Thursday, April 29, 2010

Theoretical Archaeology Group at Brown University

The Center for Archaeology is off to the third annual Theoretical Archaeology Group meetings this weekend. TAG came to the US in 2008 when we hosted the first annual meeting at Columbia. Since then it has gone from strength to strength. Find out more about it at

Full report on this year's conference when we get back!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

NYC in sickness and in health

Smallpox Hospital - Roosevelt Island, NY

This picture reminds us of the shifting landscapes of health and sickness in New York City. The most recent 'ruin' in this space is St Vincent's which has recently been forced to close. A mid-19th century religious institution, the hospital became a space for memorializing within the city - whether the devastating AIDS epidemic which it found itself struggling to cope with in the 1980s, or its associations with 911 and the search for the lost, or simply nostalgia for previous versions of the Village.

Emily Geminder writes in the NY Observer:
"Among the memorials New York has never built is a memorial commemorating its more than 85,000 AIDS deaths. At a time when efforts to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation were being roundly condemned by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York, the hospital rooms under its tutelage overflowed with gay men, as St. Vincent's emerged as the unlikely ground zero in the AIDS epidemic."

Another surprising material trace of the treatment of past illnesses can be found at Columbia. The University was built on the site of Bloomingdale Insane Asylum.

The only trace of the asylum is Buell Hall - Not a ruin by most people's definitions, but certainly a fragment of a landscape that has now disappeared, and a site of memory in that sense.

Onika and Zoe

shifting industrial landscapes

Brooklyn Navy Yard - Built in 1801 but still a going concern and a site of transition. Once an important location for the construction of warships, it is now advertised as hosting businesses as varied as "construction, theatrical set design, computer and office supplies, contracting, refrigerated distribution facilities, media communications and promotions, motor overhauling, and metal fabrication". Its abandoned buildings capture a period that is fast receding. To learn more about it, check out the Brooklyn Historical Society's tours - by bus or bicycle!

Admiral's Row in Brooklyn, NY. I selected this as a ruin because it is decaying site, but it is also a historical location.

Friday, April 9, 2010

structured deposition

After seeing Rory's post on the ephemeral (and yet so solid looking!) traces that appear in the city with snow, we thought we'd consider some of the other urban ephemera that appear with the weather. Notably umbrellas. The one clutched by Brian in this picture has suffered a catastrophic collapse. In its exposed innards we can glimpse the moment when its owner was battered to a point of submission by the wind and rain and tossed it aside.

We're not the only people to notice the abandoned urban umbrella - Mulberry Street has compiled a rather lovely collection, suggesting that these umbrellas have been blown "back from the underworld".

Discarded umbrellas flap and quiver like dead and dying birds, their exposed and broken skeletons only adding to their somewhat creepy quality. But broken umbrellas aren't abandoned just anywhere. They cluster around trashcans, subway entrances, in gutters and against walls. They mark transition points - into the protection of subway and shop entranceways, and steamy cab interiors with their promise of escape from the rain. This is where umbrellas are finally abandoned. Here they become urban trash, ready to be collected. What would future archaeologists know of them?

Monday, April 5, 2010


The students in Ethnoarchaeology of Cities have recently identified a number of "ruins" (although we did not at the outset define a ruin). Here are a few of their photographs.

This "ruin" at 96th St and Amsterdam represents the conversion of an elegant structure (bank?) to a pharmacy.

This is an exposed pipe (water?, sewer?) on East 20th St.

And this is a building with the upper storeys blocked while the ground floor is still in use on 125th St.

And here is a ?fountain for horses or a washbasin? at 155th

This is another factory, but in Providence RI