Constructing Narratives: The Display of Lynching Artifacts and Remains

The legacy of racial violence through an archaeological perspective, specifically lynching, perhaps is one of the most relevant examples of how to present the idea that the discussion of how to ethically present histories from our past is intensely relevant today.

The ways that artifacts are presented create narratives that either fetishize or humanize the archaeological remains of such atrocities. For example, after the 1901 public murder of George Ward in Terre Haute, Indiana, the crowd immediately fought amongst one another in order to obtain any part of Ward’s body. His extremities were broken off and kept. His toes were auctioned off to the highest bidders (Young 168). The remains of lynching victims became a memory of the ritualistic murders to those who commoditized the black body. In contrast, the families and friends of the lynching victims would scour sites to find any remains, so that they could bury them (Young 183).

The infamous lynching postcards that were and are insensitively displayed in family photo albums bring this hate crime to life (Simon 1:Without Sanctuary). Postcards portraying lynching victims continue to circulate within the market, perpetuating a sort of looting that represents the way that we still view the victims of these violent acts. It evokes visions of the colonial past, creating a modern ‘cabinet of curiosity’ that continues to other and fetishize the secrecy and yet loudness of racial violence. It is obvious that systemic and violent dehumanization, social or physical, of black and brown bodies is not something that is limited to the past.

Figure 1. Rope used in the lynching of Matthew Williams in December of 1931. It is currently displayed at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.

This is not to say that archaeological remnants of lynchings should not be displayed in any circumstances.  Emmett Till’s family donated his casket to the Smithsonian Museum. A piece of the rope used to murder Matthew Williams is at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. James Allen and John Littlefield’s collection of lynching postcards and photographs literally take these artifacts from people’s collections and turn them into a condemnation and remembrance of the victims. All of these artifacts are intended to become materials for teaching and remembrance by those descended from victims and by allies, and this is what we must hope happens to as many cultural remains as possible.

But we must remember that certain voices must be put at the forefront. James Cameron, a victim of a botched lynching, founded a museum based on this black genocide. He is a living testimony to the remains that have become ecofacts to museums and collectibles to many others. America’s Black Holocaust Museum had wax figures of lynching victims on display, as well as rope used to lynch a man. It evoked such negative reactions that the exhibit was taken down. The Museum shut down in 2008, and although it reopened this year, its temporary failure serves to show which narratives continue to dominate and gain support. Archeology must be collaborative, because only those who have lived the repercussions of such horrors can adequately help to create the ethical narratives that such remnants deserve.


Figure 2. Emmett Till’s casket, donated to the Smithsonian in 2009.


Evidence of Things Unsaid

Simon, Roger I. “The Public Rendition of Images Médusées: Exhibiting Souvenir Photographs Taken at Lynchings in America.” Presence: Philosophy, History, and Cultural Theory for the Twenty-First Century, edited by Ranjan Ghosh and Ethan Kleinberg, Cornell University Press, Ithaca; London, 2013, pp. 79–102. JSTOR,

Young, Harvey. “Housing the Memory of Racial Violence: The Black Body as Souvenir, Museum, and Living Remain.” Embodying Black Experience: Stillness, Critical Memory, and the Black Body, University of Michigan Press, ANN ARBOR, 2010, pp. 167–208. JSTOR,


Image Sources:

Figure 1.

Emmett Till’s Casket Donated to Smithsonian

Figure 2.

Rope Used to Lynch Michael Brown

Further Reading:

Lynching Site Still Stands in Mississippi

Postcards of Lynchings by James Allen and John Littlefield

Example of Exploitation of Cultural Property: Postcards of Racially Motivated Violence for Sale Online

Climate Contributed to the Fall of Egyptian Dynasty

The Western world considered Egypt to be one of the greatest civilization in history.  Most of its fame arose from the sense of wonderment surrounding its massive pyramids, and from its legendary people and histories.  Cleopatra was a main figure that American children learn about when they first begin to discuss Egypt.  The fall of her empire was often attributed to the Roman victory over Egypt in the Battle of Actium in 30 B.C..  Whereas this loss was previously comprehended by conditioned notions of Egyptian weakness through infighting, decadence, and incest, recent archaeological findings hinted that the environment and climate may have had a larger impact on the outcome of the battle.  Evidence from ice core data, Islamic records of the water levels in the Nile River, and “ancient Egyptian histories” written on papyrus suggested that a volcanic eruption in 44 B.C. had a massive impact on the stability of Egypt under Cleopatra’s reign.

Antony and Cleopatra — Battle of Actium, 30 B.C.

The result of the eruption was widespread vulnerability.  The intrusive eruption disrupted the flooding of the Nile River, thus impacting agriculture, trade, and social organization.  Famine ensued due to lack of fertility in local soils to produce essential crops and sustenance for consumption and trading.  Additionally, immune systems severely declined with the lack of proper nutrition or energy, which contributed to the widespread disease and famine which swept the nation.  Lastly, social unrest surrounding the irregular patterns of the river caused strained trade and social relations between groups of people and caused either conflict or the need for migration.  All of these consequences of the volcanic eruption in 44 B.C. contributed to the immense vulnerability of Egypt at the time, making Cleopatra’s reign less authoritative, and making it easier for the Roman empire to claim victory over Egypt in the Battle of Actium in 30 B.C..

A map of the Battle of Actium with Cleopatra and Antony’s respective positions labelled.

I found this finding interesting because it proved the necessity of critical thinking and revisitation of academia’s previously conceived notions and ideas surrounding political and social phenomena.  While infighting, decadence, and incest may have contributed to the instability that Egypt felt at the time, it was important to search for more context in order to reveal clues about the rise and fall of “past” civilizations and empires.  Looking at history with such a critical lens could elucidate perceptions of the future cycle of empires in the world and help to understand the meanings behind and implications of international interactions today.


Sources and Additional Readings:


The Destruction of Cultural Heritage as a Continuous Cycle: How the Destruction in Palmyra Shows It’s More Than Just About Inciting Fear.

The historic city of Palmyra, declared a World Heritage Site by Unesco and celebrated as the “Pearl of the Desert”, once served as a place of refuge for many travelers who traveled on the ancient trade route, Silk Road. Containing several ancient temples and sporting numerous, impressive Roman-Greek architecture, Palmyra was a crossroad to many civilizations and an epicenter of trade and the arts, where Greek, Roman, Persian, and Islamic cultures converged together to form the city’s unique heritage.

Considered the “Pearl of the Desert”, Palmyra is home to more than 100,000 people and myriad historical edifices.

Today, Palmyra, 150 miles northeast of Damascus, is a perilous area occupied by the notorious militant Islamic group, ISIS. Since May of 2015, ISIS, also known as Daesh, clashed with Syrian forces and took control of the city. In a matter of months, they targeted many of Palmyra’s historical sites, pillaging precious artifacts and destroying famed ancient architecture. In the course of their plunder, the 1,800 year-old Roman Arch of Triumph and the nearly 2,000 year old Temple of Baalshamin were completely destroyed and looted. Because of the ruthlessness of the regime under ISIS, attempts by domestic and foreign intervention to preserve remaining artifacts and sites of historical value were futile; the once highly profitable tourism industry in Palmyra also became non-existent as the area turned into an active war-zone, debilitating the lives of many local residents who depended on tourism for survival.

The Temple of Baalshamin in Palmyra, Syria before its destruction in 2015.

ISIS’s behavior in destroying and desecrating many of Palmyra’s archaeological sites does not surprise most historians and experts of cultural anthropology. Palmyra, which embodies Persian, Greek, Roman, and Islamic cultures, is an example of a multicultural and heterogeneous Syrian society that does not resonate well with the monolithic-minded views of the Islamic organization.  However, with recent discoveries, experts believe the unwarranted desecration of Palmyra serve a greater purpose than merely inciting psychological fear. Recent raids conducted by Syrian Army on ISIS installations reveal spreadsheets listing taxes derived from selling antiquities to wealthy, foreign buyers. The ISIS-controlled government, issuing permits to potential looters, authorized the plunder of historical sites for objects of interest and value within their boundaries, which then were sold and taxed by the government. Between 2014 to 2015, large amounts of stolen artifacts were sold as antiquities to black markets and galleries throughout the whole world, netting the Islamic State with more than $200,000 in taxes. The money collected from artifact taxation funds many of ISIS’s ventures—including the expansion of the Islamic State’s boundaries and the future desecration and appropriation of other historical sites.

Stolen artifacts recovered from the Syrian compound of an ISIS official during a US special operations raid.

The growing demand of stolen artifacts worry both archaeologists and politicians alike, as oppressive regimes and terrorist groups destroy and ransack historical sites for artifacts to be auctioned off in black markets. In a constant cycle of destruction and despoiling, the insatiable desire and growing market for artifacts appropriated from historical sites, including Palmyra, contribute to the growth of extremist regimes and the ruthless destruction of invaluable archaeological sites.

Additional Reading:



Bilefsky, Dan. “ISIS Destroys Part of Roman Theater in Palmyra, Syria,” New York Times, January 20, 2017. Accessed October 28, 2017.

Van Bokkem, Rachel. “History in Ruins: Cultural Heritage Destruction around the World.” Perspectives on History, April 2017. Accessed 28, 2017.

The Role of Conflict in the Looting and Destruction of Cambodian Temples in the Late 20th Century

As with many countries around the world, Cambodia carries a complicated and destructive history. These conflicts have aided in the looting and destruction of its heritage sites, especially ancient temples.

One of the most famous Cambodian examples is Angkor Wat, a Hindu temple built in the 12th century in honor of the god, Vishnu (Glancey 2017). During the Khmer Rouge regime and collapse, heritage sites like Angkor Wat became places of destruction caused by war in the latter half of the 20th century. Protection, maintenance, and access to Angkor Wat was limited because of the Rouge’s presence in the surrounding area (Glancey 2017). Even if the fighting wasn’t going on at the site itself, surrounding fights made the area dangerous and abandoned by tourists, locals, and site caretakers (Reap 1997). This hurt the influential tourist trade, meaning less money to fund the upkeep and protection of the site (Reap 1997).

Hindu Temple Angkor Wat (Image by Vincent Ko Hon Chiu)

However, it is not just oppressive regimes that directly destroy archaeological sites. The Khmer Rouge looted heritage sites and temples, but also prevented the protection and continued study of temples like Angkor Wat. In addition, the Khmer Rouge contributed to the desecration because its collapse meant that Cambodia was no longer shut off to the world, therefore open to foreign looters and the illegal antiquity trade. People like Khmer Rouge leader, Ta Mok, had 20 to 30 tons of stolen artifacts at his home when he was arrested in the late 1990s, but “as the Khmer Rouge communist insurgency [collapsed]…many hidden site have suddenly become open to the raiders” (Mydans 1999).

Looted artifacts from the Cambodian temple, Koh Ker (image from Fresh News Asia)

In Cambodia’s case, the attempt to protect archaeological sites can also create conflict. Cambodia and Thailand clashed when the temple, Preah Vihear, was declared to be in Cambodian territory in 1962. This was only exacerbated when Preah Vihear was promoted to World Heritage status by UNESCO in 2009, a “conflict resulting in several civilian and military deaths” (O’Reilly 2009). Throughout the 2000s, the dispute resulted in various damages to the temple itself by both Cambodian and Thai gunfire (UNESCO 2011).

Cambodian temples, and heritage sites in general, are not only culturally significant for their origins, but also for the power struggles that they create. These conflicting power struggles can be over the sites, in the case of Preah Vihear, or damage the sites, as seen at Angkor Wat and Preah Vihear. While looting and raiding erase important archaeological evidence and context for the purpose of an individual’s gain, the occurrence themselves is another chapter in the story of the history of the sites.

Additional Reading:


Glancey, Jonathan. “The surprising discovery at Angkor Wat.” BBC. March 14, 2017. Accessed October 24, 2017.

Mydans, Seth. “Lost temple looted by Cambodian raiders.” The Guardian. April 01, 1999. Accessed October 24, 2017.

O’Reilly, Dougald J. W. . “Cambodia: Cultural Heritage Management.” 2009. Accessed October 24, 2017.

Reap, Matthew Chance Siem. “Cambodia’s war threatens Angkor Wat.” The Independent. July 13, 1997. Accessed October 24, 2017.

UNESCO World Heritage Centre. “UNESCO to send mission to Preah Vihear.” UNESCO World Heritage Centre. February 8, 2011. Accessed October 26, 2017.

Photo Sources:

Chiu, Vincent Ko Hon. “Angkor (Cambodia).” Digital image. UNESCO World Heritage List. Accessed October 26, 2017.

Fresh News Asia. Looted Cambodian Artifacts. Digital image. Fresh News. March 30, 2016. Accessed October 26, 2017.

The Mennybraddan Woman (The Meenybradden Woman)

I spent my October break in Ireland this year and while I was there, found something that directly relates to our class. My dad and I visited a visitors center near Connemara National Park and found that they were featuring an exhibit on “People of the Bog”. Specifically, the Mennybraddan Woman.

People of the Bog exhibit in the Connemara National Park’s Visitor’s Center.

The Mennybraddan Woman is a body that was found by turf cutters in Mennybraddan Bog in 1978. Her body was found relatively well preserved because of the presence of peat in the bog. As the textbook claims, “bod bodies… are undoubtedly the best-known finds from the peat bogs of northwest Europe” (57). The organic material found in these bogs would not have survived outside the waterlogged environment. In the case of the peat bogs, “peat dramatically slows the process of decay” (Dr. R. O. Floinn, National Museum). The bog preserves organic material by sealing it in an airless environment. Places such as lakes, swamps, and bogs play important roles in archaeology because of their ability to effectively maintain organic remains.

Pile of peat positioned near a bog in Ireland.

A lot of the individuals whose bodies were preserved in the Irish bogs met their deaths through either sacrifice or through violence. The textbook references the Clonycavan Man who “had been killed with axe blows and possibly disemboweled” and the Oldcroghan Man who had been decapitated (58). The Clonycavan Man’s body was actually displayed in a museum in Dublin alongside the Mennybraddan Woman, though the bodies were found in different locations. However, the Mennybraddan Woman’s cause of death is unknown (Dr. R. O. Floinn, National Museum). She has not been suspected of being murdered, though, because her body does not show signs of a violent end.

The Remains of the Mennybraddan Woman

In an article written about the discovery, she was described as being buried without any other items around her. Her only accompaniment was a woolen blanket that she had been wrapped in. Could this statement about being buried with no items be premature? What if looters took the items? Could the items have decomposed even though her body had been preserved? As archaeologists, we must consider all the possibilities. However, if it is true that if she had been buried without anything, her death may imply sacrifice or suicide. PBS concludes that her death was either a result of either a murder or a suicide. Because her death did not appear violent, I would guess suicide. 

The Mennybraddan Woman is a fascinating archaeological discovery. Centuries-old bodies give us a glimpse into what life was like for individuals. Tattoos imprinted on bodies and tools the individuals carried teach us about the persons’ life and the lives of others at the time. The wool blanket found with the Mennybraddan Woman indicates that she had access to sheep to make wool. It tells us that the climate of the time was cold enough to require a blanket. If her death was sacrificial, it could imply something about the religious beliefs of the time. In conclusion, the discovery of mummified bodies in archaeology can supply a lot of information about past societies and ways of thought.


Lewis, Susan K. “Bog Bodies of the Iron Age.” PBS. Public Broadcasting Service. Web. 22 Oct. 2017.

Deem, James M. “Meenybradden Woman.” Mummy Tombs. Web. 22 Oct. 2017.

Renfrew, Colin and Paul Bahn. Archaeology Essentials. Thames & Hudson. 2007, 2010, and 2015.

Picture Sources:

Deem, James M. “Meenybradden Woman.” Mummy Tombs. Web. 22 Oct. 2017.

“Bogs of Ireland.” Culture and Heritage Tours Ireland.

“People of the Bog.” A picture I had taken while on my trip. I took it on October 9th, 2017.

Further Readings:


The Dangers of Pseudoarchaeology

What do the so-called “theories” about ancient aliens, the Lost City of Atlantis, and eBay postings about “rare Native American art pieces” have in common? Each one of these are products of pseudoarchaeology, a counterfeit version of true archeology whose proponents rely on bias, ignoring accurate scientific methodology and evidence to produce unrealistic ideas about the past. Though it is impossible for archeology to be completely free of bias, those who subscribe to pseudoarchaeology are taking it to a whole new level. More often than not, pseudoarchaeological ideas are produced in the face of the inaccurate interpretation of evidence, such as in the case of the Nebraska Man, a famous example of pseudoarchaeology in which the tooth of an extinct species of peccary found at a dig sight in Nebraska was touted as evidence of a “missing link” in human evolution in North America for several years in the 1920s.

An artistic representation of what the Nebraska man was thought to have looked like.

The tooth that the above drawing was based off of.

Though this particular instance of poor scientific method and pseudoscience may seem more humorous than harmful, the ramifications of this bad science still had adverse effects. Besides hoodwinking a number of professionals, “evidence” of the Nebraska Man was used during the infamous Scopes trial to combat the teaching of evolution in schools. No matter how well intentioned those who endorse pseudoarchaeology may be, the fabrication of a bogus theory based off of scant evidence, as well as using that theory to promote ignorance among the general populace such as in the Scopes trial, is inherently harmful.

As we discussed in class, pseudoarchaeology rears its gruesome head for more instances than just the far-flung, highly publicized bungles like the Nebraska Man. Indeed, this kind of bad science is widely propagated, and even accepted, in everyday life. Misrepresentation of artifacts to fit modern stereotypes of past cultures and peoples, such as selling a broken piece of a common-place object used by Native Americans as an ancient piece of artwork, disenfranchises and creates a racist view of their capabilities.

This is the more sinister side of pseudoarchaeology; bad science aside, it spreads racist sentiments, thereby justifying certain actions that otherwise would not be justifiable. For example, how is it possible that almost 200 years after the Greek government requested it, a large portion of the frieze from the Parthenon, an important piece of Greek cultural heritage which was purchased from the Ottoman Empire in the 1700s by a British archaeologist, has yet to be returned and still resides in the British Museum? How is it possible that stereotypes about African cultures being perpetually less evolved than those of Europe could ever have been propagated when sites such as great Zimbabwe still stand after hundreds and hundreds of years? Pseudoarchaeology will always exist where people are looking for sensationalism or support for their own theories instead of the truth. The best way to combat this is to look to science as a guide and maintain a high level of respect for the people and cultures that we seek to study.

The Elgin Marbles, where they are currently housed I the British Museum.


“Elgin Marbles.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 26 Sept. 2017,

“Creationist Arguments: Nebraska Man.” Creationist Arguments: Nebraska Man, Jim Foley, 30 Apr. 2003,

Forestier, Amadee. Evolution Hoaxes – Nebraska Man. N.d. ThoughtCo. 30 Mar. 2016. Web. 28 Sept. 2017.

Chrisomalis, Stephen. “What Is Pseudoarcheology?” PseudoArchaeology Research Archive (PARA). N.p., 2007. Web. 28 Sept. 2017.

Sánchez, Juan Pablo. “How the Parthenon Lost Its Marbles.” National Geographic. National Geographic Partners, LLC, 28 Mar. 2017. Web. 01 Oct. 2017.

Gregory, William K. “Biographical Memoir of Henry Fairfield Osborn.” (1937): n. pag. National Academy of Sciences. Web. 30 Sept. 2017.

Renfrew, Colin, and Paul Bahn. Archaeology Essentials. 3rd ed. London: Thames & Hudson, 2015. Print.

Further Readings

Forensic Anthropology is more than just the television series “Bones”

When we think of archaeologists, we tend to think of people digging thousand-year-old mummies from the ground. This isn’t always the case. Forensic anthropologists use physical anthropology and bio archaeology to help solve legal cases. This field has become extremely essential in recent years due to the high numbers of genocide and the unidentified victims. Dr. Eric Stover, director of the Human Rights Center at UC Berkley, has traveled to Rwanda, Guatemala, Iraq and other sites of genocide in order to bring closure to the families and punish those who committed these atrocious war crimes. Forensic anthropologists examine not only the cause of death and identify of the victim, but also look towards the greater cultural impact of their death. Dr. Stover learned that “…the means of killing is often easy to identify, whether by machete or rifle. And evidence of execution is often readily apparent as well…”. For him, it is more difficult to identify the victims, determining their approximate age and sex through bone and dental records when the country is in the midst of turmoil. His victims, however, tend to be recent and still have evidence of ID, keys, money and other factors in the event that they could return home.

The Dirty War in Argentina was waged from 1976-1983 by Argentina’s military dictatorship in an attempt to get rid of left-wing opposition. Thousands of Argentinian citizens were executed or simply “disappeared”. Dr. Stover traveled to Argentina in 1984 after three women showed up at his office begging him to find their loved ones. The women told Dr. Stover that pregnant women were kidnapped and executed after giving birth to supply military couples with children. This piece of cultural evidence allows Dr. Stover to contextualize the murders and place stories, background and a path for prosecution behind the victim’s identification. Liliana Pereyra, a 21-year-old pregnant student, disappeared in October 1977. After the military junta was overthrown, government officials told Perevyra’s mother that she died in a shoot out with the police in an attempt to cover up her murder. In 1985 Stover and a team of archaeologists and anthropologists exhumed a grave containing three bodies. Dr. Stover used x-rays taken of Liliana to match her with one of the bodies and to identify the method of execution. When he gathers this information, he gains pieces of evidence to persecute the perpetrators.

Dr. Clyde Snow, a forensic anthropologist who helped successfully identify aspects of the assassination of JFK, inspects x-rays of a skull fractured by a bullet.

Families in Iraqi Kurdistan are shown pictures of their relatives in an attempt to ID bodies.

Forensic anthropology is a controversial field when the identifications of genocide victims are at stake. The exhumation of bodies and of objects is always a tricky situation in regards to archaeology because you risk damaging the area, disturbing something that was not meant to be disturbed and destroying artifacts and bodies. A specialist is needed who has a multi disciplinary background in order to not only scientifically identify the victims but place them in a larger social context for greater analysis, a perfect skill for anthropologists. In the case of genocide victims, forensic anthropology is necessary because the victims did not die of their own accord, but a violent political death that deserves remembrance.



Nuwer, Rachel. “Reading Bones to Identify Genocide Victims.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 18 Nov. 2011,

“Dirty War.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, inc., 20 Mar. 2014,

Renfrew, Colin, and Paul Bahn. Archaeology Essentials: Theories, Methods, Practice. 3rd ed., Thames & Hudson, 2015.

Image Sources:

Nuwer, Rachel. “Reading Bones to Identify Genocide Victims.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 18 Nov. 2011,

“Dead Reckoning: War, Crime, and Justice from WW2 to the War on Terror | Press Release | Pressroom | THIRTEEN.” Pressroom,

Further Reading:

Flintknapping and Archaeology: Breaking It All Down

Picture it: you belong to a band of early Paleolithic peoples. As a group, you are running low on food stores, and you need to find a way to feed your people. Will you hunt or gather to obtain your food? Assuming the second option isn’t viable, what sort of tools will you need to hunt? How will you make these tools given the resources available to you? These questions can be answered through archaeological evidence of an art known as flintknapping.

Illustration of the flintknapping process

Archaeologically speaking, flintknapping can be defined as “the manufacture of stone tools by the reductive processes of flaking or chipping” (Flenniken). In essence, it involves a process in which stone tools are created by striking a rock at specific points, known as percussion, or by pressure flaking. This practice yields a myriad of tools, such as arrowheads, burins, knives, blades, dart points, spear points, scrapers, drills, and bifaces, among others. Flintknapping enabled people as early as the Paleolithic age to create tools that made aspects of their daily lives easier.

The first evidence of flintknapping comes to us in the form of the Oldowan stone tools from Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania. These artifacts date back to about 2.6 million years ago, showing archaeologists that the earliest of humans were capable of fashioning tools, however simple they may have been. The Oldowan tools were composed of choppers and flakes “made by knocking pieces off pebbles to obtain sharp edges” (Renfrew, Bahn, 213). Microwear analysis shows that these choppers and flakes were likely used to cut through plant material and hunted animals. Homo habilis, an ancestral relative of Homo sapiens, produced the Oldowan tools. More likely than not, these early humans wielded the choppers and flakes to shear through the skins of scavenged mammal carcasses, like that of a zebra. Since historical records show that Homo habilis maintained an omnivorous diet, the tools may have also been used to carve fruits or vegetables with tough outside layers.

Choppers found in the Olduvai Gorge

Experimental archaeologists aim to study the past by recreating artifacts and archaeological evidence. In doing so, archaeologists have been able to deduce answers to such questions of when and where early peoples hunted. The study of flintknapping is valuable to archaeologists because stone tool artifacts can be relatively dated according to their craftsmanship. For instance, a breakthrough finding of a stone tool might indicate that humans were using this technology even earlier than recorded or that the first instance of stone technology was at an altogether different region of the world. These kinds of discoveries challenge the ways in which we think of the past, altering our biases and preconceptions of the cultures of antiquity.


  • Flenniken, J. Jeffery. “The Past, Present, and Future of Flintknapping: An Anthropological Perspective.” Washington State University. 1984. Accessed September 30, 2017.               
  • Renfrew, Colin, and Paul Bahn (2015) Archaeology Essentials. 3rd edition. Thames & Hudson, New York.
  • Smithsonian Natural Museum of History. “Behavior: Stone Tools.” Smithsonian Natural Museum of History. March 01, 2010. Accessed September 29, 2017.
  • Whitaker, John C. “Flintknapping: Making and Understanding Stone Tools.” University of Texas Press. 1994. Accessed September 29, 2017.

Image Sources:

  • Making Arrowheads: The Art of Flint Knapping. Alderleaf Wilderness College. Accessed September 29, 2017.         
  • Stone Tools in the Fossil Record. Bradshaw Foundation. Accessed September 29, 2017.  

Additional 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: