Cult and Copper: Intra-Actions from The Bronze Age to A-Life
Some media archaeologist look to the Victorian Era as the starting point for the Digital Era because the nineteen century telegraph laid the conceptual groundwork for the internet and solved electrification. However, Victorian innovations relied on the conductivity of copper, and the Bronze Age is when humans first mastered wide-scale copper production. In the Bronze Age Levant, two closely related love and sexuality goddesses were associated with this production: Hathor (from Egypt) and Astarte (from Canaan). Thus this research project positions the Bronze Age period as the early dawn of the Digital Era, and it mytho-poetically re-casts these feminine deities as “proto-cybergoddesses” because of their role, as per ancient belief systems, in digital media technology history. This exploration of copper as an agential actor in the history of networked information systems (telegraph, telephone, internet) relies on methodologies from media archaeology, elemental media, posthumanism, agential realism, and Archaeology. This story then serves as a case study for a Virtual Reality cyber-archaeology game. Cyberarchaeology trends encourage the creation of multi-sensory projects that leverage the affordances of multi-media and strive to create embodied experiences. Few projects dare, however, to speculate about intangible heritage. As an exception, this game is the result of textual research in Archaeology, cyber-archaeology, and Human Computer Interaction; international archaeology museum research; documentary field work at archaeology sites in Israel and Cyprus; interviews with archaeologists and curators; collaborative design ideation using improvisational theater techniques; and a collaboration with Serious Games engineering graduate students to realize a playable prototype. In “Cult and Copper,” players use their own breath, via a simulated breath interface, to control a smelting fire and ensure a successful copper smelt. Early smelting methods, which employed blowpipes to heat smelting furnaces, required deep and sustained breathing techniques. Thus this cyberarchaeology game probes, what if altered states manipulated by breath were one of the reasons shamanism and smelting were linked? The game facilitates an experiential awareness of smelting’s physiological effects via breath, encourages players to ask questions about intangible heritage aspects of copper smelting, and motivates further scholarly investigation.