Archaeology and Murder

Imagine combining the minds of an archaeologist, a police officer, and a detective. The three unique minds of these professions are how mysteries are solved. During the “Scene of the Crime” presentation by Dr. April Beisaw, an archaeologist’s perspective and thoughts were demonstrated in two crime photos. One photo was of an actual police homicide photo, and the other a print by George Bellow named The Last Victim. In the spirit of Halloween, Dr. Beisaw took an interesting approach to demonstrating an analysis of the pictures. She turned her presentation into a ghost story, engaging the audience and keeping them asking questions.

george bellows last vicitm George Bellows “The Last Victim”

How is an archaeologist’s perspective different then one of a detective or police officer? Looking at both of the photos next to each other, a detective or police officer may look at it and analyze them separately. Each photo was taken and made at different time periods that one may not find any similarities between the two. An archaeologist looks at similarities by using different clues to find out the lifestyle of the victim. As Dr. Beisaw explained, both pictures stood out to her because of the similar position of the victim and location of the murder. The first thing an archaeologist notices that may not be noticed by others is the similarities that occur in people across time and cultures. Both victims in the photo had similar arm positions and both were in a similar laid down position. Archaeologists use these human universals to learn and provide more information about all similar situations.


Duchenne-FacialExpressions human universals:facial expressions

Another interesting thing archaeologists bring to a crime scene is looking around for ordinary objects that are found in the room to infer a date, profession, lifestyle, and everyday activities of the victim. The daily routine or what type of person the victim is does not concern detectives on a case, but by using various ordinary clues, more information can be found.  In one of the photos, Dr. Beisaw pointed out the childish wallpaper of the room, some magazines, and an academic certificate. All of these ordinary and simple items that may have been overlooked by a police officer let us to think about the victims family and lifestyle.

The presentation by Dr.Beisaw left the audience asking questions and thinking about crime scenes in a different light. At the end of the presentation the audience even started thinking like an archaeologist and trying to further the analysis of the unknown victim. The presentation was a fun way to get the audience thinking and was perfect for continuing the Halloween mood!


Archaeoastronomy, Real or Not?

What exactly is Archaeoastronomy? Is Archaeoastronomy even archaeology? According to Wendy Ashore and Robert J. Sharer, “archaeology is the study of the human past through its material remains” (Ashmore 10). On the other hand, Archaeoastronomy is the study of different astronomical approaches used throughout time and cultures (“A Brief Introduction”). By this definition, archaeoastronomy is archaeology. It uses artifacts and locations like the Great Pyramid at Giza in Egypt to study how cultures used astronomy. It also explores how the understanding of the sky and astronomy has changed throughout time and cultures.

What makes this different from just studying astronomy? Many archaeologists and scientists argue that a lot of different information is used to interpret archaeoastronomy sites, and therefore archaeoastronomy is more like a history. A large source of information may come from astronomy, mathematics, and history, but doesn’t archaeology mix different concentrations? Because there is so much varied information and interpretations, archaeoastronomers have a difficult time composing and combining all the information into one cohesive argument. Although this may make it difficult for some professions to acknowledge archaeoastronomy as archaeology, archaeoastronomers argue that archaeoastronomy is a growing field. Archaeoastronomers use the information from many different scientific fields to propose cross culture ideas. For example, each site examines the meaning of the sky and different beliefs that can be applied to all cultures through time. Archaeoastronomers use the many popular sites around the world to demonstrate this idea.

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As mentioned earlier, the Great Pyramid at Giza located in Egypt is one of the greatest astronomical monuments in the world.  Along with this Pyramid, the Maya Palace in Yucatan is also one of the most famous monuments in history. Both of these structures are archeological sites that have to do with astronomy. The Pyramid of Giza is suspected to be built on the north, south, east, and west grid system, each of the three great pyramids having an astronomical significance. The Mayan Palace also is theorized to give off Venus symbols, Venus, being an important part of Mayan culture.

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From Egypt to the Yucatan, astronomical sites are present. Tourists from all around the world travel to visit these famous arcaeoastronomy sites. The study of astronomy has been important throughout the world for hundreds of years and even until this day. Cultures have used the sky for navigation, buildings, calendars and etc. Whether or not scientists have accurately deciphered the purpose and importance of the various sites, archaeoastronomy is a growing field that is becoming more and more widely accepted.


“A Brief Introduction to Archaeoastronomy.” A Brief Introduction to Archaeoastronomy. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Nov. 2013.

Ashmore, Wendy, and Robert J. Sharer. Discovering Our Past: A Brief Introduction to Archaeology. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.



Whose artifacts are those?

When did archaeology become the respected profession it is today? What gives archaeologists the authority to excavate in a land that is not their own? Archaeology has transformed significantly throughout the years into a respected science that teaches us about the past and how we have progressed into today’s society.

Civilizations, modern and old, have always been fascinated with the people who sewed and toiled on the land before them. Even thousands of years ago, people wanted to understand the past. For example, during 15th century B.C, an Egyptian pharaoh by the name of Thutmose IV led the first excavation of the Great Sphinx at Giza. With archaeological fascination growing and new artifacts being excavated at every turn, archaeology has progressed from antiquarianism (basically treasure hunting) to using the scientific method to investigate and understand more about the people of the past (Ashmore 26-27).

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Indigenous archaeology is a branch of archaeology that collaborates with the people of the area being researched. Although this method of archaeology considers the heritage of the people living in the area of study, many indigenous people do not want their ancestors’ “things” being excavated or disturbed. Because of this, indigenous people have fought for change in the way archaeologist conduct their research. Every year more and more indigenous people are making their voices heard, some even becoming archaeologists.

Considering all the modifications archaeologists have made to their science, the debate of to whom the cultural artifacts belong, remains an ongoing issue. Those who sympathize with the native peoples have worked diligently to return ownership of graves and artifacts uncovered, back to them. Although there seems to be a large effort in assisting the indigenous people, there are still some who believe archaeological research is causing them harm.

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This historical debate will most likely continue on as long as archaeology exists. Indigenous archaeology is one solution that tries to level this debate, but this type of archaeology is not yet fully established. It continues to change and develop with the collaboration of both indigenous people and archaeologists.

Archaeological practices have come a long way since Thutmose got curious about the Sphinx at Giza, and it will continue to transform in an effort to return the culture to as many groups of people as it can.  Challenges still remain, but archaeology has become a source of great understanding and respect for the past. From the lowliest cracked peace of pottery to the great Sphinx at Giza, archaeology has opened a world of understanding about the past. Every little piece of history holds a story, and possibly even the key to understanding an entire civilization. There is never old news in archaeology; it will always continue to unearth new mysteries and it will always attempt to solve them.

-Ava Sadeghi




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Ashmore, Wendy, and Robert J. Sharer. Discovering Our Past: A Brief Introduction to Archaeology. New York: McGraw- Hill, 2012. Print.

Atalay, Sonya. “Indigenous Archaeology as Decolonizing Practice.” The American Indian Quarterly 30.3 (2006): 280-310. Print.