C.A.S.P.E.R Research Center

Conceptual Mediation and the Performance of Haunt Field Drama: Ethnoarchaeoghostology and Theater

Media/Press Announcements

A useful and promising approach to the investigation of ghosts and hauntings is the application of archaeological methodology and field practices. I have used this particular approach in many of my own investigations, and it is the basis of a book I have written, Ghost Excavator: Unearthing the Drama in the Mine Fields. I am currently working on a ethnoarchaeoghostological approach to the recovery and analysis of field data from haunted battlefields.


The ethnoarchaeoghostological matrix, based on survey and mapping techniques, is an amalgam of ghostly layers of past memories and experiences (haunt stratigraphy) of events and/or mundane activities. The development of a performance-based and framed “ghost script” is used to decode this amalgam, separating haunt phases by isolating individual dramas of events and activities in the life of each interacting entity. The dead are the principal performers in a sequence of events, with the sensory manifestations observed, the perfect stage picture, in the final act of a script. These sensory manifestations are repeating the dramatical moments in an infinitely extended performance, occurring for brief moments of time, at a haunted location. This emphasis on ethnoarchaeoghostological performance emphasizes past lives as potentially active, energetic agents, with the living and dead interacting in a dynamic choreography of past-present. This is the essence of embodiment, conceptualizing the past as a lived sensual experience. This follows recent trends in the social sciences, especially archaeology (ex. “the archaeology of the senses”; see also Thinking Through the Body: Archaeologies of Corporeality. Yannis Hamilakis, et.al.).


In the decoding of dramatical ghost memories, the ethnoarchaeoghostologist uses the technique of excavation to encounter the meaning behind the drama. But the extraction of this drama is impossible without an understanding of the concept of horizontal surface haunt interface, the moments of perceptual discontinuity between the contemporary physical space and the observed anomalous sensory manifestations that occur in the past (haunted) space. The establishment of these surface discontinuities is the focus of ghost excavation, and is accomplished through historical and ethnographic research. This latter research is important in distinguishing and defining the interfaces between (vertical) and across (horizontal) haunt layers, and the mapping of haunt network patterns of particular individuals. A performance-based investigation may not be possible in many cases due to a lack of historical data for particular individuals or an inadequate sensory assemblage (in the form of anomalous sensory manifestation groupings) for isolating specific contextual cultural and/or ethnic traditions. On a haunted battlefield, such as Gettysburg, the situation is further complicated because of the nature of engagement. The frames of haunting behavior may be larger than the isolation and identification of individual entities. The unit of survey and excavation in these situations would be the “battle lines” and the “firing lines”.


The ghost research and investigative “toolkits” used today (which include specialized equipment such as EMF meters, thermal scanners, infrared devises, among others) do not excavate haunt strata. They can only determine surface sensory manifestational discontinuities. Haunt stratigraphy and interface are not determined by the scientific application of these measuring and recording technologies. What is needed is a symmetrical approach to ghost research. This symmetrical approach is premised upon a patterned behavorial continuity between past and present. This involves the mapping and recording of the resonating qualities of the present and its linkage to past memory and experience, be it residual or interactive. The sensory materiality of the past survives, and the memory of experience is the link between past and present. The ethnoarchaeoghostologist translates these sensory inscriptions into primary message systems, which then can be used to develop a “ghost script” in performance-based fieldwork. These sensory inscriptions are the types of transformations that occur in the present and, through the interactive entity, become a material presence in the form of artifactual trace elements.


Encountering the drama at a haunted location is not ineffable. It is embodied in memory, and is “felt” and can be transmitted by the field investigator as performer in the reiterative practice of continuing the drama. The question is: How do we articulate or mobilize the ghost’s sensory “worldview”? This is accomplished through the engaging process of decontextualization and re-engaging (or recalling/restimulating) the original drama, be it event or mundane activity. This is best accomplished in a form that carries significance backward from the present into the past. Only then can they  resonate. This resonance is what precipitates their reemergence, their recollection through the performance of the investigator as actor. During the performance, choices have to be made to determine what elicits attention ( i.e. a sensory manifestation) from the interacting entity. This is where the “ghost script”, as narrative mediation, comes into (the) play. Additionally, the use of “target objects”, as contextually-resonating elements, is important. They help to establish and identify dramatical orientation, situational interaction, historical authenticity, and cultural “character”.


Haunted locations are a palimpsest of accumulated iterations of memories, experiences, events, and mundane habitual activities translating as haunting behaviors ( because they are in discontinuous patterns with the contemporary environment). These fragmentary “bits and pieces” of sensory data can best be defined, categorized, and classified in a way that frames them into haunt sensory assemblages. In choosing to systematize and categorize them, it is important to extract a coherent historical and contextually-based narrative that transposes these artifactual cladistics into an investigative interactional process that can elicit evidential data. The “ghost script” containing these sensory cladistics (as primary message system elements) manifesting in contemporary space, and indicative of an event or activity in the memory and experience of our interactive entity is our medium of transmission. It is a form of communicating the essence of “cultural” in a context in which specific actions (significant events/mundane activities in the life of the ghost) and artifacts (sensory manifestations) are meaningful: the past of the haunt drama is present in the haunt drama. The specific intra-site locations of these dramas are what I term haunt chronotope S.I.M.S. (stored information memory sensory) zones and are the organizing centers for the events and activities of the haunt drama. These zones are a complex foci of simultaneously-interacting sensory impressions (spatial orientation, physical and emotionally-laden spaces) that are preserved in the memory of the entity.


The excavation of the recurring (though not necessarily continuous) drama is similar to the characteristics of a crime scene investigation. The investigator searches for “clues” based on the “bits and pieces” of sensory fragments observed, recorded, and measured of the material past of a dramatic event or mundane activity. These sensory fragments may be significant and help to provide a “clue” to the deep meaning and structure of what memories and experiences are surviving, and a direct link to the continually-unfolding “drama scene”. The goal of the forensic archaeological analysis is the discovery of a possible “motive” (for remaining at the location) and the closure of the case. We don’t want our ghost to be a “cold case” that is still open because the haunting is continuing. In this context, the individual entity, as a perceived ghostly manifestation, is never lost amid the data of measurements and recordings. He/she is the “target” of the performance-based ghost script. Thus, the devised performance could be viewed as a sort of “rescue archaeology of the event” (Michael Shanks) or activities that occurred there. The important archaeological question is: What is to be done after the “recovery” of these sensory remains of a past life? The reason we write the ghost script is a matter of moral delegation. This moral delegation concerns that moment in time and space when one entity (investigator) comes into contact with another (ghost) in such a manner that it redirects the process of interaction. The haunting pattern provided a path to understanding and, more importantly, a release from that pattern. This act of delegation changes the direction of our research goals, understandings of the past, and field practices as investigators. This re-direction to the study and analysis of haunt phenomena and the methodological principles of material (sensory) hermeneutics are the means whereby ghostly traces can not only be observed, it can form a communicative link with these entities. These archaeological “tools” give “voice” to the oftimes silent drama behind hauntings, and brings “in-sight” to those invisible patterns contained within past dramatic events and activities.


If haunting drama is to be re-contextualized and documented, it needs to be produced by those investigators who study society and culture in the way archaeologists do, and be understood within the framework of theatre. We need investigators to be actor-archaeologists and who are committed to cross-cultural excavation and sensory exploration, and are willing to immerse themselves in ethnographic and theatrical detail. As Michael Shanks, an advocate of theatre/archaeology, has said: “In the archaeological theatre, the discovered past is in the play and archaeologists the actors who work on the text producing a performance”. This symmetrical investigation is an engaged interactional excavation between investigator and interacting entity through the translation of lived experience (the past manifesting) to living the experience (the archaeological theatrical performance), and from observing the performance of a location’s haunt behavorial drama to participating in a performance of investigative resonance.   



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