NASTA Update #5: BTS and Speaker Abstracts!

It has been a while since you heard from us publicly, but behind the scenes we have been busy preparing for the conference. The call for papers closed on 15 March and we are almost done selecting the accepted papers. Everyone who submitted an abstract will hear from us on Wednesday 24 March. Based on the selected abstracts, we will set up four parallel sessions. The past few days we have also been hard at work setting up the conference page on the platform we are using. We have chosen for In our experience this conference platform performs high in user friendliness and creating that proper conference ‘feel’, which we haven’t found anywhere else (outside of in-person events). Everyone who has pre-registered has already received an invitation to finish their registration, and the official registration will open up to everyone this week!

That is it for the conference progress update. Now we would like to share with you the titles and abstracts from our main speakers who we announced in NASTA Update #3. Our main speakers are Dr. Tera Pruitt, Dr. Aris Politopoulos, and Dr. Daniël van Helden. Our keynote speaker is Dr. Gavin Lucas.

Main Speakers:

Examining Archaeological Stories: Understanding The Science and Impact of Storytelling

- Tera Pruitt

This paper combines archaeological interpretation and research into the fundamental structure of storytelling, presenting key scientific research from the fields of neuroscience, psychology, and literary criticism, as well as archaeology, to help us understand why stories are so effective. By understanding the impact of stories on the human brain, we can better organise our own stories to be far more powerful and memorable. We will examine what kind of underlying story structure archaeologists and museum professionals can use to make our communication better and have more impact on both academic and public audiences. 

Remember that time when you rolled a six? Playful experiences and fun stories from the past in the present.

- Aris Politopoulos

Do you remember that time when you rolled a six? It was that six that you really needed to turn the game around, find victory in the midst of defeat. Telling stories about our times of play is a common social practice between people. We have all played, at one point or another, and we all have memories and stories associated with these playful experiences. Play, as argued by historian Johan Huizinga, is essential to human civilization. At the same time, as has been argued by some philosophers (and less so by archaeologists), humans are a storytelling animal, and human experience and history unfolds in and through narratives. In this presentation, I will argue that stories and play are intrinsically connected. That stories emerge through play, and that the study of these times of play and their associated narratives creates a rich locus for examining the human past.

To do this I will explore two types of playful pasts: i) the stories that arise through historical video games; and ii) the stories of play through ancient board games. For the first part, I will discuss narratives experienced in video games, through our work with the VALUE Foundation, focusing on the autoethnographic research I conducted together with dr. Angus Mol on Sid Meier’s Civilization 6. For the second part I will present the Past-at-Play Lab, an experimental space at Leiden University where we study ancient board games through participatory playful research. Through these, I will explore how contemporary play allows us to create stories of the past, as well as our own stories about the past.

Tale as Old as Time: The logic and necessity of open, honest storytelling in archaeology

- Daniël van Helden

Storytelling is treated with some suspicion in academic archaeological publishing. Some fear it dilutes the ‘pure’ scholarly pursuit of archaeology, making it difficult to judge competing claims. Others claim that storytelling can have an important role in communicating the results of archaeological research to non-specialist audiences. I would go further still. I would argue that stories are indispensable, even in academic archaeology, and have always been. Anything we communicate in archaeology beyond bare factual statements of grid locations or chemical make-up of materials is a story. All our interpretations about the humans we seek to study are suffused with stories.

This is because the story is the tool humans use to make sense of reality. Reality is too big, too complex, for finite humans to comprehend in its totality. So we weave elements of reality into stories we tell to make sense of it and communicate this sense to others. When we ignore this fundamental role that stories play in human understanding we risk serious misrepresentation of what actually goes on when we interpret archaeological material. Conversely, when we acknowledge the role that stories play, we can examine ways in which we make sense of the reality of the past and the ways in which our interpretations are always political. Furthermore, it can show us how we can simultaneously demystify archaeological expert knowledge and counteract harmful fringe narratives or fake news.


Narrative in archaeology: some reflections

- Gavin Lucas

In this talk, I will offer some general reflections on the nature of narrative and storytelling in archaeology. In particular, I will ask two questions: first, what kind of narratives do archaeologists produce and second, what function do they serve? With the first question, my interest will focus on the variability of archaeological narratives in relation to more general aspects of narrative theory and narratology. With the second question, my emphasis will be on how the use of narrative relates to the broader goals of archaeology and the nature of archaeological data. My concern with both these questions is to try and map diversity rather than offer an over-arching framework. Ultimately, I hope these reflections will simply stimulate further discussion on a topic of great importance to our discipline.

We have repeated it often, but it is never untrue: we are incredibly excited for 29 April! Our main speakers and keynote will be very insightful, the abstracts we received through the call for papers were of high quality, which makes the selection process all the more difficult. We received significantly more abstracts than we can fit into the conference schedule, so if yours isn’t selected, we hope that you will consider trying again at NASTA 2022!

Don’t forget to that the official registration for NASTA 2021 opens up this week. We will announce this on all our social media pages, so make sure to follow us over there. See you on the 29th of April!