The Distinctive Difference Between a “Re-Enactment” and a “Ghost Excavation”

Re-Enactment and The ‘Ghost Excavation’

Let me set the record straight…A ‘ghost excavation’ is NOT a ‘re-enactment’!  A re-enactment re-creates a historical event that is considered past.  A “ghost excavation” is an immersion into particular past cultural acts as they would have been (and continue to be) experienced by particular individuals.  A re-enactment has roots in history.  A “ghost excavation” is based in archaeology and ethnographic field methodologies.

Through specific past cultural acts, situated in particular spaces, and through an act of archaeological imagination, we can put ourselves in the place of specific individuals and intuit how the world was experienced by that person in the past.  This archaeological imagination is creative (not re-creative) work of what (and who) remains from the past.  This creates new possibilities to connect to particular individuals/events from the past.  It is getting “into the character” of particular individuals, and recognition of co-evalness in a space and cultural time that is shared (co-equal).  It also implies a willingness to enter into a dialogue with those from the past, not taking a “demand and command” stance (“Can you show us a sign of your presence”…. “Do something”!) or asking a question that implies you, the investigator, is an “outsider” to that past cultural act (“Is anyone here”?).  You cannot show empathy with the past and a particular character during fieldwork when you ask if “anyone” is there!

As Giovanni Vico, in The New Science (1968) suggests, we can imaginatively engage with individuals who lived in the past – not with abstract historical periods or “representative vignettes” (as in a re-enactment) – by empathetic immersions to real lives and acts that continue to manifest from the past, such as those manifestations that occur at haunted locations.  This goes far beyond the presumptions of a “ghost hunt” as a search for “anomalies” through tech scans, the debunking of past contemporary apparitional experiences, or even the restricted use of “era cues” as a “re-constructed” trigger to entice an entity to manifest.

An empathetic immersion in a ‘ghost excavation’ is engaging in a “hermeneutic of expanded horizons” (Bowie 2012: 10).  It is expanding the ordinary of contemporary reality. It is not exploring the paranormal!  A re-enactment is repeating what happened in history without observing or recording the consequences in context repetition.  A ‘ghost excavation’ uses context, aimed at particular individuals, to initiate communication with those who remain that goes beyond what is known as history.  It thus allows what is seen, heard, and recorded to take shape and provides historical and cultural information that can be subsequently validated.

Our empathetic contextual performances during a ‘ghost excavation’ provide a sense (and documentation) of interactive connection between past and present that a re-enactment does not (cannot) do.  ‘Ghost excavations’ are “studies that are with people rather than of them” (Ingold 2011:226).  This is a relationship with past individuals, not a re-enactment of past lifeways.  The ‘ghost excavation’ becomes the materiality of a manifesting past:  what remains and what occurs after the events of history.  This certainly goes far beyond what occurred in history as a re-enactment of what is gone and past!

We don’t re-enact!  We create.  We don’t re-cover what is past.  We un-cover what (and who) remains.  We don’t explore extra-ordinary (or paranormal) events.  We expand the ordinary of contemporary reality.  This is a ‘ghost excavation’, not a ‘ghost hunt’!

The empathetic immersions (not re-enactments) that we perform during a ‘ghost excavation’ are crucial means to re-establish connective fields that secure contemporary (not dead and past) identities for “ghosts” and meaning for apparitional experiences that are recorded by fieldworkers.  This is making manifest the past, not re-enacting it.  It also is getting to know past individuals as they were, and are.  For more insights into a ‘ghost excavation’, illustrative by a specific case study of fieldwork on a Civil War battlefield, please see my forthcoming book, “Beyond the Paranormal: Unearthing an Extended Normal at Haunted Locations”.


Bowie, Fiona (2012) “Building Bridges, Dissolving Boundaries:  Towards A Methodology For The Afterlife, Mediumship, and Spiritual Beings” Wolfson College, Oxford, England.

Ingold, Tim (2011)  Being Alive:  Essays on Movement, Knowledge and Description London:  Routledge.