Texas Archaeological Society Meeting

We are happy to present the preliminary analyses from the cemetery project at the annual meeting of the Texas Archaeological Society in San Antonio on October 27, 2018. Because space on a poster is at a premium, we are listing our references here and linking to them with a QR code on the poster. You can download a copy of the poster here as well.

rowe tas


Baker, Brenda J., Tosha L. Dupras, and Matthew W. Tocheri. (2005). The Osteology of Infants and Children. Texas A&M University Press, College Station, TX.

Buikstra, Jane E., and Douglas H. Ubelaker. (1994). Standards for data collection from human skeletal remains: Proceedings of a seminar at the Field Museum of Natural History. Arkansas Archeological Survey, Fayetteville, AR.

Burns, Chester R. “EPIDEMIC DISEASES.” The Handbook of Texas Online| Texas State Historical Association (TSHA), 12 June 2010, tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/sme01.

Camp, Stacey, Benjamin Carter, Autumn Painter, Sarah M. Rowe, and Kathryn Sampeck. (n.d.) Teaching Archaeological Mapping and Data Management with KoBoToolbox. In Digital Heritage and Archaeology in Practice, Ethan Watrall and Lynne Goldstein, editors. University Press of Florida, Gainesville.

Fischler, Jacob. “Archaeology Project Getting to the Bottom of Cemetery’s Mysteries.” The Monitor, 24 July 2013, www.themonitor.com/news/local/article_cca5108c-f3e6-11e2-ae09-001a4bcf6878.html.

Flores, Daniel A. “Exhibit on Rio Grande Valley’s Violent History to Be on Display at Texas State Museum.” The Monitor, 17 Jan. 2016, www.themonitor.com/life/article_bd2e0f70-bbb0-11e5-adba-07b243b0d803.html.

Garcia, J. (2011). EDINBURG. Charleston, SC: ARCADIA Publishing.

Rosales, F.A. (1996). Chicano! The History of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement.

Graham, Rod. “Texas Warm Winter Vacation, Snowbirds Retire in Texas, The Winter Texan Connection.” Texas Warm Winter Vacation, Snowbirds Retire in Texas, The Winter Texan Connection, www.wintertexaninfo.com/.

Jara, Stephanie. “In Pictures: Historical Marker Unveiled to Commemorate 1966 Farm Worker Strike and March.” Rio Grande Guardian, 10 Apr. 2017, riograndeguardian.com/plaque-unveiled-to-commemorate-1966-farm-worker-strike-and-march/.

Morgan, L. (2017, August 24). Hurricanes that Texas may never forget. Retrieved from https://www.al.com/news/index.ssf/2017/08/texas_worst_hurricanes.html

Engaging with Publics Online

Rocks-Macqueen emphasizes the considerable investment involved in online engagement, primarily through time commitments. He recommends considering the following when deciding which platforms to invest in:

  • are online platforms appropriate?
  • longevity/sustainability of the platform
  • Data/content potability
  • What are the (potential) conflicts between your needs and the platform’s needs?
  • Who is your audience?
  • What formats do you want to engage in (long-form writing, short bursts, multimedia, etc.)?
  • how open or closed is your platform?

Lauracuente outlines the potential of Twitter, as a micro-blogging platform, for engaging with people beyond public events. In particular, he highlights its utility for reaching free-choice learners.

Based on your experience blogging this semester, what Lauracuente writes about Twitter, and the considerations presented by Rocks-Macqueen, what type of social media outreach would be most effective for our project?

Public Archaeology and Education

The articles by Moe (2002) and Jeppson (2008) explore the potentials of archaeology within public education. Moe argues that the purpose of public education is to produce good citizens, while the purpose of most archaeological education is the care of archaeological resources and their conservation. Jeppson would agree with this sentiment, but while Moe thinks these approaches can be successfully harnessed for public education, she argues forcefully that limiting public education of archaeology to these themes has served to undermine public appreciation of archaeology.

What programs to Moe and Jeppson propose for public education and archaeology? How are these similar and how are they different? Which approach do you think would be the most effective for local education?

Communicating Archaeology

The articles included in this theme were written by two editors – Mitch Allen (formerly of Left Coast Press) and Peter Young (Archaeology). As they both point out, archaeology is a field of study that draws immense popular interest. Yet, archaeology is under attack on several fronts, from undue targeting and scrutiny of our research expenses by politicians, to complaints from developers and government agencies that our work takes too long or gets in the way of “progress”. A common response to these issues is to argue that archaeologists need to do a better job of communicating what it is that they do. The burgeoning practice of Public Archaeology is one of the responses to this critique. Both Allen and Young would argue that archaeologists are still not sharing this information in an accessible way.

Read the articles and then reflect on the following questions: In what ways is the “Hidden Audience” described by Allen (2002) similar or different from the audience for our cemetery project? Do you see Allen’s 10 Rules applied in the pieces that you’ve read for this class or others? Drawing on Young’s (2002) piece, what are the stories that we should be telling about the cemetery? In what format should we be telling them?

Site Interpretation

Uzi Baram relates his experience with community organizing in relation to an archaeological project. The project he describes, of a former Maroon colony in Florida, is a case in which the site (or sites) are unknown, and in which archaeology takes a back seat to many other local concerns.  What lessons does Baram’s case study have for us in regards to the potentials and limits of mobilizing community around archaeology?

In interpreting the site of Rosewood, Edward Gonzalez-Tennant explores the past through a number of electronic mediums. Who are the publics that Gonzalez-Tennant reaches? Most importantly, based on the work he outlines, what lessons can we identify about the stories can we tell about the cemetery? What formats should we use?

Digital Techniques

The readings under consideration broadly span the topic of digital techniques – from engagement with audiences through digital medium to methods of digitally recording information.

Bonacchi (2017) discusses two types of public engagement through digital means – broadcast and participatory. The broadcast approach is a one-way dissemination of information. Many heritage organizations and archaeological research utilize a broadcast approach to share information with the public. Our project, too, uses this website to broadcast our works and our thoughts. While people outside of the project can comment on and interact with posts, the work of research design and interpretation lies with us.

The participatory approach, on the other hand, includes non-specialists more directly in the research being undertaken and can be facilitated through digital tools. Bonacchi (2007) identifies four degrees of participation – contributory, collaborative, co-creative and hosted – that represent a spectrum from less to more participatory. If members of the public join us in conducting data collection, this would be a form of contributory participation. They are assisting in a task that has already been defined by the research team. How might the project move towards more collaborative, co-creative, or hosted methods of engagement?

Our other reading examines the use of 3D representation in archaeology and the conceptual elision between the model – which we create – and the original object. What benefits can 3D technology provide to a public archaeology project, and what are the potential pitfalls? Should we integrate 3D technology into our project, and if so, how?

Social Justice and Archaeology

The term social justice is generally used to connote a commitment to redressing social inequalities, such as poverty, racism, misogyny or other human rights issues. Within the field of archaeology, specifically, this means addressing the historical roots of these inequalities – exposing inequalities in the past with the hope of improving the future. Our readings for the week involve archaeology-driven investigations of historical context that explicitly grapple with issues of inequality related to race and class.

Paul Shackel (2007) shares social justice insights gained from the New Philadelphia project, a historical archaeology investigation of a 19th Century integrated frontier town. Shackel (2007, pp. 247-248) suggests that there are four components to archaeological investigation with social justice:

  1. “(A)rchaeologists need to critically analyze and expose racism in the past and present and to dismantle the structures of oppression where we can.”
  2. “(W)e need to explore diversity in the past and promote it in the present.”
  3. “(I)t is important to build a multicultural organization” engaged in archaeological inquiry.
  4. “(W)e should create a color-conscious rather than a color-blind past.”

His insights are specifically oriented towards race, as this was the most salient research feature of the historical town, but illustrate the general commitments of social justice that can be applied to other themes. Shackel further advocates for a radical transparency of archaeological information. In the New Philadelphia project, they shared all their work on the internet so that community members could see how archaeologists made their conclusions and develop their own interpretations as well.

Paul Mullins (2007) focuses on archaeological projects done in conjunction with communities at large, urban university contexts. His work is concerned with both race and class, and the ways in which land use has changed and disenfranchised communities as neighborhoods were cleared to allow the construction of universities that often catered to students quite different from the people in the surrounding communities.

Mullins (2007, pp. 92) suggests that “rather than aspire to a very specific form of political engagement or community, engaged scholarship might most profitably probe how social groups were marginalized and how specific contemporary discourses reproduce and justify their marginalization.” In this way he also links study of the past with action in the present. By addressing the history of marginalization, archaeologists are uniquely positioned to speak to present inequalities.

What are the particular forms of marginalization or inequality that HCPCP can or should address? How should we address these? Are any of our practices (inadvertently) reproducing these inequalities? As always, please be reflective and critical in your responses.


Mullins, Paul R. (2007) Politics, Inequality, and Engaged Archaeology: Community Archaeology Along the Color Line. In Archaeology as a Tool of Civic Engagement, edited by Barbara J. Little and Paul A. Shackel, pp. 89-108. Alta Mira Press, Lanham, MA.

Shackel, Paul A. (2007) Civic Engagement and Social Justice: Race on the Illinois Frontier. In Archaeology as a Tool of Civic Engagement, edited by Barbara J. Little and Paul A. Shackel, pp. 243-262. Alta Mira Press, Lanham, MA.

Communities and Stakeholders

The readings this week dealt with the concepts of communities and stakeholders. They revolve around the central questions of: Who are the publics in public archaeology? Who are we are doing this work for?

Agbe-Davies (2010) explores the use and meaning of the term “community” in two different contexts related to her archaeological work. She finds that the meaning of “community” has changed over time – from a term connoting shared interests, distinctiveness and proximity to an abstract one seemingly divorced from place or scale. Community can be used to connote shared economic, religious, or ethnic affiliation and more. She further finds that the definitions of community that you will find also depend on the group of people you ask, and what sorts of issues brought them together in the first place. How might these changing conceptions of community implicate how we identify those we should work with – the publics in our public archaeology?

Agbe-Davies further asks whether archaeologists can become parts of the communities that they work with. While recognizing that an archaeologist may not be the first person that a community turns to when they need something,

“(A)n archaeologist with her ears and eyes open, in the right fora, can begin to appreciate what members of a community might require, and how the skills and knowledge of our discipline can be brought to bear. In addressing these needs, the archaeologist has acted as a responsible member of a community, conceivably one overlapping in its membership with the kinds of bounded communities that the ideology of community keeps foremost in our minds” (Agbe-Davies 2010, p. 590).

While Agbe-Davies asks if archaeologists can become members of the communities they work alongside, La Roche and Blake (1997) argue that affiliation should be one of the characteristics that archaeologists possess before beginning a project. La Roche and Blake (1997) relate the history of archaeological investigation of the African Burial Ground in New York City. Actions of initial project archaeologists and government agencies demonstrated little concern for the unique relationships that descendant populations or affiliated communities might have for that place and the individuals buried there. After significant community mobilization the investigating archaeologists were changed, and research questions were developed to reflect the particular knowledge and interests that intersected in this special place.

Investigations of burial places are frequently contentious (as seen in the African American Cemetery example this week, as well as the entire discourse and reason for NAGPRA, among other examples). Such work must be done with respect and sensitivity, and an awareness of the historical inequalities that characterized the lives of those buried in these places. Additionally, researchers must be aware of the history of anthropological and archaeological inquiries into the lives of people who have been portrayed as Others – we do not just pay for our sins but for the mistakes and missteps of those who came before us.

As we move forward with this project and reflect upon this week’s readings, a few key questions stand out: Who are the stakeholders for the HCPCP? What communities exist in the Valley? What communities include the cemetery and the individuals as members? Are we part of the communities we work with? Should we be conducting investigations without cultural affiliation? Who are we forgetting or neglecting if we chose to work with certain communities? What power dynamics exist between communities that may have interest in the cemetery?

Data Collection Day

We had our first day out at the cemetery on Friday, starting to collect information on the burial markers visible at the site. We began by placing a numbered flag next to each visible marker. We only brought 100 flags with us, and managed to mark perhaps a quarter of the graves.

Once each grave is marked students use their cell phones to collect information on a special form that we developed, via KoBoToolbox. They record information about the individual being commemorated, any epitaph, the shape and condition of the headstones, and any mementos left at the grave site. The students also take a picture of the grave that is linked to the form.

In about two hours our group of 15 students, working in pairs or small groups, recorded 35 grave sites. That means we’re about a 10th of the way through. Unfortunately, we only have about 6 more sessions out at the cemetery. The pace of data collection should pick up, but it’s possible that a single semester won’t be enough time to record every grave. Perhaps with some additional volunteers we’ll get through it all before the semester ends.

Though data collection is just beginning, I think we were all struck with the number of infants and children buried at the cemetery. Perhaps it was a factor of the section we were recording, but I think those small graves made a big impression on all of us.

The Ethics of Public Archaeology

The Society for American Archaeology’s “Principals of Archaeological Ethics” were originally developed in the early 1990s. These outlined nine principles that archaeologists are to use “in negotiating the complex responsibilities they have to archaeological resources, and to all who have an interest in these resources or are otherwise affected by archaeological practice (Lynott and Wylie 1995:8).” The nine principles are as follows:

  1. Stewardship
  2. Accountability
  3. Commercialization
  4. Public Education and Outreach
  5. Intellectual Property
  6. Public Reporting and Publication
  7. Records and Preservation
  8. Training and Resources
  9. Safe Educational and Workplace Environments (this principle was added in 2016)

(It should be noted that this is just one set of archaeological principles developed by a professional organization. SHA, AIA, and RPA each have their own, but with some commonalities.)

Public archaeology projects speak to a number of these ethical principles, including Stewardship, Accountability, and Public Education and Outreach, and this ethical relevance has always been one element in favor of conducting archaeological projects with a public component. Recent examinations of archaeological practice, however, have challenged archaeologists to think more critically about how they apply these ethical principals or assume archaeologists to be the only ones who can reasonably care for or adjudicate meaning of archaeological resources.

The principal of stewardship, in particular, can become problematic in so much as some archaeologists interpret it to mean that only they have the right to interpret or care for sites and artifacts. Participatory Action Research (PAR) is an approach to inquiry that recognizes local knowledge has value and argues that research should be conducted with a goal of positive social change. Though developed in the fields of adult education and public health, this approach aligns quite well with the more engaged forms of public archaeology, including indigenous archaeology and collaborative archaeology.

The question for you, then is: How does the public archaeology described by Jameson differ from the PAR approach described by McGhee? Do these different approaches suggest that ethical principals are commonly embraced or applied in projects, or does a differential importance given to ethics shape the nature of a public archaeology project? How might we take the criticisms and categories outlined by McGhee (see in particular pp. 216-219) to make our project more collaborative and responsive to public needs? Feel free to think radically and critically.

Lynott, M. J. and A. Wylie, editors (1995). Ethics and Archaeology: Challenges for the 1990s. Society for American Archaeology, Washington D.C.