The third in our annual series of public lecturers celebrating the achievements of General Pitt Rivers (1827-1900), a distinguished Dorset-based archaeologist and anthropologist whose descendants still live in the area and have close connections with Bournemouth University.
This year’s lecture will be given by the distinguished anthropologist and prehistorian Professor Ruth Tringham (University of California at Berkeley, USA) with the title: Fire: Friend or Fiend in Human History?
Currently in California, fire is seen as a destructive, terrifying force that gobbles up houses and whole neighborhoods, even small towns. Its destructive nature is used as a political pawn in the current struggle between federal and state entities in the US. And yet there is ethnographic and archaeological evidence that pre-European inhabitants of those same forested uplands treated fire as a friend, using it for constructive purposes. It is this ambivalence of our attitudes to fire that will be the focus of my presentation as the 2019 Pitt-Rivers speaker. The ambivalence permeates our interpretations of the empirical archaeological and ethnographic records of burning throughout prehistory and history. Was the burning event the result of deliberate human intent or was it accidental? Was the fire friend or fiend? I will explore how archaeologists (especially of prehistoric periods with no access to written records) can and do act as arson investigators many centuries (and millennia) after the event, in order to determine whether the fire was an act of accidental or intentional destruction. Lest my discussion of this fascinating topic gets out of control, I will focus it on the example of my own collaborative research into the burned houses (so-called “Burned House Horizon”) of Neolithic Southeast Europe and earlier examples in Neolithic Anatolia (Çatalhöyük, Turkey), in order to apply some of what we have learned and consider its significance in terms of the history of how fire has been managed and controlled and why fire is chosen as a means of the destruction of places, be they urban or rural, public monuments or intimate domestic places.
Ruth Tringham is a Professor in the Graduate School (Anthropology) at the University of California, Berkeley and received her Ph.D. in Archaeology at the University of Edinburgh. She is a founder, board member and creative designer of Codifi 2.0, a paperless solutions B-Corp company. She is also the president and a founder of the Center for Digital Archaeology (CoDA), a non-profit organization that provides archaeologists and heritage professionals with tools and workflows (Codifi) to integrate, synchronize, and publish their data and media. Dr. Tringham’s research has always focused on the transformation of early (Neolithic) agriculturalists, and the establishment of households as the primary unit of social reproduction. She has directed and published archaeological excavations in Southeast Europe (Selevac and Opovo in Serbia, and Podgoritsa in Bulgaria) and Turkey, most recently the BACH project at Çatalhöyük, whose final report was published (2012) as the Last House on the Hill with its web edition in 2013. After the BACH project, she continued fieldwork at Çatalhöyük until 2007 on the Remediated Places project involving the creation of interpretive video-walks. She also was a project leader on the prize-winning Remixing Çatalhöyük project and the Okapi Island project (currently defunct) which was a mirror of Çatalhöyük in the virtual world of Second Life. Most of her recent practice of archaeology incorporates the utilization of digital, especially multimedia, technology and social networking in the presentation of the process of archaeological interpretation. She has created several films that combine found footage and her own videography and is also the creator and manager of the Archaeological Film Database (an IMDB for archaeology) that focuses on media literacy analysis. Her current research focuses on re-using digital primary archaeological data to create their afterlives in the form of database narratives and recombinant histories about the microhistories of people, places and things in prehistory and the multisensorial multiscalar construction of prehistoric places. She combines the use of imagination with digital technologies to engage a broader public in alternative scenarios about the prehistoric past.
More information and links to these works can all be found on her personal website: https://ruthtringham.com