ghost”, in these instances, was never “alive” in the first place!

The P.O.P. methodology that I use in fieldwork tests these assumptions through a participatory cultural immersion (P), and a directed, targeted individual performance using a fictive memory of a specific situational past event/activity (P). Both investigative roles are observed/recorded “live” by an investigative team (O), located outside the frame of direct immersive action (“the stage” = site of excavation).

The recording of these practices “live” enables a participatory role to immediately become a performance role that targets a specific individual. There is no “watch and wait” in P.O.P., nor is there a prolonged evidence review (the “reveal”), conducted many hours after manifestations were recorded!

P.O.P. adds “live” context, an essential and necessary element for all “ghost excavations”. Context is everything. Context distinguishes between a “dead” presence and a “live” manifesting one! Was that sound, smell, movement, or voice a manifesting “live” behavioral response to a “live” investigative practice, or was it merely a residual recording of a past “presence”. “P.O.P.” makes that distinction a “live”, not recorded, “reveal”!!

“Making Sense” of “Ghost Excavations”

As a “sensible” person (not a “sensitive”), I want to make sense of space, especially haunted space. As an archaeologist, this sensibility MUST come before the “dig”! All excavations are destructive. They alter spatial symmetry, and change past fields of experience. Besides, all spaces have multiple “sensugraphies” of being, emotions, and actions on the surface that must be unearthed before the sub-surface is exposed. Each act of excavation is a performance. The resonating qualities of that performance determines the extent and content of past material remains that are recoverable in any one particular layered space.

Occupying a space as an archaeologist, rather than a resident, involves moral responsibilities. It also demands a sensitivity to multiple cultural issues and different (often conflicting) social behaviors. This sensitivity is space-specific to particular layers of uncertainty, loss, and decay. And it is NOT culturally (or socially) bound to what is technologically-current, politically-correct, nor is it framed by a contemporarily-perceived reality. Certainly, it is not tied to popularity or entertainment TV! Space and place are “timeless” because actual time unfolds. It is NOT linear! Space is unboarded by actual physical constraints because space is symmetrical (multiple presences occurring simultaneously).

This is an archaeology of space and place that becomes a field of resonance within particular layers of the past, each layer with its own set of behaviors and actions. All of this fieldwork is a surface excavation. It is non-evasive. Since there is no physical penetration, there is no potential destruction. The cultural destruction of actual reality comes with non-resonating acts in particular spaces. These acts are contemporary probes which lack “depth” (both cultural/social and moral) because they assume a 21st c. stance toward the unearthing of past presence and interactive behavior.

This “fieldwork” also lacks a sensitive knowledge to what actually occurred in particular spaces because it too frequently involves technological (not human) intervention! It also makes demands through commands without being relative to specific past social situations. This type of “fieldwork” (usually termed a “ghost hunt”) produces NEW layers of (contemporary) presence, without recovering past historical, “dead” ones!

These contemporary “hunts” are not archaeological endeavors, nor are they science. They are also not culturally sensitive (for the most part). They also lack a contextual process because the field acts are NOT reiterative. They cannot be repeated again (with the SAME results) at a different time. They remain “hunts”, not excavations!

A “ghost excavation” is a specific structured process that is context-sensitive. It is sensible. It works with interactive past presence, through a layered cultural uncertainty. Each layer of history and/or cultural occupation requires a different contextual cognitive strategy, participatory acts, and performances that “target” specific situations, activities, emotional expressions, and particular individuals. It is also morally-focused. The fieldwork does not involve demands and commands. It respects ALL human behavior and social expressions. The fieldwork requires a particular kind of investigator, and a specific type of personality. If you can commit to this type of archaeological work, please join us; or support our efforts in the field!

Mapping The Haunted Surfaced Landscape

Ordinarily, maps of a landscape contain traces of movement.  This may be natural (the physical environment of rivers, lakes, mountains, etc.) and man-made (roads, railroads, etc.).  This noted map movement, though, is horizontal, not vertical.  On a map, the element of time is removed.  The investigation of a haunted landscape is similarly treated by “ghost hunters”.  The site is viewed as a contemporary map of both presence and absence.  This contemporary horizontal map is the basis for a tech sweep, EVP session, and a monitored watch and wait.  Points of horizontal movement and measurement are noted and designated if a deviation is recorded, a site of an anomaly.

A “ghost excavation” offers an alternative ‘mapped’ landscape; it considers the physical environment as a surface palimpsest.  This is a landscape in which the traces of former occupations are not fully effaced but lie buried, in fragments, on the present landscape.  This is more than a mere accretion of layers.  The landscape is “becoming’ a series of interconnecting percolating actions which cut across and impinge from within.  Any given landscape (not only a haunted one) will consist of numerous traces of past activity and behavior from multiple occupations of its space.  This becomes the temporality of the landscape, not its history.  This temporality involves the pattern of human activity that is retention from the past and is able to be unearthed.

The task of an investigator, as “ghost excavator”, is to examine how these different occupations can be recovered, how they interact, and coexist.  We should not view these material (sensory) remains as a series of isolated elements that are buried under the guise of a sequential, linear history.  Presence, even limited occupations of space (such as a “ghost hunt”) disrupts this palimpsest, resulting in displacements to a historical sequence, and produce evolving uncertainties within specific spaces in the already haunted landscape.

A tech sweep by “ghost hunters” of this landscape merely produces an image of horizontal movement across a surface from one point to another.  This results in a two-dimensional space, one that is devoid of temporal depth and excludes the multiple layers of mixed past cultural occupations.

The actions of inhabiting a landscape constitute an embodied activity in which the landscape itself forms through sociocultural interactions.  Activities that take place there define the nature of this landscape.  Ghost “hunting”, as another habitation of the landscape, is involved in a developing haunted matrix.  But ghost hunting (characterized by tech sweeps, monitored watch and wait, and EVP demands) does not extract the past (“what was”) in the present, so much as it builds (“what is”) the present for the future it imposes a contemporary reality onto the presence of the past.

A haunted landscape is a place of “time materializing”.  It is not a place where time stands still in the present to be monitored and measured.  The past percolates on the contemporary surface.  To recover this requires a process that involves participation, engagement, and performance.  The act of “inhabiting” the landscape becomes an engagement with these surface traces of the past.  It involves re-discovering meaning rather than reading meaning into the landscape through tech measurements.  It involves “what was” unearthed by “what is” which becomes, through contextual resonance, “what becomes’.  This is a landscape that is emergent, embodying entities that bind together (in one space) the past, present, and future.  What are needed are distinctive methods that can capture the simultaneous (rather than successive) nature of the past in the landscape.  It is the past (and haunted) quality of the landscape that will emerge from engagements (excavations) in it.  Presence will not usually respond to simply a demand or command!

The heterogeneous constantly shifting, layers of people and practices show how ghost research is a relational process.  It is not purely descriptive, perceived, or measured.  We must learn to acknowledge this mix and it’s contradictions to contemporary version of reality.  A haunted landscape emerges from human actions in particular situations and spaces.  That, being contextual, identifies the investigator as a member of a past community.

Fieldwork at haunted locations has both positive and negative connotations for ghost research:

  • If the action is historical culturally resonating and contextual, then past presence can materialize;
  • If the action involves a contemporary tech sweep, an EVP “demand and command” (“Show us a sign!..Do something!!”), or a monitored “watch and wait’, then the action adds to the current mix of reality.  It does not unearth the past.  It builds the future!

We must see haunted landscapes as “still points” – that is, as situations in which material (sensory) presence, human actions, cultural contexts, and research practices are intimately related.

This view is critical.  We must confront current modes of research and field methodology.  This questioning is critical:  we must envisage landscapes as haunted surface in ghost research paradigmatic shift-toward participation.  I propose that any sense of a haunted landscape must be archaeological, and this sensibility can offer a powerful range of tools that could be used to place the excavation process as a significant participatory act in ghost research.  By approaching reality as a inter environment framed by people, situations, performance acts, and temporality.  That is open, contingent, and emergent, an awareness of the true nature of a haunted landscape (any landscape) can be unearthed and understood!  This is a mode of archaeological research in and of the present.  This is cultural, not technological!


An excavation is an archaeologically-sensible contemporary practice that unearths past material remains.  I conduct a specific type of non-evasive “excavation” at archaeological sites some call “HAUNTED”.  These excavations are ethnographic participant-observation immersions into various segments and layers of particular “ghost cultures”.  A “ghost culture” is what is left of the past at these sites.  My excavations focus on interactive cultural presence.  These excavations “raise” questions of moral and ethical issues, and responsibilities regarding the participatory mode of the fieldworker, stages of authenticity, types of mediation, and ways to legitimize these excavations.  This is Para-Archaeology, working on what remains of interactive past “material culture” at “haunted” locations.

What must be considered at these sites are the transformative implications of both contextual/resonating excavating practices and those characterized by demand and command “ghost hunts”.  Situated within the excavation process is a present-imposed perspective influencing what is recovered and recoverable.  Interactive haunted sites are spaces of tension, where the past unfolds and time is a multi-layered and often percolating palimpsest.  The excavation must proceed with extreme caution and delicacy.  Once the excavation begins, the past is disturbed.  The goal is to create the least resistance toward the recovery of the past material remains.  This insures more “interaction” with the past!

A “ghost hunt”, with its emphasis on technology and a “demand and command attitude”, is HIGHLY disturbing to past cultural worlds.  This disturbance can be seen in the paucity of material remains that are exposed and unearthed in this type of fieldwork (simple EVP, “anomalous” photo and video trace elements).  There are little or no integrated cultural matrixes (multiple, simultaneous contextual sensory cultural elements) that are exposed, as in our para-archaeological fieldwork.

Archaeology is no longer a discipline governed by time (as past event) or distinct physical remains (as reflecting merely a “vision” of the past).  The material past that is unearthed at some locations also contains “other” (and multiple) sensory elements, some occurring “live” relative to the participatory acts of an excavation.

A pat act (or event) becomes present under these circumstances.  Time transforms to the actuality of a manifestation (not its historical narrative), allowing “clues” (as forensic evidence) to be recorded and measured by the excavation team.  These “clues” are individual (or group) cultural behavioral traces that may be auditory, tactile, olfactory, or combinations of various elements (and not just visuals of past material culture).

The excavation, as a para-archaeological practice, is a site and space-specific performance.  It changes the nature of archaeology.  The fieldwork becomes part of contemporary “haunting archaeologies”:

“Archaeology is to regard itself as a practice of cultural production, a contemporary material practice which works on and with the traces of the past and within which the archaeologist is implicated as an active agent of interpretation” (Mike Pearson & Michael Shanks, Theatre/Archaeology 2001:111).

How much relevant (and centered) the fieldwork becomes when the archaeologist is also a trained actor, as I am!  That makes these “ghost excavations” especially contextual as para-archaeological fieldwork.  The research is no longer a “ghost hunt”.  It becomes the unearthing of para-physical consciousness that survives the death of the body.

“Haunted” sites (those that contain remains of multiple pasts) are archaeological by nature.  They are not fixed, static entities that can simply be measured and recorded by a horizontal “walk-through”, or voiced commands and demands.  These sites are still “open” (though largely buried).  They are present (not past) fluid spaces of continuing performances.  They are palimpsests, available to be “read” as layers of “ghost stories”, not as measurements of “deviant” readings!

Performance has been described as “organized human behavior presented before witnesses” (Pearson & Shanks 2001:XII).  A “ghost”, as an interactive presence of para-physical consciousness, becomes a “witness” in an “excavation” by responding (in some manifesting cultural sensory form) to a participatory act during the “P.O.P” process, described in my other books.

I consider “P.O.P.” a performative sequence of contextual acts and observations.  It’s an ethnographic way looking at both past material remains, and interactive actual cultural presence in a new “layered” perspective (and responding directly to that presence through contextual “identity” markers).  It is “thinking outside the box” of “ghost hunting”, paranormal reality TV, and “demon” labeling!

“P.O.P.” is enacted in a “S.I.M.S.” (Sensory Information Memory Settings).  These spaces are discovered in the initial peripatetic audio/video walk/historical narration at the beginning of all excavations.  The S.I.M.S. is the space of excavation.  This is a space whose contents (as sensory material remains) and occupants (as interactive presence) are removed from our everyday, not theirs!  These are spaces located in-between the expected and the unexpected, where manifestations occur, but preconceptions are always challenged (requiring more ethnographic research).  “P.O.P.” shifts one reality (the contemporary) to a series of layered “others” (the actuality of multiple percolating past presences).  It changes the space, but always to a state of temporality, unfolding it.  It is not a permanent change.  It is the constructed and recovered past, contained within its own frame of temporal (transforming) parameters.

“P.O.P.” unearths those interactive traces that are left behind in the aftermath of a past performance event, whatever that event (no matter how mundane or habitual it is) might be that survives in the memory of a para-physical consciousness. It doesn’t have to be the moment of death (or the moments before), or even acts that led to someone dying (such as a battlefield death, a murder, or a suicide.)  Interactive past material culture consists, for the most part, of habitual, routine memory practices.

The “P.O.P.” process shifts archaeological practices from the archaeological performance of unearthing “objects” and “features” to an interactive archaeology with “live” past subjects (and/or the spectral traces of their continuing cultural behaviors).  This is practice-based archaeology.  This is a “move from products of research (artifacts/features) to methods of production” (M. deCerteau 1997:49, Culture in the Plural).  “P.O.P.” re-directs archaeological excavation from physical “digging” to telepathic (“extended mind”) resonance through acts that awaken past memory practices.  “P.O.P.” assists in the creation and the development of Para-Archaeology as a sub-discipline of contemporary archaeology!



The Non-Evasive Excavation of Contemporary Ruins: The Presence of Interactive Remains

Michel De Certeau, a French Jesuit scholar, believes that places are “haunted by many different spirits, spirits one can ‘invoke’ or not…” (1984:108 – The Practice of Every Day Life University Press:  Berkeley.)

The questionable tactic in many ghost hunts especially those recorded for broadcast on TV is that they do not invoke, they provoke!  They do this through demands (“Show us a sign!”) and commands (“Do something!) in order to record and measure something (anything) on their instruments for a TV audience.  This is not a sensible or ethical approach to past interactive cultural presence.

It is not sensible because such provocations do not establish identity or cultural context.  Ghost hunters become ‘outsiders’ and are immediately identified as such.  They are not participants in the ghosts past culture through their use of technology at historic haunted locations.  There is no human context when one uses tech devices to do the job of a field worker!  It is not ethical if we assume that an interactive past presence was (and continues to be) “human” and the actions of an interactive haunting are human cultural behaviors.

Because of our imperatives to “bury” the past, and replace it with new advanced tech. devices, the investigation of interactive past presence is ‘haunted’ by its contemporary manifestations (the “ghost hunt”) moreso than the entities themselves!  There are sites, only now being investigated by archaeologists, where remembering can be experienced, practiced, and articulated on an interactive basis.  These are alternative sites of memory practices that require a ‘ghost excavation”, no merely a tech. scan.  If interaction is sought in these particular places a tech device is not the correct or adequate tool of initial contact or continued communication.

Most of these haunted historic sites are in ‘ruins’, in one form or another (multiple past occupations; traumatic histories and events; unoccupied/disused spaces).  Here, the supposedly “over and down with” remains, as both residual and interactive presence.  Haunted by multiple and varied presences, they continue a past with remembered cultural memories!  They haunt the resident, visitor, or investigator with traces of the past which deny fixity, and in these symmetrical spaces of occupied layers of presence and absence, they remain fluid, not tied to one culture or period of history!

A horizontal tech. scan does not (cannot) establish social relations with any of these cultural levels, except in the form of recording and documenting monuments and other “memoryscapes” – mediated spaces outlined in books, on TV, and internet, heritage sites, and museums.  A haunting is a recorded practice, or a physical memory of a past practice, event, or experience.  An interactive haunting is a memory practice in action!  What precipitates this action as a perceived manifestation, in most cases, I propose, is a resonating, contextual activity, not a demand and command.  (“Show us a sign…do something”!)

In particular case, the Gettysburg Battlefield (which I have “excavated” numerous times), is a monumental “memoryscape” with more than 1300 battlefield monuments!..See and imagine at Gettysburg.

At Gettysburg, and other “popular” (frequently visited on ghost tours and ghost hunts) haunted locations, the haunting uncertainty has been detached from its previous historical and cultural contexts.  They now become videos of ‘orbs’ on YouTube, ‘paranormal’ photos on Facebook, “evidence” on websites, and unseen and unheard TV ‘reveals’!  Where is the human cultural context in any of these mediated forms?  This is not sensible nor is it ethical!

The Manifesting Past Steps Toward an “Archaeological Metaphysics”

The remains that occupy the landscape today are a mixture of occurred in that landscape in the past of multiple yesterdays.  Field archaeology is a systematic excavation that recognizes the role of past events/activities in all future encounters within any given location in a landscape setting.  This is a deep ecology containing both physical and cultural elements that continue to haunt the present.

Shallow ecology is contemporary-centered fieldwork with a contemporary bent (the over application of technology in the field) views interaction in relation to presently-observed settings.  Deep ecology is an awareness of the multiple human interactions within specific (and different) environs from a cultural, mot merely a physical perspective.

A deep ecological approach digs deep into multiple pasts.  It does not view or measure space as a collection of horizontal parameters.  At haunted locations, there are networks of cultural phenomena attached to specific physical spaces that are fundamentally connected to individual and collective memory.

Within the deep ecology of a landscape, there are sites that are showcases of both contemporary ruin and a bewildering diversity of pasts.  Some of these pasts persist in the form of monuments and museums.  Others are locations where the past are only encountered for brief moments that recall cultural memory practices.

The future of one past is in jeopardy.  That past is an interactive one.  It is a cultural world still haunted by its past.  Here, the past is in danger due to a non-resonating approach to those who seek (in their own technological way).  What they assume is manifestation from the past.

The present does not meet the past in this technological pursuit of the unknown the past, for the most part, remains buried.  In that past, however, life as then known, still goes on to make contact with that past, we must excavate and interact, not just scan and measure this is a different approach to past presence.

The excavation of this past involves its manifesting from an archaeological sensitivity using an ethnographic sensitivity to participate and observation.  This is a different mediation.  It is a different past than that shown to manifest during paranormal reality TV investigations, or within a “ghost hunt mentality” on ghost tour theatrics, and in “fluffy” ghost books about subjective experience that certainly lack context, process, resonance, immediate field reveals and follow-up!

How can the documentary process of excavation (archaeology) and p.o. (ethnography) transform this present “altered reality” of past presence?  That transformation process is the aim of this site.  It is a prolegomena to a still open, largely unexcavated, haunted past of interactive presence.  It allows a necessary context to be used for excavation of this presence.

G.E. is a workable is a workable path by the science (as the requisites of control, context, and process) and art (the necessities of allowing room for the unexpected, no matter how highly the ‘script’ was written).  The past is not just yesterday, nor is it merely the excavation of today.  But, today’s work does permit us to continue the work tomorrow.

Through a layered excavation process we have a vertical baseline to begin (and continue) the work by developing and executing resonating cultural scenarios along that baseline (ethnographically-situated), we have established (and maintained) an “identity”.  This identity ensures an open communication link that is not only present from the past, but will remain “open” for further excavations in the future.  The use of creative modes of engagement (peripatetic audio-video walks, scripted cultural scenarios and the P.O.P. process allowing “immediate reveals”) avoids the exclusive reliance on redundant methods of routine field actions (such as tech sweeps, EVP scans, and monitored ‘watch and wait’) that merely suppress (not initiate) the manifestation of an interactive presence.

Not all of the pasts in a landscape are equal.  Like memories, the foundation of a haunting, not are pasts persist or manifest.  A haunting, like memory, is not durable.  It must be made so!  Arch   , among others, are responsible for allowing certain pasts to endure.  A ghost excavation accomplishes the same thing in an interactive haunting.  A “ghost hunt” does not ensure endurance, or cause a manifestation, in most cases.

Implicated in sustaining particular pasts requires an “archaeological metaphysics”.  This is a strategy that does not recognize a distinction by the past and present.  In the same manner, a a “ghost excavation” unearths, in the same symmetrical space, a particular past, through a specific present, participatory act, which becomes a future manifestation.  There is in distinction by the past, present, or future in a “ghost excavation”).  This is similar “archaeological metaphysics.”  It is an ethno-metaphysics.  It is how a particular cultural approach uses and manipulate material remains as unearthed from the past.  Accomplishing this give social substance to these former “ghosts”!

The haunted record of a location is not waiting for us to come along and passively document its presence.  We achieve the unearthing of a manifesting past cultural presence by actively working on it!  This involves cultural resonance…this is the participatory practices of a “ghost excavation”!!

The “Ghosts of the Contemporary” Project

Numerous social and anthropological studies have focused on modernity’s destructive effect on “traditional” cultures and past worlds most of which remain as “ruins”, without heritage tourism considerations.  This contemporary destruction also involves, I propose, those non-contextual and non-resonating acts associated with “ghost hunts” and “ghost tourism” at “ruined” sites and landscapes perceived to be “haunted”.  Real past presence (both residual and interactive) is made inaccessible or become difficult to unearth by these evasive activities (some of which are highly provocative).  They further bury the material remains of past actions.  These processes of “destruction” (and suppression) are largely overlooked and forgotten, compared to those “visions of standard fieldwork” seen on TV and executed in the field by those whose intent is to technologically document an “anomaly”, which many perceive as a manifestation of past presence.

Of central importance to this project is the study of how these processes of haunting destruction and suppression are affecting many haunted ruins.  Through this intrusive methodology, the haunted site becomes, in large measure, untimely non-manifestation reminders of “normal” ambiguity, death, and decay.  Absence, rather than presence, becomes the standard rather than “active” sites of past manifesting cultural behaviors, leading to the perception that any “anomaly” in these places is a “ghostly” presence.  What is manifesting, however, maybe the “presence” of prior contemporary ghost hunting practices”!

The Ethics of a Ghost Research “N.O.M.A.”

I want to make a clear distinction here between what I do as fieldwork at Haunted locations and what many others attempt to do in the “field” of ghost research.  I conduct ‘ghost excavations’, a direct unearthing of interactive past cultural presence through resonating and contextual participatory acts at sites of multi-layered occupations.  I do not ‘ghost hunt’! This is not a distinction between “good” and “bad” research.  It is a difference between an ethical approach and a “provoking” one.  I deal with interactions between individuals of two different cultures.  I do not “hunt” past human presence, even the presence of individuals that are considered legally dead.  That would still be “unethical”!

I do not practice “demand and command” tactics in the field (“Show us a sign”; “Do something”; “Move something”…etc.)  I do not misidentify myself by using tech devices in contexts that are clearly “out of place” in particular cultural haunting situations.  This includes in certain situations something as basic as the use of a “flashlight” when such a device is not part of the material remains of a specific “haunting culture”!

My view of looking at the past is both archaeological and ethnographic.  It is also theatrical.  It is about layered uncertainties, cultural behavior/presence and performance.  It is about fieldwork from “a participatory perspective”.  It is not nearly a tech scan and a monitored “watch and wait” attitude.  This is a “static” field practice!

On this website, I adopt a vision of the past operated as non-overlapping magisterial (or N.O.M.A.).  I did not “invent” this term or this particular vision of the past.  N.O.M.A. is a concept that was originally suggested by Stephen Jay Gould to reconcile conflicting world views.  I see this conflict today in the differences between:

  • “Ghost excavation” as a social science approach that uses a participant-observer approach.  This involves contextual cultural resonating field practices; and
  • The multiple layers of “ghost cultures” that may exist, as uncertain manifestations, at haunted locations.

There is too much politics, egotism, “popularity contests”, and territoriality in ghost research today.  I avoid the heated discussion, rising above them to continue my work in the field.  This fieldwork is a “marriage” between science and art, between a scientific (iterative) process and contextual, resonating acts.  It is my attempt to be both ethical and to provide a legitimate and constructive alternative to a ‘ghost hunt’ that is largely devoid of the “human” element!

A ‘ghost excavation’ introduces a methodology that forms the basis of an alternative paradigm of ghost research and field investigations at haunted locations.

This is not a rejection of other modes and paradigms of fieldwork.  Rather, we suggest a return to a haunted space and an honest questioning of current ghost hunting methods, practices, and procedures.  This questioning becomes an integral part of the object of study of an archaeological ethnography of “interactive” presence at sites that are deemed haunted.

The declarations, proposals, theories and methodology proposed on this website are based on the published works of co-director John G. Sabol, Jr.  Please see the “Books” tab for a brief summary of each of his books and ordering, if this theory and methodology interests you.

The Contemporary Landscape of Ruin: The “Death of Past Presence”

In a haunting, we always focus on the ‘materialization’ (in some sensory form) of past presence.  However, the fact that the contemporary approach of ghost research (as a ‘hunt’ for anomalies using tech sweeps) also produces its own ruined materialities, and its own marginalized “contemporary pasts’, is less spoken about (if at all!).  The globalization of travel, and the proliferation of ghost tourism tour packages and investigations (see G.H.I.), increases this “ruination” of contemporary haunted locations!

Because of this, the processes of “destruction” (the submersion of the historical past presence) are intensified, although largely overlooked by ghost hunters, tour operators, and even “professional” investigators!  The outcome is a ruined landscape of historically haunted locations creating a phantom world of modern residual haunting.  If you don’t resonate, you “create” new layers of “past” (contemporary) presence!

My research has always focused on eliminating these additional, accumulative layers at haunted locations by focusing on:

  • The materiality of cultural memory, and resonate with it;
  • The significance of cultural scenarios and actively participate in them; and,
  • Developing and using theoretical approaches to fieldwork (E.O.C., P.O.P.) as a means for re-affirming the cultural element and its significance, at haunted locations.

The contemporary presence of tech devices blurs established cultural categories.  As a result, at haunted locations, the contemporary presence of tech devices, as the sole “instrument” of unearthing and documenting past material presence at haunted locations becomes a manner that is out of place and out of time!  We must concern ourselves with how these tech processes of “othering” reflect contemporary (not historic) preferences.  We must see how the “ghost hunt”, and its economic benefits to the “few”, alters the past in the form of cultural and historical presence!

The crucial issue in ghost research is the past cultural event, not the measuring of an anomaly.  We must mediate that past presence by “remembering” it through excavation embodiments.  Ghost excavation is another method of recalling that memory.  It is an implicit act of remembering embedded in our bodily routines (not the measurements of the tech devices) and ways of mediating the past.  A “ghost excavation” reveals the gaps in “ghost hunting” field practices!  The alternative to creating new residual haunting at an historical site (by “ghost hunting”) is to use the alternative, but resonating, modes of cultural and social engagement that are found in a “ghost excavation”!