The Archaeology of Slavery

Slavery has, unfortunately been a prevalent theme in most societies throughout all of history. When the average person in the United States thinks about slavery, they think of colonialism, African slave trade, plantations, and the Civil War, when Abraham Lincoln finally put an end to the madness. But slavery has happened so many times before, is happening today, and will happen again in the future. It is not merely a laps in moral judgment that happened during a specific time, like from the birth of the US to the Civil War, or while the Egyptians built the pyramids. The exploitation of slave labor is consistent part of humanity and should be treated as such.

Many documents are valuable for the identification and study of slavery in the United States. These should be used along with archaeological methods for a thorough investigation.

Up until the adoption of the post-processual approach to archaeology, any notice of slavery was done through historical written record. It was believed to be the only way of seeing slavery, that there was no way to know that slaves existed unless you knew they were there. Ropes deteriorated over time, and chains were often repurposed.  But there are many ways of identifying the presence of slavery in the archaeological record. The places slaves lived, especially on plantations in the United States, were generally smaller and separated from the remainder of the house. It is often hard to tell if these quarters were for slaves, free blacks, or white servants. Sometimes with slaves, more effort was put into hiding their existence, and the house’s reliance on slave labor. Screens could be put up, or very elaborate alternative ways of navigating spaces, like different stairs etc. However, given such detailed and well-recorded accounts of slavery in the US, it seems counterproductive to not rely on both documentary and archaeological sources. But what about the places that have fewer or no written records? In ancient societies, slaves were taken from the defeat or sacking of other societies. The men were killed, and women and children were taken to be sold into slavery. This led to the idea that if more women were found on the archaeological record, then slavery was present in the society. Slaves are also depicted in frescos and paintings as smaller than other people in the picture.

Slaves depicted as smaller than the rest of the people in the picture.

Once slavery is “discovered” then what, and does it even need to be discovered? We know that 1 in 3 people in Italy during the Roman Empire were slaves and that they were integral to society. There are over 20 million people in slavery today. Nothing has changed. At this point, do we need to identify slavery? Or can we just “assume access to coerced labor… in the same way access to drinking water is assumed.” Some archaeologists want to shift the focus of the archaeology of slavery to the study of its effects and consequences, instead of merely whether or not it existed. These invisible demographics throughout history, like slaves, homeless people and migrants, can provide insights into the present and ways to tackle these issues right now.

Sources:

  • Cameron, Catherine M., et al. The Archaeology of Slavery: A Comparative Approach to Captivity and Coercion. No. 41. SIU Press, 2014.
  • Singleton, Theresa A. The archaeology of slavery and plantation life. Routledge, 2016.
  • Mark Cartwright. “Slavery in the Roman World,” Ancient History Encyclopedia. Last modified November 01, 2013. http://www.ancient.eu /article/629/.
  • Ian Muir-Cochrane, Are there really 21 million slaves worldwide?http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-26513804

Image Sources

  • http://www.history.com/news/5-things-you-may-not-know-about-lincoln-slavery-and-emancipation
  • http://www.haaretz.com/jewish/archaeology/1.713849

Further reading:

  • https://cliojournal.wikispaces.com/Slavery+in+Ancient+Greece
  • https://www.antislavery.org/slavery-today/modern-slavery/

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Made Invisible? Archaeology and Social Treatment of People with Physical Disabilities

While on the campaign trail, Donald Trump seemed to mock the appearance of a New York Times reporter during a press conference. In an opinion piece for the New York Times, Melissa Blake, who states that she is “physically disabled,” responds to Trump’s “bullying” by writing of her fear “of living in a country that would shun people with disabilities as if they didn’t exist.” Blake concludes her article with her “mantra” of “I am a person. I matter […] I will never stop fighting for our rights and against bullies.” Yet is it not the government’s responsibility to protect its citizens from feeling discriminated against? What role should society play in equal protection?

The curled position of this skeleton from the Man Bac burial in Vietnam, relative to the surrounding straight graves, suggests a physical disability

Turning to the archaeological record can reveal how cultures and other societies treated their members who had physical disabilities. First, according to the Americans with Disabilities Act, the term “disability” legally refers to “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a record of such an impairment, or being regarded as having such an impairment.” Therefore, the term “disability” should always be evaluated within a cultural context. As William Southwell-Wright describes in his paper “What Can Archaeology Offer Disability Studies,” “decoupling the physical fact of impairment” from the “socially constructed nature of reactions to it in the form of disability” can help evaluate how different societies treat people with “disabilities.”

These skeletal remains reveal severe physical trauma, providing evidence that the man had a physical disability

One example of a skeleton showing signs of a physical disability was discovered at the Man Bac burial ground in Vietnam by Dr. Marc Oxenham of Australian National University in Canberra. Dr. Oxenham concluded that the curled skeleton was that of a young man who had been paralyzed from the waist down before adolescence, and therefore would have been dependent on care from his community for survival. Another example from the International Journal of Osteoarchaeology describes the skeletal remains of a man from Gran Quivira Pueblo, New Mexico whose bones’ musculoskeletal stress markers suggest a need for “complete dependence upon others during the progression of a debilitating disease.” The journal goes on to state that “although compassion cannot always be determined from the skeletal record alone, the severity of his condition suggests that he was wholly dependent on at least one other member of the group over a long period of time.”

As one archaeologist working on the Man Bac site stated, “the provision and receipt of health care may […] reflect some of the most fundamental aspects of a culture.” Additionally, “not only does [the Man Bac man’s] care indicate tolerance and cooperation in his culture, but suggests that he himself had a sense of his own worth and a strong will to live.” Although “compassion cannot always be determined from the skeletal record alone,” modern America should similarly support and care for all of its society. No individual or group should be made to feel “as if they didn’t exist,” and all should be imbued with a strong sense of worth.

Sources

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/(SICI)1099-1212(1998090)8:5%3C326::AID-OA437%3E3.0.CO;2-W/full

http://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1057/9781137371973_4

 

 

Images

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/oa.2588/full

 

Further Reading

https://books.google.com/books?id=QVV1CgAAQBAJ&pg=PA50&lpg=PA50&dq=archaeology+of+disability&source=bl&ots=TsEtdj8L-r&sig=krSP9mR3a8jaqTnMUoEXxEg0OPE&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwi5iZKko7vTAhUBOCYKHYeoCrkQ6AEIZDAL#v=onepage&q=archaeology%20of%20disability&f=false

The Disability Rights Movement: From Charity to Confrontation, 2011. Fleischer and Zames

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Archaeology of Ellis Island

Ellis Island is one of the most important sites in the history of New York and in the history of immigration in the United States.  According to some estimations, close to 40% of current U.S. citizens can trace at least one of their ancestors to one of the millions of immigrants that came through the island.

When Ellis Island was established as a federal immigration station in 1892, patterns of immigration to the United States were shifting away from Northern and Western Europeans toward Southern and Eastern Europeans.  This included Jewish people escaping oppression and Italians escaping widespread poverty.  Generally, the immigrants that came through Ellis Island left their countries of origin to escape war, drought, famine, oppression, religious persecution, or inescapable poverty and search for new opportunities provided by the United States.

Immigrants waiting to be processed on Ellis Island

However, as the archaeological record helps to reveal, any depictions of Ellis Island as a gateway to a new world and a haven for immigrants are severely romanticized and inaccurate.  The island earned the nickname “Island of Tears” for the harrowing experience it provided for exhausted immigrants coming off long boat journeys.  Also, as well as being a center for immigration, the island was an important cite of deportation.  Archaeological excavations in the 1980s found the IDs of many suspected communists that were deported for being “politically subversive”.  Excavations also found a jigsaw puzzle used as part of an “intelligence test” in the 1910s.  According to the physician who developed the puzzle and the accompanying “Feature Profile Test”, Howard A. Knox, “The purpose of our mental measuring scale at Ellis Island is the sorting out of those immigrants who may, because of their mental make-up, become a burden to the State or who may produce offspring that will require care in prisons, asylums, or other institutions.”  This puzzle replaced a more unfair I.Q. test based on cultural knowledge many immigrants did not have, but it still led to the immediate deportation of 957 people in 1914 who were considered “mentally defective” and tore families apart.  The “Feature Profile Test” also reflected an emerging eugenics and anti-immigrant movement that led to the Immigration Act of 1924.  This act limited immigration based on nationality in an attempt to keep out “undesirable” groups.  These groups included Jewish people who would later attempt to flee the Holocaust.

The jigsaw puzzle used to test the “intelligence” of incoming immigrants

It is important for the United States to learn from its troubled history with immigration in order to fully understand the sanctuary it is capable of providing for people in truly desperate situations.  For this sort of understanding to occur, it is necessary to destroy the persisting nationalistic mentality that immigrants are a burden or pollutant to the United States population.

Sources

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/puzzle-given-ellis-island-immigrants-test-intelligence-180962779/

http://www.nytimes.com/1983/07/31/nyregion/us-seeking-relics-of-ellis-island-s-past.html

http://www.history.com/topics/ellis-island

https://www.nps.gov/elis/learn/historyculture/collection-research.htm

Further Reading

http://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/what-a-christmas-present-deportation-the-twisted-history-of-the-holidays-at-ellis-island

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/ellis-island-challenging-the-immigrant/

Image Sources
http://teacher.scholastic.com/activities/immigration/timeline_photos/1892_small_fullsize.jpg

https://public-media.smithsonianmag.com/filer/98/79/987992dd-a5c6-4e14-8a52-645dd2335ec4/may2017_d02_nationaltreasurepuzzle-wr.jpg

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Making a Mark: Exploring the Archaeology of Modern and Ancient Graffiti

One interesting thing in Zimmerman’s article “Activism and Creating a Translational Archaeology of Homelessness” was that some homeless people use graffiti as social commentary and also express themselves by marking public spaces with signs of their heritage. Disappointingly, I could not find much information on the culture surrounding the graffiti of the homeless, (perhaps a new area for archaeology to explore!) but I did discover that people have been leaving their personal mark wherever they go since ancient times.

The best-preserved examples of ancient graffiti come from the ancient Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum, which were buried after the eruption of nearby Mount Vesuvius. One thing that seems clear (at least in these two cities) is that graffiti wasn’t surrounded by the same negative connotations of today. Common in the graffiti of these cities were advertisements and political campaigns, so we can infer that graffiti was more accepted in those times. Also found were doodles and random scrawls that people etched into public places to leave their mark. Much of the graffiti is not unlike some that you would see in a bathroom today, with name-calling and simple messages such as one inscription found in Pompeii that reads: “Gaius Pumidius Diphilus was here.” Clearly, putting our own personal stamp on our world, even if we think it will only be for a short while, is something that dates back to ancient times.

Graffiti of names found preserved in the ancient Roman city of Herculaneum

In modern times, graffiti has an intense negative connotation and is seen as dirty, illegal, and disrespectful. However, modern graffiti is not just the vandalism that many think it to be. Of course, graffiti exists that is similar to Pompeii’s name-calling messages, but a lot of it can be considered art. Even “tagging,” or, spray-painting your name on a wall to mark your artistic territory, can be beautiful. In fact, some graffiti hangs in museums today, showing that the streets can be a canvas and graffiti is not simply vandalism. Also, as is mentioned in the Zimmerman article, a lot of graffiti today portrays the artist’s commentary on the social world around them. Perhaps we could learn a lot about a neighborhood from what kind of graffiti is present.

A modern work of street art demonstrating the use of social commentary in today’s graffiti

It may not seem like it, but graffiti has a lot to do with archaeology, and much of that connection is still left unexplored. Graffiti is by no means a modern invention, and, in fact, people have been writing similar things on bathroom walls for centuries. Throughout time, people have been doing graffiti in the hopes of leaving a permanent, or at least semi-permanent mark on their world to show that they were there, even if only briefly. Wanting to be remembered is a universal human trait, and by looking at graffiti, both old and new, through the lens of archaeology, we can help uncover how people attempted to immortalize themselves. Although graffiti is not something you can hold in your hand, it is just as telling about a society as ceramics or projectile points.

 

Sources:

Baird, J. A., and Claire Taylor. Ancient Graffiti in Context. NY, NY: Routledge, 2011. GoogleBooks. Google. Web. 18 Apr. 2017. .

Patel, S. S. 2007. Writing on the wall: the graffiti archaeology project challenges the discipline of archaeology. Archaeology, 60(4): 50–53.

Pilny, Susanna. “Why Ancient Roman Graffiti Is so Important to Archaeologists.” Redorbit. N.p., 05 Jan. 2016. Web. 18 Apr. 2017. .

Zimmerman, Larry J., Courtney Singleton, and Jessica Welch. “Activism and Creating a Translational Archaeology of Homelessness.” World Archaeology 42.3 (2010): 443-54. Taylor and Francis Online. Web. 18 Apr. 2017.

 

Image sources:

https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/66/46/f0/6646f01d5305cfc2fd06b3e6c3f7c895.jpg

http://www.edr-edr.it/edr_programmi/view_img.php?id_nr=144354-1

 

Additional Info:

Ancient and Modern Graffiti in Rome:

https://www.seeker.com/ancient-graffiti-to-street-art-rome-tells-its-story-1768787772.html

Skid Robot- incorporating the homeless into graffiti :

http://skid-robot.com

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