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ChatChat - Claudia Cragg


Aug 27, 2020

@claudiacragg speaks here for @KGNU with archeologist Carolyn White who, for over a decade, has been studying The #BurningMan and its California location.  Her studies continue this year even though the festival has gone virtual due to #COVID19.

Because the event requires participants to “leave no trace,” the site is according to White “an archaeologist’s worst nightmare.”  And yet she finds that #BlackRockCity is also the perfect site at which to conduct “active site” research, which looks not at ancient ruins, but at places that are currently inhabited.  How does one do archeology in a city that is at once growing and disappearing?  And what can we learn about cities from looking at one so ephemeral?

In her forthcoming book, The Archaeology of Burning Man: The Rise and Fall of Black Rock CityWhite explains that there is something distinctive about active-site archaeology.  When conducting this type of research, one must “confront on a minute-by-minute basis the ways that the city’s residents are the creators, users, and destroyers of the city…. Black Rock City is not just a place where something curious is happening; it is a place where the rhythm of daily life is accelerated and where all archaeologists might imagine the role that similar elements may have played at other sites.”

White’s work sheds light on the noise, disruption, and movement that mark all cities: “Cities are built and cities are destroyed, and in between their birth and death people inhabit them. In the interval between construction and devastation there are thousands and thousands of small and messy events of building and undoing.”

Burning Man is interesting because of the tension between it being an amazing place and a typical place.  And this is true of everyplace.  Every place is both typical and unique.  In the end,  “All cities are temporary,” writes White, “but some are more temporary than others.”