Los Angeles Water System

Many cities in California don’t use water sources from where they’re located, but instead pull resources from different regions. This is truer for Los Angeles than most cities. With its large population, location near saltwater, and drought conditions, Los Angeles relies on fresh water from miles away. LA’s use of  outside water sources not only puts people out of their homes, but also takes water from outside areas. Through the study of where water is from and how it changes the landscape, we can further ask the question if it is alright to take water from outside sources to fuel a city.

The original aqueduct built to sustain Los Angeles was the Zanja Madre, in 1781 on the L.A. River. In the 1800s, Judge William Dryden was hired to build a more elaborate water system in the middle of the Los Angeles Plaza. Dryden then became the head of the Los Angeles Water Works Co. and after his water system flooded, the water company got passed on to another private owner, and then eventually to city ownership in 1902 as the L.A. Water Department.

The Los Angeles Aqueduct project began in 1905 and was completed in 1913 diverting the Owens River into a canal that flows into the the Lower San Fernando Reservoir. This effectively destroyed Owens Valley, which was a prospering farming community. The ownership of this land was made through deceptive moves and insider information, which eventually led to the California Water Wars. The water that was being taken from Owens Valley was being fed into Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley, but none was saved for the people living in Owens Valley.

Owen’s Valley post Los Angeles Aqueduct

Currently, Los Angeles gets water from San Joaquin-Sacramento River Delta, Colorado River, Eastern Sierra snow melt, local groundwater, and desalination. The only somewhat local resources are local groundwater and desalination. The sad part is that these supply the least amount of water to Los Angeles even though they are the closest to Los Angeles. Snow pack and the San Joaquin-Sacramento River Delta provides nearly 95% of the water to southern California. The issue is taking water from other places. Other states are affected due to California’s use of the Colorado River and extreme reliance on the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

With Los Angeles’ continual population growth more water is being funneled hundreds of miles to reach the metropolitan area. Luckily for Californians, most of California is out of the drought or in less severe drought levels, but that doesn’t mean they need to stop conserving. As someone from San Diego, we need to keep up initiatives to reduce water consumption and look for alternative water sources. Desalination is becoming an option, but still uses too many resources and money to be viable. If people want to continue consuming large quantities of water, the best answer might be to move out of desert and temperate climates.

Map of California’s drought last week

 Further Readings: http://waterandpower.org/museum/Water_in_Early_Los_Angeles.htmlhttp://www.cadrought.com/southern-california-gets-water/

Sources: http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/Home.aspxhttp://www.owensvalleyhistory.com/http://www.history.com/topics/los-angeles-aqueduct

Image Sources: http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/Home/StateDroughtMonitor.aspx?, CAhttp://a.scpr.org/i/9dd3c84ad1a3286fb9d46206d4fa4acb/70909-full.jpg



The Archaeology of Slavery

Slavery has, unfortunately been a prevalent theme in most societies throughout all of history. When the average person in the United States thinks about slavery, they think of colonialism, African slave trade, plantations, and the Civil War, when Abraham Lincoln finally put an end to the madness. But slavery has happened so many times before, is happening today, and will happen again in the future. It is not merely a laps in moral judgment that happened during a specific time, like from the birth of the US to the Civil War, or while the Egyptians built the pyramids. The exploitation of slave labor is consistent part of humanity and should be treated as such.

Many documents are valuable for the identification and study of slavery in the United States. These should be used along with archaeological methods for a thorough investigation.

Up until the adoption of the post-processual approach to archaeology, any notice of slavery was done through historical written record. It was believed to be the only way of seeing slavery, that there was no way to know that slaves existed unless you knew they were there. Ropes deteriorated over time, and chains were often repurposed.  But there are many ways of identifying the presence of slavery in the archaeological record. The places slaves lived, especially on plantations in the United States, were generally smaller and separated from the remainder of the house. It is often hard to tell if these quarters were for slaves, free blacks, or white servants. Sometimes with slaves, more effort was put into hiding their existence, and the house’s reliance on slave labor. Screens could be put up, or very elaborate alternative ways of navigating spaces, like different stairs etc. However, given such detailed and well-recorded accounts of slavery in the US, it seems counterproductive to not rely on both documentary and archaeological sources. But what about the places that have fewer or no written records? In ancient societies, slaves were taken from the defeat or sacking of other societies. The men were killed, and women and children were taken to be sold into slavery. This led to the idea that if more women were found on the archaeological record, then slavery was present in the society. Slaves are also depicted in frescos and paintings as smaller than other people in the picture.

Slaves depicted as smaller than the rest of the people in the picture.

Once slavery is “discovered” then what, and does it even need to be discovered? We know that 1 in 3 people in Italy during the Roman Empire were slaves and that they were integral to society. There are over 20 million people in slavery today. Nothing has changed. At this point, do we need to identify slavery? Or can we just “assume access to coerced labor… in the same way access to drinking water is assumed.” Some archaeologists want to shift the focus of the archaeology of slavery to the study of its effects and consequences, instead of merely whether or not it existed. These invisible demographics throughout history, like slaves, homeless people and migrants, can provide insights into the present and ways to tackle these issues right now.


  • Cameron, Catherine M., et al. The Archaeology of Slavery: A Comparative Approach to Captivity and Coercion. No. 41. SIU Press, 2014.
  • Singleton, Theresa A. The archaeology of slavery and plantation life. Routledge, 2016.
  • Mark Cartwright. “Slavery in the Roman World,” Ancient History Encyclopedia. Last modified November 01, 2013. http://www.ancient.eu /article/629/.
  • Ian Muir-Cochrane, Are there really 21 million slaves worldwide?http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-26513804

Image Sources

  • http://www.history.com/news/5-things-you-may-not-know-about-lincoln-slavery-and-emancipation
  • http://www.haaretz.com/jewish/archaeology/1.713849

Further reading:

  • https://cliojournal.wikispaces.com/Slavery+in+Ancient+Greece
  • https://www.antislavery.org/slavery-today/modern-slavery/

Made Invisible? Archaeology and Social Treatment of People with Physical Disabilities

While on the campaign trail, Donald Trump seemed to mock the appearance of a New York Times reporter during a press conference. In an opinion piece for the New York Times, Melissa Blake, who states that she is “physically disabled,” responds to Trump’s “bullying” by writing of her fear “of living in a country that would shun people with disabilities as if they didn’t exist.” Blake concludes her article with her “mantra” of “I am a person. I matter […] I will never stop fighting for our rights and against bullies.” Yet is it not the government’s responsibility to protect its citizens from feeling discriminated against? What role should society play in equal protection?

The curled position of this skeleton from the Man Bac burial in Vietnam, relative to the surrounding straight graves, suggests a physical disability

Turning to the archaeological record can reveal how cultures and other societies treated their members who had physical disabilities. First, according to the Americans with Disabilities Act, the term “disability” legally refers to “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a record of such an impairment, or being regarded as having such an impairment.” Therefore, the term “disability” should always be evaluated within a cultural context. As William Southwell-Wright describes in his paper “What Can Archaeology Offer Disability Studies,” “decoupling the physical fact of impairment” from the “socially constructed nature of reactions to it in the form of disability” can help evaluate how different societies treat people with “disabilities.”

These skeletal remains reveal severe physical trauma, providing evidence that the man had a physical disability

One example of a skeleton showing signs of a physical disability was discovered at the Man Bac burial ground in Vietnam by Dr. Marc Oxenham of Australian National University in Canberra. Dr. Oxenham concluded that the curled skeleton was that of a young man who had been paralyzed from the waist down before adolescence, and therefore would have been dependent on care from his community for survival. Another example from the International Journal of Osteoarchaeology describes the skeletal remains of a man from Gran Quivira Pueblo, New Mexico whose bones’ musculoskeletal stress markers suggest a need for “complete dependence upon others during the progression of a debilitating disease.” The journal goes on to state that “although compassion cannot always be determined from the skeletal record alone, the severity of his condition suggests that he was wholly dependent on at least one other member of the group over a long period of time.”

As one archaeologist working on the Man Bac site stated, “the provision and receipt of health care may […] reflect some of the most fundamental aspects of a culture.” Additionally, “not only does [the Man Bac man’s] care indicate tolerance and cooperation in his culture, but suggests that he himself had a sense of his own worth and a strong will to live.” Although “compassion cannot always be determined from the skeletal record alone,” modern America should similarly support and care for all of its society. No individual or group should be made to feel “as if they didn’t exist,” and all should be imbued with a strong sense of worth.









Further Reading


The Disability Rights Movement: From Charity to Confrontation, 2011. Fleischer and Zames

Archaeology of Ellis Island

Ellis Island is one of the most important sites in the history of New York and in the history of immigration in the United States.  According to some estimations, close to 40% of current U.S. citizens can trace at least one of their ancestors to one of the millions of immigrants that came through the island.

When Ellis Island was established as a federal immigration station in 1892, patterns of immigration to the United States were shifting away from Northern and Western Europeans toward Southern and Eastern Europeans.  This included Jewish people escaping oppression and Italians escaping widespread poverty.  Generally, the immigrants that came through Ellis Island left their countries of origin to escape war, drought, famine, oppression, religious persecution, or inescapable poverty and search for new opportunities provided by the United States.

Immigrants waiting to be processed on Ellis Island

However, as the archaeological record helps to reveal, any depictions of Ellis Island as a gateway to a new world and a haven for immigrants are severely romanticized and inaccurate.  The island earned the nickname “Island of Tears” for the harrowing experience it provided for exhausted immigrants coming off long boat journeys.  Also, as well as being a center for immigration, the island was an important cite of deportation.  Archaeological excavations in the 1980s found the IDs of many suspected communists that were deported for being “politically subversive”.  Excavations also found a jigsaw puzzle used as part of an “intelligence test” in the 1910s.  According to the physician who developed the puzzle and the accompanying “Feature Profile Test”, Howard A. Knox, “The purpose of our mental measuring scale at Ellis Island is the sorting out of those immigrants who may, because of their mental make-up, become a burden to the State or who may produce offspring that will require care in prisons, asylums, or other institutions.”  This puzzle replaced a more unfair I.Q. test based on cultural knowledge many immigrants did not have, but it still led to the immediate deportation of 957 people in 1914 who were considered “mentally defective” and tore families apart.  The “Feature Profile Test” also reflected an emerging eugenics and anti-immigrant movement that led to the Immigration Act of 1924.  This act limited immigration based on nationality in an attempt to keep out “undesirable” groups.  These groups included Jewish people who would later attempt to flee the Holocaust.

The jigsaw puzzle used to test the “intelligence” of incoming immigrants

It is important for the United States to learn from its troubled history with immigration in order to fully understand the sanctuary it is capable of providing for people in truly desperate situations.  For this sort of understanding to occur, it is necessary to destroy the persisting nationalistic mentality that immigrants are a burden or pollutant to the United States population.






Further Reading



Image Sources


Making a Mark: Exploring the Archaeology of Modern and Ancient Graffiti

One interesting thing in Zimmerman’s article “Activism and Creating a Translational Archaeology of Homelessness” was that some homeless people use graffiti as social commentary and also express themselves by marking public spaces with signs of their heritage. Disappointingly, I could not find much information on the culture surrounding the graffiti of the homeless, (perhaps a new area for archaeology to explore!) but I did discover that people have been leaving their personal mark wherever they go since ancient times.

The best-preserved examples of ancient graffiti come from the ancient Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum, which were buried after the eruption of nearby Mount Vesuvius. One thing that seems clear (at least in these two cities) is that graffiti wasn’t surrounded by the same negative connotations of today. Common in the graffiti of these cities were advertisements and political campaigns, so we can infer that graffiti was more accepted in those times. Also found were doodles and random scrawls that people etched into public places to leave their mark. Much of the graffiti is not unlike some that you would see in a bathroom today, with name-calling and simple messages such as one inscription found in Pompeii that reads: “Gaius Pumidius Diphilus was here.” Clearly, putting our own personal stamp on our world, even if we think it will only be for a short while, is something that dates back to ancient times.

Graffiti of names found preserved in the ancient Roman city of Herculaneum

In modern times, graffiti has an intense negative connotation and is seen as dirty, illegal, and disrespectful. However, modern graffiti is not just the vandalism that many think it to be. Of course, graffiti exists that is similar to Pompeii’s name-calling messages, but a lot of it can be considered art. Even “tagging,” or, spray-painting your name on a wall to mark your artistic territory, can be beautiful. In fact, some graffiti hangs in museums today, showing that the streets can be a canvas and graffiti is not simply vandalism. Also, as is mentioned in the Zimmerman article, a lot of graffiti today portrays the artist’s commentary on the social world around them. Perhaps we could learn a lot about a neighborhood from what kind of graffiti is present.

A modern work of street art demonstrating the use of social commentary in today’s graffiti

It may not seem like it, but graffiti has a lot to do with archaeology, and much of that connection is still left unexplored. Graffiti is by no means a modern invention, and, in fact, people have been writing similar things on bathroom walls for centuries. Throughout time, people have been doing graffiti in the hopes of leaving a permanent, or at least semi-permanent mark on their world to show that they were there, even if only briefly. Wanting to be remembered is a universal human trait, and by looking at graffiti, both old and new, through the lens of archaeology, we can help uncover how people attempted to immortalize themselves. Although graffiti is not something you can hold in your hand, it is just as telling about a society as ceramics or projectile points.



Baird, J. A., and Claire Taylor. Ancient Graffiti in Context. NY, NY: Routledge, 2011. GoogleBooks. Google. Web. 18 Apr. 2017. <https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=yiwvCgAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PP1&dq=ancient+roman+graffiti&ots=6b4l5eDFaJ&sig=wPpKrxapm4J3Cc8I0sj_ngoE3pI#v=onepage&q=ancient%20roman%20graffiti&f=false>.

Patel, S. S. 2007. Writing on the wall: the graffiti archaeology project challenges the discipline of archaeology. Archaeology, 60(4): 50–53.

Pilny, Susanna. “Why Ancient Roman Graffiti Is so Important to Archaeologists.” Redorbit. N.p., 05 Jan. 2016. Web. 18 Apr. 2017. <http://www.redorbit.com/news/science/1113411831/why-ancient-roman-graffiti-is-so-important-to-archaeologists-010516/>.

Zimmerman, Larry J., Courtney Singleton, and Jessica Welch. “Activism and Creating a Translational Archaeology of Homelessness.” World Archaeology 42.3 (2010): 443-54. Taylor and Francis Online. Web. 18 Apr. 2017.


Image sources:




Additional Info:

Ancient and Modern Graffiti in Rome:


Skid Robot- incorporating the homeless into graffiti :


Nationalistic Nazi Archaeology

Everything the Nazis did can be attributed to them trying to prove that the Aryan race existed. To convince the educated and to further authenticity, party leaders actively targeted other educated people to provide this evidence. Thus, a variety of scholarly fields such as archaeology were turned into a source of informational aid to benefit Nazi ideologies.

Tenants of Nazi Archaeology

The Nazi researchers conducted all of their work under a certain nationalistic framework. They referred to the framework as the Five Tenants. The tenants are as follows:

  1. Kulturkreise (culture circles), which states that recognition of an ethnic region only comes from the materials excavated at the site.
  2. The social diffusion theory, which states that ideas are spread from the most advanced culture to the least advanced culture.
  3. Deutsche Reinheit (the pure German man), which states that Germans were “pure Aryans.” 
  4. Weltanschauungswissenschaften (world view sciences), which says that culture and science are one and they carry race-inherent values.
  5. Secrecy. The last tenant was secrecy because these ideas were never formally released to the public.

Hitler’s Archaeologists

The elite Nazi research group that upheld the five tenants was formed in 1935, before the major outbreak of World War II. Led by Gestapo and SS officer Heinrich Himmler, the Ahnenerbe was designed with the goal of unearthing new evidence of the accomplishments of the great Germanic ancestors. The name Ahnenerbe roughly translates to “something inherited from the forefathers”. As evident from just the name, the archaeologists were working under extreme nationalistic ideas. This nationalism led to extremely far-fetched historical conclusions. For example, the young researcher Assien Bohmers claimed he could trace Nordic origins all the way back to the Paleolithic era in Germany. When combined with the ideas of Kulturkreise and social diffusion, this would objectively name German Aryans as the dominant culture and entitle them to huge portions of already owned land. 

The insignia for the Ahnenerbe.

Bohmers digging in Czechoslovakia.

Battling Nationalistic Archaeology

The construction of a national past should not be made at the expense of abandoning the knowledge of our shared past. A national past should also not be simply created for the purpose of future goals; all cultures and traditions should be recognized as a worthy study. The Ahnenerbe twisted their research in order to twist the history of Germany so the Nazis could have justified actions. If archaeologists today can move forward while trying to free their research from any social theories built into a society (such as the five tenants), then the history will be reported accurately and honestly. It is up to archaeologists today to respect the past in order to respect the future.

Other Readings


Cannibalism Practices in Mesolithic Period

Increasing amount of archaeological evidence, such as fortifications of territories and pits containing dead humans blown by axes, indicates that warfare originated from prehistoric times, long before the establishment of state societies. Recently, researchers studying the animal bones in Mesolithic layer of Coves de Santa Maira accidentally discovered thirty human bone remains of the pre-Neolithic hunter-gatherer with anthropic marks, indicating behaviors of human cannibalism. By examining the tooth, lithic, fire signs on the bone, researchers verified that the bones were manipulated by human rather than gnawed by animals. Cannibalism is commonly classified into three types, survival cannibalism in emergency situation such as starvation, endocannibalism that involves the consumption of human flesh within one’s own social group often with ritual reasons, and exocannibalism including eating one’s own enemy.

Since the intensity of biting by human teeth is significantly lower than by other carnivores, in this study researchers assessed the intensity of biting marks (Fig. 1) and examined whether there were scratches or pit marks indicating the presence of other carnivores. They found high similarity in the shape of human biting marks on rabbit bones with those on the human bone remains. The evidence of the use of tools shown by lithic marks on some of the bones was possibly resulted from ligament-cutting and practices of defleshing muscles (Fig. 2). Moreover, analysis of human coprolite (mummified fecal remains) showed presence of human bones and further confirmed cannibalism.

Fig. 1. Tooth mark indicated by the intense flat scrape









Fig. 2 Sub-parallel stone marks that show human use of tools










Archaeological discoveries such as the one I discussed above sometimes were distorted and mystified by media or author with no archaeology expertise to prove their arguments of human’s war-like nature or attract more readers. Live Science featured a news with an appalling title Nom Nom Nom: Prehistoric Human Bones Show Signs of Cannibalism for this archaeological discovery. Despite the relatively scientific analysis throughout the article, the article used words such as “strange” or “curious” to create mysterious feelings, and did not really emphasizes, except one sentence, the reasons behind cannibalism but the scary and “mysterious” phenomenon itself. Researchers cannot determine the cannibal behavior was due to violence, war, ritual purposes or hunger, but the title of this article already gave the readers an impression of barbarian and violent nature of these hunter-gatherers. Therefore, people who skipped through the article and missed the sentence explaining reasons of cannibalism might easily conclude that these pre-Neolithic people were “savage” savages and these prehistoric evidence shows that humans have war-like nature. In this way, it reinforces our misunderstanding that modernization spreads the peace, when in fact, we don’t even know whether today’s tribal groups are more prone to violence than modernized societies or not. For me, if I didn’t study archaeology, I would easily be appalled by the article’s title and have the reinforced idea that colonization was good in a way to modernize these “underdeveloped countries” by eliminating violent or cannibal-like behaviors because I assumed their lifestyle resembles the pre-Neolithic hunter-gathers I mentioned above. The complexity of archaeological evidence thus cannot be ignored.


[1] http://www.livescience.com/58406-mesolithic-humans-were-likely-cannibals.html

[2] Morales-Pérez, J. V., Salazar-García, D. C., Ibáñez, M. P., Estruch, C. M., Pardo, J. F., Cebrián, C. C., . . . Tortosa, J. E. (2017). Funerary practices or food delicatessen? Human remains with anthropic marks from the Western Mediterranean Mesolithic. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, 45, 115-130. (also sources for both figures)

[3] http://thedonnerparty1846.weebly.com/types-of-cannibalism.html


Further readings:



Nazis and Archeology

Archeology can be easily adapted to support nationalistic ideas. Thus, it is unsurprising that Hitler turned to archeology to attempt to support his belief in an ideal Aryan race. He had gained this belief from Herman Wirth’s notes about continuity in symbols around the world equating to the master race. Wirth believed that the city of Atlantis had at one point existed and that its descendants must still live on. Hitler argued that true Germans were descendant of the Aryan race, which caused his followers to feel secure in their conquest for other lands, as it was their right to take it. Because of his conviction, he assembled a group of Nazis whom he charged with finding evidence of the Aryan race that he believed to have previously existed.

This group of Nazis was known collectively as the Ahnenerbe, or The Ancestral Heritage Research and Teaching Society. Up until 1938, Hitler had the Ahnenerbe studying folklore and ancient texts in an attempt to find mentions of the Aryan race. Eventually, however, Hitler had them expand to actually conducting archeological digs in Germany. This required expanding the research team to include trained archaeologists and scientists who focused on geology. These archeological digs were in search of artifacts that would prove the existence of the Aryans. Eventually, these archeological digs moved outside of Germany to Greece, Russia, and even Iceland, where they believed the Aryans to have potentially lived. All of these expeditions, obviously, were fruitless, although they did create a multitude of propaganda from them.

An image of some of the members of Ahnenerbe, the archeological group

Similarly, much akin to the Indiana Jones’ movies, there is the belief that Hitler was searching for the Holy Grail, as he sought the assistance of Otto Rahn, who was a historian obsessed with the legends of King Arthur. Once again, the search was unsuccessful, yet it inspired further Nazi propaganda.

A shot from an Indiana Jones movie, which accurately depicts the Nazi’s search for archeological artifacts, albeit dramatically

Archeology was not just important to Hitler, however, it can be a powerful nationalist tool, even when the country is not seeking war with others. This is why current terrorist organizations, like ISIS, for instance, are targeting archeological sites in Syria and Iraq. When Isis attacked Iraq’s Mosul Museum, they focused on destroying religious shrines and artifacts. Through attacks like these, ISIS attempts to rid Iraqis of their religion, and in turn, their identity. Without an identity, many Iraqis and Syrians are liable to feel disconnected from their respective countries and thus make it easier for terrorist groups, like ISIS, to interfere.

Archeology is a potent weapon for governments and religious organizations. It can be manipulated to give a group of people pride in themselves and the “justification” that they seek. It also can be destroyed to devastate a sense of identity. However, the protection of archeological sites and artifacts can be just as important in preserving identity and loyalty to one’s country and religious group. Thus we are all more dependent on archeology than we may think.

Additional Information:



Unearthing Treblinka: Archaeology as a Tool to Restore Memory

During WWII, over 900,000 Jewish deportees were killed and buried at the Treblinka death camp in Poland. The Nazis left Treblinka in 1943, but not before knocking down all buildings and leveling the earth. They then built a farmhouse on the stripped land, planted trees, and installed a Ukrainian farmer on the area. An investigation of German crimes in 1946 found the remains of burnt posts, foundations of a building and well, and sections of paved road. The investigation also discovered human remains buried in the ground. However, none of this information alluding to the site of a mass murder was reported to the public. Despite witness testimonies supporting the concept of a mass grave at Treblinka, the reported lack of physical evidence failed to produce further investigation.

This aerial photo from 1943 following Treblinka’s closure shows an empty area of land, apart from the farmhouse at top left. Archaeologists have found that the farmhouse was in fact constructed using bricks from the dismantled gas chambers.

These German crime investigation reports remained the most complete studies of Treblinka until 2010, when a team of archaeologists began working on the area. In order to respect Jewish law and tradition banning the exhumation of the dead, they did not excavate the area. Instead, the team uses noninvasive technologies such as aerial photography, ground-penetrating radar, GPS, and lidar. These methods have identified the traces of probable undressing barracks, gas chambers, and burial/cremation pits. One of the burial pits found was recorded as 26 meters long, 17 meters wide, and 4 meters deep. Five more pits of similar sizes are located nearby, each revealing the massive scale of the atrocities committed at the site.

Surface survey has also found items on the ground surface at Treblinka, including human bone, which correlates to witness testimonies of improvised cremation methods. According to survivors, the camp did not decide to cremate bodies until it had been open for several months, and due to a lack of a purpose-built crematorium, they began burning bodies on makeshift pyres. These cremation results would not have eradicated bone, which has resulted in the presence of bone fragments at the site. Personal and everyday items have also been found at the site by means of surface survey.

A photo of the current memorial at Treblinka commemorating the 900,000 Jewish people who were killed at the site.

Treblinka was not the only death camp left empty by the Nazis. Two other camps in Poland, Bełżec and Sobibór, were also razed completely after their closures. For this reason, these camps have receded into the historical background compared to Auschwitz, which was discovered with gas chambers still standing and thousands of prisoners still alive. The Nazis also destroyed all written records, leaving the only source of evidence of the mass murders at these sites as witness testimony. Until this project, it seemed that Treblinka and its memories had been wiped off the face of the earth. The work of the archaeological team at this site demonstrates the power of archaeology to at least partially bring back lost knowledge and memory. The team is planning on long-term collaboration with the Treblinka museum in order to continue unearthing new physical evidence at the site and to allow the victims to be properly commemorated.








Further Reading:



Archaeology of Japanese Internment Camps

Shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, president Franklin D. Roosevelt signed executive order #9066, authorizing the internment of Japanese Americans. Between 110,000 and 120,000 people of Japanese descent, 62% of whom were citizens, were displaced, mainly to 10 centers in the western interior of the US.

Locations of internment camps, here called “Relocation Centers”

After WWII, most of the structures of the camps were dismantled, leaving little left to see to the untrained eye. To the archaeologist, however, the seemingly barren site contains invaluable information waiting to be uncovered through the examination of foundations, artifacts, trash pits, and landscape features. Archaeological excavations at the sites revealed, among other things, foundations of buildings, remnants of guard towers and fences, latrines, ceramics, Japanese games such as Go, and Japanese- style gardens. These artifacts tell stories about the daily lives of internees that are often left out of official histories and give a glimpse into how the people survived, both physically and emotionally.

The archaeology reveals that the camps’ inhabitants resourcefully found ways to make their environments more familiar and habitable. Traces of Japanese-style rock alignments, walkways, gardens, and ponds remain. In Amache, a camp in Colorodo, there is evidence that the internees repurposed water pipes as planters, used copper wire to train Chinese elms, and made the desert soil more fertile by adding eggshells, enabling them to grow traditional foods. The innovative ways in which the Japanese modified the landscape to reflect their cultural values shows a resistance to a government and an institution that tried to strip them of their heritage.

Remains of a Japanese garden created by internees at Manzanar.

The large quantities of Japanese china and ceramics also show how the internees tried to maintain their cultural identities. Often, people were only allowed to bring what they could carry, so the presence of so many ceramics shows the importance of these items as a reminder of home, as tangible evidence linking them to who they used to be.

The evidence also helps to dispel pervasive myths and misconceptions about the camps. Some residents living near the camps, and others throughout the country, denied that there were guard towers or fences surrounding the camps and asserted that the inmates were “coddled” while other Americans suffered shortages and rations. The evidence once and for all proved these claims to be false.

In this case, archaeology can have a healing effect and provide a sense of closure and, perhaps most importantly, provide validation to those who were interned. It is important that this moment in history is remembered so that the same mistakes are not made in the future. Although the US has acknowledged that the internment camps were not based on military necessity but on prejudice and wartime hysteria, this dark moment of US history is not discussed as much as it should be. Hopefully the excavations can bring Japanese internment into the public conversation and illustrate that the issues that lead to it are still relevant and prevalent today, as racism, ethnocentrism, and balancing civil rights with national security continue to challenge the country.


Additional Reading