Listen to Berkeley Talks episode #133: ‘How archaeology is used in comics.’
[Music: “Silver Lanyard” by Blue Dot Sessions]
Intro: This is Berkeley Talks, a Berkeley News podcast from the Office of Communications and Public Affairs that features lectures and conversations at UC Berkeley. You can subscribe on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Acast or wherever you listen. New episodes come out every other Friday.
Sarah Kansa: Welcome to the first talk of the semester in the weekly Brown Bag series of the Archaeological Research Facility, the ARF, at UC Berkeley. I’m Sarah Kansa, program associate at the ARF, which is a hub for archeology on the UC Berkeley campus with a mission to encourage, facilitate, and expedite field and laboratory research conducted by archeologists and related specialists engaged with the human past. The ARF provides annual grants and shared lab space in support of faculty and graduate student research.
We also host a long standing weekly lecture series and other special events throughout the year. More recently, we’re developing a local commuter Field School to provide essential field work experience to Bay Area based students underrepresented in the discipline of archeology. I’m speaking to you today from Berkeley, California, the ancestral and unseated territory of Chochenyo-speaking Ohlone people, successors of the historic and sovereign Verona Band of Alameda County.
We acknowledge that this land remains of great importance to the Ohlone people, and that the ARF community inherits a history of archeological scholarship that has disturbed Ohlone ancestors and erased living Ohlone people from the present and future of this land. It’s therefore our collective responsibility to critically transform our archeological inheritance in support of Ohlone sovereignty and to hold the University of California accountable to the needs of all-American Indian and indigenous people. Joining us today for our first talk of the semester is Paulina Przystupa, who will speak about how the field of archeology and the knowledge generated in the field is used in popular culture, in comic books written by non-archeologists. Paulina is the Postdoctoral Researcher in Data Visualization and Reproducibility at the Alexandria Archive Institute, a local nonprofit organization that develops the archeology data publishing service open context. She’s a Philippine-Polish, Canadian, American settler in North America and an anthropology graduate student at the University of New Mexico.
Her dissertation examines the built environments of children’s institutions in the United States between 1865 and 1935. Extending her interest in studying archeology of education and teaching as a postdoctoral researcher at the AAI, Paulina and her colleague L. Meghan Dennis are developing a series of data stories to assess and cultivate data literacy in archeology. Paulina is also a research associate of the Indigenous Digital Archive, a new method of online access to historical documents that’s aimed at creating effective access to large quantities of public records of government boarding schools in New Mexico into the 1930s.
Additionally, and the subject of today’s talk, she enjoys exploring the intersections between popular culture and archeology, looking at how the public understands, learns from and utilizes archeological knowledge in fictional works. She writes about, in her views, comics, movies, and shows at the website WomenWriteAboutComics; and moderates panels at popular cultural conventions, bringing an anthropological and academic perspective to popular media. She has appeared on the Asians Represent! podcast, Curiosity in Focus, and the Archaeological Fantasies Podcast, talking about her work and what archeology can bring to world building and fiction. Paulina, welcome, and thank you very much for coming to speak with us today.
Paulina Przystupa: Thank you Sarah for that wonderful introduction, and I’m just going to share my screen now. Here we go. All right. Usually, when I give a talk on behalf of the Alexandria Archive Institute, my slides look a little bit like this. However, because of the subject matter for today’s talk and because this research started before I was a postdoctoral researcher, I’m going to shift into a slightly different style. One that is slightly more appropriate for the subject matter. As Sarah said, today I’m going to be talking about archeology and comics, the intersections between pop culture and material culture. For those of you that might just be listening, I’ve switched to a screen that has a dark purple background with yellow text, and comics sans more specifically. Sarah had a really excellent land acknowledgement, I’m not going to add to that. I am going to mention though that land acknowledgements are part of an ongoing discussion about how to acknowledge the fact that many of us are settlers on indigenous land here in North America, and mention actually the Association of Indigenous Anthropologists requested the halting of land acknowledgements from their perspective.
If you are unfamiliar with this, it was talked about in October of 2021. Sapiens reposted the article that outlines what folks were interested in talking about, as for why were doing land acknowledgements and what influence and effect they actually had. However, in the spirit of doing and being an ally and an accomplice to the goals of indigenous peoples, I like to talk about active things that we can do as settlers and allies. One of the first things I always recommend is to just understand what the purpose of land acknowledgements are. The Meztli Projects has a really good PDF that outlines why we should be doing land acknowledgements. I think it’s important to read something like that, to then understand the critique of them. I also think that their other steps we can do, of course, a very basic one is to figure out whose land we’re actually on, and native-land.ca is a really great starting point for that.
Of course, we can do things like educate ourselves about movements like the LandBack movement. We can support indigenous reporting and struggle through the Red Nation. Other things that I like doing are, you can do things like support the Honor Native Land Tax, which has a calculator where you can put in different things about your life experience, how long your family’s been in the United States, and it’ll actually calculate how much tax you owe indigenous peoples. That particular initiative is out of the American Southwest as I am here in Albuquerque, New Mexico. But if you’re interested in supporting something, that’s a little bit more local to the Bay Area, there is the Sogorea Te Land Trust, that’s also doing LandBack initiatives that you can participate in and spread the word about out. With that out of the way, what am I going to actually be talking about today?
Well, I’m going to first start and talk about who I am. Sarah gave me a really wonderful introduction, but I want to give a little bit of my own voice to that introduction. To use that, to give a little bit of context as to why I am actually looking at comic books and archeology, I’m going to talk about some of my preliminary research regarding archeology and comics that started in about 2017. Then I’m going to shift to some particular examples of archeology and comic books that are written by non-archeologists to examine the good, the bad and the ugly, as far as it comes to archeological representation and particularly the representation of archeologists. I want to end though, on a discussion of how as archeologists, we can leverage comics to more a generally cultivate archeological data literacy, not only within our classrooms, but also out in the community.
I also want to state that, some of the comics that I’m going to talk about today do contain depictions of fictional verbal abuse and suicide, for those of you who might be sensitive to those topics. All right. Who am I? As Sarah already said, I am a postdoctoral researcher at the Alexandria Archive Institute. I’m also through some series of funny events, I’m still a graduate student at the University of New Mexico. I’m mixed race, Asian European descents, specifically Philippine and Polish. I’m also a first generation immigrant to the United States and was raised in the Pacific Northwest in lower mainland regions. I always think it’s important to explicitly state my background regardless of what I’m talking about, because my personal history does influence how I do research. It influences what questions I can ask and the knowledge I bring to these topics. Despite the image in this particular slide, I am not direct Italian descent.
I also really enjoy using this particular slide to talk about research, because it captures a very genuine moment that I experienced of frustration doing research. What was really funny when I found this photo was I actually don’t remember taking it. I had to have set this up on a different table and set a timer, but there was clearly something about the work I was looking at that disturbs me or annoyed me a little bit, and it caught me right at that moment. While I really enjoy doing research, a lot of the things that I do research on, whether it’s comic books or children’s institutions is hard to process and can cause a lot of frustration. I think that’s important to acknowledge, as also part of the practice of doing archeology. How and why did I start looking at comics?
Well, I think more generally popular culture is really important for understanding how archeology as a field is understood by the public. It helps us get an idea of what does actually the public like about archeology, but it also gives us a really great example to evaluate what the public misunderstands, even though there’s a lot of scientific archeological information out there that’s easily accessible. I just became really interested in this. What does the public actually get from us in if they’re not talking to us, and being in directly in our communities? I was also really excited about comics because I’ve honestly really always loved comic books. Comics were one of the things that actually got me interested in reading before I discovered comic books, I always read certain books in class. I absolutely hated reading. I don’t think that I would probably be here as an academic if it wasn’t for comics.
More specifically, my heart or the things that I really love about comic books, started with Japanese comics, which are also referred to as manga. When I was going back to look for non-Western examples of when archeology comes up in comics, I went back to these roots and found that one of the first manga I ever read, which was called Cardcaptor Sakura, actually has an archeologist character. He doesn’t come up a lot because he’s her dad and not the main character, but of all things the main character dad is in fact, an archeologist. He’s an archeology professor.
While the story is fantastical about this girl who is recapturing magical cards that she released into the world, I actually feel the superhero of the comic is actually her dad, who happens to be a single parent of two kids, is able to somehow make breakfast for his children, and still somehow hold a very prominent position at a university. That guy’s got a lot on his plate and is probably working really hard to be able to do that, but I’ve just really always loved comics. They really bring an aspect of literacy that we don’t always think about as being part of archeology, but it’s something that can be really useful, both educationally, but also as a way for us to communicate what we know.
I started in 2016, 2017, connecting these ideas about pop culture and material culture together in a personal blog. I needed a little bit of a reprieve from working on my other research and blogging about a lot of these ideas that I had started talking about with friends, seemed like a really good way to start to put these ideas out there. It also made me sit down and write and think about these from an academic perspective. I started to gather citations and stuff like that. Because there… I wasn’t seeing a lot of connection between the academic sphere and the pop culture sphere, at least one that was really engaging in real dialogue. As I was looking for examples, I kept coming across material culture being a really big part of pop culture.
Anytime we see a relic or an ancient object or people travel back in time, that’s all archeology coming into popular culture. I wanted to engage with that a little bit more, because it has a lot of implications for how folks understand our science, but also how we can use those different modes to actually teach archeology and use those as counterpoints in the discussions that we might be bringing into our classrooms. While this comes up a lot in things like movies, I wanted to focus on comics specifically because they were a big hobby that I had picked up in of all things in graduate school, because of course work life balance is really important. Why not take my pastime and turn it into an academic pursuit? But I thought that was a really fun thing. It was something that was capturing me and really propelling me to keep going in my research and in my academic career.
But I also think before I continue talking about them, it would be important to give a definition for comics because you might not be familiar with the idea of comics being a medium rather than a genre. The definition that I choose to use is from Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics. Comics are in the plural, juxtaposed pictorial, and other images in deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and or to produce an aesthetic response in the viewer. Anytime we have a sequence of pictorial or images that are put together to create some narrative or to communicate something, those are all comics. What I love about McCloud’s work in general, is that he extends the starting period for comics or this idea of visual storytelling, all the way back to an archeological source. He recreates in his graphic novel The Tomb of Menna and explains how this still captures all of the things that are required for understand ending and reading modern comics.
It was just so cool to see how this thing that modernly used archeological information also, just exists in the deep past as well. I love this intersection between this modern thing I loved and the fact that it has its own really, really deep history. But I also want to point out that this way of storytelling putting images in sequence, doesn’t have to be focused just on superheroes. I will be talking a little bit about superheroes, but a lot of the stories where archeologists come up, don’t necessarily have anything to do with superpowered people. They are oftentimes fictionalized, they are sci-fi elements, but it’s not necessarily just pow boxes and big fights. It’s a lot of things that come down to daily operations. I thought that was really cool that those daily things of archeology were also coming up in comic books.
Just to stress again, comics are a medium and not a genre. As I said, work-life balance, I wanted to start bringing these ideas together. To start to put them into the academic sphere, I decided that I would put together a very small conference or not a small conference, a small conference presentation for the 2017 Public Archeology Twitter Conference. Because I wanted to have a place where I could reference back to say, “Hey, here are some of my academic ideas. I’ve been thinking about these for a little bit of time, and I wanted to start to share them back with my academic community.” This was before Twitter expanded its character limit. I only had a 140 characters to put all of my tech ideas together. I was limited to just 12 tweets.
This thread is still active on Twitter, but I just had a few comics that I wanted to talk very specifically about. These were my first steps into looking at archeology and comics as a research venture. In that series of tweets, I established a typology for archeology and comics. There is of course bleeding between the three, but I think it was an important way to structure what kind of comics I was going to be looking at in different context. The first category that I defined was, how we do archeology. These are comics that might be semi-autobiographical, they might be written by archeologists or often are written by archeologists, or people who are in adjacent professions. They might act as notes, or journals, or be put together specifically to teach a particular aspect of the archeological record.
The next category are works that depicted the culture of archeologists. A character in the story might be an archeologist like with Cardcaptor Sakura with her dad, or they might just be in the background, or in a passing thing they might be mentioned. The last category of comics, are ones that draw specifically from archeological information to color the content or setting. These are primarily works that are going to be set in the past and they might consult archeological materials, or look at museum collections and use those as inspiration to create a particular place or to recreate a particular place. All of these have value and can be utilized for educational purposes when we start to talk about archeology more generally. The first kind of the ones that focus on how we do archeology are really cool.
The example that I used in my PATC or Public Archeology Twitter Conference example, is called Exit Archeology by Glynnis Fawkes. This particular zine collected comics that Glynnis had put together on her last field season in Greece working as an archeological illustrator. It was just a really great combination of highly accurate archeological in illustrations of shades and that sort of thing, but also just her feelings about processing, choosing to leave archeology. It was a really great personal story and a personal look at one particular archeologist. I see this comic as in dialogue with other comics that are about how we do archeology, such as those that are oftentimes illustrated by John Swogger, such as the Center for Applied Isotope Studies, Radiocarbon Dating, or Unlocking the Past series, as well as the NAGPRA Comics written by Sonya Atalay and others.
These are both comics that are written specifically by archeologists for educational purposes. They’re really great teaching aids. I’ve used both when I’ve taught introduction to archeology, and it’s really great to be able to provide students a different literacy to engage with archeological information. There are occasionally pitfalls. I really like that the Radiocarbon Dating comic, focuses very specifically on how radiocarbon dating works. There is a little bit of an issue in the writing of that comic though, because one of the main archeologists is a white-presenting male archeologist, but when he starts talking about the artifact that he’s dating, he talks about it as finding the date for our ancestors. The problem with that is that the example that they’re giving, is actually from Alaska and from North America specifically. That archeologist is not talking about our ancestor because not all of our ancestors are from North America.
Well, there are things that are very valuable from this comic in general, I also like pointing out the spots of difference, or the spots of discussion that can come up from these, so that our students are constantly thinking about how archeology is changing and in dialogue, and in the places where we can improve of this discussion, even when we ourselves are writing. The next kind of comics that I identified, are comics that depict the culture of archeologists. As I said in the beginning, these can be examples like Cardcaptor Sakura, where archeology is mentioned, but not really under discussion. It’s not the main focus or in comics like Giant Days, where it’s a subplot overall to the story that really focuses on what it’s like to be an undergraduate in England. One of the people, one of the main women characters happens to be an archeology major.
I’ll talk more about this comic later on, because it’s a really great example of a non-archeologist writing about archeology, in a way that is very, very close to home and very, very accurate. The last group are comics that use archeological knowledge as a content or setting. These are oftentimes… Well, not necessarily oftentimes, but this example here Clovis is independently published and reaches a slightly smaller audience. A lot of these comics that might more specifically be interested in being accurate to archeology, don’t necessarily have the same reach because they’re going for a different thing. Clovis, Miles Greb, I’ve chatted with him a little bit about his interest. He was really interested in wanting to portray the Clovis period in North America as accurately as possible with the exception of course, of the main character having a pet giant sloth, which was just really fun, but he made sure that the stone artifacts were drawn or illustrated in a way that really reflected Clovis points, and drew from other archeological knowledge to illustrate the past as accurately as possible.
As I was wrapping up thinking about these comics, a particular comic book came to mind, and this was of course from a major publisher. I talk about it as… When I was thinking about these stories and thinking about these categories, a flaming mammoth entered my view. In late 2017, I got word of a new comic series that was going to be published by Marvel called the Avengers of 1,000,000 B.C. and particularly if y’all saw the advertisement for this particular talk, there is a man astride of flaming mammoth. There is something extremely captivating about this image. It’s clearly archeological, it’s vibrant, it’s something that really reels you in. But as I started digging more and more into this crossover event, the more and more I was a little or very uncomfortable with the things that were happening in it.
I started thinking about it and thinking about it. I started… I wrote an essay on my personal blog, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it, even though I had gotten a lot of the ideas out there. It was suggested to me that maybe instead of just writing for myself, I reached out to another platform. I didn’t think I was quite ready to turn this into an academic publication, but I also felt that this dialogue wasn’t one I needed to have with other academics. This was a dialogue I needed to have with the public. I ended up editing that essay and republishing it on WomenWriteAboutComics, which is now referred to as WWAC. That became the article, “The Pre-Human Avengers: Archeology and Marvel’s Avengers of 1,000,000 B.C.” Starting from there, I just decided that WWAC became a really great home for me to put all of these ideas together.
Over the years, I’ve just continued to write about archeology and anthropology and comics for this public facing website. Myself and my colleague, who I believe is in the audience, Steph Halmhofer, have collaborated and written alternatively or both the two archeologists on staff for WWAC. We keep talking about archeology so that the public gets a little bit more than just a fun story when it comes to when archeology appears in comic books. This was the start of wanting to formalize this a little bit more into a specific research focus that I had. My more recent work, although there are a lot of comics written by archeologists, and there was even an issue of the SA archeological record that was specifically on comics in 2005, people weren’t really picking up on this discussion within the academic community.
I also felt that I… Well, it’s important for us to engage with this and to think about these things from an educational perspective or how they can be used to expand literacies. I really wanted this to be a conversation we had with the public, because they’re clearly interested in archeology. They just don’t always know where to get information or how to engage with archeologists. I wanted to make sure that I was engaging directly with the public as much as possible, but first I wanted to know what does the public actually know and to do that, I thought the best way to address this was to look at comics that were published by major comic publishers. These are things like Marvel, DC, Image Comics, Dark Horse Comics, and Boom. I am, of course, going from the comics definition of the big comics publishers, things like HarperCollins [inaudible] have much more circulation, but that is a different discussion than what I want to talk about today.
But there are just in general, a lot of popular comics that explore archeology and archeologists. There’s inspiration that’s drawn from a deep history that people really enjoy utilizing. I really liked the idea that I was able to get a slice of what average archeological data literacy looks like in the community. I titled this section at the beginning, the good, the bad, and the ugly, just to capture the range of portrayals of archeology and more specifically of archeologists in popular comics that were published in the last 10 years. I’m going to start off with Giant Days. I mentioned Giant Days earlier, as an example of when the culture of archeologists are included in a particular comic book and I use Giant Days as a good portrayal, but keep the idea of good at the back of your mind for more accurate rather than necessarily positive.
In general, archeology is a supplement to the story because Daisy Wooton who is pictured here with very large hair in a pink t-shirt, and glasses, and reminding her colleague, which is something that we should always remind our colleagues when you’re in the field to put sunscreen on, regardless of whether or not it’s overcast, is the main is the main character of this. Issue 17, particularly, of the comic series focuses on the first time she gets to be in the field, which everyone probably remembers their first time in the field. It’s really great to have this illustrated by someone who’s a non archeologist, but clearly knows enough to put this into their book. We see her participate in the every day of working on an archeological site. If you start Giant Days from the beginning, another really cool thing about seeing Daisy do this work is that she’s actually biracial.
She is Afro Caribbean and British. She’s another woman of color in archeology, and it’s really great to get to see her. It’s clear that the artist and the writer knew enough about archeology to put in other little Easter eggs. In other scenes, you’ll see that her shirt actually reads “It’s Team Time,” which is a reference, of course, to the British Archeology with the American spin-off television show, Time Team. One of the archeologists they work with is a little bit similar to one of the archeological hosts from that show, Phil Harding. Of course, the cover for Issue 17 has this great mishmash of archeological artifacts from Vikings, and Sarcophagus, to Dinosaurs and [inaudible]. It’s just this really fun celebration of archeology and artifacts. While archeology doesn’t necessarily come up a lot in this series, when it does come up, it accurately portrays our field.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t necessarily portray our field in a way that’s particularly positive. When Daisy first excavates, she unfortunately gets hounded by a white-presenting male supervising archeologists for doing it wrong over and over again. While the field is changing, I found these scenes to be extremely telling for something that the public sees in archeology that even now we are only just starting to address. The fact that the author chose to highlight not the cool things she found, but the fact of this really toxic interaction with her supervisor was really important, because it’s something that I was not aware that the public was aware of. As a site set of scenes, it’s really, really insightful. It’s a reminder of the difficulties that a lot of archeology students experience when they are first in this field. It’s also a really important experience to remind us of who gets seen by non archeologists.
These are oftentimes rude, white-presenting men who think they know everything. I think actually the worst part whenever I bring up this example, is that when I describe this person, I get the feeling that basically everyone in the room… It’s currently just me, but everyone in these presentations knows someone like this. It’s a really sad reality of being in archeology. However, thankfully Daisy gets to have agency and she gets to respond back to this person. She stands up for herself and despite these negative impressions, she’s able to state her voice that she’s not doing something wrong, she’s a student and she doesn’t know what she’s doing and you’re here to help me, and why aren’t you helping me? It’s so great to get, to see a character do that, which is not something that a lot of students actually are able to do.
Despite this negative experience, she stays in archeology. By the end of the series, she is a full archeologist. Well, I think the comic mentions the idea of curses a few too many times. I really love that we get this narrative arc of someone entering this field, having a negative experience, but being able to stand up for themselves and still choosing to commit themselves to the field. I just think that’s a really great story to have, even though archeology in general is not something that comes up a lot in the comic. I really love that Giant Days had archeology and all and did such a great job of illustrating something that’s very complicated and very hard for the field to reckon with, but still celebrated the idea that we are still here, women of color are still in archeology, despite a lot of setbacks.
That’s the good portrayal, not necessarily positive, but a really accurate portrayal of what archeology is like. Let’s shift that out to the bad. You probably got the sense that when I first introduced the Avengers of 1,000,000 B.C. I was going to talk about how it’s not really a great portrayal of archeology in comics. I had started referring to them as the Avengers of 1.002 million years ago, just because that’s probably how we as archeologists, would’ve referred to them. They’re a relatively recent addition to the Marvel universe in general. They first appear in comics in Marvel Legacy #1, and that’s part of a crossover event where old versions of particular superheroes meet their new counterparts. You can notice in this promotional image that we have an example of a Thor, a Black Panther, a Phoenix, a Hulk-like character, an Iron Fist, and an Ancient One who is the equivalent of Dr. Strange. They of course have our delightful Flaming Mammoth Riding Ghost Rider.
If you just look at the images, their designs, their weaponry, and their environments all clearly draw from archeological knowledge. The big change of course, being that Ghost Rider has swapped his motorcycle or more recently his low rider car for a Flaming Mammoth. What was also really cool about this first issue is that there is a contemporary period that has some modern archeologists, and while all of this looks cool on the surface, as we start to read a little bit more into the issue, things start to feel a little bit less okay. Of course, my big issue with this is the 1 million part you can pretend that the decimal point doesn’t exist. It’s just there for hyperbole. Okay, that’s fine. But, at 1.02 million years ago, Homo Sapiens hadn’t quite evolved… I don’t know, it just breaks my willingness to suspend my disbelief. That order of magnitude is just a little bit too far.
Additionally, something that you can Google search, you can start… You can Google search, when Homo Sapiens evolved. The writer didn’t take the time to do that. It’ disappointing. Unfortunately, I can absolve that issue if that was the only problem with this comics portrayal of the past. The more insidious things are the fact that I human evolution and superpowers, and the idea of Homo Sapiens are very much tied into legacies of archeology that have to do with race. I think it’s very important to point out that the majority of the superpowered individuals in this team, although they are not all European featured, the majority of them are light skinned.
The current research on the evolution and transition of light and dark pigmentation suggests that by 1 million years ago, when this particular story is supposed to be set, Homo Sapiens… If they were around or homo ancestors would have been darkly skinned. To have the majority of superpowered individuals not have that, is bad because there is a legacy of associating power in this case, superpowers with light skinned individuals, oftentimes at the expense of darkly pigmented people. This is also not really great because as in that issue, they do have at least one shot of a non Homo Sapiens ancestor and those people are dark skinned. It creates this really, really awkward tension in the comic. As much as I really love this Flaming Mammoth image, there are a lot of underlying racist tones with this that are not addressed in the issue.
Additionally, and this is more of an issue that archeologists would find annoying, is that the modern period part of this comic has something really cool. It’s got non colonizer archeologists or African archeologists in this specific example, running an archeological excavation. Which is really, really cool. Unfortunately, once again, the author didn’t do their homework and has them misused LIDAR. They suggest that LIDAR can penetrate into rocks or penetrate down into the ground. It’s an understandable error, but it’s a sad or an unfortunate example of misrepresentation, particularly when archeologists of color struggle in the field so much. It’s a not quite the representation we are looking for. Going from this, how do you think we might get even uglier? Well, folks are probably most familiar with Tomb Raider as a property that is in video games and comics and movies, and is unfortunately for fem presenting archeologists.
One of the few examples we have of a fem presenting archeologists in recent times, but Tomb Raider can do a lot of good, but tends to not. The current series that I’m going to interrogate, is based on the 2013 reboot of the video game. Generally Laura Stories, I’ve read a variety of her comics from 2013 onwards. They generally have her saving different people in her life or going after artifacts. They depicted her continually in the same way she has been historically, she’s still upper class. She’s still rich, she’s still white, a brunette and British, and she does archeology. It’s important that these comics specifically identify that she has a degree in archeology and for this established, that canonically, that she actually works for the British Museum. It’s really good in some ways to have this clear connection between a professional woman and our profession.
We get to see her knowledge a lot in the comics. She has internal monologues to describe archeological artifacts. She talks with others and it’s clear that she does typically know her stuff. However, Lara gets talked about a lot, and so I’m going to focus a different archeologist that comes up in one of the particular miniseries in Tomb Raider. That is a woman named Nadija Katlego. Nadija Katlego is a Black Bosnian archeologist, who only currently appears in the mini-series Tomb Raider: Inferno. What’s really cool about Nadija, is that she shows up as a counterpoint to Lara she’s overall just really cool. We get to find out that she wrote a dissertation at the age of just 18 on the antiquities trade. We just see her develop a lot of really great physical skills, but also a lot of really great intellectual skills.
She seems comfortable and easy and happy in the world. She has a physician of power. She understands a lot and is able to speak comfortably about a lot of archeological topics. They set her up in this series to be a really cool character, but the writers didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about the implications of this character, with what they chose to do with this… Chose to do with her. I think it’s important to point out that, we have another really great… I’m not say a really great, but we actually have representation of black archeologists once again in this comic. Unfortunately, this is where things start to unravel. This is the example that I like to use from the comic. You have Lara and Nadija two fem or women archeologists talking about this archeological site that they’ve just repelled down into.
However, they’re talking about an archeological concept, but get things really, really wrong. This first picture talks about how old it is, and Lara says,” It’s Precambrian.” And Nadija points to the ice and says, “The bones agree.” Unfortunately, nothing in the Precambrian had bones and unless Nadija’s pointing out for [inaudible 00:39:56], the bones do not agree, actually, because those are from a very, very different period. This misstep in knowledge, undercuts all of this cool work that they did to set her… To set Nadija up as a knowledgeable archeologist. It’s also terrible because although Nadija studies and is really great, she was necessary… According to the authors had to have a dilly traumatic backstory. She survives a massacre. On top of this, within a few pages of this scene, both of the characters experience a psychedelic event, and Lara is able to pull herself out of it and Nadija’s quite not able to.
Lara pulls her out though of this terrible situation, but because of this psychedelic event, Nadija is not in her right mind anymore. They choose to have her commit suicide. Although I was to a certain degree, happy that this was not something that they depicted actively in the comic, it’s something that happens between panels using the comics concept of closure. Unfortunately, it detaches the reader from a violence that black women experience in the world more generally. I don’t like that it uses comics to detach ourselves from that experience. It unintentionally highlights that to a certain degree, the suffering of black women in a lot of fields is put outside of the view of the field rather than something that we need to actively engage with and actively explore and fight against in our field.
While the missteps on their own are small, when they’re considered in contexts, they have a lot more to say about the field than they might initially think about. This is a lot. It took a very happy… A very happy idea, comics and pop culture and thought about the serious implications of this relationship. I think it’s important for us as archeologists to see this harm that comes to particular subgroups of archeologists, and to start to engage with that discussion so that we can do more than just comment lively, but so that we can dismantle white supremacist ideals that still are part of public facing… Or discussions amongst the public about archeology, because they just don’t know what we’re dealing with in the field, and also to support women of color and particularly black women archeologists and uplifting their voices as much as possible, so that they aren’t just put to the side or always used as sacrifices for other archeologists.
What can we do as academics to start to push back against these narratives, and in the communities who actually consume these work, so we are not complicit in the issues that they might perpetuate. One of the things that I do or have done before the pandemic, was to organize panels at pop culture conventions. I started doing this on a variety of topics, but one of my favorite ones that I got to do was a panel called, It belongs in a museum, and it focused on museums in fact, in fiction. I brought together a group of variety of archeologists and former archeologist museum professionals. We went to a pop culture convention, talked to a large group of people and they got to listen to us talk about the colonial histories of archeology, the positives and negatives.
This is the year the Black Panther came out. We just talked about how great it was to see that engagement with the negative legacies of museums. We just had this group full of people asking us questions, engaging with our dialogue, and really got this feeling that the public wants to do better. They just don’t necessarily know who to ask or where to ask. This is something that I think that everyone can really do, because organizing stuff for comics conventions is actually not that hard. You just have to know who to ask and where to start bringing your ideas. I really like that coms are outside the space of academics or the ivory tower, and we’re going to the public’s home turf. I like this idea, that we not don’t only bring our knowledge to each other, but we actually bring our knowledge to stakeholders in their own places.
I want to think about this way, different ways that we can do that academics. We can of course do things like, interact with creators and various publics on Twitter or other social media platforms, just reaching outside of academia into creative spheres. We can look also at comics as something that we incorporate into archeology, as something that we regularly teach and use as a starting point for dialogue, for people who are just entering the field. They also add an aspect of visual literacy. That’s not always underscored in introductory archeology classes, that I think is really important considering how much we use visuals in archeology more generally. As I said, consider organizing panels for your local pop culture events. Some of my favorite events that have been most well attended are ones that are actually for smaller audiences. Not necessarily San Diego Comic-Con, but stuff that has a dedicated small audience is often more willing to engage with talks and you can get that connection with your local community.
I also more generally want to think about reaching into our communities. A lot of my work is of course, in the United States, but this incorporation of visual storytelling is something that you can do with a variety of communities as it’s part of a lot of different cultures. Are there ways that you could be collaborating with your community to use comics and visual storytelling as something that you do to connect with those local communities as part of engagement? I also have continued to write for WWAC, as it’s something that I really enjoy doing.
I can talk little bit more about some of my more recent articles. One of them critiques, the idea of writing a comic about the Vikings in North America and the other one looks at the possibility of Neanderthals arriving here in spaceships. But with that, I want to thank you all for being here with me for this time for sharing your lunch with me. Here are some of the references for the comics and works that I talked about in this. Of course, thank you all for being here, thanks to the Mellon for funding my postdoctoral research, and all of the wonderful people who have helped me get to this place. Yeah, with that, thank you so much and have a great day.
Sarah Kansa: Thank you so much, Paulina. That was fascinating. I’m sure people must have some questions. If you want to stop sharing, I guess and everyone can come onto the screen, then if people have questions, you can either raise your hand or you can just show yourself and ask your question. You can also post a question into the chat box if you prefer. Okay, Rosario Torres.
Rosario Torres: Yes, I was really fascinated. I really enjoyed your presentation. Have you worked with a local artist and in doing comics yourself?
Paulina Przystupa: No, I’ve not. It’s something that I would like to do in the future, but it’s not something that I’ve done yet. My own research is very sensitive and I don’t think necessarily appropriate for my dissertation research, but it is something that I’d like to do in the future. I think that if that’s some… There are also really great spots for possibly starting these collaborations.
There is a website which some folks might be familiar with called The Nib, and they particularly like posting infographic or more information based comics. If you have a particular historical story you want to tell, they’ll actually pair you with an artist. I haven’t quite figured out exactly what story archeology wise is most of appropriate for me to tell, but it’s… A resource that’s on my… The back of my mind of something that I’d like to leverage. I have some friends who have worked with The Nib before. I know where to go, but I haven’t quite done that yet as I’ve some other research priorities currently up right now. But yeah, it’s something I would like to do in the future. Thank you so much for asking.
Rosario Torres: Yeah. Thank you so much.
Sarah Kansa: Other questions? I’d like to ask Paulina about… In the beginning, you showed some educational comments, before you mentioned some educational comments. Are those available for people to access more?
Paulina Przystupa: Yes. Both the NAGPRA Comics and the Center for Stable Isotopes Comics, are available online and I’m going to put them into the chat right now. There are going to be more NAGPRA Comics and I’m just waiting for them. I check back every couple months because they’re telling a variety of specific stories of repatriation. The first issue journey is to complete the work I believe specifically is about the University of Michigan’s NAGPRA issues. There’re going to be a couple others that they’re putting together and have planned.
There’s also an archeological metallurgy that the Center for Applied Isotope Studies has available as well. When I was first using it for class, actually, I emailed just the center and it’d be like, “Hey, could I get a digital copy of your radiocarbon comic?” They’re like, “What’s your mailing address?” I’m like, “It’s this. I just need a PDF.” They ended up sending me a stack of 25 comic books since I was able to give them out to my students to use as references. I think there’s something really fun too, about the tactility of having a comic like that in your hands as well for engaging with comics.
Sarah Kansa: That’s great. You obviously teach with these, do you know of other people who teach things like this and or can you build it into your course, just in as a module?
Paulina Przystupa: Yeah, I think it would be really easy to incorporate this into teaching. I haven’t incorporated the public facing… The comics written by non archeologists into my teaching, but it’s something that I’d like to do as part of the data literacy program, perhaps put together a archeological data literacy reading list for folks that’s comic specific, because it also gets at ideas of various age ranges. For people, comics are a lot more accessible for kids, but as an adult who doesn’t always have a lot of time, comics are something that I can read and consume stories of even when I’m really stressed out. I don’t think that they’re just a thing that we should use with, with early readers, but something that we can use with readers of all ages.
Sarah Kansa: Great. Other questions or comments? Okay. Well, thank you so much for coming today Paulina. That was fabulous. Thanks everyone for joining us. We hope we will see you at one of our next Brown Bags coming up.
Paulina Przystupa: Yeah. Thank you so much, Steph.
Sarah Kansa: Bye.
Paulina Przystupa: Have a good afternoon everybody.
Sarah Kansa: Take Care.
[Music: “Silver Lanyard” by Blue Dot Sessions]
Outro: You’ve been listening to Berkeley Talks, a Berkeley News podcast from the Office of Communications and Public Affairs that features lectures and conversations at UC Berkeley. You can subscribe on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Acast or wherever you listen. You can find all of our podcast episodes with transcripts and photos on Berkeley News at news.berkeley.edu/podcasts.