by Aylza Donald, Graduate Diploma in Archaeology and Heritage Management student
This semester I will be writing four blog posts for the Flinders Archaeology Blog. These posts are part of the course requirements of ARCH8404 Directed Study in Archaeology. This first post explains why I chose my topic and outlines the project aims and proposed outcomes.
Why Cable Ties: an anthropologist does archaeology
I’m an anthropologist and for most of the last five years I’ve worked in Aboriginal cultural heritage. On some projects I’ve been lucky enough to work with archaeologists and learn from them ‘in the field’. At first I wanted to know about the cultural materials that they identified and recorded, and then became more interested in the ideas, methods and analysis they used. Eventually I decided to study archaeology and at the beginning of last year I enrolled in the Graduate Diploma in Archaeology and Heritage Management.
Figure 1. Cable tie image courtesy of lossenderosstudio
Since starting the Grad Dip I’ve found most archaeological writing doesn’t give me a sense of who the archaeologists are, or why they have chosen particular topics to research. In books and peer reviewed journals the standard approach seems to include background research, methodology and results in detail, but the archaeologist as researcher is unlikely to appear in the text. This is quite different to the anthropological approach, which is more likely to be reflexive and include the researcher in the text as the anthropological ‘I’ (for example see Hume and Mulcock (2004) and Okely and Callaway (1992)). There are exceptions, such as Brown (2010; 2012) and Brown, Clarke and Frederick (2015), but overall it seems to me that anthropological ‘reflexivity’ is not a feature of archaeological writing, although I might not have read enough archaeological literature due to being new to the discipline. What I have noticed is that some archaeological blogs explicitly address the writer’s motivations and perspectives (for example see Dr Alice Gorman, Dr Shawn Graham, Homeless Archaeology at York University, Dr Colleen Morgan and Andrew Reinhard).
As a student anthropologist I learned that researchers are always ‘positioned’ in relation to their research. Kirsten Hastrup (1995:4), one of my favourite anthropologists, states that ‘There is no way of seeing from “nowhere in particular”’. So rather than approaching this project in a ‘neutral’ or ‘objective’ style, I am including the anthropological ‘I’ as an integral part of my research process.
This cable tie project started when I saw a presentation by Dr Alice Gorman about the Flinders archaeology field school at the Orroral Valley NASA Tracking Station in the Australian Capital Territory. It was several years before the start of my archaeological studies, so I was amazed to discover that that space archaeology is a thing and cable ties are a legitimate artefact study.
Figure 2. Cable tie recorded during the Orroral Valley field school showing tail and diameter of cable bundle. Image: Alice Gorman (Gorman 2016:108)
For anyone who is not familiar with them, cable ties are ‘one-piece, self-locking single use tape[s] with a ratchet in small open case at one end. Once the ratchet is engaged, the tie can only be pulled tighter’ (Gorman 2016:113). They are mainly made of nylon or types of plastic and some are made of metal.
I grew up making and fixing things with ‘number 8 wire’ and have also used cable ties since realising how useful they are. But I had never thought of them in a historical sense, or as items of material culture that could be investigated. I began to think about their trajectory from specialised aviation and aerospace applications to part of people’s everyday lives, including mine. I also began to consider their various purposes and specifications, from specialised aerospace and industrial uses to random everyday activities. I ended up asking Alice if she would be my directed study industry partner for a cable tie project. She was kind enough to agree and helped me work out the project aims and outcomes.
Project Aims and Outcomes
The aims of this directed study project are to:
- Research contemporary and recent cable tie variations focusing on Australian suppliers and manufacturers.
- Consider the development of cable ties in terms of other technological innovations and social and political changes.
- Make a database of cable tie morphology and variation. The database will include contemporary & recent cable tie specifications, suppliers & manufacturers in Australia that will facilitate future research.
Directed study projects are required to have certain set outcomes, one of which is a 6,000-10,000 word article. For this project the outcomes are:
- A publically accessible database of contemporary & recent cable tie specifications, suppliers & manufacturers in Australia
- A 6-10,000 word Dig It article on the development of cable ties in the context of other technological innovations & social and political changes, contemporary material culture and the process of making the database. Each blog post will form part of the draft of the Dig It article.
- An article for an international peer reviewed journal to be written with Alice
Brown, S. 2010 Buggering Around in the Backyard: Creating Attachment to Place through Archaeology and Material Culture. Australian Archaeology 71: 74-78.
Brown, S. 2012 Toward an archaeology of the twentieth-century suburban backyard. Archaeology in Oceania 47(2): 99-106.
Brown, S., A. Clarke and U. Frederick (eds) 2015 Object Stories: Artifacts and Archaeologists. California: Left Coast Press. Retrieved several times between 1 and 19 April 2016 from http://reader.eblib.com.ezproxy.flinders.edu.au/%28S%28ugd5rpmn0okc1buqndhfs4m0%29%29/Reader.aspx?p=1912033&o=478&u=h3EsHs%2fgPLoqtJF7nZhiHw%3d%3d&t=1461052222&h=77716714D278F0BA04B764CCAE7FC835E09C543E&ut=1451&pg=1&r=img&c=-1&pat=n&cms=-1&sd=2
Gorman, A. 2016 Tracking Cable Ties: Contemporary Archaeology at a Nasa Satellite Tracking Station. In U.K. Frederick and A. Clarke (eds), That Was Then, This Is Now: Contemporary Archaeology and Material Cultures in Australia, pp.101-117. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.
Hastrup, K. 1995 A Passage to Anthropology: between experience and theory. London: Routledge.
Hume, L. and J. Mulcock (eds) 2004 Anthropologists in the Field: Cases in Participant Observation. New York; Columbia University Press.
Okely, J. and H. Callaway 1992 Anthropology and Autobiography. Routledge: New York.