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,

Preserving World Heritage: Where Do the Elgin Marbles Belong?

One important question archaeologists face today is how to best preserve the world’s heritage. Are ancient artifacts safer in more modern museums or should they reside in their country of origin?  The Greeks and British have debated over this issue for years due to some of the world’s most famous artifacts: the Elgin Marbles.

Picture of the present day Parthenon with missing frieze
Photo by: Marissa Kokinis

The story all begins with Lord Elgin. At the time Greece was under the control of the Ottomans and Elgin was the acting British Ambassador to the empire.  Lord Elgin came to an agreement with the Ottoman Sultan to make casts and paintings of the Parthenon sculptures to take back to England with him, but through questionable means Elgin gained permission to “take away some pieces of stone with old inscriptions and figures,” (Sánchez, 2017).  Elgin went on to remove most of the Parthenon’s frieze along with other statues, but after falling into debt he sold the marbles to the British government.  

The horsemen from the west frieze of the Parthenon as displayed in the British Museum

After gaining independence the Greeks asked for the Elgin marbles to be returned, but as of now they remain in the British Museum causing a huge debate.  Those opposing their return argue that Lord Elgin had the legal documents to take the marbles, paid the Ottoman Empire appropriately, and that the marbles have been safely displayed in the British Museum for over 200 years, whereas they could have been completely destroyed had they remained in Greece.  Those in favor of returning the marbles to Greece argue that these marbles are a symbol of Greek heritage and that Elgin did not actually use legal means to obtain the marbles.  Others are concerned the marbles will be damaged if they are returned to Greece, as archeologists say current sculptures at the Acropolis are threatened by air pollution, but Greek archaeologist Alexandros Mantis says that Greece can prove to the British they are capable of taking care of their artifacts by moving these sculptures to the museum and that Greece deserves to have the marbles returned (AFP, 2008).  There are also arguments that the British Museum is more suited to host the Elgin marbles, but the New Acropolis Museum, which opened in 2009, is now fit to host any of the Acropolis’ ancient artifacts.  

The New Acropolis Museum in Athens, Greece

Archaeologists play a large role in preserving the world’s heritage and should participate in debates over questions such as, are there cases where certain artifacts are better preserved in more developed countries? Or if a country requests the return of their artifacts should they be returned even if it might endanger the artifacts? These questions will not be answered overnight, but archaeologists can offer unique opinions on these issues with their knowledge of cultural identity and desire to preserve world heritage.


Sánchez, Juan Pablo. “How the Parthenon Lost Its Marbles.” National Geographic, 28 Mar. 2017,

Silverman, Helaine. Contested Cultural Heritage. New York, NY, Springer, 2014.

King, Dorothy. The Elgin Marbles. London, Arrow, 2007.

Dorment, Richard. “The Elgin Marbles will never return to Athens – the British Museum is their rightful home.” The Telegraph, Telegraph Media Group, 30 June 2009, Accessed 7 Nov. 2017.

Flows, Capital. “The British Museum Should Return The Parthenon Marbles To Greece.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 26 Dec. 2014,


AFP. “Archaeologist says pollution threatening last Parthenon marbles.” ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), 13 Apr. 2008, Accessed 7 Nov. 2017.


Pictures (In order of appearance):

Parthenon. 7 July 2017.

“Horsemen from the west frieze of the Parthenon.” British Museum, British Museum, Accessed 7 Nov. 2017.

Daniilidis, Nikos. “A nightview of the Parthenon Sculptures of the Acropolis Museum, opposite the Sacred Rock and the actual monument.” Themanews, 29 July 2014, Accessed 7 Nov. 2017.


Additional Resources:

Johnston, Ian. “First-Ever legal bid for return of Elgin Marbles to Greece thrown out by European Court of Human Rights.” The Independent, Independent Digital News and Media, 19 July 2016,


Robertson, Geoffrey. “Let’s do a Brexit deal with the Parthenon marbles | Geoffrey Robertson.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 4 Apr. 2017,


How Social/Income Inequality and the Fall of Rome is Relevant Today

The adage goes that if we do not learn from our past than we are bound to repeat it. Nowhere is this clearer than when we look at the fall of the Roman Empire and the social and financial situations prior. Before the collapse of the Roman Empire, the top 1% of its population controlled over 16% of its wealth. The Gini coefficient; which measures the level of income disparity in a society where 0 is perfectly equal and 1 is perfectly unequal, measured Rome at an incredibly high 0.43[1].

Diocletian’s Palace, Croatia. Built at the turn of the 4th century for Roman emperor Diocletian.

Further compounding the issue was that wealthy Romans increasingly removed themselves from cities and positions of power as they saw the first signs of collapse from the edges of the empire. This is made very clear in the archaeological record where before the end of the Roman Empire there was a large spike in fortified villas far from cities and people[2].“Their disinclination to lead may have been caused by forced exactions, confiscations, business concerns, tax pressured, or general economic fears, which made protecting one’s own interests seem more prudent than looking out for the interests of others.”[3] In their selfishness the upper class romans abandoned their people when they needed them most, only further destabilizing Rome.

Worsening matters was the fact that Rome had been built on expansion, militarism, and the spoils of war. “Being Roman eventually meant being whatever wealth said it was, and shorn of the old ties that kept the rich and poor together out of a mutual sense of common destiny, they soon turned on one another.”[4] Soldiers and common citizens could no longer trust that they would get what was “theirs” as the ruling upper-class tended to keep all of their wealth to themselves while maintaining slaves who did all of the work of the typical middle working class. All that was left for citizens and soldiers was economic squalor as wealth continued to be inherited by the rich, and labor was taken by the slaves of war.

Rendition of daily life in Pompeii showing interaction between upper and lower class peoples.

These are just a couple reasons for the fall of Rome, but what is perhaps most terrifying about the fall are the corollaries to today. The Unites States of America has a Gini coefficient of .45, and 40% of the wealth is controlled by the top 1% of the population.[5] By every metric, the United States is even more divided and unfair than Rome before its fall. The effects are perfectly evident as well as there is increasing inclination from the rich to build fallout bunkers and withdraw from civilization and politics just as the roman elites did centuries before. Worsening matters is the evidence of extreme racism towards migrant workers who like slaves in Rome “take the labor from the hardworking middle class”. Increasingly the middle class shrinks as social unrest and bigotry grows. It is a scary combination that, if we aren’t careful, could spell the end of civilization as we know it, just like it did for the Romans centuries before.




[2] Ermatinger, James William. The decline and fall of the Roman Empire. Greenwood Press, 2004, Page 58.

[3] Ermatinger, James William. The decline and fall of the Roman Empire. Greenwood Press, 2004, Page 58.



Picture Sources:

Diocletian’s Palace, Croatia. This heavily fortified palace was built at the turn of the 4th century for Roman emperor Diocletian. The massive palace was protected by large walls with numerous towers. Some times, it housed over 9000 people. I’ll post more in the comments. from castles

Reading Thomas Piketty: A Critical Essay

Further Reading: 

Income inequality in the Roman Empire


An Expansive View of Altaian Heritage


Consider Central Asia, where Russia’s Altai Republic intersects with Kazakhstan, Mongolia, and China. Much of the region remains a tractless wilderness, with roads and settlements existing only in the most sparse and isolated sense of the term. Here, tourism is an undertaking of long distance and remoteness, but the history of the Altai Mountains defies the conventional wisdom of such a place.

Long before the storied Silk Roads wound across the Eurasian landmass, Altaian peoples operated within a dynamic interplay of genetics, language, artistry, and culture, at once receiving from others and wielding influence over them. Theirs is an expansive narrative with links to Africa, Europe, the Middle East, India, China, Korea, and even North America that toys with the modern ethnocentric default of “othering” unfamiliar peoples and trivializes the theory that it is possible to delimit distinct branches of humanity.

Figure 1: Cross-section of a Pazyryk burial.

Prominent over 2300 years ago, the Pazyryk people left behind burial mounds called kurgans that today proffer the bulk of data on the history of the Altai Mountains. Evidence from numerous well-preserved kurgans allows experts to claim with “no doubt that this culture was closely linked…to the leading centers of civilization at the time in China, India, and Achaemenid Iran” (Tresilian). By reusing items from other peoples and adapting foreign motifs into their own designs, the Pazyryk demonstrate an eclectic taste that would not have been possible if they were closed off from the exchange of goods and ideas. Some iconography from Western China clearly exhibits inspiration from the style of the Altaian nomads (Tresilian), while the embellishment of Chinese silks to clothe the renowned Pazyryk noblewoman approaches stylistic elements that remain common among the nomads of the region today. From the western side, Altaians absorbed Achaemenid influences and endured observation by the Greeks. Any depiction of a human is rare in Pazyryk art, and yet a bridle carved with the image of Bes, an Egyptian genie that was popular among the Achaemenids, appears in one of the tombs (Rubinson).

Figure 2: Image of Bes, a token of Achaemenid influence in the Altai Mountians.



When paired with genetic evidence that links modern Altaians to the Iranian-Caucasian lineage of the Pazyryk (“Siberian Princess”) and to ancestral Native Americans (“On Our Mind”) through demographic expansion from the region (Gonzalez-Ruiz et al.), an image of the power of cultural synthesis across history takes shape, an image in which each group of people depends on the accumulated influence of others.

When archaeologists under the auspices of UNESCO propose awareness among local people as if it were an afterthought (Tresilian) and Russian officials cast off pleas for the return of Pazyryk mummies with invocations of science (“Siberian Princess”), they disregard indigenous ways of knowing and transform heritage into an exotic subject of curiosity. The residents of the Altai region may be able to claim a history that transcends the boundaries surrounding them, but the institutions championed by Europe and America continue to put themselves above the rest, deepening divisions and ignoring the profound connections that link every group of people to a shared human story.



Gonzalez-Ruiz, Mercedes, et al. “Tracing the Origin of the East-West Population Admixture in the Altai Region (Central Asia).” PLOS One, PLOS, 9 Nov. 2012, Accessed 5 Nov. 2017.

“On Our Mind in March.” Altai Project, 27 Mar. 2015, Accessed 5 Nov. 2017.

“On the Path to Celestial Pastures.” Science First Hand, Infolio, 30 Dec. 2014, Accessed 6 Nov. 2017.

Rubinson, Karen S. “The Textiles from Pazyryk.” Penn Museum, Expedition Magazine, Mar. 1990, Accessed 5 Nov. 2017.

“Siberian Princess Reveals Her 2,500 Year Old Tatoos.” The Siberian Times, 14 Aug. 2012, Accessed 5 Nov. 2017.

Tresilian, David, editor. “Preservation of the Frozen Tombs of the Altai Mountains.” World Heritage Convention, UNESCO, Mar. 2008, Accessed 5 Nov. 2017.


Image Sources:

Drawing of Section of Pazyryk Barrow No. 5. State Hermitage Museum, 2007, Accessed 6 Nov. 2017.

Image of Bes Confirmed by Identical in Rubinson Publication. Pinterest,–hermitage-museum-plaque.jpg. Accessed 6 Nov. 2017.


Further Reading:

Archaeology and Reconstructing History

While archaeology can be a helpful tool in understanding past cultures and histories, it can also be used in a negative way to reconstruct narratives that justify certain unjust practices. The past is typically seen as indisputable fact, but in reality it is highly contestable. Archaeology aids in constructing a skewed reality of the past by “othering” groups of people defend their discriminatory policies.

For example, British diplomats in the East India Company justified manipulating and demeaning the Hindi religion by explaining that they were simply exploring the culture. At this time, the British Empire was at its height and had immense influence on not only its own country, but the rest of the world. Sanskrit manuscripts, history books, and other parts of their culture were systematically destroyed to create a place for new stories about India that the British had complete control over. This technique is very useful in colonial domination because by erasing the truth and inserting a new reality, it is easier to give grounds for the actions and violence they are committing. By saying that India was a less advanced country that needed the assistance of a great nation like Britain, invading is warranted.

Reconstructing of narratives also occurs today and with recent history. There are many cities in the United States that are characterized as unsafe places ridden with drugs and crime. Biased articles are written and skewed statistics are shared to distort the real image of the city. For example, Brownsville is a neighborhood in Brooklyn that is notorious for high levels of poverty and crime. The only time that it is ever in the news is when people are reporting on the intense level of crime and drug use in the neighborhood. The people of Brownsville are depicted as delinquent criminals who live off well fare and commit horrible felonies. While there are high rates of crime and poverty, these images do not represent the neighborhood and its’ inhabitants as a whole. This is a tactic to scaring people away from the neighborhood and “othering” the residents of Brownsville to further segregate it.

This is an example of the type of news that is presented about Brownsville

This is an example of a Sanskrit manuscript

Archaeology has the ability to reveal certain unknown aspects of cultures, but it is extremely important to acknowledge how archaeologists go about this process. It needs to be clear that there are no alternative motives and that they are not using their position of power to harm others. When this is not the case, archaeology and constructing past histories can have horrible impacts for generations.


Photo sources:

Further Interests:


Phenomenology and the Archaeology of Poverty

Poverty has taken the stage as a key theme in modern archaeology. One archaeologist characterizes this pull: “Archaeology, with its emphasis on materiality and time, has the potential to offer insights into the power relations that create economic polarization over time” (Barnes 26). Archaeology is equipped to examine poverty through a clear base in material analysis and post-processual insights into class and capital. Since the discipline has an intimate relationship with the material world, it is oriented in line with biopolitical and even phenomenological methods. Most disciplines, including archaeology, encounter biopolitics in some form. Taken up in political science and philosophy expressly, biopolitics is an analysis of physical bodies and their relationship to power. Phenomenology, for my purposes, is the study of embodied consciousness (the body) and its relationship to the world – a biopolitical analysis substituting power for the world. This branch of philosophy serves the purpose of centering experience and subjectivity (historically a means of displacing modernism and rationalism). For anthropology and archaeology, this means analyzing how bodies move through and experience spaces. Connecting these methods to archaeology is not new, but I hope to enlighten what this approach can bring specifically to the archaeology of poverty.

To explain this, I’ll bring in Jodi Barnes’s article “Land Rich and Cash Poor: The Materiality of Poverty in Appalachia.” This essay uses sites in the Blue Ridge Mountain region of Virginia to form a “materiality of poverty.”

Map of Moses Richeson’s farmstead (Barnes 31)

Taking a spatial mapping of households with a post-processual lens, Barnes paints some elements of life:

“Excavations in the shed kitchen resulted in the expected collection of kitchen utensils, mainly spoons and knives, and canning lids, as well as a number of buttons… The buttons suggest that the kitchen may have also functioned as a place to wash laundry (Jordan 2005). Most of the time laundry was done outside, but in the winter women would wash their clothes in the kitchen (Wigginton 1973:265). The Hughes family may have taken in laundry to earn extra money” (Barnes 34).


Excavations in the shed kitchen (Barnes 35).

Phenomenology begins with asking how material life was inhabited. Architectural studies can assist in recreating building layouts to bring in certain questions. How was the kitchen oriented towards specific use patterns? If the kinds of cooking and consumption remains tell us how food was prepared and consumed, can we formulate a pattern of work in the household? What path does the cook need to take to gather water or other materials and ultimately serve the meal?


Here phenomenology is essentially a focus on “in-time” life, the everydayness gleamed out of an archaeological site. Using artifacts, landscapes, and contextual analysis archaeology can illuminate the extent to which capitalism, racial discrimination, and gendered oppression infiltrated life. How much time was spent on certain activities (cooking, farming, shopping), who (which bodies) performed these actions, where was work carried out (as opposed to leisure), and where were leisure objects (furniture, games, valuables, etc.) situated in relation to objects of work? This shift orients Barnes’s analysis: “in the winter women would wash their clothes in the kitchen,” and “may have taken in laundry to earn extra money,” to include the extent to which the need to take on laundry work effected existence for women (how much time was invested in this income production? how close were the means of laundry work to other gendered spaces?). These questions build a foundation for archaeology to capture the experience of poverty, with the goal of contributing to holism in the archaeology of poverty.

Text and Image Sources:

Barnes, Jodi A. “Land Rich and Cash Poor: The Materiality of Poverty in Appalachia.” Historical Archaeology 45, no. 3 (2011): 26-40.

Further Reading:

Ahmed, Sara “Orientations: Towards a Queer Phenomenology” GLQ 12, no. 4 (2006): 543-574. For more on phenomenology and its use to illuminate cultural structures.

Orser, Charles E. “The Archaeology of Poverty and the Poverty of Archaeology.” International Journal of Historical Archaeology 15, no. 4 (2011): 533-43. For more on the archaeology of poverty and issues dealing with the study.

Historical Archaeology 45, no. 3 (2011). This volume centers the archaeology of poverty, for further examples of this scholarship.

Understanding Traffic in Pompeii


There is a misconception that cities in ancient societies were incomparable to the cities of today. However, cities of the past had many of the same problems that modern cities face today,  including: poverty, pollution, and even traffic. Archaeologist Eric Poehler, an assistant professor of Classics at University of Massachusetts Amherst, wrote The Traffic Systems of Pompeii, which analyzes the wear and tear of the streets of Pompeii to determine the infrastructure.

Traffic in Pompeii


Pompeii left an immense archaeological record that has proven to be instrumental in understanding ancient roman cities.  Professor Poehler focused his research specifically on the the streets and road systems. In an interview with Archaeology magazine,  Poehler explained how he was able to study the traffic in Pompeii. “The most obvious features in Pompeii are wheel ruts left in the paving stones. You can easily imagine the thousands of vehicles that made them. The ruts tell us there was heavy traffic” (Conversation: Rush Hour in Pompeii in Archaeology 2008). However, Sarah Bond, an Assistant Professor of Classics at the University of Iowa, brings to light why studying the infrastructure and traffic systems of Pompeii is important.“The historic growth of a city’s road system is itself a reflection of the ideas, ideals, laws and people that pulsed within a community and the economy that underpinned it”( Pompeii Had Some Intense Rush Hour Traffic Too in Forbes 2017).

For instance, traffic systems  had to be put in place because in an city if there was no regulation, then there was chaos. Professor Poehler illustrated how the Roman government enforced the traffic system in Pompeii.  “They didn’t have stop signs or one-way signs. So while it’s clear traffic flow was designed by the city administration, it was actually run by the people who were involved in it–the drivers. It was their cooperation that actually kept the system going”(Conversation: Rush Hour in Pompeii in Archaeology 2008).  Two thousand years ago, governments were faced with the challenge of implementing rules that the citizens would obey.

Archaeologists can use traffic as a medium for comparing cities ancient and modern.  It is easy to  forget that transportation has always been a problem of society. In cities, old and new, thousands of people were/are asking how do I get from point A to point B the quickest?  Answering this question has been proven to be crucial in  determining the best layout of the city. By learning about how ancient cities, such as Pompeii, dealt with their own traffic problems, city planners of today can use this information to improve the urban landscape.  

The street layout of Pompeii


Additional Readings on Roman Traffic:


Bond, Sarah. “Pompeii Had Some Intense Rush Hour Traffic Too.” Forbes, 16 Oct. 2017,

“Conversation: Rush Hour in Pompeii.” Archaeology, vol. 61, no. 6, Nov.-Dec. 2008,

Picture Sources:

“Principle Streets on Pompeii.” Destruction and Re-discovery, Map.

Traffic in Pompeii. University of Pennsylvania Museum,