Excerpts from "On Archiving Rubble," a paper presented at the University of Calgary in Canada (2018) and the Manchester Center for Cultural History and Heritage in the UK (forthcoming)


An informal village was dismantled during the 1929 French Mandate excavation of the Temple of Bel in Palmyra. While the site was restored to its Greco-Roman condition and its fragments preserved ex-situ, the rubble of the dismantled village was obliterated without documentation. In 1965, the outer layer of Tikal Temple 5D-33 in Guatemala was reduced to rubble then eradicated to publish the temple’s underlying layers. And more recently, after fourteen mausoleums were destroyed in a terrorist attack in Timbuktu, UNESCO launched efforts to reconstruct the mud brick structures and clean up the site from material remnants of the attack. These case studies highlight a pattern in the management of post-destruction rubble. Though archaeologists produced the rubble in Palmyra and Tikal, Timbuktu represents a contemporary attitude towards rubble that is increasingly produced by forces other than archaeology: terrorism, nature, economy, etc. International institutions continue to focus on the digital ex-situ preservation of destroyed heritage sites, all the while bypassing the question of what is to be done with what remains: rubble.

Rubble Archive confronts the material afterlife of post-destruction heritage rubble that has been historically marginalized and silenced. While the archive was founded on order and systematic storage, and wielded by the state and hegemonic institutions, Rubble Archive is inevitably for entropy and new ways of managing formless piles of heritage rubble by diverse social agents. Rubble Archive is a dynamic structure that imports and exports heritage rubble in a global network of seaport terminals. The rubble circulates through an experts-only area to be cataloged, examined, and documented. Then, rubble is transported to a non-experts area, where anyone and everyone can engage with materials of the past to construct, document, demolish, reconstruct, and disseminate something new. Rubble Archive becomes at once a space for material storage and retrieval of the past, and an index of shifting cultural and social conditions that influence the ways in which visitors engage with its collections of rubble through constant and simultaneous constructions, demolitions, reconstructions, documentations, and exchanges of heritage materials.