Unarchaeological archaeologies at HouseRules – BOUNDING, UNDERSTANDING, REPRESENTING

I wasn’t going to post this, but someone who took part and who I saw last weekend for the first time since told me they thought it was interesting so I might as well! Details about HouseRules are here. The works constitute an alternative archaeological record of the Eastway underpass in the Olympic Park,made as part of HouseRules back in May.


1 Bounding

I tried to describe the site rather than just drawing a line on a map and did not edit:


The most solid edge of the site is formed by a barrier of large panels, concrete tongue and groove, holding back the bank of the Eastway while holding up the Eastway itself. The barrier spreads, perhaps, beyond the site, or is the site, the boundary, the limit. Deceptively linear, the surface of this edge rises and falls with the interface of each pair of panels while where concrete has decayed or been intentionally broken we see further texture. A hierarchy, stratigraphy, of paint schemes places micro-layers over the boundary edge, but all are within the site as below, between giant letters, we see through to the pebble matrix of the original concrete. The real edge? The beyond? The exception that proves the ruler, a hole in almost the furthest panel north at the edge of the concrete road above takes us 30 cm further to a curved, moist, metal edge. Beyond the moisture, everything else. The whole emits a cool breeze. We must call this edge indeterminate. Oh, but above the panels, below the road, steel grilles and a void behind. No idea what’s behind there, it’s too high to see, wrong angle, but there’s something further for sure. At least now we…know…that…we…don’t…know, as they say, or keep saying. We must call this edge indeterminate.

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Can’t see the north boundary of the site so we have to infer. Marks on the floor of a former wall base in the north-east. That’ll do (but less ambivalent). This edge then formerly hard, in part, now not. Characterised by, if anything, seepage of the outside in or the failure of the inside to be so. Bicycle track in mud a main entry point, a thin strip of access between the inaccessible and the wrong way. Up the whole line, concrete flags run into soil, debris, fallen leaves (a year-round feature). Beyond, well, not site, but it’s dirtier, things dumped beyond the boundary maybe, or pushed there. As for the world, so for this underpass. Tree roots break the line, of course, and occasionally branches of the trees themselves. The other corner we cannot discern. The boundary line is obscured by, or becomes, or is a pile of reclaimed wood waiting for use. It belongs to the man who owns one of the boats. The line runs from a scrape of past to a pile of future. How…cheesy of it. We must call this edge indeterminate, but it has the novelty of performing four dimensions. That’s something.

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We’ll call this metal fence the southern boundary. It seems to hold out, or in, very little. Gravel, spider webs, dead leaves, rubbish, weeds, all exist on both sides, but then they’re small and the fence is much more hole than fence. Bikes are only ever on our side, and we have way more copies of Time magazine. We’ve got loads of copies of Time magazine. Big plants are only on the other side, but they lean in. The fence turns a corner and carries on, fencing its merry way somewhere else, around the plants I suppose. This boundary is not indeterminate, although, although, climbing plants growing from beyond it have twisted around the spikes of the fence in the south-west corner. But they can’t all be indeterminate.

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Western boundary, water boundary, western water boundary is predominantly made of air. For the most part we can discern the line between which molecules are ours and which are not by the not-straight line on the floor between our site and a double row of cobbles that I generously assign to the rest of the world. The line is occasionally broken. Poured concrete doesn’t care. There used to be a wall here of some kind but now only the base remains. The air hasn’t moved.

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Up is infinity and the Eastway. There are small holes between structural elements, but it is by and large solid, although in two parts, lanes, divided by a big gap of nothing much, today sunlight. People have been there and tested it, either personally or via their agents. Most of the concrete-encased beams of the structure bear the marks of muddy footballs and occasionally there is chalked writing. People have tested this boundary and found it hard, despite the massive hole.

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The bottom, the floor, base is the most indeterminate of all. There are concrete flags and poured concrete, sure, and tile and it’s holding us up and we can’t see through it. But, first but, there are drains, drains that go where we don’t know. And that’s excitingly indeterminate because although we don’t now where they go, we know that they go somewhere. But also, the biggest but, bigger but, there are also fucking ants’ nests. The limits of our site are only known to fucking ants. I can’t top that.

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2 Understanding

An alternative to putting a grid through the site, I reduced it to its spaces.


3 Representing

I created a temporary, ephemeral archive of the site on my body.

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EAA 2018 Call for Papers – ‘Archaeology and…’ Inter-disciplinary working in planning and design

Gwilym Williams, Nevila Molla and I are organising a session at the EAA conference in September 2018 looking at the potential for archaeology and heritage to take advantage of connection with other disciplines to become something more when a situation demands it. Details as follows:

#748 ‘Archaeology and…’ – Inter-disciplinary working in planning and design

Across Europe, archaeologists work alongside ecologists, architects, master-planners and more, but also find ourselves engaging with artists, politicians, academics and others as part of the multi-disciplinary environment that planning and design create. Those common enough processes that bring different disciplines together don’t always survive intact as they move from project direction to ‘boots on the ground’ site investigation. This session will investigate opportunities for creative engagement with other disciplines that take us beyond simply doing the things existing policy and guidance tell us to do. We will identify different kinds of archaeology that take advantage of working with other disciplines to do something more than what might ordinarily be expected and contribute to the development of archaeological practice more widely. How does multi-disciplinary working differ across Europe? How can we create strategies to help each other develop? Should we aim to be more consciously inter-disciplinary as individuals or does it work best at project management and curation levels? Is there an archaeology-ecology practice that differs from an archaeology-architecture practice? Should these different cross-over practices be the work of specialists or should we all be thinking differently? This session will examine the potential for multi-disciplinary exchange and working in planning and design to change the way we approach sites and landscapes. We welcome papers from practitioners and theorists interested in new ways of doing archaeology in tandem with other disciplines. We welcome equally papers from practitioners of other disciplines who work alongside archaeologists and think we could be doing something different.

Email me for more details or to discuss a submission; james.dixon@woodplc.com

Submit an abstract here: https://eaa.klinkhamergroup.com/eaa2018/