Archaeology’s Dirty Little Secrets by Sue Alcock Part 1 (Perception and Context)

I am currently doing a MOOC with Coursera which is the most brilliant fun. I am going to share my homework with you so you can get an idea about the course and maybe signup yourself when they do it again. I am posting with a delay, we are on week 5 and this is week 1’s homework.

Option #1: Archaeology: A Game of Perception and Context?

In Unit #1 you learned a great deal of new and essential vocabulary: artifacts, features, structures, ecofacts, context, associations, assemblages, stratigraphy… Time to start playing with them…

  1. First, choose one artifact (or ecofact) of your daily life.
  2. Describe the artifact in its normal context: its appearance, its functionality, its associations, its significance, and anything else you think relevant.
  3. Now pick a new identity for yourself: from another culture, from the future, from the past; role-play! You can either choose a ‘real’ being or create an imaginary one, but he/she/it should be unfamiliar with this particular artifact and its meaning.
  4. Next, take the artifact to three notably different locations (indoors vs. outdoors, on top of a shelf vs. underground, be creative!)
  5. Describe the artifact in its new location, from the point of view of your new identity. What changes in your perception and understanding of the artifact as your perceptions and its context changes? Have fun with this.

You should end up with four short, but very different interpretations and understandings of this particular artifact, including your own original description. Pictures welcome, but not necessary for a successful exercise!

Your response should be a maximum of 750 words.

This exercise should take you no more than two hours.

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This is a purple, plastic flat wand with a flat handle and an oval paddle like second half. The paddle end is perfectly flat and the handle is at a slight angle to it. Each side of the bottom flat half has sandpaper on them. One side is fine and the other rough. It has been well used and has fine dust, dry skin, embedded in the sand paper. The rough side has more than the smooth. It is used to sand dry skin from the feet. Generally found in a bathroom or bedroom with other foot care items like clippers or foot cream. The handle has a small hole in the end so it could be hung up or a loop put through it. It has the word Scholl embedded in the handle and a rough raised area which makes the grip better.


I live in Luxor Egypt so I imagined it went back in time to Khaemwaset, one the sons of Ramses II. He is often considered to be the first archaeologist as he restored and documented many ancient Egyptian things from previous dynasties some hundreds of years earlier.


Birth Wand. Found in a burial of a woman with her dead child, next to a mirror, razor, tweezers and eye paint. Made of bone or a similar material and painted, it is a rare purple colour. Obviously this wand is used in childbirth as the grave contains the skeleton of a new born child.  It would have been used to draw out the umbilical cord and the razor was used on the flat side to cut the cord. The smooth side was used for female children and the rough side for males. It would have hung around the neck of the midwife on a chord.


Plant Marker. Found in a garden, half buried flat side above ground. This plant marker was found in situ. It is pushed into the ground leaving the black end protruding. The black area is a mini blackboard and this is used to write down the name of the seed that was planted there. It is believed there were many different coloured markers, so even those that could not read, could identify the seeds planted in the ground by the colour of the marker. The white residue is obviously where the paint writing has been removed.


Ritual Object. Found in a house next to the household shrine. This artefact is obviously a ritual object used in worship; it has a purple colour which is reserved for rulers and rich people. So this object was obviously a high status artefact used by the upper echelons of society.  Made of an unknown stone with a black thin inlay. Looking like a mirror it was used to protect the household from bad spirits as nothing was reflected on the black surface. The bad spirit would run away when it could not see its reflection. The owner would wave the wand backwards and forwards in front of the bad spirits. The hole was used to hang the wand by the shrine.

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