Rogue Science: Pirate Flags & Political Statements


What better way to express our concern with the bureaucratic and academic systems which are slowing down the research and development of technology for cultural heritage purposes AND hindering the use of crowd-sourced analytics of cultural heritage— than a pirate flag.

Not content with simply re-using any of the wonderful historical flags–I developed our own.

Though almost everyone is familiar with the concept of the pirate flag and its traditional skull over cross-bones format, the pirate flags of yore were actually far more specific in their design and had a language all of their own. The poor wealthy which the “golden age” pirates preyed on could easily tell what pirate was bearing down on them by deciphering the color-coded designs of these unique pieces of anti-heraldry.

For instance, my favorite Pirate Flag, the Calico Jack–features a skull over two crossed sabres. It represented not just Calico Jack ( Jack Rackham) himself, but his chief crew-mates, the legendary female pirates Mary Read and Anne Bonny. You’ve got to love the ladies of history who defied their contemporary society to do what they wanted and live how they wanted.

In creating our very own Open Access Antiquarianism pirate flag, I wanted to keep the pirate notions of law reform, swapping out access and control intact with the main shape of the thing. And so, like its predecessors, it features the recognizable skull over a pair of crossed items–hearkening back to the most famous flags.

This skull however, is a stencil I designed around some of the most infamous fake archaeological objects: the crystal skulls, There are several skulls, whose designs vary wildly. As the most traditional and the one I’ve seen myself–I opted to use the British Museum’s crystal skull as the basis for the graphic.

The British Museum crystal skull (Image courtesy of Wikipedia Creative Commons, photographer Rafał Chałgasiewicz).

The British Museum crystal skull (Image courtesy of Wikipedia Creative Commons, photographer Rafał Chałgasiewicz).

Though one of the most recognizable historical objects (courtesy of their recent Indiana Jones fame if not their previous infamy), the skulls are actually 19th century concoctions of antiquities forgers. Yet their mythos lives on in pop culture and in paranormal associations ascribed these objects. And so they remain in the vaunted halls of the world’s museums despite their questionable pedigree. They are perfect symbols for the layers of pseudo-archaeology, mis-information, controversy, expertise, and wide-eyed wonder that are part and parcel of archaeology, and especially of the communication between archaeologists and the public (i.e. the rest of the world).


Below our re-visioned and re-purposed “crystal skull” are a crossed key and bubble wand, standing in for the swords, bones, and other weapons traditionally used in the historic flags.

The antique key is a further throw-back to our key focus (ha! get it!) on open access. Keys unlock things, they open doors and files. Physical keys are passwords made manifest. We opted for an antique key over a modern key because its not just prettier and cooler, it also goes along with our antiquarian theme. Honesty–its the best policy. And let’s face, antique keys are cooler. I wish my all of my house keys and car keys were all gorgeously steam punk.

Crossed with the key is a bubble wand. You know what I mean, those little plastic toys that come in kid’s concoctions of soap. The use of the bubble wand hits on several notions, many of which are further tied up with our proposed project Bubble Culture:

*Bubbles are one of the most ancient “toys,” whose full history can only be guessed at–but which likely extends back into prehistory.

*Bubbles are a toy without class-distinction–they are something the wealthy and poor alike had access to and could marvel at.

*Bubbles are beautiful and whimsical bits of imagination made manifest bobbling through the air. They are apt symbols for the whimsy of our projects which emphasize not just the scientific analytics of information, but the creativity needed to process these and take them out of the boxes which society insists they be bound in.


For our Open Access Antiquarianism kickstarter, the pirate logo will feature on quite a few of the rewards which patrons can choose amongst.

The Desk-sized and Full-Size flags will come painted on burlap–with a choice of the more natural black on traditional burlap OR the more technicolor pink on teal.

The OAA Pirate Logo will also appear on our mini-pins which also advocate for “The Past for the People” and “Democratized Science.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s