The Fun Stuff isn’t just Pseudo

You don’t have to solely follow pseudoarcheology to get all the thrills and compelling stories, such as the possibility of aliens on our planet. Bioaracheology and forensic anthropology can provide captivating stories in regard to the cause and time of death of humans from the Holocene (10,000 years ago) to the present, without the gross exaggerations created in pseudoarcheaology. Bioarcheaologists and forensic anthropologists are specialists in human osteology who use theory and method of biological anthropology to answer questions about how recent humans lived and died. Largely born from the practices of New Archeology, it advocates using processual methods to test hypotheses about the interaction between culture and biology, or a bio-cultural approach. Due to the fact that the shape of skeletons of humans and other animals is dictated mostly by its function in life and its evolutionary history, bioarcheaologists and forensic anthropologists can reconstruct probable age, sex, and sometimes ancestry. As a result, biological profiles of the skeletal remains can be constructed to further understand the life of the individual and their response to natural and cultural change. Skeletal remains can be aged according to their skeleton size and teeth and sexed based on the pelvis and the skull. But at what cost?

The aging and sexing of a skeleton is crucial evidence in determining how that individual may have lived. Both features are present in Snow’s protocol for proper identification. When determining age, the skeleton is crucial due to the fact that it grows rapidly during childhood. For this reason, assessing the age of a subadult (younger than 18 years) is easier and often more precise than aging an adult skeleton. In addition, teeth are a key factor in determining between children and adults. However, after the child has reached 12 years of age, aging by teeth becomes difficult due to the fact that at this point most adult teeth have erupted. In regards to sexing skeletons, the pelvis is the best indicator. Due to selective pressures for childbirth, human females have pelves that provide a relatively large birth canal. Skeletal remains can also be sexed with the idea that humans are slightly sexually dimorphic…whereas in most cases men will be larger than women. Male skulls are more robust on average and have a larger browridge. So why might all this information be useful and relevant to modern day people and cultures? Bill Maples case of the Romanovs used the preceding information, among other information, to successfully identify nine individuals thought to be the remains of the Romanovs.


Figure 1. Male Pelvis (left) and Female Pelvis (right)

From a bog on the outskirts of Ekateringburg, nine almost complete skeletons were found in a shallow grave. Assemblages to these skeletons included fourteen bullets, bits of rope, and a shattered jar. Bill Maples was able to identify the age and sex of these individuals and identify five of them as male and four of them as female. Additional information included that all of the females had dental work while most of the males had few teeth at all. There is a skeleton to fit everyone in the Romanov family that was reported as missing with exceptions of Tsarevich Alexei and his daughter, Anastasia. If discovering bodies that have been missing in history is not as exciting if not more exciting than aliens on our planet, I’m not sure what is. Archaeology can be captivating if given the attention and everything doesn’t and shouldn’t be about pseudoarchaeology.


Accumulation of skeletal pieces from Romanov remains

The previously mentioned “cost’ of bioarchaeology includes that it is often criticized for having little to no concern for culture or history. Large-scale skeletal collections have been amassed from the remains of Native Americans with no permission granted from surviving family for study and display. Federal laws such as NAGPRA (Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act) have allowed Native Americans to regain control over the skeletal remains of their ancestors and associated artifacts in order to reassert their cultural identities. The attempt of NAGPRA to balance science and respect for the past is a nearly impossible task. The results are a never-ending cycle between trying to respect past cultures while also trying to better understand them. In a world full of questions, its becoming harder and harder to find the answers.

Image References:

 Ipatiev House – Romanov Memorial – The Final Chapter. (n.d.). Retrieved November 5, 2014, from

Pelvic Girdle Male and Female. (n.d.). Retrieved November 5, 2014, from Two/Appendicular/PelvicgirdleMaleandFemale.htm


Renfrew, Colin and Paul Bahn (2010) Archaeology Essentials. 2nd edition. Thames & Hudson, New York.

Maples, W., & Browning, M. (1994). Dead men do tell tales. New York: Doubleday.

Future Reading:

 Duffield, L. (n.d.). AGING AND SEXING THE POST-CRANIAL SKELETON OF BISON. Plains Anthropologist, 18(60), 132-139. Retrieved from

 Slater, W. (2007). The many deaths of Tsar Nicholas II: Relics, remains and the Romanovs. London: Routledge.















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Punk Rock, or a Waste of Time?

Punk Archaeology entails the creative use of artifacts and sites to break out of established modes of thought to promote new ways of thinking. Andrew Reinhard, the lead archaeologist in the Atari dig, describes Punk archeology as “the history of places affiliated with Punk music and culture. It also means that as archaeologists, we apply Punk’s do-it-yourself aesthetic to our science. Punk also engages the community and finds ways to work either within or around constraints such as money and time, using those restrictions to our advantage creatively.”There is continuous debate however, over the efficiency of this practice of archeology and why punk archaeology may or may not succeed in challenging established modes of thought.

When looking at the Atari excavations done in New Mexico by a team of punk archaeologists, it is hard not to wonder whether encountering and presenting the buried games as archaeological artifacts had the effect of providing some distance from the familiar and opening these objects up to new forms of critique. While archaeological investigation is in many ways about solving ancient “mysteries” archaeology is, first and foremost, a social science that uses various methodologies, careful accumulation and analysis of data, and scientific method. One of the first cons of the use of Punk archeology is the mass media that it attracts that creates a negative effect on the discoveries made. To clarify, when looking at the Atari dig done in New Mexico, some saw it as merely a publicity stunt and “claim to fame.” Instead of focusing on the actual science being done, such as the exposing of the stratigraphy of the landfill to determine the interplay between domestic trash and dumped Atari products, the project was largely dependent on the overarching story and schedule of the director…not the scientists. The scientists in this project can be viewed as props in “archeology theatre” and just parts of the documentary, not the main focus. This can also cause a lot of what is discovered to be twisted just to be made more appealing to the public. Punk archeology can often lead to forms of pseudoarcheology whereas things such as aliens walking the earth are studied. While some may argue that public attention is good for breaking established thought, putting archeology on a global stage can be detrimental and making it all seem like a big joke.

Punk archaeology can also be seen as a tool that encourages us to approach the familiar in unconventional ways.   It complements conventional archaeology which likewise provides a distance for critically understanding objects from the past, but in most cases these objects are already unfamiliar to the modern viewer. Punk archeology can make these objects understandable and relevant to public viewers. In the example of the Atari dig-up, it gave archeology profile and capital while also offering a look into corporate history. Some of what was dug up in this finding became museum artifacts and part of a life history visible to the public eye. Punk archaeology is not only a source of entertaining websites and goofy TV shows, it can be used in much more powerful way to influence modern ideas about the past and the present. It channels the public into learning a great deal about our more recent past and how modern thinking has informed and is informed by ancient history.

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Story telling through Experimental Archaeology

Experimental archaeology is a field of study that attempts to generate and test archaeological hypotheses, usually by replicating or approximating the feasibility of ancient cultures performing various tasks or feats. When focusing on tool making, archaeologists will often recreate these tools to the best of their ability in the hope of learning the answers to questions such as why or how these tools were used. The imitation of flint knapping can lead archaeologists to answers about the difference in tool making and usage of tools from different time periods and/or locations.


Figure 1. The result of flint knapping various types of stones such as chert and obsidian

This past summer Professor Lucy Johnson and three Vassar students produced a comparative analysis of tool making debris from Native American sites in New York to a site located on Unga Island in Alaska. Specifically, their research was angled toward the determination of whether or not different cultures produce different tool-making debris or if the debris is constant despite the location of the tool making. It was determined that in the New York State sites, the Native American knappers were approaching how they were going to knap in similar matters based on the consistent finds among all sites. Additionally, the weight distribution, striking platform, and limited dorsal cortex of the debris were coherent between both the New York and Alaska site. Based on this evidence, it can be determined that sites that reflect similar stages in the knapping process show similar trends in flake attributes. The distinguishing factor between these two sites would be the use of brittle volcanic stones in Alaska and chert in New York State. While the process remains the same despite the material utilized, the volcanic stones are harder to control and probably led to a more time-consuming knapping process.

Peter Jones and his experimental butchery with modern stone tools exhibits another usage of experimental archaeology. Within his study, Jones looks at the efficiency of various stone tools such as large hand axes, cleavers, retouched flakes, etc. His overall objective was to determine which of these tools worked better in the cleaving and skinning of numerous animals of different sizes (goats, zebras, etc.) and to rationalize what this may have meant for hunters and knappers in the early Paleolithic and Pleistocene. His overall conclusion inferred that large, generally bifacially flaked tools are more efficient than small plain flakes for most butchery tasks. Large tools would be advantageous due to their weight and long cutting edges. However, at predominant Paleolithic Sites there has been an abundance of small flakes and flake tools discovered. In Jones’ opinion, these are the result of tool re-sharpening and/or reworking.

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Figure 2. Outline of tool types tested on various animal csrcasses


In my opinion, experimental archaeology is one of the few methods that can effectively aid in the understanding of previous stone tool assemblage and usage…most of the time. I remain cautious due to the fact that although our methods may be succinct, we can never be sure because we didn’t coexist with these people. History and archaeology are not about finding the “right answer.” They exist to build a logical story of events that may or may not be true due to what we know.




Jones, P. (n.d.). Experimental butchery with modern stone tools and its relevance for Palaeolithic archaeology. World Archaeology, 153-165. Retrieved October 4, 2

Nehawka Primitive Skills. (n.d.). Retrieved October 4, 2014, from

Ancient Craft – Experimental Archaeology. (n.d.). Retrieved October 4, 2014, from

Future Reading:

Newcomer, M., & Sieveking, G. (1980). Experimental Flake Scatter-Patterns: A New Interpretative Technique. Journal of Field Archaeology, 345-352. Retrieved October 4, 2014.

Marzke, M., & Shackley, M. (n.d.). Hominid Hand Use In The Pliocene And Pleistocene: Evidence From Experimental Archaeology And Comparative Morphology. Journal of Human Evolution, 439-460. Retrieved October 4, 2014.

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