“I published everything I ever dug up”

Beginning in the early 1920s, William Augustus Ritchie dedicated his career to digging archaeological sites in New York state, but he did make a few exceptions, venturing south into New Jersey and north into Ontario. Late in his career, he also traveled east to Massachusetts to investigate several sites on the island of Martha’s Vineyard.

In a recent dissertation, Katharine Kirakosian interviewed several archaeologists and read through thousands of pages of letters, field notes, and articles to chronicle the history shell midden archaeology in Massachusetts. Ritchie’s excursion to the Vineyard in the 1960s, brief as it was, plays a large role in her study. Her work provides an interesting, if incomplete, outsider perspective on Ritchie’s career and influence.

Her sources indicate that there was some unhappiness with Ritchie working in Massachusetts, with some archaeologists, although publicly supporting his work, viewing it as trespassing on others’ sites and “an attempt to conquer a nearby state.” (p. 267) Others viewed him differently. James Tuck, who would become a prominent archaeologist in Newfoundland, Canada, was Ritchie’s fishing buddy on the Vineyard.

No one who has studied Ritchie’s site plans in The Archaeology of New York will be surprised to learn from one of her informants, a retired academic archaeologist who worked with Ritchie, that he “was known to get most excited when uncovering post molds, which may have led to a bit of poetic license while reconstructing patterns reconstructing structure patterns. …[her informant] recalled that at one New York site

we were scratching our heads, you know, seeing post molds everywhere and we couldn’t really figure out exactly how he got the shape […] well you got to do something and so he connected the dots and […] it’s probably best guess sort of thing. (p. 242)

Plan map of 1962 excavations at Lamoka Lake
A portion of Ritchie’s plan map of 1962 excavations at the Lamoka Lake site, New York, showing inferred house floor outlines based on post molds. Source: Ritchie 1969:73.

Ritchie had a reputation for both mentoring graduate students and having a “bawdy sense of humor.” (p. 242) Unlike some professional archaeologists, he worked well with amateur archaeologists, too. He did not, however, like having visitors at his sites. At one New York site he was working on

he had all these big huge pieces of pottery […] sitting on the edge of the trench. So he did a little spiel and then he saw that all these people were standing on top of all these potsherds and he went berserk. That’s what he said. He went crazy “get off this site get out of here” and so forth and so on. (p. 249-250)

Perhaps the best credential Ritchie has is this: “when he finally completed his last site report, he [said] ‘I’m completely out of archaeology … I published everything I ever dug up.’ (p. 252)

Kirakosian, Katharine
2014  Curious Monuments of the Simplest Kind: Shell Midden Archaeology in Massachusetts. Doctoral Dissertations May 2014 – Current, February 1, 2014. University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Ritchie, William A.
1969  The Archaeology of New York State. Revised edition. The Natural History Press, Garden City, NY.
1969  The Archaeology of Martha’s Vineyard: A Framework for the Prehistory of Southern New England, A Study in Coastal Ecology and Adaptation. The Natural History Press, Garden City, NY.

An earlier version of this was posted on Jazz Age Adventurers

In the 1980s, Tom Petty’s Music Videos Could Get a Little Weird

Many of Tom Petty’s music videos in the 1980s were imaginative, visually rich movies that were inspired by earlier literary works.

Things get started in 1982 with You Got Lucky, in which the Heartbreakers motor through a presumably postapocalyptic desert and rediscover the boom box and electric guitar. The Mad Max aesthetic is more derivative than inspired, but the band demonstrates that they can wear hats well, and  Battlestar Galactica and an animated Chuck Berry make fleeting appearances.

His creative, ultimately disturbing, 1985 video with the Heartbreakers for Don’t Come Around Here No More has a very ’80s Alice trapped in Wonderland, with Petty as the Mad Hatter (top hats were a thing for him).  The song was written with Dave Stewart (Petty’s next door neighbor when an arsonist set fire to Petty’s house), who claimed it was inspired by a Carrollesque night he spent at a party at Stevie Nicks’ house.

Runnin’ Down a Dream, from his 1989 solo album, is a black and white animated video inspired by the early twentieth century comic strip Little Nemo in Slumberland. Petty is led through a dream landscape by a small, cigar-chewing figure wearing a crown, a clear homage to Slumberland‘s Flip the clown. On his adventure, there are allusions to Wonderland, Georges Méliès’ A Trip to the Moon, and King Kong.

Tom Petty: “There’s not a hint of metaphor in this thing”

One morning in 1987, someone set fire to Tom Petty’s house while Petty, his wife, child, and housekeeper were inside it. Everyone survived, but the entire house, except for his basement recording studio, was quickly consumed by the flames. The arsonist was never captured.

After the fire, Tom Petty did two things: he rebuilt the house, and wrote I Won’t Back Down.  “There’s not a hint of metaphor in this thing,” he said of the song, which was released on his 1989 solo album.