Elphinstone Institute Annual Postgrad Ethnographic Film Workshop

January 29-30 2019

Ethnography is the effort to learn about people by learning from people. – Maribel Alvarez

This year’s workshop will be held over two days beginning Wednesday January 29. A particular focus of the workshop will be to explore how the editing process can provide enrichment and support for ethnographic film shot under field conditions. The workshop will feature the use of recent student films as well as edits on films made by Brewer including a recent experimental edit based on footage by Swiss filmmaker Susanna Knittel which resulted in The Last Vaquero on Tassajara Road and , on her own films including Singing “Bird”, Capturing the Mountain Picasso’s, Donation to the Museum and Gathering Dogbane.

New developments from Donation to the Museum

Behind the scenes, conversations between the Bristol City Museum curators and the Tongva Ti’at Society about a possible repatriation of the two skulls and some grave goods from Santa Catalina and San Nicholas islands which had been housed at the Bristol City Museum since 1921. Never displayed, always in storage, and not really of research interest in Bristol, now that we had established the history of the collection and discussed that with the descendants of Alfred Hutchins (the relic hunter who excavated the graves in around 1900) as well as the directors of the present day Catalina Island Archaeological Project, it seems the time was ripe to agree a return to California.

This was arranged to take place on coincide with the Royal Anthropological Institute’s biennial international ethnographic film festival, the venue where the film had first been screened in the UK just four years before. In the meantime, the RAI had also become the international distributor of the video, which has proved to be of interest to other indigenous groups involved in international repatriations as well as to museum and other educational institutions that support this work.

Contributors to the original film including Tongva descendants Cindi Alvitre and Desiree Martinez, Curators Wendy Teeter (Fowler Museum UCLA) and Karimah Kennedy Robinson (Autry Museum of Western History), Sue Giles (Bristol City Museum and Gallery), Teri Brewer (filmmaker and researcher). David Robinson, Director of the Windwolves Archaeological Project joined us and Lynn Dodd, archaeologist from the University of Southern California and Research Associate for the Pimu Catalina Island Archaeological Project joined us remotely. The topic of the forum was recent collaborative projects between indigenous people of California and archaeologists or anthropologists. This forum will be repeated and extended in 2020 at the University of Southern California, (date to be confirmed) The program and subsequent events were filmed for the Pimu Catalina Island Archaeological Project and for Archaeoikon by Peter Wilcox.

In the afternoon, we were able to schedule the formal transfer of custody for the skulls and materials from the islands to Cindi Alvitre and to hold a public ceremony at Bristol City Hall to honor these Tongva ancestors as they headed home, as well as honoring the long and cordial collaboration between all the curators, archaeologists and others involved, particularly Mrs. Avalon Eastman, the grand daughter of Alfred Hutchins (the relic hunter), and a stalwart supporter of the film and repatriation project right from the beginning.

So far press coverage has been confined to the New York Times and local Bristol media.

We are happy to see the Tongva islander ancestors home at last and reburial is bring arranged, but that is not the end of the story. These skulls and grave good were the first international repatriations for the Tongva, but there are other skeletal remains and artifacts in Europe which are bring investigated and this story may be continued, In the meantime we would like to applaud the success of the NAGPRA repatriations for the Gabrieleno/ Tongva which have resulted in the reburial of about 700 islanders and more than 2000 individuals from the Greater Los Angeles area. Much of this has been done under the aegis of the University of California Los Angeles’ Fowler Museum and we are very fortunate to have had their expert curator, Dr. Wendy Teeter involved with this international effort from the beginning.

Enough for now. A new postscript for the original film is now in preparation, photos will be added here soon. We hope to continue some collaboration with the Pimu Catalina Island Archaeological Project in the near future.

In Memory of Phillip Earl

We just learned of the passing of Phillip Earl, former historian for the Nevada Historical Society and an expert on the Basque arborglyphs of the Great Basin. I had the great pleasure of working with Phillip and his wife Jean in 2015 to create a pair of films for a Nevada Arts Council/ Nevada Historical Society travelling exhibit. Our work together involved filming in Reno as well as high in Sierra Nevada aspen groves and their adjacent meadows to demonstrate the Earl’s unique technique for preserving a record of the arborglyphs using wax rubbing on muslin fabric.

The exhibit, Mountain Picassos: Arborglyphs of the Great Basin, continues its travels. The two films are still available to view on the NAC website, and Phillip and Jean’s wonderful book Basque Aspen Art of the Sierra Nevada, published in 2011 is also recommended.

A Donation to the Museum

Once upon a time, long ago, a minor donation was entered into accession records at the Bristol City Museum in England.  The well intentioned donation  eventually became a challenge in curation for the museum as well as part of a developing legend over nearly a century in the donor’s family. The making of this film helped us to recover much of the story on the origins, on the legend, and on the challenges such donationa in a changing world.

What can we learn now about a pair of skulls and related artefacts from a California island  donated  nearly a century ago with minimal  background information from the donor?  In the course of researching the story of the two skulls, and making this film  we   threw a light on a pair brothers from Bristol – late 19th century “gentleman adventurers” with antiquarian leanings who arrived on the California coast in the late 19th century. One was involved in the opening years of relic hunting in Native American graves there, before there was any protection in law for these.

The story of what happened  next reflects changes in archaeological ethics, methods and participation as well as on changes in collection and curation in museums.  It reflects current international dialogues about human skeletal remains and grave goods in museum collections outside the country of origin and particularly those of indigenous people. The film was made as a collaboration between the museum, the donor’s descendents, tribal descendants and the archaeological community in southern California. We have been pleased to watch  it provoke discussion about these issues  in general, as well as on this specific case.

A Donation to the Museum is distributed  internationally by the Royal Anthropological Institute in London. It is now available for download  or on DVD from their film sales website.

Catalina Island Conservancy 2015 Conservation and Education Symposium

Archaeologist Desiree Martinez, co-director of the Pimu Catalina Island Archaeological Project gave a presentation on recent  excavation and research into island history that included some  discussion of  our film A Donation to the Museum, released earlier this year. Desiree was involved in this film project which explored how grave goods and human skeletal remains from Catalina and San Nicholas found their way to an English Museum more than a century ago. By coincidence this past summer, Desiree and student participants in the Pimu project found themselves unexpectedly excavating part of the tourist camp once owned by English relic hunter Alfred Hutchins, an early resident of Avalon and a subject of this film.

Conversations at La Casona

IMG_5619La Casona is a settlement on the Guaymi Indigenous Reserve in the Coto Brus canton of southern Costa Rica.  In October 2015, Teri Brewer accompanied cultural geographer and ethnobotanist Jeannine Koshear as co-investigator and filmmaker for an initial revisit of this community where Koshear worked 25 years ago.  Brewer and Koshear worked to document Guaymi perspectives on the social and economic changes that have taken place in the intervening years, and to explore attitudes towards traditional knowledge as well as the development of “artisania” the development of a local handcraft industry catering to the growing local ecotourism initiatives and based in traditional Guaymi arts.

Mudawwara 1918-2018

We are now in the final stages of working on a little film to support a crowdfunding campaign for archaeologist John Winterburn’s Mudawwara Project.  John has been involved in the excavation of three Great Arab Revolt  redoubt sites in Jordan which overlooked the Hejaz Railway station in Medawwara during the legendary campaign to disrupt that line which involved both Bedouin and British forces in 1916-18.  Re-photography of the area that has taken place during aerial surveys, the excavations and ground surveys will be an important part of  the exhibition reflecting of changes in the cultural landscape of this part of southern Jordan over the past century. T.E. Lawrence, better known as Lawrence of Arabia was instrumental in designing the actions at Mudawarra which culminated in a raid on August 8, 1918 which destroyed the water tower critical to supplying the steam engines which were used on this line.

Everyone at Archaeoikon has played a part on putting this film together with Teri and Christina filming and working with John on voiceovers and design,  Alan and Timo  have contributed graphics and  Peter took over as lead editor in the final stages of the project.

We will make a link available both to the crowdfunding site and to the project site once these go live.

Update: Cristina Mosconi

Our collaborator Cristina Mosconi is now at the start of  a PhD program at Exeter University which will help her develop her professional interest in locative media for heritage interpretation. Her MA  work on  a phone based app for use at the Rollright Stones, a megalithic site in Oxfordshire is now being developed into a full blown interpretive aid for the site in collaboration with the Rollright Trust.