Debunking stereotypes through archaeology

For my on-campus job, I call alums and solicit donations. A few weeks ago I spoke to a woman, and she told me she lived in a commune for twelve years. I was so intrigued by this and began to ask her a series of questions. “Did you drive a Volkswagen van?” “Did you wear bell-bottoms?” “Did you listen to the grateful dead?”

The world around us is filled with stereotypes. One word triggers a set of five other words. These stereotypes help classify us into groups, build up these preconceived notions about each different category of people to the point at which we know nothing beyond these stereotypes, and believe nothing beyond these stereotypes. Archaeology’s role is to use the artifacts, or the hard evidence, to deconstruct these myths and establish the emotions and individuality that is lost with the stereotypes. Archaeology on the objects left behind by migrants tells us a different story than that painted by the government or other organizations. Similarly, an excavation conducted in 1981 by E. Breck Parkman in the Olompali State Park debunked the stereotypes of the ‘Hippies.’

This park was once the home of a commune called ‘The Chosen Family’ which was a social project created by a man named McCoy who decided to make a collaborative household. This place ran for around 600 days and became a funnel that attracted a large number of ‘hippies.’ Grace Slick, Janis Joplin, Timothy Leary, Neal Cassady, and Ken Kesey all visited at some point. Even the Grateful Dead played shows at Olompali. The cover of their 1969 album Aoxomoxoa features the grounds of the commune.

Cover of their 1969 album Aoxomoxoa, which includes some members of the commune.

When excavating this place, they found melted sneakers, scorched fabric, broken plates, a tube of 40-year-old face cream, red plastic Monopoly hotels, and other chunks of debris and many records. Some of these records were Vanilla Fudge, Rubber Soul, Bob Dylan; all three fit the ‘hippie’ stereotype. But Parkman also found many others that contradicted that stereotype: Judy Garland; My Fair Lady; Burl Ives; Dean Martin; and My Name Is Barbra, Two, by Barbra Streisand. Finding these records challenged the stereotypes of these people. These objects show us that the residents of this commune were all different people from different wakes of life. It paints a different picture of these people. Parkman said that post-discovering these artifacts it helped remind us that “people are a complex and diverse lot and that broad stereotypes are typically unfounded.”

In Zimmerman’s words, archaeology does politics. Its role is to propagate truth through evidence and deconstruct stereotypes.

A selection of the artifacts discovered.



Pastino, B. (n.d.). Vinyl Records Excavated at Famous ’60s Commune Challenge ‘Hippie’ Stereotype, Study Says. Retrieved November 19, 2017, from

(n.d.). Retrieved November 19, 2017, from

Image Sources:

Vinyl Album: The Grateful Dead – Aoxomoxoa. (n.d.). Retrieved November 19, 2017, from

Further Reading:


Colonialism and the Pashupathi seal

The Indus Valley Civilization is an old civilization that is said to have flourished in the northwestern regions of South Asia between the third and second millennia BCE. Major excavations of sites relating to IVC carried out in the early twentieth century by Archaeological Survey of India still fuels fiercely debated theories in Indian history.

During the nineteenth century, before the excavations, the Colonial masters had just begun to realize that the Indian subcontinent wasn’t as ‘primitive’ as they thought it was and that there was a rich history and culture that dated back by millennia back to the Vedic people. Linguists based on connections between Sanskrit and Latin put forth theories during this time that associated the Vedic people to the European centric Aryan race. The Europeans attempted to link the advanced society of early India to the Aryan race to re-establish that they were the greatest race.

The discovery of the IVC sites presented a new problem. The sites that were excavated uncovered a humongous city with a citadel, bath, planned layout, marketplaces, assembly halls, large residential structures and facilities which suggests sophisticated social organization. The civilization was clearly an advanced one. But there is no concrete, abundant evidence to rightly place the IVC in the context of the Vedic people.

The excavated ruins of the Indus Valley Civilisation

One of the items found by the excavators in Mohenjo-Daro, an IVC site, was the ‘Pashupathi Seal.’ The small seal that depicts a horned-figure surrounded by four animals, a rhino, an elephant, a buffalo and a tiger with an inscription in an unknown, un-deciphered language.

The ‘Pashupathi’ seal found in Mohenjo-Daro

Some historians push the theory that the seal was an early depiction of the Hindu god ‘Shiva’ due to the yogic ‘Padmasana’ pose (cross-legged) the figure is in whereas some say that it has nothing to do with that. The difficulty the European archaeologists felt in accepting a race more ‘advanced’ than the Aryans, could be the reason behind them suggesting that the seal was Shiva. By connecting an object found in the IVC to the Vedic scriptures, they would be able to connect it back to their Aryan theories. Doing this also provided a reason for their rule in India, making it seem like the Indians were being governed by a race linked with theirs

Instead of giving it a more neutral name like the ‘Dancing Girl,’ which was another item found in Mohenjo-Daro, this seal has been dubbed ‘Pashupathi’ which is another name for the god. It could have simply been called ‘horned figure.’ The interpretation of the seal as Shiva benefits the colonial rulers’ ideology, the right-wing Indian ideology, and the Dravidian ideology in different ways and so a large group of people support this theory and are resistant to change.

If we simply accepted and understood that physical differences don’t mean anything, don’t place any group above the other, we would not have to deal with biases that influence the interpretation of artifacts and sites.



Admin. “Aryan Invasion – History or Politics?” Archaeology Online, 29 Apr. 2014, Accessed 1 Oct. 2017.

Admin. “The Harappan Civilization and Myth of Aryan “Invasion”.” Archaeology Online, 29 Apr. 2014, Accessed 1 Oct. 2017.

“The broken thread.” The Telegraph, Accessed 1 Oct. 2017.

Image Sources:

“Indus Valley Civilisation.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 19 Sept. 2017, Accessed 1 Oct. 2017.

“Pashupati seal.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 29 June 2017, Accessed 1 Oct. 2017.

Further Reading: