SCRAP graduate students awarded SSHRC prizes

Congratulations to SCRAP team members Dave Blaine and Matt Longstaffe! They were awarded a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Masters Scholarship and Doctoral Fellowship, respectively, for their proposed research at the ancient town of Alabama in the Stann Creek District of Belize. Read on to learn a bit more about these two outstanding scholars.

Dave Blaine (M.A. Interdisciplinary Studies student, Athabasca University, Alberta, Canada) – a photographer and mapmaker by trade – is living his dream. Exploring, discovering… and digging! Dave’s current studies focus on the interdisciplinary subjects of New Media and Social Heritage. But his genuine interest is in how narratives and storytelling can communicate science to various audiences, specifically, the science of archaeology. Check out this recent write-up about Dave in AU’s The Hub.

Dave drawing unit profiles.

Dave is developing a model for creating multimedia productions that tell stories of archaeology and archaeologists in innovative ways using digital technologies. The model requires him to tell the story of the Stann Creek Regional Archaeology Project (SCRAP) while actively participating in it. He’s had two field seasons in 2018 and 2019. During that time, he figured out what it looks like to juggle taking photos, shooting videos, recording interviews, and drawing maps with the day-to-day tasks of the project. 

And rest assured, the project is not just “the dig.” Along with the story of archaeological investigation, there’s also local politics, cuisine, and music. It’s a fulsome cultural experience. And it makes for a demanding production schedule.

Archaeology is a rich discipline for storytelling, and it provides a ready-made platform for exciting contemporary tales of travel, adventure, and (re)discovery as a field science. But archaeologists also reconstruct narratives of our pasts that can provide valuable and unexpected insights to address the challenges of our present and future. SCRAP’s research focuses on the ancient town site of Alabama as a possible example of a “boomtown” that developed in a sparsely populated area into a significant frontier center over a relatively short period. Communities around the world, past and present, have grown up under similar circumstances, and they rose to prominence for various reasons and then eventually faced sustainability challenges.

Matt Longstaffe (Ph.D. Archaeology candidate, University of Calgary, Alberta, Canada) is intrigued by the impact of economic activities on how such communities develop. His dissertation will explore household and group identities at Alabama and their relationships to community institutions. This includes elements of resource and labour distribution, skillsets, and specialist activities and how each contributed to the broader economy of the boomtown. In reconstructing and sharing this story, Matt will provide relevant insights, both locally and more broadly, into the social impacts of resource exploitation and development. This is particularly relevant in the Stann Creek District, where modern industrial development and associated settlement booms have occurred for over a century.

Matt hanging out with Higinio and Aaron.

Many people think of archaeology as a mind-numbing ordeal of brushing away dirt from bones and bits of pottery, or whatever it is that Indiana Jones does. Through storytelling, Matt and Dave hope to change those perspectives. Their stories will give our audiences insights into how archaeologists actually learn about past societies and gather evidence and use that information to understand how various peoples lived in the past. They will also relate what it is like to live, work, and collaborate with contemporary communities and build a culture of discovery in which these narratives are shared in meaningful ways.

By turning our gaze to earlier cultures and societies with similar experiences and sharing our own experiences in engaging and personal ways, SCRAP’s team is making significant contributions not just to archaeology as a discipline but to society as a whole. Exploring the past to inform a wiser future