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Turning to things – ontology, epistemology, and a case of metaphorism

Turning to things - ontology, epistemology, and a case of metaphorism

by Marko Marila (University of Helsinki)

The recent turn to things in archaeology for me is first and foremost a turn to realism in archaeology. With realism I refer to the kind of ontological and epistemological realism that not only takes different parts of the world as things-in-themselves capable of holding their ground even after humans are no longer around to experience them and ‘give them meaning’ so to speak, but admits that the correlationist divide between consciousness and reality is [...]


Back in Pyramiden, Svalbard

Back in Pyramiden, Svalbard

Text and photos by Elin Andreassen and Hein B. Bjerck

In August 2011, Elin and Hein revisited Pyramiden, this time as “protagonists” for the German TV production “Moderne Ruinen”[i]. We also had an agenda of our own: to see what was going on, and check rumors about Trust Arcticugol’s efforts to conserve buildings and facilitate the increasing numbers of visitors to the former Soviet company town some 90 km from their present stronghold in Barentsburg.

In 2006, we had stayed here with [...]


Ephemeral ruins, transient landscapes

Ephemeral ruins, transient landscapes

by Alfredo González-Ruibal and Manuel Sánchez-Elipe

We tend to think of ruins as something durable and solid. They are, in fact, defined as that which remains: a material core that is left after everything else has corroded, eroded and gone. Yet there are also ephemeral ruins, which are part of transient cultural landscapes. Consider the ruinous geographies that appear whenever large construction works are undertaken: buildings are torn down while others begin to rise from the ground, piles of brick, cables and [...]


Berkeley Pit, Butte Montana

Berkeley Pit, Butte Montana

by Tim LeCain

High in the northern Rocky Mountains, at the headwaters of the Colombia River basin, the giant Berkely Pit copper mine marks one end of America’s largest government mandated toxic waste clean-up site. For almost three decades, the Anaconda Corporation blasted millions of tons of low-grade copper ore out of the pit, until the company decided to shut the operation down in 1982. Since then, the pit has been steadily filling with groundwater that is nearly as acidic as [...]


Planning for the Unthinkable

Planning for the Unthinkable

by Mats Burström (with Alfredo González-Ruibal )

Frontispiece: Dining room. The blue colour on the wall is intended to imitate a blue sky. 

During the Cold War the fear for the unthinkable – a full-scale nuclear war – was a deeply felt reality. Accordingly, it was something the government and the authorities had to plan for. Sweden’s officially declared status as a neutral country made no exception in this regard; the geographical nearness to the Soviet Union was conceived as a very real military [...]


Sværholt: Memories of a Northern War Site

Sværholt: Memories of a Northern War Site

by Bjørnar Olsen and Christopher Witmore

Sværholt is a cape set between the wide fjords of Porsanger and Laksefjord in the northernmost Norwegian region of Finnmark (Figure 1).  The cape exhibits the characteristic topography of this northern coastline: a flat barren summit that from its northern edge plunges suddenly and steeply into the sea. On the southern side, the cape descends more or less evenly into a low isthmus connecting the cape with the main Sværholt peninsula. At either end of this [...]


Butte, America: ruination, reclamation, and the remainder

Butte, America: ruination, reclamation, and the remainder

by Caitlin Desilvey

I’m sitting in an apartment on the sixth floor of the Metals Bank building in Butte. Out the window to the east the city streets end abruptly at the rim of a mile-wide pit, a decommissioned open mine working that is gradually filling with acid mine drainage. The Beaux Arts highrise I’m staying in is a reclaimed ruin—largely vacant for thirty years, it was renovated into upscale condominiums a few years ago. In the 1880s Butte’s copper industry [...]


Ruins-in-the-making: Viðey in the bay of Reykjavík, Iceland

Ruins-in-the-making: Viðey in the bay of Reykjavík, Iceland

by Gavin Lucas

This June, Gavin Lucas with Elín Hreiðarsdóttir and Gísli Pálsson conducted a short fieldwork season at the abandoned industrial village on the island of Viðey in the bay of Reykjavík, Iceland. The aim of the fieldwork was to map the ruins and recover small samples of material assemblages associated with the settlement. Preliminary coring identified middens where 5 trenches were subsequently excavated to retrieve material.

The village was founded in 1907 and lasted less than half a century; begun [...]


Building 500

Building 500

by Timothy Webmoor

Ever since the early antiquarians traipsed across the European countryside and less than gingerly applied their picks, spades and shovels to any number of large prehistoric barrows, the locus of where archaeologists apply their trade has been a rigidly defined space separate from that of their own daily lives. In the 1970’s this separation was opened to debate, contestation and redefinition. Lines were redrawn in the work of Bill Rathje and other Schiffer disciples. In tandem with Binfordite [...]


Demolishing an “Emotional Landmark” in Trondheim, Norway

Demolishing an “Emotional Landmark” in Trondheim, Norway

by Elin Andreassen (photo) and Hein B. Bjerck (text)

As part of the on-going modernization of the St. Olav’s Hospital, the High-house (Høyblokka), the initial core of the hospital is being demolished. The hospital has expanded around its old capital building, and a green lung is planned at the site. The tooth of time, and new demands in the wake of the ever changing ideals, demands and regulations of a how a hospital should be, have rendered Høyblokka dysfunctional.

Normally, the Trondheim [...]


Fast Ruins. Nature and Modernity in Iceland

Fast Ruins. Nature and Modernity in Iceland

by Gavin Lucas

A common contemporary perception of Icelandic ruins aligns itself with the familiar trope of European ruin gazing since the 18th century – an aesthetic of beauty and heritage linked firmly to both the rural landscape and the past of the nation. While in part associated with older ruins now visible only as grassy earthworks, the subtlety of these features as ruins often eludes the average person – indeed, ruin finding as part of routine archaeological surveys, often requires [...]


My Father’s Things

My Father's Things

by Hein B. Bjerck, Museum of Archaeology and Natural History, NTNU (Norwegian University of Science and Technology), Trondheim, Norway

“My Fathers Things” is an example of how the RuinMemory issues apply to an individual level of our relation to the recent past.

In the morning of April 5 2009 my father died, almost 86 years old. He lived alone, was in good health, and died suddenly. I suspect that he never knew what happened, and that he probably left life with [...]


A Brief Seasonal Ruin-memory

A Brief Seasonal Ruin-memory

by Þóra Pétursdóttir

On my way to the traditional ‘ray fiest’ in Borgarfjörður eystri, NE-Iceland, on the 23rd of December I stopped by an abandoned sheep house and barn, for a short photo exploration and a breath of fresh winter air.  I only later came to think of how appropriate it was to visit a vacant sheep house and barn on that very day.

I’ve actually driven past it several times, on many December 23rds, and always seen it lurking under the dark [...]


Mining Ruins of Fontao, Spain

Mining Ruins of Fontao, Spain

When we think about modern ruins, the first thing that usually comes to mind is a short-lived structure: an abandoned factory, a derelict housing block, a Cold War bunker. This is in keeping with the fast pace of supermodernity: things (even monumental buildings) are not made to last centuries but years; they are built and consumed fast and disposed of right away. There is no time for sedimentation or long biographies—as those of cathedrals, castles and historic cities. Many modern [...]


Ruins of War: three northern WWII sites

Ruins of War: three northern WWII sites

As part of the Ruin Memories project Bjørnar Olsen carried out preliminary fieldwork at three German WWII sites in northernmost Norway and Finland. The rich archaeological remains at these sites provide exceptionally telling statements about the geography and materiality of the northern war and of the human conditions it inflicted. They also make manifest the ambiguous public attitudes toward the heritage of the northern war.

The large Sturmbuck Stellung in Järäma, Enontekio, Finland, was built as a defense position for the [...]