Archaeology and Ethnography of Burning Man

Principal Investigators: Deborah A. Boehm (cultural anthropologist) and Carolyn L. White (archaeologist)

Ethnographer: Patrick T. Jackson

This multi-year project is a cross-disciplinary approach to studying Black Rock City and its inhabitants during the Burning Man Festival.

Combining traditional archaeological methods with ethnographic approaches, researchers are collecting and analyzing information about the construction, use and understanding of the physical environment and the lives and interactions of people within that temporary city. Archaeological methods consist of survey, mapping of individual camps and surface collection of the city as constructed during the festival.

This data will be combined with the results of data collection from the clean-up efforts overseen by the Bureau of Land Management. Ethnographic methods include structured and open-ended interviews, participant observation, virtual ethnography, discourse analysis and secondary research. Ethnographic findings will be integrated with archaeological data to present a holistic study of Burning Man.

In merging archaeological and ethnographic approaches, this project combines analysis of the physical elements of the city with an exploration of the meanings of space and the festival in larger context. Research questions address the creation, use and significance of physical space and place, the relationship between participants and their environment, temporality and change in ritual practice, and perceptions of self in relation to the landscape. This collaborative project focuses on the materiality and cultural expressions of Burning Man, aiming to uncover the intersecting ethereal and material dimensions of the festival and to study the event's significance for those who create, reside in and deconstruct Black Rock City.