Australian Repatriation

A technique common in colonial states is for colonizers to attempt to gain possession of the history of the colonized peoples to better control them. One of the primary ways this is achieved is through dehumanizing colonized people by ‘studying’ native remains without consent. To add insult to injury, most of the research being conducted with, and the conclusions being drawn from these remains were mostly based in pseudoscience. “During the 19th and 20th centuries medical officers, anatomists, ethnologists, anthropologists, and pastoralists collected ancestral remains for ‘scientific’ research linked to explaining human biological differences.” Rightfully so, aboriginal communities in Australia wish to reclaim the history and culture that was stolen. In most of these countries, the act of repatriating stolen bodies or aspects of material culture is a reasonably new phenomenon. In the case of Australia, where aboriginal remains were stolen until the middle of the 20th century and perhaps beyond, repatriation on  the government scale has only begun in the 21st century. In Australia between 1788 and 1948, thousands of Aboriginal remains were exhumed and examined, shipped off to museums and institutes without the consent of the aboriginal people. “The Australia government’s International Repatriation Program estimates that some 1,000 Aboriginal remains are still held in museums worldwide today.” Only very recently have Australia and the Australian people begun the process of repatriating this remains, and a primary issue currently being addressed is who gets the remains. Like any group of native peoples across such a huge amount of territory, the Aboriginal people are not a monolith, but since they have been subjected to so much brutality by a colonial government, their identities have been all but stripped. Even in comparison to native people in the United States, aboriginal representation and autonomy in Australia is almost nonexistent. “The South Australian Museum, for instance, only began repatriating its collection of 4,5000 Aboriginal remains this year.” Recently, a new website went online with the goal of providing the necessary steps for the repatriation of Aboriginal remains. The website seeks to educate Australians about the history of this side of colonization, as well as the importance of repatriation. The history of the relationship between Australia and the natives who inhabited the land before the existence of the colonial state mirrors that of American relations with natives in many ways, and the theme of repatriation is very similar to what we have discussed in class surrounding acts like NAGPRA. 

Government Site 

Aforementioned New Website

Remains being re-buried

Combatting Pseudoarchaeology in the Internet Age

As archaeology became increasingly science-based in the 20th century, fringe groups believing in discredited ideas grew in popularity (Wade 2019). Initially, these pseudoarchaeological ideas were most accessible through books, such as Erich Von Däniken’s Chariot of the Gods? (1968), which has sold over 65 million copies (Bond 2018). In recent decades, however, television and the internet have spread pseudoarchaeology to an increasingly large audience.

Figure 1. A common pseudoarchaeologcal belief is that aliens constructed the pyramids. Image: Express

Shows such as Ancient Aliens (2010- ) are probably the most publicly visible sources of pseudoarchaeology. However, many internet sites do just as much, if not more harm to true archaeology, connecting “experts” on topics such as Atlantis and ancient astronauts to impressionable followers (Romey 2003). As early as the 1990s, these sites featured pseudoarchaeological perpetrators abusing those who questioned their ideas and invoking “Egyptological conspirac[ies] that would make Watergate look insignificant” (Romey 2003).

These sites did create some good, drawing attention to the fallacies of pseudoarchaeology. Katherine Reece, who once believed in the theories perpetuated on these sites, began doubting them when she saw questions being insulted rather than answered. In 2001, she and a group of amateur and professional archaeologists created the website The Hall of Ma’at to provide accurate archaeological information. Explaining why she started it, she pointed to a lack of easily accessible real archaeology. The site, still running today, features free academic articles and a form to discuss authentic archaeology. (Hall of Ma’at 2019).

Figure 2. The home page for the Hall of Ma’at. Image: The Hall of Ma’at

These sites have grown increasingly important as pseudoarchaeology gains a wider audience. In the annual Chapman University Survey of Fears, 57% of respondents agreed that civilizations like Atlantis once existed (Chapman 2018:69), and 41.4% agreed that aliens visited Earth in ancient times (Chapman 2018:67). More and more archaeologists have urged the importance of public archaeology and draw attention to pseudoarchaeology’s racist tendency to assume non-white cultures could not have developed technology (Bond 2018).

Sarah Head, an independent cultural resources archaeologist, notes that as archaeology became more scientific and professionals receded into the academy, pseudoarchaeologists replaced them in the public sphere. Explaining the popularity of false archaeology over the real thing, Head points to jargon and paywalls blocking the public from understanding real archaeological research.

According to Head, archaeologists must widely distribute and clearly explain their research to effectively combat pseudoarchaeology. Many archaeologists today make their research and opinions available to the public. British archaeological officer Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews runs the Bad Archaeology blog, which draws attention to the racist qualities of pseudoarchaeology (Bond 2018), as does Jason Colavito’s eponymous blog (Wade 2019). In the age of the internet, archaeologists and pseudoarchaeologists alike have increasing access to a public looking for answers. It is up to the real archaeologists to find innovative ways to take back the attention from the perpetrators of false, harmful pseudoarchaeology.


Bond, Sarah E.                                                                                                              2018    Pseudoarchaeology and the Racism Behind Ancient Aliens. Hyperallergic,               November 13, 2018.           the-racism-behind-ancient-aliens/, accessed December 7, 2019.

Chapman University                                                                                                               2018    The Chapman University Survey of American Fears. Babbie Center.                                american-fears.aspx, accessed December 7, 2019.

Hall of Ma’at                                                                                                                  2019  Home page,, accessed December 7,           2019.

Romey, Kristin M.                                                                                                             2003   Seductions of Pseudoarchaeology: Pseudoscience in Cyberspace.                           Archaeology Volume (56:3).,             accessed December 7, 2019.

Wade, Lizzie.                                                                                                                          2019   Believe in Atlantis? These archaeologists want to win you back to science.               American Association for the Advancement of Science, April 9, 2019.                                                  archaeologists-want-win-you-back-science, accessed December 7, 2019.


Figure 1.                                                   

Figure 2.                                                                                                

See also

Read more about how archaeologists have dealt with pseudoarchaeology.               What Archaeologists Really Think About Ancient Aliens, Lost Colonies, And Fingerprints Of The Gods

Learn more about Erich von Däniken.                                                                          Erich von Daniken’s Genesis


Operation Identification Works Relentlessly to Identify Migrant Remains


Figure 1: Map of Brooks County depicting locations of discovered remains.

Residents of Mexico and South America painstakingly traverse the Rio Grande Valley to cross into the United States, only to be left behind or buried without identifying markers after they fall ill from dehydration and overexertion. Nearly 650 deceased immigrants were found in Brooks County, Texas, located 70 miles north of the border within the last ten years (Burnett 2019).

As the number of migrants increases, so does the number of burials. Counties in the region once had the resources to bury and account for these individuals, but the overwhelming numbers left them at a disadvantage. Recently deceased undocumented migrants have been buried without a proper analysis completed, which includes extracting DNA for identification.

These graves are sometimes left unmarked, leaving it nearly impossible to find the remains should the ones who have undergone analysis be positively matched (Texas State University 2019).

Some of the aforementioned graves were exhumed by Dr. Lori Baker and Dr. Krista Latham, of Baylor University and the University of Indianapolis, respectively, in an effort to complete DNA sampling and hopefully bring families closure. Upon exhumation, they found most remains were in stages of decomposition, and therefore required proper storage until analyses could be performed. Texas State had the means to do so.

In 2013, Operation Identification, founded by the Forensic Anthropology Center at Texas State University, began its work to identify remains found along and near the southern Texas border. Dr. Kate Spradley, a biological anthropologist with an interest in forensic anthropology, leads the organization. The college currently holds 200 identified remains that Dr. Spradley and her team are working to identify (San Marcos Daily Record 2019).

Texas State graduate students supervised by Dr. Kate Spradley as they work in the lab.

As the deceased are brought to the lab, their belongs are bagged and frozen for later cleaning while the remains are sanitized. Dr. Spradley and her graduate students then use the remains to attempt to identify gender, height, age, and any physical abnormalities that may still be visible (Burnett 2019). The information is then processed through the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs), where it will be cross-referenced with DNA from families to find a potential match. Many families are not listed in this system, but thankfully two groups, South Texan Human Rights Center and the Equipo Argentino de Antropologia Forense, have been collecting missing persons reports and DNA samples in South America, allowing a much higher chance for the remains to be matched to relatives (Garrison 2019).

As of May this year, 287 individuals have been put into the system, 31 of which have been positively identified (Burnett 2019).


References Cited

Burnett, John

2019   After Grim Deaths in the Borderlands, An Effort To Find Out Who Migrants Were. Electronic document,, accessed 5 December, 2019.

Garrison, Dale

2019   Operation Identification: Life, Death, and Lessons on the South Texas Border., accessed 5 December, 2019.

Leutert, Stephanie

2019   In the Brush in Brooks County: Who’s Dying in South Texas? Electronic document,, accessed 8 December, 2019.

San Marcos Daily Record

2019   Texas State’s Operation ID Aims To Restore Migrants’ Identities. Electronic document,, accessed December 7, 2019.

Texas State University

2019   Identifying Migrant Deaths in South Texas. Electronic document,, accessed 7 December 2019.


Figure 1:

Leutert, Stephanie

2019   In the Brush in Brooks County: Who’s Dying in South Texas? Electronic document,, accessed 8 December, 2019.

Figure 2:

Burnett, John

2019   After Grim Deaths in the Borderlands, An Effort To Find Out Who Migrants Were. Electronic document,, accessed 5 December, 2019.

Further Readings

Lee, Jenni

2019   Texas State gets funding to help identify South Texas remains. Electronic document,

Regan, Mark and Lorenzo Zazueta-Castro

2019   Operation Identification Involves Immigrant Remains in Texas. Electronic document,

Visit their Facebook page here.

Listen to NPR’s podcast about Operation Identification here.

Witchcraft: The Folklore That Provoked Fear and Mass Hysteria

More than three hundred years after New England occupants executed twenty people accused of witchcraft, the Salem Witch Trials continue to haunt American history, inspiring books and plays such as The Crucible and capturing public imagination. These infamous trials, as well as many other cases of witchcraft accusations throughout England, exemplified a widespread belief in magic during the early modern period. The fear of witchcraft prompted colonists to fight against the presumed existence of these witches, through murder and unjust hangings (Figure 1).

Figure 1: The grave marker for Mary Parker, who was executed for witchcraft at Salem during the witch trials. Photograph by Darren McCollester.

Although the world mainly focuses on what happened at Salem, belief in witchcraft existed long before the crisis in the “Witch City” occurred (Baker 2015). In England, more than 200 people accused of being witches were executed between 1645 and 1647. Concern over the presence of witches in England soon spread to the colonies, where they began to investigate cases of witchcraft. Underlying all of the arising chaos, anxiety plagued various communities, due to the public fear of rebellions, governmental and communal conflicts, and other distressing events (Drake 1968).

People grasped onto the idea that witchcraft caused the community’s problems. Witchcraft accusations were associated with illness and death, especially among children and animals. In one case, after a woman fondled a child that wasn’t hers, the child changed color and died soon afterwards. The child’s nurse accused her of practicing dark magic, leading to the woman’s execution. However, the parents later testified that their child died because of the nurse’s neglect (Drake 1968). This case embodies how witchcraft was often used to explain unusual events such as unexpected deaths, and also to justify the murder of the accused, even if they were innocent.

The public fear of witches extends into the archaeological record; artifacts found in houses dating to the time of the trials connect to the prevalent belief in witchcraft. People would often hide material objects, like horseshoes and witch-bottles, in their homes to ward off witches, demons, and other evil spirits (Hoggard 2004). These artifacts indicate the practice of counter magic, or magic used for protection against evil.

When construction workers were dismantling a New England house built in 1681, they found an iron horseshoe on the site. The horseshoe, and its location nailed to the house near the hearth and the outside door, represented an attempt at protecting the home and its owners from witches (Baker 2015:131). People also used witch-bottles (Figure 2). Like the horseshoes, witch-bottles protected its owners against dark magic and witches; these glazed stoneware bottles contained symbolic items, like pins, nails, urine, and animal remains, that warded off witchcraft (Hoggard 2004).

Figure 2: The witch-bottles were used as a means of defense against witchcraft. Photograph from Kerry Sullivan.

The widespread presence of these items displays the extensive effects of folklore and witchcraft. The eagerness of families to practice counter magic reveals the panic of these people, desperate to protect themselves from any harm at a time of great tension in society.

Further Reading:

The Discovery of the Site Where the Executions Took Place:

The Connection Between the Salem Witch Trials, Witch Hunts, and the Red Scare:


Baker, Emerson W.

2015  A Story of Witchcraft: The Salem Trials and the American Experience. Oxford University Press, New York

Drake, Frederick C.

1968  Witchcraft in the American Colonies, 1647-62. American Quarterly. 20(4): 694-725

Hoggard, Brian

2004  The archaeology of counter-witchcraft and popular magic. In Beyond the Witch Trials, edited by Owen Davies and Willem de Blecourt, pp. 167-186. University of Manchester Press, Manchester


Figure 1:

Figure 2:

The Salem Witch Trials: A case of mass hysteria

Between February 1692 and May 1693 in current day Massachusetts, more than 200 people were accused of witchcraft. Of them, thirty were found guilty, and nineteen of whom were executed. This period of witch trials later came to be known as the Salem witch trials, named after the town of Salem and Salem Village (present-day Danvers).

Salem Village was known for its divided population with many internal disputes about property lines, grazing rights, and church privileges. After a series of short-term ministers, Samuel Parris became the first ordained minister of Salem Village in 1689. He was not successful in solving conflicts in the village; rather he contributed to the dissonance by making well-known church members suffer public penance due to their small mistakes. This only created more division among the people. According to Historian Marion Starkey, serious conflict was inevitable in this tense environment (1949).

A map of Salem Village, 1692

In February 1692, Reverend Parris’ daughter Elizabeth, age 9, and niece, Abigail Williams, age 11, started having “fits” (Hale 1697). They would shriek, make weird sounds, crawl under furniture, and convulse into strange positions. These “fits” were considered to be supernatural in origin, and members of the community were accused of consorting with the devil and afflicting the young children through witchcraft (Lawson 1692). With the seeds of paranoia planted, more accusations arose, and more people were arrested. By the end of the month of May, a total of 62 individuals were in custody (Roach 2002).

Illustration of the Salem witch trials, depicting Mary Walcott, one of the afflicted victims

On June 2, 1962, the Court of Oyer and Terminer (to hear and decide) was established to handle the large number of people in jail for witchcraft. These trials relied heavily on spectral evidence, or testimony based on dreams or apparitions seen by the afflicted. The “touch test” was also used to determine guilt or innocence. The accused witch was told to touch a victim having a fit, and if the victim stopped having a fit, the accused was believed to have afflicted the victim (Boyer & Nissenbaum 1972). Other evidence included confessions made by accused witches, and testimony by a guilty witch who pointed out others as witches. In January 1693, the new Superior Court of Judicature convened, and those who had been accused of witchcraft, but not yet tried, went on trial. The series of trials and executions finally ended in May 1693.

The Salem witch trials are an infamous case of mass hysteria; they are an example of the consequences of religious extremism, false allegations, and lapses in the due legal processes. These trials had a lasting effect on people’s attitude towards separation of state and church, as historian George Lincoln Burr said, “the Salem witchcraft was the rock on which the theocracy shattered” (1914:197). The Salem witch trials left a lesson for the future, a caution for the outcome of unbridled religious fanaticism and over enthusiasm about the supernatural.

Further reading on Finding the exact spot of witch execution in Salem and Witch trials in Europe

Reference list:

Boyer, Paul S., Stephen Nissenbaum

1972  Salem-Village Witchcraft: A Documentary Record of Local Conflict in Colonial New England. Northeastern University Press, Lebanon, New Hampshire.

Burr, George Lincoln

1914  Narratives of the Witchcraft Cases, 1648–1706. C. Scribner’s Sons, New York.

Hale, John

1696  A Modest Enquiry into the Nature of Witchcraft. B. Green and J. Allen, Boston.

Lawson, Deodat

1692  A Brief and True Narrative of Some Remarkable Passages Relating to Sundry Persons Afflicted by Witchcraft, at Salem Village: Which happened from the Nineteenth of March, to the Fifth of April, 1692. Benjamin Harris, Boston.

Roach , Marilynne K.

2002  The Salem Witch Trials: A Day-To-Day Chronicle of a Community Under Siege. Cooper Square Press, New York.

Starkey, Marion L.

1949  The Devil in Massachusetts. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, New York.

Images: Figure 1, Figure 2

The Twelve Bronze Animal Zodiac Heads of the Haiyan Hall

In the Old Summer Palace, Beijing, China, lies a ruined fountain near the Haiyan Hall site (“Haiyan” means peace for the country in Chinese). This fountain was built in the year 1759, and was destroyed during the Second Opium War in 1860. The stone base of the fountain was burnt and ruined during the foreign invasion of the eight allied forces. The animal heads used to be attached to their bodies, but the bodies were ruined in the fire as well. The twelve bronze head of the animal zodiac statues (which were the decorations of the fountain) were carried away and left the country.

Figure 1–Painting of the Haiyan Hall with the statues in front (Yang Liu, 2005)

The fountain used to be a water-driven clock, designed by the Italian painter Castiglione and made by Qing Dynasty’s royal craftsmen. The twelve animal zodiacs of China include the Rat, the Cow, the Tiger, the Rabbit, the Dragon, the Snake, the Horse, the Sheep, the Monkey, the Rooster, the Dog, and the Boar. The twelve zodiac statues were placed in front of the Haiyan Hall, in two rows facing the small pond. The statues combined Western design with Chinese carving skill, and every wrinkle and hair of the animals were carved out with amazing details. They represented a combined cultural value between the East and Western world, and the water-driven clock was also one of the milestones of the Qing Dynasty craftwork.

Because in China the twelve terrestrial branches are represented by animals, and were also the main time system that people used, these twelve animal statues were placed in their terrestrial order as a clock. Like the twelve marks on the clock we now use but only arranged horizontally, these statues essentially constitute a modern mechanical clock. For every hour, the corresponding animal statue will spit out water into the pond to tell time. The design was practical and delicate.

Figure 2–the bronze statues of the twelve animal zodiac (Unknown, 2019)

The twelve animal head statues are lost and sold as looted artifacts around the world, and now only seven of them are returned to the Old Summer Palace. They mostly ended up in auctions, and the most expensive one was traded with 69,100,000 Hong Kong dollars (8,827,450 US dollar). Recently, on November 13, the private collector and businessman Stanley Ho returned the head of the Horse zodiac to the Old Summer Palace. Before the Horse head, the Rat, the Cow, the Tiger, the Horse, the Monkey, the Rabbit, and the Boar were also found and returned by multiple means.


Additional Readings:

Terril Yue Jones

2013  Two Bronze Animal Heads, Stolen 153 Years Ago, Returned To China. Electronic Document,



2015  Bronze animal heads from Summer Palace displayed in Shanghai. Video,




2009  Chinese zodiac statues’ origins. Electronic Document,, accessed December 7, 2019.



2013  The Search for the 12 Missing Chinese Zodiac Antiquities of China. Electronic


China, accessed December 7, 2019.


China Daily

2019   Chinese Zodiac Statue Heads Home. Electronic Document,, accessed December 7, 2019.





Sri Lanka’s Man-made Wonder: Sigiriya

I googled “what famous archaeological discoveries are in the country Sri Lanka” ( the country where my parents are from). What frequently popped up was this magnificent fortress called the Sigiriya. What’s fascinating about this fortress is that it is sitting right on top of a six hundred foot rock! This article will assess the story behind the story and discovery of Sigiriya with an archaeological spin to it.


Let’s rewind the clock back hundreds of years to about the fifth century AD. Meanwhile , Sri Lanka was a monarchist country; specifically, the kingdom was in the Moriya dynasty. The dynasty was in the midst of a heated turmoil as two half-brothers (Kashyapa and Moggallana) competed for the throne (Dowson 2017). Kashyapa’s mother was a concubine for the king while the mother of Moggallana was the queen; thus, Moggallana was the rightful heir to the throne. However, Kashyapa seized the crown from his father in a coup with the help of the military. Fearing for his life, Moggallana fled to South India. At the same time, Kashyapa dreaded that his half-brother might return with vengeance one day. So, he moved the capital from Anuradhapura to Sigiriya in 477 CE (Dowson 2017). In order to make his palace more secure, he constructed it on the top of a colossal rock. As the years went by and no sign of Moggallana, Kashyapa turned his fortress into a lavish palace. However, Kashyapa’s omen will become a reality in 495 CE as Moggallana returned (Dowson 2017). With his allies betraying him, Kashyapa committed suicide while Moggallana became king. Sigiriya was abandoned shortly after and was forgotten.


It was not until the 1800s in which archaeologists recovered the lost site and fortress. Archaeologists excavated the site in order to reconstruct the importance of Sigiriya (Dawson). Surrounding the fortress, are lavish gardens decorated with limestone and encompass pools of water like in Figure 1. Archaeologists assess that these gardens were constructed during the period when Kashyapa turned the fortress into a palace. One garden however was dated to the twelfth century which archaeologists raised the question if Sigiriya was ever abandoned at all (Dawson). A separate investigation found a huge stone paw, pictured in Figure 2, at the entrance of the rock.  Archaeologists assessed that these are lion paws since Sigiriya, translated in Sinhalese, means “lion rock.” A third excavation found beautiful frescoes depicting the culture during Kashyapa’s reign. In Figure 3, this massive painting of a Buddhist woman was found on the side of the rock.

Figure 1: Bird’s-eye View of one of the gardens surrounding the rock fortress. Photo by Bernard Gagnon

Figure 2: Remains of the “Lion” guarding the entrance to Sigiriya. Photo by Atlas and Boots

Figure 3: A beautiful fresco painting of a woman during Kashyapa’s reign. Photo by Bernard Gagnon

Archaeology isn’t just about excavations. It’s about constructing the stories and meanings behind them through the knowledge of the site’s culture and history. We don’t know if Sigiriya was truly abandoned. It’s normal to not have answers to every question since archaeology is a process that’s not written in stone. However, we know that Sigiriya will be for years to come!


Dowson, Thomas
2017 The Ancient City of Sigiriya, Sri Lanka. Archaeology Travel. August 13

2017 Sigiriya Rock Fortress: 7 tips for visiting. Atlas & Boots. June 11

Take a look at these websites to start your journey!

  1. Sigiriya

Sigiriya 2019: Best of Sigiriya, Sri Lanka Tourism. TripAdvisor.







Exploring the Mormon Pioneer Trail

Eight hundred years after its glory the Cahokians brought about, Illinois nurtured another group of faithful pilgrims, venturing from Nauvoo, Illinois to Utah: the Mormons. However, their pilgrimage was different from that of those who walked days and nights towards Cahokia from the Emerald Acropolis: they were forced to move by religious persecution. Their aim was to find a new homeland where they could establish churches and reside in peace. The pilgrimage lasted for as long as 23 years (Haury-Artz 2016), over the length of 1415 miles (National Park Service 2019), a trail now called the Mormon Pioneer Trail, commemorated by the state government and celebrated by the National Geographic as one of the top 10 historic pilgrimages across the world (National Geographic). It is also known as one of the greatest Euro-American immigration in history, crossing both the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains (Haury-Artz 2016).

The first wave of the journey started on February 4th, 1846. Led by approximately 500 leaders, a population of 70,000 Mormons migrated from Nauvoo towards Salt Lake City, Utah (Mormon Historic Sites Foundation). The cold weather made the pilgrimage difficult, not to mention the geographical condition, and by the spring of 1847, already 400 lives had been taken by the harsh condition (University of Nebraska Lincoln). Throughout the whole journey, the Mormons travelled mostly by wagons, handcarts and by foot. Along the way, many camps were established as temporary settlements. For example, the Locust Creek Camp is one of their stopping points soon after the journey started in 1846, and also where “Come, Come Ye Saints” was written. The song is now the most well-known hymn of the Mormons and even an anthem to the pilgrims of that era, encouraging them to keep going with the support of faith. The handcart expedition took a slightly different track than the ones who travelled by wagons. This path included a number of camps as well, but above that, a few handcarts crafting sites were discovered – the Mormon Handcart Park, for instance, marked a settlement as well as a site where people built their handcarts for the travel. When the Mormons were to cross the Missouri River, they took ferries, the most used of all being the North Ferry, while the handcart travellers crossed the Des Moines River by not only ferry, but also floating bridges believed to be by Grand Avenue. Meanwhile, alternative routes were also taken when on-land conditions were too difficult, or when rivers were hard to cross (Haury-Artz 2016). The trails are illustrated as below:

Figure 1 – Mormon Trails Across Iowa (Haury-Artz 2016)

Archaeologists were evidently involved in the studies of this great pilgrimage: “Site records, historical documents, and map resources were examined” with previous studies. While aerial photographs of GIS technology was used to further determine the exact route of the travel, LiDAR images were also taken to clearly illustrate the trails the Mormons left behind. Moreover, land surveys and explorations took place to locate some distinctive and special campsites, such as cemeteries of the ones who did not survive the journey, inns and cabins built for better-sheltered settlements (Haury-Artz 2016).

Figure 2 – LiDAR image of the Mormon Trail (Haury-Artz 2016)


For further readings on the Mormon Trail:





Haury-Artz, Chérie

  2016  Exploring Mormon Trails Across Iowa. Electronic Document,, accessed November

  24, 2019.


Mormon Historic Sites Foundation

  Mormon Iowa Trail. Electronic Document,,

  accessed November 24, 2019.


National Geographic

  Top 10 Historic Pilgrimages. Electronic Document,,

  accessed November 24, 2019.


National Park Service

  2019  Mormon Pioneer: Maps. Electronic Document,, accessed November 24, 2019.


University of Nebraska Lincoln

  The Mormon Trail. Electronic Document,, accessed November

  24, 2019.




Haury-Artz, Chérie

  2016  Exploring Mormon Trails Across Iowa. Electronic Document,, accessed November

  24, 2019.

Safety and Settlement in the Great Dismal Swamp

As conveyed by its name, the Great Dismal Swamp in southeastern Virginia is an inhospitable place. Throughout the region’s colonization, the swamp was considered a “twisted and dark natural landscape” to be avoided whenever possible (Sayers 2014:82). These features helped establish it as a place of migration for runaway slaves, historically known as “Maroons.” The security provided by the swamp’s isolation allowed them to create self-organized communities that spanned generations. With only passing mentions in the historical narrative of slavery and liberation, the Great Dismal Swamp was primarily thought of as a temporary stop on the Underground Railroad (Grant). Despite these misconceptions, recent archaeological research has contributed a better understanding of how the insular communities thrived outside of the existing slave-based economy. 

The Great Dismal Swamp was known to the Algonquin people for thousands of years. After their displacement during Virginia’s colonization, scattered bands of Native Americans resettled in the marshes. Shortly after the introduction of slavery in 1619, runaway slaves migrated to the swamp in search of safety. Their presence predominates the archaeological record of the swamp between 1680 and the Civil War (Grant). Later on, colonists began to extract the swamp’s natural resources through logging and canal digging, including a project undertaken by George Washington (Figure 1). Their commercial efforts likely had the effect of pushing the communities further into the swamp.

Figure 1: A marker indicating the site of George Washington’s Canal Project. Photograph by Allison Shelley.

Efforts to excavate the Great Dismal Swamp are led by Daniel Sayers, a professor at American University. Beginning in 2003, the Great Dismal Swamp Landscape Study has identified eight archaeological sites of interest. Most of Sayers’ research focuses on the “nameless site,” a 20-acre island located two miles in the swamp’s interior (Sayers 2014:25). Evidence recovered from the site includes the foundations of seven cabins and several thousand artifacts, suggesting that it was used as a permanent settlement. Interestingly, Sayers has identified a material culture practiced by the communities. Due to their isolation from the outside world, inhabitants used debitage to continuously repurpose stone tools left behind by Native Americans (Figure 2) (Grant). 

Figure 2: An example of a repurposed arrowhead. Photograph by Jason Pietra.

Researching the Dismal Swamp communities presents a unique set of challenges, mainly due to the nature of the swamp. The very conditions that discouraged outsiders from traveling into the swamp’s interior have slowed excavations. Sayers’ team must contend with the heat, mud, insects, and thick vegetation associated with the region. Furthermore, because of their material culture, most of the recovered artifacts are incredibly small. According to Sayers, “Everything we’ve found would fit into a single shoe box… they were using organic materials from the swamp. Except for the big stuff like cabins, it decomposes without leaving a trace” (Grant).

The significance of the Great Dismal Swamp research project cannot be understated. By focusing on the swamp, it restores the history of a forgotten community that fleed racial tyranny and seized control of their destiny.

References Cited

Grant, Richard

  2016  Deep in the Swamps, Archaeologists Are Finding How Fugitive Slaves Kept Their Freedom. Electronic Document,, accessed November 23, 2019.


Sayers, Daniel O.

  2014  A Desolate Place for a Defiant People: The Archaeology of Maroons, Indigenous Americans, and Enslaved Laborers in the Great Dismal Swamp. University Press of Florida, Gainesville, Florida.


Grant, Richard

  2016  Deep in the Swamps, Archaeologists Are Finding How Fugitive Slaves Kept Their Freedom. Electronic Document,, accessed November 23, 2019.

Further Reading

To listen to a podcast episode about the Great Dismal Swamp communities:

The Great Dismal Swamp

To learn more about the history of the Underground Railroad:


Isotope Analysis: An Archaeological Investigation of Little Miss Lake Panasoffkee

In 1971, a woman’s body was found floating through Lake Panasoffkee in central Florida. Local detectives were able to extract very little information from the scene: Jane Doe was roughly 17 to 24 years old, potentially white or Native American, and seemed to have previously given birth (Phipps 2018). After much investigation, the authorities found only a belt wrapped around the victim’s neck, but otherwise no other evidence of her identity or killer. Jane Doe—otherwise known as “Little Miss Lake Panasoffkee”—was subsequently buried in anonymity. However, just over a decade later, the young woman was exhumed and examined once more, this time with the power of archaeology on her side.

Figure 1 – University of South Florida’s approximate reconstruction of Little Miss Lake Panasoffkee (Gordon 2012).

To gather more information, Dr. Erin Kimmerle, a forensic anthropologist and bioarchaeologist at the University of South Florida, employed archaeological techniques: rather than simply studying food residue, which might not survive over time, she used isotopic analysis on Jane Doe’s teeth. Through this method, she was able to inspect the minerals and particles within the enamel of Jane Doe’s teeth and found traces of lead (Gordon 2012). Because teeth only absorb isotopes during the years in which they are still in development, it was imperative to consider this data within the context of Jane Doe’s childhood (estimated to be around 1950). Both the United States and Europe used leaded gasoline at this time, allowing traces of lead to infiltrate soil and food, eventually making its way into tooth enamel. However, each had a different source and thus a different signature. The signature of Jane Doe’s lead-infused enamel was compatible with Europe’s lead signature, insinuating the victim to have originally hailed from Europe (Phipps 2012). Further investigation of the teeth revealed a large presence of oxygen isotopes, suggesting she had lived in an area with a coastline like Greece (Gordon 2012).


Figure 2 – diagram of isotope consumption with strontium as an example (Machicek 2013).

Although Jane Doe has yet to be fully identified, this data brings the authorities one step closer to cracking her case: from the teeth alone, anthropologists were able to estimate her place of origin. The effects of isotopic analysis cannot be overstated: other disciplinessuch as forensic anthropology in the case Little Miss Lake Panasoffkee—have even begun to adopt this type of archaeological method. Through isotopic analysis, it is possible to not only reconstruct an individual’s diet, but also their geographic origin. Thus, the significance of this technique lies in its ability to inform us on one’s environment. In essence, isotopic analysis of teeth does not only aid archaeologists in interpreting sites of the past, but can also help enforce justice in the present.


Reference List:

Gordon, James

2012 Isotope Analysis Provides Clues in a Florida Cold Case. Electronic document,, accessed November 23, 2019. 


Phipps, Jordyn

2018 Who Is Little Miss Panasoffkee?. Electronic document,, accessed November 23, 2019.



Figure 1:

Gordon, James

2012 Isotope Analysis Provides Clues in a Florida Cold Case. Electronic document,, accessed November 23, 2019.

Figure 2:

Machicek, Michelle

2013 Isotope Analysis Time Team America. Electronic document,, accessed November 23, 2019.

Further Reading:

To read more on the science behind isotopic analysis of teeth and its applications:

To read more on overlapping techniques of archaeology and forensics: