Archaeology's Visual Culture: Digging and Desire, 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

Archaeology's Visual Culture

Digging and Desire, 1st Edition

By Roger Balm


286 pages

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pub: 2015-12-07
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Archaeology’s Visual Culture explores archaeology through the lens of visual culture theory. The insistent visuality of archaeology is a key stimulus for the imaginative and creative interpretation of our encounters with the past. Balm investigates the nature of this projection of the visual, revealing an embedded subjectivity in the imagery of archaeology and acknowledging the multiplicity of meanings that cohere around artifacts, archaeological sites and museum displays. Using a wide range of case studies, the book highlights how archaeologists can view objects and the consequences that ensue from these ways of seeing.

Throughout the book Balm considers the potential for documentary images and visual material held in archives to perform cultural work within and between groups of specialists. With primary sources ranging from the mid-nineteenth to the early twenty-first century, this volume also maps the intellectual and social connections between archaeologists and their peers. Geographical settings include Britain, Cyprus, Mesoamerica, the Middle East and the United States, and the sites of visual encounter are no less diverse, ranging from excavation reports in salvage archaeology to instrumentally derived data-sets and remote-sensing imagery. By forensically examining selected visual records from published accounts and archival sources, enduring tropes of representation become apparent that transcend issues of style and reflect fundamental visual sensibilities within the discipline of archaeology.

Table of Contents

1. Insistent Visuality

A Theoretical Framework

Visual Culture as a Field of Investigation

Images in Science

Agents and Networks

The Context of Modernity

Rupture and Rapture

Visual Stability

Visual Instability

Spaces of Display

Looking Inwards and Seeing Through

2. Scopic Privilege and Appropriation

Circulation of the Archaeological Story

Cesnola and Squier in Print

Set in Stone: Cesnola in Cyprus

Temples, Tombs and Temptations

Family Photographs

Appraisal and Accusation

Metrics and Meaning: Squier in South America

Sizing-up Tiwanaku

Photographing Tiwanaku

Cuzco Bones

3. Stratigraphy

Diagrammatic Picturing


Time, Embodiment and the Subsurface

Augustus Pitt Rivers and “Cranborne”

Culture and the Cross-section

Mortimer Wheeler and the Aesthetics of Excavation


Harris Matrix and the Rope of Time

Surface and Assemblage

4. Imagination and the Ruin

Tatiana’s Chair

Paper Ruins

Traveling Glyphs

Stela 14


Bodega at Palenque

Thought Sketches

5. Aerial Archaeology and its Haunting

The Aerial Domain

Flight Militant

Flight Archaeological

Osbert Crawford and Ghosts of Old England

Stonehenge Avenue

Celtic Fields



Ghosts of Old Yucatán

The Lindbergh-Carnegie Survey

The University of Pennsylvania Survey

6. Remote Sensing and Rocket Visions

Visual Continuities

Documentary Prosthetics

Encounters beyond Visible Light

“Invisible Rays”

Infrared Arizona

Desert Traces


“Radar Rivers”

Seeking Ubar

Seeking Tanis

7 Wither the Object?

The Weightless Past

The Weightless of Scopic Opportunity

The Weightlessness of Cyber-archaeology

Archaeological Imagination

Art Nexus



The Wistfulness of the Archaeological Eye

About the Author


Roger Balm is a geographer with a research interest in the ancient cultural landscapes of Mexico, South America and the Mediterranean. He was a 2010 Fulbright scholar in Cyprus and has also held a fellowship with the American Geographical Society. He is an independent scholar.

About the Series

Routledge Studies in Archaeology

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Archaeology