A Picture Worth a Thousand Words

While to many the idiom, “a picture is worth a thousand words” is nothing more than an overused cliché, to some this phrase could not prove to be more accurate.

When Spanish settlers first arrived in Mexico, it became their mission to convert the natives of common day Mexico. The Spanish people forced the natives to assimilate themselves to the Spaniard’s language and religion and almost immediately upon settling, the conquistadors began outlawing parts of the Native culture. Most significant was the shift in religion that began to take place. The change started slowly, but eventually, the Native’s no longer knew how to practice their own religion. As Carlo Severi, an Italian anthropologist, discussed in his presentation, as the number of Franciscans began to dwindle, a new religion was born. Essentially, this new religion was based upon one image—an image of Dona Sebastiana.


Dona Sebastiana

Dona Sebastiana

The picture of Dona Sebastiana, arrow in hand, came to represent this new religion. It has been said that she was the angel of death and she picked who would next serve as priest by shooting an arrow at them. Thus, people sacrificed their lives for their religion. By merely looking at the image of Dona Sebastiana, one can understand just how much these Natives yearned for Christianity—they looked to the image of Dona Sebastiana because without it, they felt that God had abandoned them. For the Natives, the image represented much more than an simple picture.

Few people have studied the versatility of art in a more in depth manner than Aby Warburg. Warburg, a German art historian and theorist, believes that images serve far more than aesthetic purposes. He believed that art is a means of communication, a way of uniting communities and representing ideologies.

Aby Warburg

Aby Warburg

In his final years of life, Warburg became increasingly enthralled with the concept of memory and how images can actually construct the memory of an entire society.
He believed that one image may come to represent everything in which a culture is based.

Flag Raising at Iwo Jima

Flag Raising at Iwo Jima

I could not agree more with Aby Warburg. In my opinion, the quality of an image has nothing do with its aesthetic beauty. Rather, the most important aspect is the subject matter and the story the image represents. My favorite photograph, the flag raising at Iwo Jima, has come to represent the United State’s main goal: freedom and justice for all. It captures a memory in American history that will never be forgotten. A memory that Americans can look at in times of tribulation, which will give them strength to carry on. While aesthetically it may not be the most beautiful photograph, there is no denying that its power of unification is worth a thousand words.

Works Cited:

Image 1:http://www.catherineroblesshaw.com/images/rubel%20death%20cart.jpg

Image 2: http://www.defense.gov/specials/nativeamerican01/images/lflage.gif

Image 3: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c4/Aby_Warburg.jpg


Archaeological Lab Work: Buttons, Marbles, and Glass, OH MY!

Have you ever wondered what the job of an archaeologist entails? Is archaeology as action filled as it is depicted in the Indiana Jones movies?


(For your listening pleasure!)

This past Friday, I was lucky enough to put some of my own lingering questions about archaeology to rest. Through laboratory work with my archaeology class, I got a glimpse into the life of an archaeologist. Unfortunately, I did not take down any bad guys or run through any deserts, but needless to say, the experience proved to be quite interesting.

My hopes were not especially high for the lab work section of my archaeology course. Frankly, I was under the false impression that it would consist of manual labor in an eerie basement (plus, who really wants to do any sort of work on a Friday afternoon). However, I quickly realized just how terribly I had misjudged archaeological lab work.

Upon opening my first bag of artifacts from the Dunn Site, I became invigorated by the idea that I held ancient relics in my hands and that they represented a little piece of history. Most intriguing to me were not the well-preserved glass bottles and pottery, but rather, the little pieces—the buttons, the marbles, even fragments of glass. Was the button that of a rich man or did it belong to a little girl? Did a little boy use this marble in the schoolyard? Each of these items awaits an archaeologist to uncover its unique story

Native American Marbles

Native American Marbles

US Armed Forces Button

US Armed Forces Button

After recovering an artifact from a site, an archaeologist must create some order in what otherwise may appear to be a random set of objects. Thus, they work to classify the artifacts according to certain criteria. First, artifacts are generally classified according to material: glass, metal, ceramic, or stone. Within these groupings, archaeologists may sort them further. For example, glass may be sorted into two divisions: window glass and vessel glass. Once categorized, artifacts can be stored and then labeled based upon their respective trench unit and stratigraphic layer in which they were found.

While many people believe that an archaeologist’s main focus is to find an artifact, in reality, all of this work is completed with the main goal of finding out the effect that an artifact had on a culture–to determine that the button belonged to a rich man and the marble was, indeed, used by a boy in a schoolyard. In the end, the tiniest of artifacts can reveal the most about a past culture.

Works Cited:

Audio 1: http://rowthree.com/audio/indy_theme.mp3

Image 1: http://www.arrowheadology.com/forums/attachments/arrowheads-indian-artifacts/36588d1296162761-native-american-clay-marbles-php6np0xrpm.jpg

Image 2: http://arcadiamillvillage.blogspot.com/2011/06/artifact-of-week-us-armed-forces-button.html



Forensic Archaeologist Turned Art Historian

People do not often associate the work of a forensic archaeologist with that of an art historian. A forensic archaeologist solely studies crime scenes and physical remains, right?

Not at all.

As illustrated by Professor Beisaw’s lecture, forensic archaeologists can use photographs and paintings of crime scenes to solve murders that occurred years prior. By analyzing a photograph of a crime scene as an art historian may study a classical antiquity, a forensic archaeologist can actually learn a significant amount about the events that led up to the murder of a victim.

In “The Last Victim,” George Bellows illustrates an event that he did not actually witness. However, he depicts a moment of intense human struggle precisely. Without actually being at the crime of the scene, a forensic archaeologist can tell that the slightly upturned rug indicates that the victims struggled to flea from the perpetrator. The anguished faces of those still alive suggest that the attack was unexpected.

"The Last Victim" by George Bellows

“The Last Victim” by George Bellows

In a second work of art, an unnamed police homicide photograph taken in New Jersey by an anonymous artist , a man lays dead on the ground, a pool of blood forming under a nearby desk chair. Through the use of modern technology, an archaeologist can zoom in on different objects in the room of the crime scene. These artifacts not only help in determining the date of the homicide, but also, provide clues to the victim’s identity.

It has been determined that the photograph was captured shortly after World War II because of several artifacts found in the room, including copies of the Saturday Evening Post from February and March 1946.

Example of Saturday Evening Post that was enlarged to determine an estimated date of when the photo was taken. (Not actual issue in photograph).

Example of Saturday Evening Post that was enlarged to determine an estimated date of when the photo was taken. (Not actual issue in photograph).

Due to the fact that the man’s face is obscured by a desk, a forensic archaeologist needs to employ other methods in order to determine an identity. Additional artifacts were enlarged just enough to recognize that that man in the picture had a long first name, but a short last name and that he “lettered” in a sport in high school. A piece of paper with a list of names on it likely contains the name of the victim in the photograph. Upon further investigation, this list may hold the key to identifying the victim.

As demonstrated in Professor Beisaw’s lecture, art historians and forensic archaeologists both use art as a means of learning about the past. While the art is studied from very different angles, the works allow art historians and forensic archaeologists, alike, to solves mysteries of the past.


Beisaw, April M. “The Scene of the Crime.” Vassar College, Poughkeepsie. 31 October

2013. Lecture.



Archaeologists Fighting for Human Rights

An archaeologist dealing with a current event issue seems like an oxymoron, right? Most people are under the impression that archaeologists only study the ancient past. In reality, however, the goals of archaeology go far beyond finding hidden gems of prior time periods. Anthropologists also use archaeology as a means of studying modern day issues, such as illegal boarder crossing through the Sonora desert.

Sonoran Desert-North American desert covering large parts of the Southwestern United States and Northwestern Mexico

Sonoran Desert-North American desert covering large parts of the Southwestern United States and Northwestern Mexico

Since 2000, four and a half million people have been caught crossing the Sonora desert with the hopes of finding a better life in America. Along the way, approximately three hundred and thirty people will be caught each year and each day one person will die in their attempt to cross. While only a fraction of migrants will make it through the desert and live to tell their story, the items that they leave behind do all of the talking. As the migrants walk, they constantly leave behind material remains, making the Sonora desert an archaeologist’s wonderland.


Items left behind by migrants in the Sonoran Desert

In order to better analyze the people who choose to embark on the treacherous journey, Jason de León, author of “Better to be Hot than Caught,” studies the material culture of the Sonora desert. Using archaeological techniques, de Léon and his team can survey the desert and find artifacts that, combined, tell a story of the lives of migrants that cross the desert. While the Sonora is quite expansive and de León is not able to survey the entire desert, he has been able to compile a substantial amount of information.

In examining the material remains it quickly becomes clear that the migrants are quite misinformed regarding the items that will be most beneficial in crossing the desert; they are afraid of the wrong things. For example, in an effort to avoid detection, they wear dark clothing increasing their chance of heat-related illness. Additionally, most water bottles that are found have pictures of saints on them which show that the migrant’s culture is deeply rooted in religion.

These two examples illustrate how utilizing an archaeological approach can provide interesting insight into a modern cultural phenomenon. As an active member of Amnesty International, I knew a bit of background about the hardships faced by migrants in the Sonora desert. However, it was not until reading Jason de León’s work that I could truly contextualize the severity of the situation. Ultimately, Jason de Leóns “Undocumented Migration Project” has helped me, and hopefully many other people, understand more about the life of migrants in the Sonora desert, as well as opening people’s minds to the far-reaching influences of archaeological work.


De León, Jason. “Introduction.” The Undocumented Migration Project. Word Press, n. d. Web. 8 Oct. 2013. <http://undocumentedmigrationproject.com/home/about/>.

Image 1: http://pri.org/sites/default/files/migration/PriMigrationsDamanticWordpressAttachmentsImagesMigration/www.theworld.org/wp-content/uploads/SONORAN.jpg

Image 2: http://thereaganwing.files.wordpress.com/2007/09/desert-2.jpg