Dust to Data tracks through the colonial history of archaeology, to current parallels in the data mining of DNA and social media image banks. Working with the Department of Archaeology at the University of Liverpool, Larry Achiampong and David Blandy interrogate the construction of a ‘civilisation’ and its racist ‘origin’ stories that define people into categories: some as human and neutral, others as non-human and/or abnormal.
In the film, Achiampong and Blandy employ motifs, such as the recurring gleaming pyramid as an image of order and hard simplicity, and 3D models of Australopithecine skulls (extinct close relatives of humans who lived around two million years ago). The film also features a fragment of a letter from William Du Bois, author of the seminal book about race and society The Souls of Black Folk, rebuking one of the pioneers of modern archaeology, William Petrie.
Dust to Data explores how science has been used to justify prejudice. This can be found in te origins of archeology, exposing the archaic mathematical tactics employed by Petrie to justify his own assertions about white supremacy. Although debunked by his contemporaries, Petrie embraced eugenics – the practice of altering or ‘improving’ the human species through selective breeding – as a tool for social control. This view was integral to the birth of archaeology, and its pseudo-scientific legacy still permeates fractious assumptions within the field and in wider culture today.