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I know what you are thinking. There are plenty of tech and game bloggers, as well as anthropology and archaeology blogs. So why bother? Do we need yet another reviewer or armchair archaeologist? Besides, what do these subjects have to do with each other anyway?

Frankly, I used to wonder that myself. I have been an archaeology and history buff for as long as I can remember. At the same time, I enjoy my gadgets, software and games. The cultures of these groups however cannot be more different if they tried. Anthropology and archaeology study human culture, but the focus is traditionally on past achievements. Tech and games tend to stick to the present at the earliest, but overwhelmingly are about anticipating the future.

Can there be a middle ground?

The answer to this came on my first archaeology dig in the South. Temperatures regularly reached 100 degrees, way hotter than what my New England couch potato body was used to. Not to mention that it was the first time I had ever held a pickaxe, let alone used one. And don’t get me started on the mosquitoes. Still, for all the physical discomfort, seeing my first ceramic shards emerging from the ground was probably one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.

One day on site, I went into the onsite lab/museum where excavated artifacts were restored and displayed. Amongst the myriad delftware and earthenware ceramics was a very drab jar with a texture reminiscent of a barnacle-covered rock. What was this artifact?

It turned out that the artifact was something called a Hessian crucible. This was a heat-resistant vessel that could be used to mix gold or glass without exploding. The kaolinite clay the vessel was made of contained mullite, an aluminum silicate that today is used in building materials, electronic packaging devices, and catalytic converters. It was also quite useful for testing for the presence of gold ore. If your crucible contained gold, the sample should glisten accordingly when heated and oxidized. Time and time again, colonists would get excited because their soil samples had glistening ores in them. The celebrations were a bit premature, as a certain type of mica called biotite reacted the same way when exposed to extreme heat. So, our colonists found themselves with Fool’s Gold!

It was then that I had an epiphany: this crucible wasn’t an ipad, but it was a 400-year-old gadget. The alchemists responsible for the metallurgical knowledge to make the crucible were not scientists or engineers in the modern sense of the term, but they were still tinkering away to make a new technology. Soon, I began to see the myriad pieces of armor, hoes, and projectile points (AKA arrowheads) on the site not as past relics, but as signs of human technological history. Even the tiny little 17th century dice games reminded me of 21st century gamers wasting time on Angry Birds. We may have made incredible technological strides in the past few decades, but ultimately, humans in many cultures have been finding ways to innovate and have fun for millennia.

Increasingly, these seemingly disparate fields have found more ways to compliment one another. Archaeologists have been able to go to places that they would have never dreamed of before thanks to technology. Some worthy examples include the use of ALVIN submersibles to discover the Titanic and NASA satellite imagery to map Angkor Wat. Anthropology, a field intimately related to archaeology, is being increasingly used by tech and game companies to get to know their users better. Did you know that Facebook is extremely popular in Indonesia, but due to poor-quality broadband, most users access it on their mobile phones? Or that World of Warcraft users held an in-game funeral for a guild member who had died in real life? Is there really a difference between ‘real’ and ‘virtual’ culture?

As our world gets more interdisciplinary, it seems that there are more ways for these ‘disparate’ disciplines to collaborate more than ever. This blog is as much of a learning experience for me as it is for the reader. I hope we can have fun together as I find what happens when these worlds intersect!