ACADEMY OF SPIRITUALITY AND PARANORMAL STUDIES, INC.
ANNUAL CONFERENCE 2012 PROCEEDINGS
GHOST EXCAVATIONS AT BURNSIDE BRIDGE:
THE ACOUSTEMOLOGY OF A BATTLEFIELD HAUNTSCAPE
John G. Sabol, M.A. Anthropology
This paper concerns archaeological fieldwork of the contemporary present, and focuses
on what still remains of a Civil War battlefield soundscape at Burnside Bridge on the
Antietam battlefield in Maryland. Antietam was the site of the bloodiest day of combat
(with more than 23,000 casualties) in American history. A space-specific field
performance, using an acoustemology of past soundmarks and “mimicking” I.M.P.
(Inherent Military Probability) behaviors (or how the soldiers would have acted in specific
situations), and focused in specific K.O.C.O.A. spaces (a military terrain strategy used by
commanders during the Civil War) was used to “unearth” and record surviving “battle
trance” (Jordania 2011) consciousness of this historic combat. The engagement at
Burnside Bridge was called by some the “Thermopolyae” of the American Civil War.
Various examples of these acoustical vestiges, including interactive communications,
show that past social fields of militarily-defined presence still remain as surface
assemblages at Burnside Bridge. The ability to unearth these vocalizations, using an
archaeological sensitivity and sensibility, is based on the concepts of morphic fields and
resonance proposed by Rupert Sheldrake (2012).
“We may have to come to terms with the fact that we are not the only souls occupying
this earth, that there are indeed other entities, and that the sense needed to
communicate with them requires a little care to develop” (Edith Turner,
“No digging required. Just observe, engage, and think” (Rodney Harrison,
“The spoken word is a gesture, its meaning, a world.” (Merleau-Ponty, 1962, The
Phenomenology of Perception).
“I don’t believe we can have an army without music”. (Robert E. Lee, Confederate
Kent Gramm, professor and author of various books about the Civil War (and a
favorite writer of mine), once said, when asked what he does on the battlefield at
Gettysburg: “We imagine….We try to see it. We make ghosts”. (2002:29) Personally, I
would disagree with him. I am an archaeologist. In my fieldwork, I do not “make ghosts”.
I recover their still active presences. My “excavations” are a different type of
archaeological approach to the unearthing of past material remains. It is not so much a
“dig” into the past as it is a performance aimed at specific past actors. The
archaeological act becomes, during the “excavation” process, a creative engagement
with the past in which it (a past act) is produced in the present. This is a post-modern
view of an archaeology of the contemporary past, and represents a break with
traditional field methodologies.
The field of archaeological work can no longer be considered an exclusive focus that
is centered on the excavation of past material remains. A present-centered gaze is today
based on a shift “away from the study of the ruin….to become a discipline which is
concerned with both the ‘living’ and the ‘dead’ (Rodney Harrison, Plenary Address, TAG
2011, Berkeley). This non-evasive approach, I propose, expands the field of
archaeological inquiry (and its ensuing sensitivities) that move it from a concern for
objects to a focus on agency, and from the physical recovery of material remains to
cultural production. Archaeological fieldwork, in this new sensible guise, becomes an
active agent of transformation that results in a reading with, rather than a reading from,
“who” remains as past presence at many sites not considered archaeological in the past.
This presence, as both residual and interactive manifestations, is no longer the “subject”
of inquiry. The past, as a form of continuing presence, becomes a verb, something and
someone that becomes present!
The “excavation” of the past, as the recovery of this presence, has thus changed. It is
“life”, not exclusively “death”, that may be “unearthed” through an archaeological
sensitivity and sensibility in fieldwork. This “life” becomes not merely a property
(“alive”), or a series of properties (“material remains”), but a process, the unfolding of
contextual cultural activity at a particular level of cultural production. “Life”, in this
archaeological context, is not being. It is “becoming present” as a form of conscious
behavior, unearthed through space-specific performance acts that are relative to past
habitually-formed cultural situations and experiences. This is a view of the
archaeological act “as a creative engagement with the past in which it (the past) is
produced in the present” (Harrison & Schofield 2010:13). Until one “performs” as the
archaeologist, one does not know “who” remains as the “audience”. “Remains” become
not merely “what” is contained in the spaces of an excavated landscape setting, but
whose presence becomes actively conscious through a non-evasive form of
Those life-forms of consciousness become present because, I propose, they are selfregulating
social systems of communication that are “triggered” by auditory means. This
auditory sense, and resultant manifesting sense data, produces presence itself. This is a
model of archaeological work as a transduction within fields of social relations. This is a
“sound” archaeological approach in which the sensory experiences of the investigators
are linked to the archaeological environment of previous occupations. Space-specific
performances can effectively engage us psychologically and emotionally, inducing a
liminal state (or “stage” of performance) that can become a field of interaction between
“what is” and “who becomes present” again. The amplification of a particular auditory
resonance within a specific space can make manifest an immersive coupling of varied,
once past, experience. It is here, within this “coupling field” where we can explore
“being” as someone “becoming present” in a liminal zone that is neither present nor
past but actual.
Specifically, what at first sounds uncanny can become a soundstage for both residual
and interactive (past) auditory presences that “become present”. Especially prominent
are the aural manifestations of habitual I.M.P. (Inherent Military Probability) behaviors
of the “culture of war” that are being recorded within an acoustemological landscape of
K.O.C.O.A. spaces on Civil War battlefields. Our “light peripatetic” surveys, following the
original movements of battle in particular K.O.C.O.A. spaces on the Antietam battlefield
in Maryland, have recorded the sense and sound of these I.M.P. behaviors (or how the
soldiers would have acted in particular military situations and spaces) of this significant
Civil War battle. Antietam was the site of the deadliest day of combat (with more than
23,000 casualties) in American History.
Our “light peripatetic” walk/survey, mimicking the movements of the Civil War battle,
and the use of space-specific contextual performances, was a means of framing the
battlefield using the K.O.C.O.A. fields as our baseline for excavation. This involved the
documentation of aural vestiges of a past soundscape, and how it related to contextual
I.M.P. behaviors of the Civil War soldier, occupying and fighting in particular battlefield
spaces (the military configuration, K.O.C.O.A.). K.O.C.O.A. was the military terrain
strategy used by commanders during the Civil War. K.O.C.O.A. stands for Key area (the
military objective), Observation area (the location where battlefield movements were
observed), Cover and Concealed areas (the location where units formed, rested, and
retreated to), Obstacle area (the obstructions that were encountered in an assault
toward the objective), and Avenues of Approach (the route of attack).
We sought to document how a past battlefield acoustic environment, as continuing
surface configurations, might affect the contemporary archaeological record (as a
particular layer of presence) as we extended our fieldwork to sonic articulations.
Normally, we have only knowledge of past soundscapes through their “staging” on
radio, in films, and in television documentaries as a mediated cultural heritage of sound.
Why not use this same “staging” (as space-specific cultural contextual acts using past
soundmarks) to recover those voices and other aural presences that may remain as
traces and fragments of past (yet present) conscious I.M.P. behaviors? Such an approach
involves an understanding of the soundscape as an informational system of social fields
that remain operational (though fragmented) from a specific time period, location, and
culture. If sound orients the body and anchors it in time and place, then producing and
hearing particular sounds situate actors and their associate behaviors in particular
A battlefield was not perceived by the Civil War soldier as a physical landscape. A
battlefield was, I propose, a soundscape, and I.M.P. acts and movements were initiated
and conditioned by particular soundmarks received through habitual training and drills.
Soundmarks (Schafer 1977) are sounds that possess qualities which make them noticed
and evoke a certain state of awareness in a particular community. I propose that this
particular state of awareness was “battle trance”, and that particular community was
the culture of war (and its expressive I.M.P. behaviors) of the American Civil War. These
soundmarks were both aural (drums, bugle calls, “rebel yell”) and vocal (“roll call”,
commands, and military dialogue). It is proposed that activity fields of social and
physical actions of I.M.P. behaviors were habitually conditioned through drills and
particular soundmarks, and that these drills and soundmarks aided soldiers in combat
and produced, I propose, what Joseph Jordania, in a recent book (2011), calls “battle
trance”. “Battle trance” is defined as a specific altered state of consciousness that
characterized the psychological state of soldiers in combat. I propose that traces of
“battle trance”, as surviving consciousness, still remain of these I.M.P. behaviors in
particular K.O.C.O.A. on certain Civil War battlefields.
It is further proposed that this “battle trance consciousness” contains “some aspect
of conscious personhood….(that) continues after the death of the physical organism”
(Bowie 2010:100). I define this consciousness as “subjectively-experienced reality that is
interpreted according to culturally-defined concepts” (Hume 2007:11). Thus, any
interaction with past consciousness must be, I propose, contextually-framed and
resonate with past occupations and cultural behaviors in specific spaces.
This means that in the context of our “ghost excavations”, the framing device for
investigating and recovering past presence must be relative to I.M.P. behaviors of the
“culture of war” of the American Civil War, and specifically directed at the “battle trance
consciousness” of particular individuals in battle. Further, this directed “targeting” of
individual (and “dead”) past presence must be, as Patric Giesler (1984) proposes (as a
methodology for documenting psi phenomena) based within “a natural cultural or
subcultural context….without (or minimally) altering or disturbing the context”. That is
why the contemporary “ghost hunting” practice of “demand and command” (“show us a
sign of your presence”; “do something”), coupled with the overuse of tech devices, is so
detrimental to the integrity and context of manifesting past presence on Civil War
battlefield sites. They are not contextual behaviors or vocalizations of past habitual
“Battle trance consciousness” can be envisioned as a self-regulating morphic field
similar to those proposed by Rupert Sheldrake (2012) as “social fields that link together
and coordinate behavior of social groups” (2012:100). These “social groups” during the
Civil War were the so-called “band of brothers”, whereby companies and regiments of
men were recruited, trained, and fought from the same community/geographic area,
and whose members were largely known to one another. This particular sense of
“community” strengthened the cohesion and fighting ability of these groups, and was
reinforced and maintained in combat by drills and particular soundmarks. On a
battlefield, clouded by massive gunfire, it was these soundmarks that initiated and
continued battlefield movement and flow (and their stationary pauses) in and through
the K.O.C.O.A. spaces. The drills and soundmarks were an organizing field that
maintained the state of “battle trance” in combat (and perhaps in death) because these
drills and soundmarks were, in the words of Sheldrake, influences “by self-resonance
from their own past” (2012:100), which maintained the identity and integrity of the
“social field” (“battle trance”), as habitual behavior brought to “life” by specific
soundmarks in battle (which recalled the non-combat drills).
Our fieldwork at Burnside Bridge on the Antietam battlefield was an
acoustemological exploration, “as a sonic way of knowing and being” (Feld and Brenneis
2004:462) what still remains of the Burnside Bridge Civil War soundscape and
specifically what remains of this “battle trance consciousness”. If, according to
Sheldrake, “all self-organizing systems are influenced by self-resonance from their own
past” (2012:100), then we could, by repeating soundmarks and contextual cultural
behaviors in specific K.O.C.O.A. spaces that resonated with what occurred there in the
past, recover what remains of that “social field” (community) of the I.M.P. behavior of
“battle trance consciousness” of the “culture of war” of the American Civil War. If
“minds are closely connected to fields that extend beyond brains in space….and….in
time, linked to the past by morphic resonance” (Sheldrake 2012:229), then we could
communicate with those who remain because we would be identified as part of that
community through our resonating behaviors and our contextual acts that responded to
soundmarks in particular K.O.C.O.A. spaces. This would link similar morphic fields (as
“social fields”) between the present and the past, and would represent the concept of
“like attracting like”.
Sheldrake explains this process as: “all self-organizing systems are shaped by memory
from previous similar systems, and drawn toward attractors through
chreodes….(2012:228).The military drills (as cultural expressions of habitual I.M.P.
behaviors of particular “social fields” and emotionally-stimulating applications of
particular soundmarks that were practiced between battles) became embedded, I
propose, in the memory of these soldiers. These memories were “re-activated” during
combat through auditory (not visual) resonance, the soundmarks. The “attractors” were
the embedded (and habitual) I.M.P. behaviors, manifesting as a result of soundmark
stimuli (the “chreodes”). This patterning produced the “battle trance”, as habitual acts
directed toward an objective in combat. That objective at Antietam was Burnside
During our “ghost excavations”, we “unearthed” this “self-organizing system” of
“battle trance”, I propose, through our space-specific performances in particular
K.O.C.O.A. areas and our use of contextual soundmarks during situationally-performed
acts. Cultural resonance was achieved through mimetic empathetic acts of certain I.M.P.
behaviors that we recorded using RT-EVP recorders, triangulated with video recordings
and photography. By using these RT-EVP recorders, we could hear any communicative
responses to our actions through immediate “reveals” that allowed us to follow-up with
appropriate contextual I.M.P. responses. These recorders were programmed to auto
playback on a six second delay, allowing us to hear and immediately respond. The use of
these recorders allowed us to construct an archaeology of loss through the recovery of
previously missed communicative connects that are lost when using the methodological
technology of “ghost hunting” post-investigative “reveals”.
In the analysis of the Burnside Bridge soundscape, we made a distinction between
contemporary keynote sounds (those created by geographic and climatic conditions),
contemporary signals (those created by human intervention), contemporary
investigative “triggers” (drums, bugle calls, “rebel yell”), and historically-contextual
soundmarks (sounds that were unique to individuals, the I.M.P. aural behavior of the
“culture of war” of the American Civil War). In one of our mimetic scenarios, we
recorded the soundscape of Rohrbach farm road, a Union avenue of approach, that
contained all these elements (keynote, signal, “trigger”, and contextual) occurring
Our mimetic empathetic acts, organized into K.O.C.O.A. battlefield scenarios that
sequentially followed the temporal frame of the battle, were NOT re-enactments, but
mimetic performances aimed at particular historical actors in specific situations and
spaces. We used the “mimic” concept as a resonating behavior to enact individual bodily
behaviors (as non-verbal communication), senses, and sensibilities of I.M.P. behavior (as
“battle trance”) empathetically. This allowed us to acquire a sense of past cultural
reality through our own senses and proprioceptive movements. Taussig (1993) suggests
that mimetic empathy is a powerful means of understanding, representing, and
controlling investigative venues. Willerslev (2007) states that this “is the closest one can
come to experiencing another’s point of view without being that other in an absolute
Our use of mimetic empathetic acts and soundmarks in particular K.O.C.O.A. spaces
created a field of morphic resonance, I propose, that bound together past “battle trance
consciousness” and present investigative fieldwork into one specific “field” of haunting
situational engagement. The manifestations that were “unearthed” in our “ghost
excavations” afforded us meanings, in the context of current resonating acts that gave
us representations of continuing social behaviors of a particular “ghost culture” at
Burnside Bridge. It also created an open venue for future engagements (and
transformations) of an expansive morphic social field of this I.M.P. behavior of the
“culture of war” of the American Civil War. Since “like attracts life”, the continue use (in
the future) of our contextual behaviors linked to specific soundmarks would increase
the frequency of manifesting presence by resonance with a similar past social field.
In this context, “knowledge” of what previously had been lost (or forgotten) was
recovered by doing specific acts of cultural resonance in spatial, cultural, and historical
context. This is an archaeological sensibility toward becoming present, AND a
ethnographic sensitivity to past social realities. The scientific devices (EMF meters;
thermal scanners: etc.) and pseudo-methodologies (“demand and command”;
contemporary expressions) used in “ghost hunting”, beside their lack of a moral and
humanistic stance, do not give us this cultural knowledge. This is because, in part, they
do not “mimic” past human behaviors and experience. What we “unearthed” and
engaged at Burnside Bridge was not a transfer of energy, so much as it was an exchange
of similar (and resonating) cultural information. At Burnside Bridge, our mimetic
empathetic acts included:
• Bugle calls and “roll-call” at the 11th Connecticut Monument that resulted in
agentic manifestations of I.M.P. behavior. A Corporal Lewis Dayton, killed on
the 1st assault toward the bridge, answered the “roll-call”;
• A simulated “rebel yell” in the Union avenue of approach along Rohrbach farm
road resulted in a contextual I.M.P. response that was ethnographically-sound.
Someone answered “traitor” to the playback of the “rebel yell”; and
• The reading of a letter, in a cover and conceal area, written by an army
surgeon of the 11th Connecticut to his wife describing the battle, read by a
female investigator in “mimic” portrayal of his wife, resulted in an
ethnographic manifestation of a “soldier”, followed by others, singing about
The reading of the letter at the 11th Connecticut Monument, and the subsequent
manifestation of the soldiers “singing” is significant. According to Jordania (2011), the
central adaptive function of music was to put humans into a specific altered state of
consciousness (“battle trance”). In this state, humans do not fear or feel pain, do not
question orders, act in the best interests of the group (even sacrificing their own lives),
lose their individuality, and are united in a collective identity (a “band of brothers”). This
includes, according to Jordania, singing in groups before combat. The area of the 11th
Connecticut Monument was a cover and concealed setting used as a “staging” area for
the 1st assault toward Burnside Bridge. Did we resonate with them, through our use of
particular soundmarks (bugle calls, “roll-call”, and the reading of a letter “home”) that
“unearthed” the “battle trance consciousness” of their first assault toward the bridge?
Did their “singing” initiate “battle trance” before attempting to take Burnside Bridge?
Did we record that historic moment in time?
A “ghost excavation” involves field performances that produce messages that are
multi-sensory in nature and which also include “tape recordings” of the environment
which can be “played-back”, “erased”, or “recorded-over”. An example of the latter
occurred in the K.O.C.O.A. obstacle area, the “bottleneck” located at the narrow entry
point to Burnside Bridge. On September 17, 1862, this was the scene of intensive
fighting, heavy casualties, and high emotion. During our “ghost excavations” there, we
have a photograph (taken at 11:00 p.m. during a pause in the investigation) of a “jogger
in shorts” running in full stride. There was no individual there “live” during our
investigation, and this was confirmed by the National Park Service ranger who was there
with us monitoring our fieldwork. The jogger’s habitual activity, a non-resonating action
to what occurred there in 1862, did effectively erase or record-over any residuals of the
intense battle in the “bottleneck”/obstacle area.
During our excavation, we also unearthed a “play-back” of the residual sounds of
battle, along the Rohrbach farm road (avenue of approach) while simulating the assault
of the 11th Connecticut. While preparing to enact a scenario on Burnside Bridge, we also
recorded a totally unexpected (transductive) communication from a male that asked
me: “Captain, is that you Captain?” This was NOT heard “live”, but was recorded on our
RT-EVP recorders. This was a contextual question since I previously enacted (in a prior
scenario) the “roll-call” of the 11th Connecticut. There were many other aural responses
that we recorded during our fieldwork at Burnside Bridge, including what I propose are
“ethnographies of communication”. These were multiple, simultaneous manifestations
of “becoming present”. This included aural (vocalizations), tactile (women being
touched; a canteen of water being opened; a camera tripod moving), visual (moving
“shadow soldiers”), and olfactory (smell of sulphur) elements.
A “ghost excavation” focuses on the triangulation of sound (as EVP), space
(K.O.C.O.A.), and memory (I.M.P. behavior that manifests as “battle trance”) which
creates an ethnography of communication that remains in situ as the surviving
consciousness of the culture of war at Burnside Bridge. A battlefield was mapped by
commanders along K.O.C.O.A. spatial parameters, but once the fighting began (and
intensified as it did at Burnside Bridge) the physical map, with its visual focus, was lost.
Flow, movement, and battle order became “guided” through the use of sonic elements,
specific soundmarks. The K.O.C.O.A. battlefield mapping became an auditory map that
evolved during combat.
At Burnside Bridge, during our “ghost excavations”, there was “recall” (what I call an
“intelligent haunting”). This is, I argue, an “active reconstruction of the
past….remembered…..meanings or connections” (Sheldrake 2012:204). These meanings,
I propose, are the I.M.P. behaviors of “battle trance” with connections through
soundmarks. The Burnside Bridge battlefield landscape, emerging as a hauntscape, is
the “unearthing” of cultural process (our space-specific performances which recovered
similar past cultural patterns). The contemporary battlefield landscape, and its
remaining past elements (as a hauntscape), was constructed and is reconstituted out of
the interface between two similar resonating experiences:
• A codification of ambient sounds at Burnside Bridge and the I.M.P. soundscape
as the organizing fields; and
• The mutual sensed experiences of verbal, musical, and mimetic contemporary
vocalizations that reproduced the past I.M.P. soundscape and its “battle trance”
In summary, what still haunts the K.O.C.O.A. spaces around Burnside Bridge, 150
years after the battle, I propose, are the continuing presences of acoustic remains of
both residual recordings and interactive consciousness that becomes present (as verbal
expressions) of frequent purposeful acts, thus representing the “life” not “death” that
continues on the Antietam battlefield. Our mimetic empathetic contextual acts, in
specific battlefield spaces, were resonating actions of “like producing like” that unfolded
time and unearthed a similar state of consciousness to that of September 17, 1862. This
represents, I propose, the continuation of an acoustemological and “social field” of a life
A “ghost excavation” is a way of thinking about how past presence might continue to
manifest. It is also a creative way of thinking about a particular sense of “community”,
an old anthropological concept. A sense of community is one way to document why and
where a haunting travels across space and through time in, I propose, an acoustical
network of transduction. On the Antietam battlefield at Burnside Bridge, our nonevasive
“excavations” showed how the “culture of war”, and its manifesting I.M.P.
behaviors, can become present through contemporary performances of an
ethnographic acoustemology of that particular “culture of war”. These excavations
created, I propose, a semiotic relationship that collapsed the binary oppositions of
Western scientism and philosophy in which there became (a verb) no clear distinctions
between past/present, absence/presence, and alive/dead. A morphic “social field”
unfolded time, and it compressed space into a surface assemblage that symmetrically
linked present and past presences. It also created a transductive exchange of resonating
acts and sounds that “re-played” the battle of Antietam in both residual and interactive
Finally, the ethics of “digging-up” manifestations of interactive past presence and
“bodies” of residual data should be more than simply obtaining the benefits of
knowledge acquisition this fieldwork offers us. It must involve understanding, within the
context of the humanity which bears witness to what was lost, what has been
recovered, and how fragmented the remains have become. To confront bodies of
remains and voices that retain the marks of politics, history, violence, and social ties
must involve more than brief entertainment, or a lucrative economic venue (aka “ghost
tourism” with “para-celebrities”).
A world, the contemporary one, where reality distinguishes between a past
deposited in the earth as burial and something old and forgotten, and the present
located on the earth’s surface as technological and scientific achievement, has
disappeared. There is a new reality (or realities) of surface fields of ruin that haunt us.
The significance that these hauntings reveal shows that there is no clear distinction
between life and death. These haunted fields straddle the spaces between depth and
surface. They are largely non-visible heterotopic spaces of expansive surface
destratifications that contain multiple past actualities. These post-modern surface social
fields, so ripe for excavation, are partially framed by improvements in technology. But
we must never lose sight of a sound human element that “brings home” the point of
sociocultural loss and familiarity that a haunting suggests.
That these same haunted fields do not fit the traditional concept of grounded
excavation does not negate the importance of their cultural nature. This archaeological
perspective of a “ghost excavation” is forensic work because it focuses on individuals
and what happened to them in death. It is the continuing story of one Private Lewis
Dayton, 11th Connecticut and one Lt. Colonel Holmes, 2nd Georgia (who is still buried
near where he died in an unknown location). These individuals (and others), once lost
and forgotten, become present as the “living” (not “dead”) representatives of all those
lost voices still heard in combat along Antietam Creek, and who lost their lives at a
haunted location we call today Burnside Bridge. Though it is usually a lonely and tranquil
setting, it remains full of presences and the continuing horror of war!
Our fieldwork, combining habitually-learned behaviors (the I.M.P.), triggered and
reinforced by specific contextual soundmarks, and integrated into a particular social
context (battle/war) and military spaces (the K.O.C.O.A.), was designed to connect to
the surviving consciousness of “battle trance”, a specific altered state of consciousness
(ASC). Our field acts, during the “ghost excavation”, were used as a morphic social field,
similar to those learned and executed in the past, that bonded, I propose, two
communities in contemporary reality (the investigative team and a past, but still present
“band of brothers”) together, joining (as “like attracts life”) present to past, and the
presence of the past in future realities!
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