‘Sky World’: Re-conceptualizing Space Exploration

Skywoman Descending Turtle Island, Arnold Jacobs

Our class discussions about Dr Space Junk vs The Universe have touched on issues concerning space exploration and the potential colonization/industrialization of outer space. The frameworks we use in these discussions are very important. As we learn about Indigenous histories, postprocessual archaeology, and the future of anthropology, we should consider which paradigms we are operating within and where our research is based. Do we understand Western science as fact? Regard Indigenous history as myth? Are we driven by curiosity, or is there a looming sense of entitlement and capitalism in our language and discussion?
Question your understanding and conceptualization of what space is. We consider ourselves so far removed from the world above, so it could even be seen as preposterous to the colonized mind that ‘space’ may be entitled to the same respect, cultural consideration that we (more or less) treat our planet with. Much like the ecology of our earthly landscape, this planet is part of a large interstellar community, and we are as well.
I would also ask us to suspend our Westernized mindsets for a moment and reconsider our trust in science and denial of ‘myth.’ Only when we distrust, silence and regard histories as myth can we dignify colonial campaigns on this planet and intercellestially. I want to bring the story of Sky Woman into the conversation when discussing the conceptualization of space. “In the beginning there was Skyworld,” starts Robin Wall Kimmerer, author of Braiding Sweetgrass. Kimmerer describes how Sky Woman initially fell from the Sky World above. As she tumbled into the world below, she was caught by a flock of geese and greeted by a great turtle, among many other animals welcoming her to a world she had never known. Together they built the land, and they grew plant life from the seeds she offered as thanksgiving upon her arrival. We live today as descendants of Sky Woman, a mother native to the world above, and we will continue to offer thanks to this earth and to our co-inhabitants for welcoming us here. Relationality is key in the history of Sky Woman. Descendant from the sky, nurtured by the world below, tending to the land we sew. If we were to consider, actually consider, these truths, would we not approach the Sky World differently?
With a perspective that essentially separates us from the world around us, you can see how easily we can turn a blind eye to exploitation on this planet and, to an even greater extent, ignore the exploitation we cannot see or comprehend, those taking place intercelestially. Western methods of science (the ones that have led the march into space) do not consider many spiritual or immaterial aspects of the world around them. Space expedition and colonization are rooted in western philosophies that not only disregard and mythologize Indigenous truths, but also excuse/corroborate the exploitation of land and space (on this planet and otherwise) through the denial of those truths. If we were to consider Sky World and other histories in our conversations, respect and protection might come more easily to the industrialized mind when considering ‘outer space.’ Regarding the universe as ‘community’ is just the beginning of understanding space, not as a land for discovery and exploitation but as home or friend, worthy of respect and honor.

River of Souls, Carl Gawboy


A. Mitchell et al. Dukarr lakarama: Listening to Guwak, talking back to space colonization,
Political Geography, Volume 81, 2020, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0962629818304086

Gorman, Alice. Dr Space Junk vs the Universe: Archaeology and the Future. The MIT Press, 2020.

Kimmerer, Robin Wall. Braiding Sweetgrass. Vancouver, B.C.: milkweed editions, 2013.

Maryboy, Nancy C. “Process and Relationship in Indigenous Astronomy: Connectivity of Mother Earth and Father Sky.” International Journal of Applied Science and Sustainable Development, no. 2 (2020).

Additional Reading




Institutional Responsibility: Repatriation @ Vassar

On Monday, October 3rd 2022, I was honored to share a conversation and dinner with Uluwehi Cashman and Halealoha Ayau, folks here to take their family members home. For hundreds of years ancestral remains and artifacts have been stolen from the Kingdom of Hawai’i without their consent. Our campus is one, among plenty of institutions that has, one way or another, come into unrightful possession of iwi kūpuna (ancestral Hawaiian remains) and their moepū (funerary artifacts).
This is certainly not the first time institutions, like Vassar, have prospered from the displacement and dehumanization of Indigenous populations. Vassar College is built on land belonging to the Delaware Nation, Delaware Lenape Tribe, and Stockbridge-Munsee Mohicans. As members of this institution’s community we have benefitted from the colonial practices that have gotten Vassar College to where it is today. Now, this is not an issue specific to Vassar; universities, colleges, museums, archives, and other collections across the world are holding ancestors hostage and contribute to the cruel mishandling of Native land. But, as historians, anthropologists, and archaeologists, we must contextualize our own studies in the broad global framework of colonialism, including the actions of our own institution.
For over 30 years Halealoha and other activists have pressured institutions and museums across the world to repatriate stolen cultural artifacts and ancestral remains. These collections and archives, which have been created in the name of ‘science,’ have kept families apart for hundreds of years, and their slow/complicated journey home is telling of the policy and philosophy that trapped them here in the first place. Halealoha described the language and ceremonial revitalizations that have occurred through the repatriation processes. He has been met with some community conflicts throughout his work, but often some of Halealoha’s most harsh critics became his loudest supporters. There should be a grater understanding that this is not just a political issue, that this is a matter of humanity, family reunification, and decolonization.

Kaumakaiwa Kanaka‘ole, Edward Halealoha Ayau, Mana Caceres and Kalehua Caceres at the Berlin State Museums of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation. (Retrieved from https://www.honolulumagazine.com)

As Archaeologists, we are not removed from the colonial history of archaeology nor the actions of the institution we have chosen to study at. Colonial violence that not only infridged upon sovereignty of the Kingdom of Hawai’i but with every second iwi kupuna and their moepu spend in our possession is another second they are not at rest. Along with repatriation, we should take the time to acknowledge the historical and ongoing perpetrations against Indigenous peoples, not only in academia, but internationally. This disrespect is not just a product of national educational systems, but a result from greater global philosophies which repeatedly disregard and abuse aboriginal populations.
In the 30 plus years since NAGPRA, repatriation processes have been slow and difficult, leaving much of the responsibility to Indigenous groups, themselves, to have to ask for their family members back. Cultural sites have been violated time and time again due to racist philosophy legitimized under the guise of ‘scholarship.’I fear we may be too desensitized to the colonialism in our own lives, and the careless abuses of Indigenous bodies, minds, and culture. The fact that ancestors and artifacts are anywhere that they are not supposed to be (including our campus), is a clear sign of corrupt colonial practices academically and globally.
This was not ‘one bad person,’ but the collective responsibility of the institution, administrators, professors, and students who have benefitted off of the objectification of native land and native bodies in academia. We are all complicit, whether we were aware of it or not, in the exploitation indigenous peoples and continue to be an extension of international colonial violence, unless we enact real substantive change. This really shouldn’t be an issue of legalities and institutional policy, but one of humanity and recongnition of aboriginal personhood.

Kūpunas ready to return home from the Natural History Museum in London. (Retrieved from https://thefunambulist.net)

Bosman, Julie and Mitch Smith. September 15, 2022. “Congress Told Colleges to Return Native Remains. What’s Taking So Long?” The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2022/09/15/us/native-american-remains-university-of-north-dakota.html

Ayau, Edward Halealoha. April 1, 2022. “Searching, Tracking and Finding Stolen Ancestors: An Insight.” Ka Wai Ola. https://kawaiola.news/i-mana-i-ka-oiwi/searching-tracking-and-finding-stolen-ancestors-an-insight/

Leonard, Lucy, Jessica Moss, Aena Khan, Frankie Knuckles. February 20, 2020. “As College works to comply with NAGPRA, community interrogates institutional, academic history.” The Miscellany News. https://miscellanynews.org/2020/02/20/news/vassar-stores-native-american-human-remains-violates-nagpra/

Further Reading

The Mission: Bringing Home Native Hawaiian Remains

Who Actually Owns Space?

Space is a vast and open area that has just as much to explore as Earth’s oceans. With an entire novel landscape outside of Earth, there are much more resources to uncover and use. Endless possibilities could stem from the usage of space’s natural resources. This leads to the concept of space archaeology, defined “…as the study of “the material culture relevant to space exploration that is found on Earth and in outer space (i.e. exoatmospheric material) and that is clearly the result of human behavior,” (Walsh and Gorman 2021). General archaeology focuses on the past, and constantly questions who owns the past. However, with space archaeology, technically no one owns the entirety of space. Many countries, such as the USA, have just implanted their own morals and desires into the concept of space. For monetary gain, business enterprises, or for the accumulation of resources, numerous countries that partake in the race to space are always in effect. 

Space’s vastness inherently gives no ownership to any one person or country. Because much of space is unexplored, it cannot technically be claimed. However, countries and their people still insist space is for themselves alone. “It said, on the background of stars and stripes, ‘The Moon is ours. Don’t be landing your stanky rocket on the Moon’,” (Gorman 219). Even in space exploration, discriminations are evident. Though people are still prideful about claiming space, the credit is not given to those that actually contribute to the advancement of space exploration. For example, Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson, three African-American women who contributed to making pivotal NASA space launch possible, largely go unnoticed due to their gender and skin color.

Figure 1. Katherine Jonson, Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughan

“Our very presence on other celestial bodies, whether in human form or through robot avatars, changes them. They are altered physically and conceptually, becoming part of a human cultural landscape in a new way. We cannot land, sample, build settlements or mines and then whisk away as if nothing happened – our chemical and mechanical traces are now part of the planet, asteroid or moon,” (Gorman 225). Similar to how archaeological sites on Earth are formed by the numerous people who alter them and leave a footprint on them, human presence and effect in space will always be felt. Contributions to space archaeology are not made possible by one particular owner but by the combination of all those who have affected and used space for their benefit. Therefore, not one body or group owns space, but everyone who has affected it. 

Figure 2. A space archaeological site (Stevens 2017)


Gorman, A. (2020). Dr space junk vs the universe: Archaeology and the future. The MIT Press. 

Lem, P., & Rocchio, L. (n.d.). Space archaeology: In the realm of resolution. NASA. Retrieved December 5, 2022, from https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/91071/space-archaeology-in-the-realm-of-resolution 

Walsh, J., & Gorman, A. (2021). A method for space archaeology research: The International Space Station Archaeological Project. Antiquity, 95(383), 1331-1343. doi:10.15184/aqy.2021.114

More readings

Gannon, M. I. (2022, April 1). Space archaeology takes off. Scientific American. Retrieved December 5, 2022, from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/space-archaeology-takes-off/


How the Space Race Affected Pop Culture

During the 1960s, America became highly invested in the space race. This obsession led to many cultural changes throughout the decade and beyond. Since the space race was a projection of the future, it changed pop culture dramatically. 

Movies were the first to change the view of space. “In 1968, one year before Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin set foot on the Moon, the Stanley Kubrick film ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ premiered,” the movie was about a space voyage to Jupiter to investigate a type of anomaly (Swapna: 2019). The movie was an outlook into what could come in the future. 2001: A Space Odyssey would build a trend of space movies for years to come. “The movie opened up a new market for science fiction blockbusters like Star Wars, Alien, and close encounters” (Mayer: 2018). Many movies show futuristic technology and themes that act out of reach in past societies. However, the new technology is becoming more and more like the ones shown in the old movies. The highly advanced light-speed technology called “warp speed” featured in the movie Star Trek and Star Wars was once called impossible. Still, scientists are looking to match this technology in today’s society. Hopefully, “one day we may be able to travel between stars, and the inspiration for that dream will be directly traceable back to Star Trek and Star Wars” (Swapna: 2019). The space race had a significant effect on the media and Hollywood during the space race, but its effects are still seen today. 

Figure 1. A picture from the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey

Movies were not the only thing that was affected by the space race. The amusement scene drastically changed throughout the 60s and 70s. In the late 60s and 70s, Walt Disney made many changes to the theme park centered around space. One of the first attractions opened was Flight to the Moon, a simulated rocket launch. It captured the moments of pure imagination and fear. Another famous ride was the Astro Orbiter, which featured spinning arms around a column with planets as seats. It acted as the solar system. These rides attracted many people and changed these parks’ culture. Everything was changing to futuristic ideas and technology. “Space Mountain, Disney World’s first “mountain” attraction and first thrill ride, takes riders through space aboard rocket cars flying by stars, meteors, and more.” (Leibacher: 2019). The mountain is still one of the most popular attractions at Disney World today. Walt Disney changed amusement parks’ culture, and space themes took over during those two decades. 

Figure 2. Space Mountain when it first opened up.

Movies and attractions have had a significant impact on pop culture in recent decades and an everlasting impact on society today. The introduction of 2001: A Space Odyssey influenced the media to trend space exploration and establish new technologies that are still introduced today. Walt Disney’s Tomorrowland’s attractions impacted riders and viewers from decades ago to today. 


Krishna, Swapna. “The Many Ways Pop Culture Propels Spaceflight and Vice Versa.” PBS SoCal, January 26, 2021. https://www.pbssocal.org/shows/blue-sky-metropolis/the-many-ways-pop-culture-propels-spaceflight-and-vice-versa. 

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. “How 2001: A Space Odyssey Has Influenced Pop Culture, 50 Years Later.” Vulture, April 4, 2018. https://www.vulture.com/2018/04/how-2001-a-space-odyssey-has-influenced-pop-culture.html. 

Herb Leibacher·April 3, 2019, Disney World VacationsDisney’s Animal KingdomDisney’s Hollywood StudiosEpcotMagic Kingdom, and Disney’s Animal KingdomVideos. “The History of Space in Disney World.” World Of Walt, April 3, 2019. https://worldofwalt.com/the-history-of-space-in-disney-world.html. 



ohc_admin. “The Space Race and Its Influence on American Design: The Atomic Age.” Ohio History Connection, June 21, 2022. https://www.ohiohistory.org/the-space-race-and-its-influence-on-american-design-the-atomic-age/. 

“Benefits Stemming from Space Exploration – NASA.” Accessed December 5, 2022. https://www.nasa.gov/sites/default/files/files/Benefits-Stemming-from-Space-Exploration-2013-TAGGED.pdf. 



The Seminole Tribe and Archaeology

Indigenous groups have been key components in our discussions about archaeology this semester. The majority of the artifacts we have discussed are from Indigenous cultures in North America. This makes sense because these artifacts are the most relevant to us given where we live. The artifacts help tell us stories about Native American groups by teaching us about their lifestyles and what is important to them. The majority of the Native American groups we have focused on in class have been centered in the North East and the Midwest. We’ve also discussed groups in the South West region of the United States. We have not really talked about groups in the South East region. This may be due to Vassar’s location and the relevance of North Eastern archaeology to us, nevertheless, Indigenous groups from the South East and the artifacts they created are just as important to this country’s history as those of the North East. One prominent Native American group from the South East was the Seminole Tribe who lived in what is today Florida.

A large portion of the history of the Seminole Tribe is explained by the written history of the European settlers because, “Very few Seminole towns have ever been excavated in Florida” (Keen 2004). This the makes the artifacts that are found so much more important. These artifacts are more likely to be free of bias, and if interpreted correctly they can give a more accurate history of the Seminole Tribe than the written history composed by the biased European settlers. For example, in Keen’s article she describes the excavation of Paynes Town, a Seminole Town near Gainesville Florida. During this excavation they found that there was a clear mixing of Seminole and European cultures, “in a unique combination of the two material cultures, was a piece of manufactured brass sheet metal that had been molded into an arrowhead to meet Seminole needs” (Keen 2004). This shows that the Seminoles had a good enough relationship to trade with Europeans. It can be inferred that the Seminoles may have traded for specific materials that could have benefitted them in the crafting of their hunting tools. There is much that can be learned by studying artifacts such as these that cannot be learned by written history.

Members of the Paynes Town excavation team working on a test hole.

We can learn things about the Seminole Tribe by looking at their other artifacts too. One such artifact is the Turtle Rattler. The Turtle Rattler was “used in some Seminole ceremonies. This kind of rattle has been used by many different groups of Native Americans and holds great meaning as a symbol of independence” (Florida Seminole Traditions: 3) Artifacts like these show a degree of shared tradition between Native American groups. It also shows what things the Seminole Tribe value, that being independence. This is more than what a biased written history produced by the Europeans could tell you.

Seminole Turtle Rattler used in ceremonies.

Further Readings:


The Fight to Bring Seminole Ancestors Home


“Florida Seminole Traditions.” Orange County Regional History Center, n.d. https://www.thehistorycenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/March2020-History-at-Home-NativeAmericans2.pdf.

Keen, Cathy. “Excavation Finds Clues of Cultural Blending in Seminole Indian Life.” Florida Museum, May 14, 2019. https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/science/excavation-finds-clues-of-cultural-blending-in-seminole-indian-life/.

“Seminole Indian Turtle Rattle [Height/Length (in)= 11.5, Width (i…” iCollector.com Online Auctions. Accessed December 4, 2022. https://www.icollector.com/Seminole-Indian-Turtle-Rattle-Height-Length-in-11-5-Width-i_i13082026.

In Peru, Archaeology Students Rediscovered Lost Pre-Hispanic Mural in Excellent Condition

In November 2022, in a village in Lambayeque in northern Peru, Swiss archaeologist Sâm Ghavami, helped by Peruvian students, discovered a pre-Hispanic fresco. Surprisingly, the wall painting was already known by the archaeological community since it was first visible on a series of black and white photographs (Figure 1) taken by German ethnologist Hans Heinrich Brüning in 1916 (Schaedel 1978 and Farrant 2022). However, these pictures, only rediscovered in 1976, did not get the archaeologists’ attention because they believed that the site had already been destroyed (Whiddington 2022)… until Ghavami decided to excavate it after reading an article containing the black and white pictures.

Figure 1: Black and white photograph of the Huaca Pintada mural from Brüning (1916) (Archaeology)

The mural is part of the Huaca Pintada temple, which was built by the Moche civilization that flourished between the 1st and 8th centuries. It depicts mythological scenes, in particular a bird-like god with Moche warriors, and may represent the Moche “worldview”, organized around veneration of the ancestors, of nature, and of the Moon (Whiddington 2022). In fact, the Moon goddess was the most powerful deity for the Moche since she could appear at night and during the day, and thus was seen as even more powerful than the Sun (Dreffs 2020).

Moreover, as Sâm Ghavami said: “It’s an exceptional discovery because it is rare to unearth wall paintings of such quality in pre-Colombian archeology” (Farrant 2022). In fact, the mural is exceptionally well-preserved: the blue, brown, red, white and yellow paint colors are still visible, even after 1000 years (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Visible colors on the mural (2022) (AFP)

This discovery is exciting because it has a deeper meaning. It is indicative of the development of an ancient Peruvian cultural phenomenon (Farrant 2022). In fact, on top of the Moche, we can also see elements of another pre-Incan culture, the Lambayeque (who lived in northern Peru between 900 and 1350 AD). Ghavami aims to further decrypt the message conveyed by the wall as part of his research, and hopes to be able to understand the social, political and cultural changes that affected the region and its societies (Whiddington 2022). As he said, perhaps it “could be interpreted as a metaphorical image of the political and religious order of the region’s ancient inhabitants” (Farrant 2022). This approach echoes the “traditionalist archaeological explanations of change in the past” approach that focuses on the notions of diffusion and migration. This is the idea that “changes in one group must have been caused either by the influence or influx of a neighboring and superior group” (Renfrew 2018). However, it will surely be difficult to try to get information about the relationship between pre-Incan societies (Moche, Lambayeque…) from this mythological painting.

Further Reading:




1) Farrant, Theo. December 02, 2022. “Archaeology students uncover long-lost pre-Hispanic mural in Peru.” Euronews. https://www.euronews.com/culture/2022/12/02/archaeology-students-uncover-long-lost-pre-hispanic-mural-in-peru

2) Whiddington, Richard. December 02, 2022. “A Pre-Hispanic Mural Depicting Moche Warriors Has Been Rediscovered in Northern Peru After Being Lost for More Than a Century.” Artnet. https://news.artnet.com/art-world/archaeologists-uncover-ceremonial-water-structures-machu-picchu-2053699

3) Dreffs, Melissa. October 26, 2020. “Moche Civilization: Northern Peru’s Ancient Artisans.” Peru for Less. https://www.peruforless.com/blog/moche-civilization/

4) Schaedel, Richard. February 1978. “The Huaca Pintada of Illimo.” Archaeology. https://www.jstor.org/stable/41726855#metadata_info_tab_contents

5) Renfrew, Colin & Bahn, Paul. November 26, 2018. Archaeology Essentials: Theories, Methods, and Practice. Chapter 10:277. Thames & Hudson, 4th edition.

The Effects of Climate Change on Archeology

Humans have been influencing climate change on a global scale since the late 19th century, but it has only recently become a major concern to the general population. That being said, even with drastic efforts being made to counteract global warming, data displayed by PNAS.org predicts that global temperatures will continue to rise from +2.6 to + 4.8 °C by the end of the 21st century. Not only does this affect the narratives of the present, however, but new discoveries also reveal that the climate change crisis is affecting the narratives of the past.

Million Metric Tons of Carbon in the atmosphere vs. year. Graph by Boden, T.A., G. Marland, and R.J. Andres 2017Throughout the planet, temperatures are oscillating at unnatural paces. Two results from these fluctuations are flash floods and droughts in environments unprepared for such disasters. Unfortunately, archeology is heavily affected by these events: an example being the Mississippi River basin. Due to heavy flooding occurring two and a half years ago along with a present-day drought, artifacts in the Mississippi River basin are being greatly disturbed. This disturbance destroys context vital for archeologists to make proper assumptions about the past. ScientificAmerican.com quotes, “Archaeological sites do best either staying underwater water or staying on dry ground. Going back and forth is not good” (Charles McGimsey, the Louisiana state archaeologist).

Ancient shipwreck uncovered due to flooding in Mississippi River basin 

Nevertheless, data discovered through archeology may be the key to preserving archeology in the future. Though humans have only been affecting climate change for the past 250 years, humans have always been experiencing climate change. It is through archeological records that scientists can see how humans have dealt with changes in the climate in the past and try to apply that data to the present efforts to stop day global warming. Climate modelers and earth scientists are teaming up with archaeologists using paleoclimate and archaeological records to help evaluate the coming climate dangers to develop a sustainable answer

Climate change is a more pressing issue now than it ever has been. For the first time in history, both humanity’s past and future are at risk. The successful efforts made by archaeologists today to help counteract global warming beautifully display the importance of preserving the past. If climate change is left unchecked, lessons learned in the past may be forever lost.


Burke, Ariane. “The Archaeology of Climate Change: The Case for Cultural Diversity | PNAS.” PNAS , https://www.pnas.org/doi/10.1073/pnas.2108537118.

Cusick, Daniel. “Climate Change Is Adding Urgency to Archaeology.” Scientific American, Scientific American, 31 Oct. 2022, https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/climate-change-is-adding-urgency-to-archaeology/.

“North Carolina Office of State Archaeology.” Predicting Effects of Climate Change on Archaeological Sites | NC Archaeology, https://archaeology.ncdcr.gov/programs/research/climate-change/predicting-effects.


Further Reading:

“Climate Change (U.S. National Park Service).” National Parks Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 5 Oct. 2021, https://www.nps.gov/subjects/climatechange/index.htm.

“Using Archeology to Better Understand Climate Change.” UdeMNouvelles, 12 May 2022, https://nouvelles.umontreal.ca/en/article/2021/07/20/using-archeology-to-better-understand-climate-change/.

The Landsat Program and Archaeological Imaging

Satellites, from an archaeological perspective, can be viewed as much more than just a future (or present-day) artifact. With the launch of Landsat, NASA revolutionized imaging on earth, and has allowed for the discovery of new archaeological sites, allowing archaeologists to preserve more of the past. The idea of imaging earth from space came about after the launch of Surveyor 1 and the Lunar Orbital platforms. These satellites took extremely details pictures of the surface of the moon and other planets, but they were not made for looking at earth. (Aldenderfer, 2019). Soon after, imaging of earth from space became popular, starting with the United States Department of Defense, who kept most of the images classified. With the launch of the Landsat Program, advance images of earth are now in public domain, able to be used by Archaeologists eager to study the hidden sites of the earth. (Giardino, 2010)

Figure 1: Landsat satellite in orbit. Retrieved from https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/landsat/overview/index.html

            In the 1980s, Archaeology saw an increased use of these satellites for learning about sites on earth. In 1984, Boston University sponsored a conference on satellite imaging and archaeology as a response to the growth in usage of these satellite images. (Sever and Wiseman, 1989). The conclusions of the conference were widely agreed upon, and stipulated that these images should be used in learning about the relationship between environment and society, ancient and present, and should be focused especially in places with endangered resources. (Giardino, 2010).

One example of the use of the Landsat program occurred in Guatemala, which aimed to understand the Ancient Maya relationship to the rainforests of Northern Guatemala. The satellite images revealed that swamps made up to 40% of the land space in the rainforest, and they changed with the seasons. It also revealed different vegetation, as well as other small changes that occurred that could elucidate the mystery of what wiped out the Maya. Through the satellites, not only is environmental information found, but archaeological sites can be discovered. Through this project, 70 new Archaeological sites were discovered. (Sever and Irwin, 2003)

.         Figure 2: Satelite image of Maya ruins. Retrieved from https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/6293/maya-ruins

           The rainforest is incredibly dense, an area that is hard to study without some form of aerial imaging, though the use of these satellites, so much more can be discovered. Satellite images reveal vegetational change, differing elevations on which sites are located, and the courses of water features. The use of satellites has made imaging much more cost-efficient and accessible. (Sever and Irwin, 2003)


Works Referenced

Sever, Thomas L., and Daniel E. Irwin. “LANDSCAPE ARCHAEOLOGY: Remote-Sensing Investigation of the Ancient Maya in the Peten Rainforest of Northern Guatemala.” Ancient Mesoamerica 14, no. 1 (2003): 113–22. doi:10.1017/S0956536103141041.

Wiseman, James R. “Archaeology Today: From the Classroom to the Field and Elsewhere.” American Journal of Archaeology 93, no. 3 (1989): 437–44. https://doi.org/10.2307/505593.

Giardino, Marco J. “A History of NASA Remote Sensing Contributions to Archaeology.” Journal of Archaeological Science 38, no. 9 (September 2011): 2003–9. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jas.2010.09.017.

Aldenderfer, Mark S. 2019. “What Did the Moon Landing Do for Archaeology?” Anthropology News 60 (5). https://doi.org/10.1111/an.1276.


Further Reading:




The Importance of Aboriginal Archaeology


In class this week, we learned about Alice Gorman’s work with space archaeology, but also her earlier career as a cultural heritage consultant for Aboriginal archaeology. This field of archaeology is important for understanding the majority of past human activity on the continent. It is also incredibly important to protect Aboriginal artifacts and heritage to preserve Aboriginal heritage in the face of colonial destruction.

Australia’s oldest known archaeological site is the Madjedbebe rock shelter. The site is so old that radiocarbon dating is unreliable for many of the artifacts, which include stone tools, seashells, and supplies for making rock art. The tools include stone spear tips and axes. (Britannica). In 2012, researchers applied the technique of optically stimulated luminescence to date some artifacts as 65,000 years old (Odyssey Traveller). In 2017, further application of the technique found that they could even be up to 80,000 years old (Britannica). This discovery shows that humans were on the Australian continent much earlier than Archaeologists had thought.

Some of the rock art at Madjedbebe possibly depicting European colonization.

However, the Madjedbebe rock shelter isn’t just important for its oldest artifacts. The site’s use spans a long time. Rock art in the shelter also seems to depict European colonization (Odyssey Traveller). This makes the site important for the study of many different time periods, and it is a prominent site in Australian archaeology for this reason.

The rock art depicting European colonizers also serves as a reminder that archaeology is never separate from the violent colonization that it may study. The capitalism and extractivism of colonial occupation is often directly destructive to Aboriginal archaeology and heritage. In 2020, the Rio Tinto mining company destroyed the Juukan 1 and Juukan 2 rock shelter sites, all for the expansion of its iron mine (Dvorsky 2020). Protections for important sites like this are often weak, and many of them are not even officially designated as heritage sites. Mining companies like Rio Tinto have the power to commit this destruction completely legally (Dvorsky 2020). If Aboriginal heritage is to be protected, Australian laws must change to favor these sites over the interests of the mining industry.

Protestors rebuke Rio Tinto’s destruction of the two Aboriginal rock shelters.

This injustice is concerning to archaeologists, but archaeology has its own problems regarding the treatment of Aboriginal heritage. While archaeology can be a powerful tool for preserving and elevating the importance of this heritage, archaeologists also have a problematic historical tendency to take control over artifacts, remains, and sites. This is not usually destructive, but it is still harming the heritage of people who are alive and have to be included in archaeology. Without working in collaboration with Aboriginal interests, archaeologists risk contributing to these same colonial systems. Indigenous people have historically been used as informants in Australian archaeology since the 1930s (Wilson 2014), but consulting them for information and sharing in the benefit of the work are two different things. It is imperative that Australian archaeologists emphasize ethics and repatriation, and always use their skills to benefit indigenous people rather than harm them.



Dvorsky, George. “Mining Company Blows Up 46,000-Year-Old Aboriginal Site, Expresses No Regrets.” Gizmodo, May 28, 2020. https://www.odysseytraveller.com/articles/madjedbebe-archaeological-site-northern-territory/.

“Madjedbebe Archaeological Site, Northern Territory.” Odyssey Traveller, March 4, 2021. https://www.odysseytraveller.com/articles/madjedbebe-archaeological-site-northern-territory/.

“Madjedbebe.” Britannica, accessed December 4, 2022. https://www.odysseytraveller.com/articles/madjedbebe-archaeological-site-northern-territory/.

Wilson, Christopher. “Indigenous Archaeologies: Australian Perspective.” Encyclopedia of Global Archaeology. Springer, New York, NY. 2014. https://link.springer.com/referenceworkentry/10.1007/978-1-4419-0465-2_1012/.




Code of Ethics

Ancient Footprints: Could Human Life Existed in North America Far Before we Thought?


In the past couple of years, a team of scientists have found what is now the oldest known set of human footprints in North America within White Sands National Park. These footprints are from 21,000 to 23,000 years old. In order to date this, scientists used radio carbon dating on seeds found embedded in the prints. 

Based on the stratigraphy of the land, the scientists were able to tell what was happening around and during the time the prints were made. They have found multiple different “tracks” which each house a unique set of prints. Based on their studies, they have found that the area had been under the surface of a lake for the majority of the last 30,000 years, ending with the lake drying up around 10,000 years ago. The footprints were made during a time of drought, when the waterline receded. When the drought ended, the lake level rose and began covering the footprints with layers of silt which preserved them. Footprints there are now revealed through natural means, such as sand blowing and revealing them. Others are specifically searched for by scientists and meticulously excavated.

This site shows the stratigraphy of the land and multiple sets of footprints made thousands of years apart, with the oldest being the furthest down.

When studying the tracks, the scientists sought to determine the age of the individuals who had made them. Most of them turned out to be the footprints of teenagers and children. From the relative lack of adult footprints, the scientists think that it was likely due to the adults doing the skilled work, while teens did brunt work and children played.

Here is a National Geographic artist’s depiction of what the scene by the lake would have looked like, with playing children taking the forefront.

Beyond what we can learn about the lives of the people who made the prints, these footprints predate when scientists believed humans arrived in North America. This site gives more evidence to the argument that there was human life in North America far earlier than the estimated 13,000 years ago.

White Sands is a place that multiple surrounding Native tribes feel a connection to. These footprints have now become a beautiful way for them to connect with their ancestors. These tribes are currently working to preserve the footprints so humans far in the future can continue to see the marks of humans far in the past.


Bennett, Sukee. “Human Tracks May Be Earliest Evidence of People in North America.” PBS. Public Broadcasting Service, June 8, 2022. https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/article/human-ice-age-footprints-white-sands-national-park/.

“The Discovery of Ancient Human Footprints in White Sands National Park and Their Link to Abrupt Climate Change: U.S. Geological Survey.” The discovery of ancient human footprints in White Sands National Park and their link to abrupt climate change | U.S. Geological Survey. Accessed December 4, 2022. https://www.usgs.gov/programs/climate-research-and-development-program/news/discovery-ancient-human-footprints-white.

Wei-Haas, Maya. “Stunning Footprints Push Back Human Arrival in Americas by Thousands of Years.” History. National Geographic, September 24, 2021. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/history/article/fossil-footprints-challenge-theory-when-people-first-arrived-americas.

Further Links:

Oldest European footprints:
What Scientists can learn from a set of footprints: