Ruth Tringham (b. 1940) was seven feet tall with pale green skin, spiky brown hair and a tie-dyed shirt. Yet she did not particularly stand out, as her class included an animated squirrel, a tattooed woman with blank blue eyes and horns, and a man in a loincloth with a king’s crown and an enormous trowel. The venue for her class was Second Life, where she and a team from the University of California, Berkeley had reconstructed the Neolithic site of Catalhoyuk in the virtual world. In a long career marked by such creativity and innovation this virtual reconstruction was only one of Ruth’s experiments in interpretation in archaeology.
Ruth was born in Bedfordshire, England and attended the University of Edinburgh, where she eventually received her PhD in 1966. She taught at University College London, Harvard, and then at University of California, Berkeley. Ruth’s early work in experimental lithics use-wear studies were formative in the field, but it was her later work in household archaeology that would hold her attention for most of her research career. In Bulgaria and the former Yugoslavia Ruth became interested in the life-history of the house, forming the groundwork for much of the household archaeology that came after. When she realized that she had been imagining people in the past as “faceless blobs” instead of as active, gendered participants in their own stories, she began to question traditional forms of interpretation in archaeology.
Later, Ruth’s work at Çatalhöyük was marked by a number of innovations, including active digital video recording at excavations, experiments with burning, and interpretive video/audio walks wherein the user could choose their own path and storyline. She has published this work in a massive volume, Last House on the Hill.
After teaching for 45 years, Ruth has attained emeritus status from the University of California, Berkeley and is now the creative director of the Center for Digital Archaeology.
Post submitted by C. L. Morgan @clmorgan
Edited by @brennawalks