The Buried History of the Palestinian Exodus

On the 14th of May 1948, hostilities first erupted between the newly formed state of Israel and its Arab League neighbors of Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria. In the seventy years since historians have documented the Palestinian War in its near entirety. However, one aspect remains strangely unstudied: the condition of the exiled Palestinian refugees. Why have they been completely ignored? Perhaps archaeology can unveil the past of a people banished from their home.

Location of Al-Bassa, now an Israeli town. 33° 04′ 34″ N 35° 08′ 27″ E.

Our journey begins in abandoned Palestinian settlement of Al-Bassa, where in May of 1948 Israeli forces told its inhabitants to leave, according to Israeli documents. Surprisingly, no evidence of the settlement exists as an Israeli town was built directly on top of it. Modern streets and buildings now conceal any artifacts. Archaeology would be possible, but extremely difficult to perform. Neitherless, there must be other sites to study. Al-Kabri, another abandoned settlement, meets a similar fate of annihilation. Where the village should be is only farmland. The history of a people is completely hidden below the earth, away from the public eye.

Seventy years ago, this was the location of Al-Kabri, a Palestinian settlement. 33° 00′ 56″ N 35° 09′ 03″ E.

These instances of hidden villages are not isolated, but instead mark the greater trend. Satellite imagery reveals the majority of recorded settlements are completely obscured. Unless told of their existence, the average person would never suspect they walk on the homes of the Palestinians.

But what is the purpose of this concealment? Despite official records claiming the peaceful removal of Palestinians from their land, reality offers a darker perspective. Israeli-Palestinian animosity was widespread before and after the war. For example, at Deir Yassin, a massacre claimed 107 Palestinians while the Israeli attackers were only given a warning not to repeat their actions. However, many other cases of racist violence against the Palestinians were not reported and thus remain hidden. Furthermore, the only accurate method to learn of the extent of this violence would archaeology. Yet, as seen above, the potential sites for this examination have all been destroyed in one way or another, making a study of racist violence against ethnic Palestinians near impossible.

In such a way Israel could have erased the evidence of Palestinian suffering under their hands. Deir Yassin probably was not the only major massacre during the conflict and smaller attacks could have also happened. Therefore, despite the great difficulty in doing so, excavations of the abandoned settlements are necessary to uncover what lies in the archaeological record. Depending on what items were left behind, archaeologists can gauge the conditions of the departure. If most everyday objects were taken, it probably was a planned and relatively peaceful withdrawal. However, if the refugees only brought the necessities, it most likely was an urgent escape from Israeli forces. Whether it was a peaceful immigration or the result of an institutional system of terror as the result of mass violence, the history of the Palestinian exodus lies buried.


Asaf Romirowsky and Alexander H. Joffe, Religion, Politics, and the Origins of Palestine Refugee Relief (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013). 

Morris, Benny. 1948 and After: Israel and the Palestinians. 1st ed., (Oxford: Clarendon, 2003.)

Image Sources:

Both images are original work of the author.

Further Reading:

Morris, Benny. The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947-1949. Cambridge University, 1997.

Pappé, Ilan. A History of Modern Palestine: One Land, Two Peoples. Cambridge University Press, 2005.

Archaeology in Structural Violence: The Dangers in the Framework

American anthropologist Paul Farmer defines structural violence as “violence exerted systemically—that is, indirectly—by everyone who belongs to a certain social order: hence the discomfort these ideas provoke in a moral economy still geared to pinning praise or blame on individual actors” (Farmer). Where do we see instances of structural violence take shape in the past, as well as in the present day?

Fans of the popular post-apocalyptic zombie thriller The Walking Dead will recall the scene where Morgan, a significant character in the series, is trapped inside a prison cell in the cabin of a man he has just met. Days pass yet continues to Morgan remain in the cell. Eventually, his benevolent captor reveals that the cell door has been unlocked the whole time and that Morgan could have escaped at a moment’s notice. Why then did Morgan stay?

Morgan sits in silence, believing he is locked in the cell

This scene in popular media illustrates the phenomenon of structural or institutionalized violence. Near Eastern archaeologist Susan Pollock argues that “we experience structures as pre-existing entities, as external objectivities that oppress us by their weight, making us suffer” (Pollock). In this specific situation, Morgan suffers from the environment around him: a world littered with disorder, hostility, and inhumanity. Furthermore, the “pre-existing entity” of the prison cell that contains Morgan overcomes any sense of freedom he might have felt prior to his captivity. Even though the cell door is just metal shaped to the will of humans, it bears a much more significant effect on its inhabitant. While Morgan is in actuality a free man, in the sense that he can walk out at any time, his familiarity with the connotation of a prison cell convinces himself that he is a prisoner.

Structural violence embodied in reality is evident in the case of Nazi Germany. Hitler and his Nazis created a society whose structure oppressed others via government, culture, labor, terror, and propaganda. Most reminiscent of this violence were the Nazi concentration camps. These camps imprisoned “enemies” of the Nazi party, peoples whose very existence were threatened Nazi ideology. Recovered artifacts and features of the site reveal that inmates suffered harsh living conditions and were subjected to forced labor; as a result, several didn’t make out of these camps alive (USHMM). Thus, Nazi Germany committed structural violence through its imposition of the system of concentration camps upon wrongfully accused peoples.

Average household income in the U.S. in 2007 highlights the growing income inequality

What implications does structural violence carry in today’s society? Farmer also states “As the twentieth century draws to a close, the world’s poor are the chief victims of structural violence—a violence which has thus far defied the nature and distribution of extreme suffering. Why might this be so? One answer is that the poor are not only more likely to suffer; they are also more likely to have their suffering silenced” (Farmer). Today’s social order allows for the growing trend of the rich becoming richer and the poor becoming poorer. Therefore, poverty caused by the system is, in itself, a form of inflicting structural violence.


Image Sources:

Additional Reading:

Implications of 19th Century Irish Immigration on Perception of Non-White Migrants in Trump’s America

In today’s world, the term “whiteness” has been demonstrated in explicit ways after the inception of the Trump administration. From KKK endorsements to Trump’s blatantly racist rhetoric and principles, from “building a wall” to keep Mexicans out of the United States to when the president failed to condemn the white nationalist groups by name who were behind the rally in Charlottesville, people of color who are struggling to enter the country are facing a great amount of adversity. Today, there is an encroaching fear of non-white individuals as a perceived threat to the “American people.” This shows that an exclusionary group of people takes precedence in this country: white, English-speaking Americans of Christian belief.

In the 19th century, many Europeans emigrated from their respective countries to seek out new opportunities in America.

Many Trump supporters are likely descendants of European immigrants. When they immigrated, these people were considered to be second-class citizens. However, the harsh treatment of European immigrants has largely receded from the public’s historical memory. The Irish, in particular, consisted of a large portion of European migrants in the 19th century. The study of Irish Diaspora with the use of archaeology can be used to understand their experiences with discrimination and assimilation in America (Brighton 2005) and how it translates into a fraction of the racial and nationalistic tension that exists today, which can contribute to discussions regarding “whiteness” in America.

One example of harsh treatment faced by Irish immigrants took place in South Bend, Indiana. Archaeological research done by Dr. Deborah Rotman reveals a considerable amount about the living conditions of the Irish in the 19th century. Some of the excavated findings from one family’s site included medicine bottles, indicating compromised access to medical facilities in the area, and tea ware, demonstrating a focus on preserving heritage rather than assimilating to American culture. As was supported by her team’s findings, Irish Catholics faced discrimination; they were associated with racially marginalized African-Americans. The Irish took up many jobs in unskilled labor in construction and factory work, placing them in competition with the black community in South Bend. Additionally, after the Civil War, there were heightened strains due to inequality and lack of economic prospects. Consequently, ethnic tensions and segregation in South Bend escalated in the following years (Rotman 2010).

In 1863, African-Americans were not considered citizens, so they were not allowed to be drafted in the Civil War, frustrating white workers dealing with inflation, food shortages, and unemployment. In general, European (mostly Irish) immigrants were tense with black workers who posed as a threat to their employment, and violence ensued.

As a result of the complicated history of estrangement for Irish immigrants (and other European migrants of the 19th century), which has affected their descendants, there is now a heightened sensitivity to other groups of people who could jeopardize the privilege they acquired after years of hardship. The establishment of a white American identity for these immigrants was a social development that occurred at the expense of people of color, especially those who threatened their livelihoods and employment—even to the point of implementing violence (e.g. the New York City Draft Riots of 1863 (Harris 2004)). The threat of a changing country exposes the fragility of white nationalism in recent times, and there has been significant backlash as a result.

Further Reading


Brighton, Stephen A. 2005. The Irish Diaspora and the Creation of an Irish-American Heritage. Center for Heritage Resource Studies. University of Maryland., accessed November 14, 2017.

Harris, Leslie M. 2004. In the Shadow of Slavery: African Americans in New York City, 1626-1863. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Rotman, Deborah L. 2010. The Fighting Irish: Historical Archaeology of Nineteenth-Century Catholic Immigrant Experiences in South Bend, Indiana. Historical Archaeology 44(2): 113–131.

Rotman, Deborah L. 2015. The Beaver Island Project: Historical Archaeology of Nineteenth-Century Irish America in the Midwest. University of Notre Dame Blog Network., accessed November 14, 2017.

Image Sources

Markert, Trish. 2016. Archaeology in Trump’s America: Borders, Immigration, and Revolutionary Remembering. Master of Arts in Public Archaeology at Binghamton University ., accessed November 14, 2017.

Woodruff, Sheryl. 2011. On This Day: New York City Draft Riots. Web log. The Blog of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation., accessed November 14, 2017.

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:


The Culture of War

Almost all cultures that have ever existed have experienced war in one form or another. War, however, is not meant just to eliminate entire populations. War’s ultimate aim is to change a culture and a way of life, an ideology that is especially prevalent in the United States’ civil war. Civil wars occur when two central ideas of a culture become so polarized that simple negotiation is no longer effective in resolving the issue. During the US’ civil war, the Southern section of the country favored slavery while the Northern was against its practice. Although the two coexisted for a time, war was inevitable because of uncompromising differences between the free and slave states over the power of the national government to prohibit slavery in non-state territories. President Lincoln is often viewed as one of the main causes of the civil war, for he refused to recognize the legitimacy of the states that were receding from the union, fearing a broken-up and jeopardized democracy. Prior to his election, events such as John Brown’s raid and Nat Turner’s rebellion further increased the rift between the North and the South.

John Brown- An abolitionist who believed that armed rebellion was the only way to overthrow the institution of slavery in the United States.

The first real “battle” of the war, however, did not occur until the battle of Fort Sumter. With the secession of many Southern states, several federal forts, including Fort Sumter in South Carolina, suddenly became militia outposts in foreign land. Abraham Lincoln, sensing war, then made the decision to send fresh supplies to the outposts in an attempt to coerce the South into firing the first shot of the war. The strategy was successful, and Confederate warships turned back the supply ship to Fort Sumter to begin a 34-hour siege on the fort, leading to its surrender. After this battle, the war had officially begun between the free Northern and the slave Southern. What followed was one of the bloodiest wars on American soil, a total of about 620,000 deaths at its end- the bloodiest battles claiming 85,000 casualties between them. Despite the death and violence of the Civil War, it was never either side’s initial intention to completely eliminate the other. Instead, the aim of the war was to change the other side’s culture- in this case, the culture surrounding slavery. Due to the North’s victory, their view on slave culture prevailed, completely changing the overall culture of the US. The fate of the then-defeated confederate culture, however, can be observed in the burials of the soldiers. In the Soldiers’ National Cemetery there are markers of 3,500 Union soldiers. However, the confederate soldiers were left in unmarked graves and never properly buried. This reflects the fact that America now considered the slave culture eliminated, and all who believed in it were no longer Americans- only remnants of a past culture.

An example of quickly dug and shallow Civil War graves, meant to quickly dispose of bodies before the onset of decay.

Although war of any kind is a great tragedy, it can succeed in changing the entire culture of a nation.


“Civil War Facts.” Civil War Trust, Civil War Trust,  war-facts

Keegan, John. “The American Civil War: the Gruesome Suffering of Soldiers             Exposed.” The Telegraph,   the-gruesome-suffering-of-soldiers-exposed.html.


Further Reading:

What Happened to Gettysburg’s Confederate Dead?



Looting in the Summer Palace

Warfare has always been more about eliminating a culture versus killing the people. Attacking a cultural site is an effective way of hurting an entire population without actually killing anyone. Today, many terrorists groups are using this method to inflict pain on different regions of people. However, this is not a new phenomenon; British and French forces used this same technique in China during the end of the Opium War in 1860 which, “was a moment, says one scholar, that ‘changed world history’” (Bowl).

Restoration of the Summer Palace, Beijing, China

The goal of the Opium War was to force Chinese imperial rulers to open up trade for the west. The British were under the command of 8th Earl of Elgin. His close friend, Thomas William Bowlby of The Times, was a reporter and when he tried to meet French and British officials for peace talks, Bowlby and company were captured by the Chinese.

Meanwhile, French and British troops arrived at the Summer Palace near Beijing. The Summer Palace “integrates numerous traditional halls and pavilions into the Imperial Garden conceived by the Qing emperor Qianlong between 1750 and 1764” (Centre). This site has a long history and is an integral part of the Chinese culture, so when the French and British arrived, they immediately began to loot the site. Elgin, the leader of the British wrote “‘War is a hateful business. The more one sees of it, the more one detests it’” (Bowl).  This did not stop Elgin from auctioning off all that had been looted though.

Back to Bowlby, the delegation sent to negotiate peace had been taken prisoners, tortured, and killed. This enraged Elgin, who then sent orders to his troops to burn the Summer Palace to the ground in retaliation.

Gate in ruins of the Summer Palace

This does not justify actions of such destruction to a culture. The Chinese were  preoccupied by political uprising for many years, but now they can finally return to their history and celebrate their story and artifacts, or in this case lack there of. The grand Summer Palace’s artifacts are spread out all over the world. There are efforts to bring these looted artifacts home, but it is a delicate process. There is great resentment around wealthy chinese purchasing their stolen heritage at auctions and at the Royal Engineers’ museum in Kent, deputy curator James Scott says, “‘We don’t actually mention the word loot at all. We try to keep the interpretation as neutral as possible’” (Bowl).

This is where archaeologists are needed. The origins of some of the artifacts being sold are disputed, but just because the site was burnt down, does not mean that the context can’t be used to help indicate where and when an artifact was created. This leads to greater ethical questions. Should China have to purchase its own heritage back? Looting occurs on a global scale and eventually, must be addressed. Hopefully with the work of archaeology and the corporation of different countries, all cultures will be able to properly celebrate their heritage.


Work Cited

Bowl, Chris. “The Palace of Shame That Makes China Angry.” BBC News, BBC, 2 Feb. 2015,

Centre, UNESCO World Heritage. “Summer Palace, an Imperial Garden in Beijing.” UNESCO World Heritage Centre,


Further Reading

“Chinese Zodiac Statues’ Origins.” BBC News, BBC, 3 Mar. 2009,

Hector Davie on 11 March 2016, et al. “The Loot from China’s Old Summer Palace in Beijing That Still Rankles.” Oxford Today,


Image Sources

“Summer Palace, Beijing, China.” UNESCO,

“Ancient Gate of Summer Palace in Ruins.” Oxford Today,

How Nationalists Use Archaeology as Propaganda

Indiana Jones fighting Nazis to rescue precious artifacts for public enjoyment. This is the image that popular culture has manufactured of archaeology. Archaeology is therefore perceived as a benevolent protection of the past, a perception that, while not always untrue, can be problematic. Archaeology, at its best, seeks to deepen and ameliorate the public understanding of past events, creating a more accurate history drawn from as many perspectives as possible. At its worst, however, archaeology can be (and has been) used as a tool to promote extreme nationalism, even to the point of genocide.

In 1933, when the Nazi Party rose to power, funding for archaeological research skyrocketed (Young, 2002), but the Nazis were intentionally misrepresenting the facts of German prehistory. Any and all artifacts of African, Slavic, or South American origin were destroyed or sent away from the eyes of the German people (Young, 2002). The Nazis were altering the past to create an image of a Germany that was descended solely from the Aryan race, with no outside influences whatsoever. They claimed this gave Aryans an inherent right to all the lands they had ever occupied, and superiority over other races (Young, 2002). This manipulation of evidence, coupled with a public lack of understanding of human evolution, led to an apparently convincing narrative of Aryan supremacy (Arnold, 2006). It allowed the white Germans to disassociate themselves from the less worthy others. This was an unfortunately effective tactic, eventually culminating in the internment and death of millions of innocent people.

The entrance to the Auschwitz concentration camp used by the Nazis to separate and murder those they deemed unworthy.                       Source:

This type of archaeological misrepresentation is still a serious problem in the world today. It is important to remember that disruption of historical knowledge is not always reliant on compliance of the people. The Nazis were able to convince large groups that they deserved supremacy by lying about the past, but today some groups are content simply to destroy it. One modern example of this is the destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan in Afghanistan by the Taliban (Sabloff, 2016). The Taliban wanted to erase any evidence of ‘false idols’. By destroying a group’s cultural heritage, The Taliban were able to present themselves as the only option that the people ever had, or ever would have. Physical destruction may not be quite as subtle or effective as the obscuring of data occurring in Nazi Germany, but it is still deletion of cultural history in favor of a violent nationalist agenda.

One of the Buddhas before destruction in 2001 Source:

What can be done about such abhorrent destruction of the past? It is difficult to stop these things from occurring, especially at the national or even international level, but the best way to prevent false archaeology is by doing real archaeology. By furthering public knowledge of the past, abusing misinformation becomes more difficult. Furthermore, it is always beneficial to look at archaeological theories with skepticism. Consider how such a narrative might benefit those spreading it. It is not possible to stop people from lying about the past, but it is very possible to recognize, and expose the lies.



Arnold, Bettina, 2006. ‘Arierdämmerung’: race and archaeology in Nazi Germany. World Archaeology. 38, 8-31.

Sabloff, Jeremy A. Archaeology Matters: Action Archaeology in the Modern World. Routledge, 2016.

Young, Megan, 2002. The Nazis’ Archaeology. Nebraska Anthropologist. 78.


Further Reading

Tourism and Cultural Heritage Go Hand in Hand

Undoubtedly, you’ve wanted to see the most revered and picturesque sites of the world and bask in their ancient glory; but have you ever stopped to think about how the tourism industry is affecting the cultural heritage of the sites in question? What many do not know is that the business of tourism is responsible for the destruction of cultural patrimony all around the world.

What’s wrong with the tourist industry is that in most cases, it takes money out of the country to profit big businesses and in turn neglects the landscape and the environment, as well. A prime example of this is Cambodia with its stunning temples at Angkor Wat. While thousands flock to this site, the government uses tourist money to build contemporary hotels in the vicinity around the temples, rather than protecting the temples themselves. As a result, many of the ruins are sinking into the ground, and modern infrastructure is taking precedent.  If Cambodia put less stress on the profits of big businesses within the tourist industry, this predicament could be remedied.

Tourists gather at Angkor Wat.

Another sad example is the city of Venice. While over 20 million visitors swamp this site per year, it’s root population of less than 60,000 is being threatened by flooding—the land actually sinks about 2 to 3 mm (.08 to .012 inches) per year. Landmarks are at risk for being lost forever, and the surge of tourists the city experiences doesn’t help.

So, what’s the solution to all this? A lot can be changed by avoiding what experts call “drive-by tourism”—staying for a few hours, days at the most, and only appreciating the surface of the sites presented to them with little regard to the culture or people. Instead, tourists should focus on immersing themselves in the country, rather than exploiting the site to benefit their social media feeds.

However, it is worth noting that not all aspects of tourism are inherently corrupt. Tourism has economic and cultural impacts that actually help and sustain countries. The implications of such factors, though, are dependent on how the country manages them. In Costa Rica, for example, all tourism is turned into something called “eco-tourism”—a system which not only benefits the local economy, but protects the native wildlife, as well. Culturally, France has the right idea of how to handle tourism. While being the most popular destination in the world, it has not given into the overdevelopment of the landscape. Instead, they sustain their existing cultural heritage and put emphasis on the locals instead of tourists.

Tourists admire the ecosystem of Costa Rica.


Magraw, Leslie Trew. “Is Tourism Destroying the World?” Intelligent Travel. April 07, 2016. Accessed November 12, 2017.

Staff, Live Science. “Venice Menace: Famed City is Sinking & Tilting.” LiveScience. March 21, 2012. Accessed November 12, 2017.

Further Reading:

Becker, Elizabeth. “The Big Idea: How Tourism Can Destroy the Places We Love.” The Daily Beast. July 05, 2013. Accessed November 12, 2017.
“15 destinations ruined by tourism.” Tourisme autrement. August 16, 2010. Accessed November 12, 2017.


The Archaeological Enemy Unresolved

Looting has been an obstacle archaeologists have had to deal with worldwide from the very start of archaeological research. Although in a number of countries looters have been arrested and artifacts returned, the overall problem has not decreased.

Costa Rican artifacts taken sometime between 1871-1921 that have been finally returned in 2011.

Social anthropologists started to look at the bigger picture in order to explain why bootleg archaeology has been such an unresolved issue. Instead of just focusing on the looters, they drew their attention to the consumers; as long as there would be a demand for artifacts, there would be looting. Most of the people excavating the sites were doing so in order to create a sustainable income not otherwise available.

In Costa Rica, 4,400 people make at least half of their income from looting, which doesn’t begin to account for all the people involved (Heath, 1973). The huaqueros (people who illegally excavate artifacts from sites) believe the artifacts buried on their soil belong to them and thus believe these are theirs to be exploited. Even while this trade is illegal, border permits are incredibly easy to forge and 95 percent of the trade can still be smuggled (Heath, 1973). This unfortunate situation seems to be because of the lack of archaeology being done and the inclusion of local peoples in the early years of ‘proper’ excavation.

These artifacts were taken in 1896 from one of the only sites excavated in Costa Rica, and were then displayed in a U.S. museum without consent from the locals.

Most sites were not found because of Costa Rica’s tropical forest which covers most surface artifacts. The only people that could potentially identify sites were the locals who did not have a strong connection to their past since most of the population was wiped out during colonial domination. These factors made the possibility of beneficial education on these issues scarce in later years.

Even with all of this in mind, the law still specifically targets the huaqueros although we now know the vast number of people who participate in this trade; police, border patrol, museum curators and many more jobs are involved in the shipment of these artifacts. This group does not even include the consumers who are mostly from the U.S. willing to pay big money for rare artifacts to illegally display in their house or a museum. Continuing to blame the looters will not solve the problem because the threat of jail does not deter someone whose livelihood is based on this trade. In order to eliminate the problem, the demand must be eradicated in some way and the income must be created through a different outlet so that the people involved are not forced into another illegal trade.


Heath, Dwight B. “Bootleg Archaeology in Costa Rica.” Archaeology, Vol. 26, No. 3, 1973, pp. 217-219.

Snarskis, Michael Jay. The Archaeology of The Central Atlantic Watershed of Costa Rica. Columbia University, 1978.

Pictures (in order):


Further Reading:
Proulx, Blythe Bowman. “Site Looting in “Glocal” Perspective: Nature, Scope, and Frequency.” American Journal of Archaeology, Vol 117, No. 1, 2013, pp. 111-125.
Heath, Dwight B. “Economic Aspects of Commercial Archaeology in Costa Rica.” American Antiquity, Vol. 38, No. 3, 1973, pp. 259-265.




How Warfare Alters Identities: A Study of the US Invasion of Iraq

Archeology and identity are connected and intertwined due to identity’s reliance on symbolism. As humans became more sedentary the development of long-term communities was immediately coupled with the creation of important physical spaces.

Throughout history we’ve seen the destruction of monuments and important archeological sites as an effective form of psychological warfare. However, the reality of a Westernized bias means that many of us think of “others” as completing these acts of destruction: terrorist groups, uneducated and corrupt governments, and desperate civilians. This is also usually associated with poorer countries with less infrastructure (which is relative, because what even is a normal/correct infrastructure?). In class we’ve looked at the Babri Mosque, ISIS, looting in Syria, Iraq, and Peru, but what about our country?

The destruction of the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya, India

When the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, they destroyed numerous archeological and cultural sites. Many areas were converted into military bases, including the ancient city of Babylon (Jenkins 2007). Troops vandalized and pillaged cultural sites in order to convert them into military spaces. Though it appears that the government attempted to avoid archeological destruction, with the inclusion of archeologists in strategic military planning, the reality is that war as a practice is inherently destructive (Hamilakis 2009). For example, the City of Ur was surrounded by military basis, and thus pillaged and vandalized (Vulliamy 2003). Avoidance of cultural destruction therefore has to be synonymous with the avoidance of conflict.

A U.S. Military Base in the ancient city of Babylon

There is also an inherent bias, not only in the acts of destruction, but in the denouncement and publicization of it. Though Western countries tend to portray themselves as the model for intellectual preservation and understanding we can look to history to see how we favor and exploit the practice of archeology. During World War II  “American officers persuaded allied commanders to avoid combat inside Florence, birthplace of the Italian Renaissance” (Tucker). Here we see a very eurocentric understanding of conflict avoidance and preservation, whereas in Iraq the destruction of identity under the destruction of archeological sites was abetted by a lack of preservative action.

I believe archeology is inherently political, even with the theory of identity fluidity. Though emphasizing the changeability of groups can be used to suppress conflicts, like in the case of the Babri Mosque, it can also be used to justify modern day destruction. This retrospective understanding of “history changes identities” means that one could justify Iraq’s destruction by stating how the U.S. invasion is a development in history, and thus just as important as the sites it’s destroying. I think that in order for archeology to be a decolonized, anti-imperialist tool it can’t be used for divisive political purposes, and instead must be a factually based, all-inclusive, non-for-profit, pacifist-like practice. Even though archeology proves the long-rooted history and inevitability of warfare, that doesn’t mean that it can’t take a stance against it.

Additional Reading

UNESCO. Final Report on Damage Assessment in Babylon. 2009.

“Ancient city of Babylon destroyed by US base.” Al Arabiya News, 23 May 2008,


Image Sources

India, Sabrang. “Conspiracy Behind the Demolition of the Babri Masjid: Salient Points of the SC Decision.” Newsclick, 20 Apr. 2017,

“Destroying Cultural Sites: Something ISIL and US Army Have in Common.” Sputnik, 3 Nov. 2015,



Hamilakis, Yannis. “The “War on Terror” and the Military–Archaeology Complex: Iraq, Ethics, and Neo-Colonialism.” Archeologies, vol. 5, no. 1, 2009, pp. 39-65.

Jenkins, Simon. “In Iraq’s four-year looting frenzy, the allies have become the vandals.” The Guardian, 7 June 2007,

Tucker, Diane. “Brutal Destruction Of Iraq’s Archaeological Sites Continues (SLIDESHOW).” Huffpost,

Vulliamy, Ed. “Troops Vandalise Ancient City of Ur.” The Observer, 17 May 2003,

Bernbeck, Reinhard, and Susan Pollock. “Ayodhya, Archaeology, and Identity.” Current Anthropology, vol. 37, no. 1, 1996, pp. S138–S142. JSTOR, JSTOR,