A Final Reflection on my Experience with this Project

It is easy to reflect on this cemetery project and service learning course. The entire experience has been much more than a class. It has been a unique opportunity to not only engage with the public, but participate in a project that will require ongoing work. To summarize our work, it is the beginning of a long process of identifying and mapping all of the grades in the Hidalgo County Pauper Cemetery. We began by flagging as many graves as we could identify. We ended up having human remains detection dogs coming in and identifying more, so in the end we have found that there are close to 1,000 graves in total. Bringing in the HRD dogs, Piper and Jasper, was a very interesting stage, as they were able to locate graves which had been completely unmarked. Our next step was to go to each grave and record as much known data as possible, including measurements. We used a total station, as used in archaeological fieldwork, to begin to map each grave. Of course, we could not complete all 1,000+  in one semester, so this is an ongoing project.

I would say that perhaps my favorite part of this project was data collection. This is not something I would have foreseen myself enjoying, but there is something almost therapeutic about methodically gathering information and recording it in an organized manner. Besides this, I enjoyed taking notice of the individuals buried in this cemetery. I feel that I played a role in reminding the community of their presence. For the unmarked and unidentified graves, simply recording the location and flag number, with a photo, felt good. Knowing that while we are unable to identify these individuals at what is a very early stage, there is a possibility of new information being uncovered with time. I expected my least favorite part to consist of any and all technological contributions. I have never been gifted in the handling of technology and have come to accept that my talents lie elsewhere. I did tend to avoid the total station; I’m going to be honest about that. This being said, just about anything can be learned with time and practice, so I would like to make a point of tackling my technological hang ups in the future.

As someone whose academic focus is not in archaeology, I initially signed up for this course in order to gain hands on experience in field work. It is wise to have some type of research or field experience prior to grad school. While this project may not be a three month excavation in a foreign country, it does offer an opportunity to step outside of the typical university setting and into an environment that welcomes ideas and applauds initiative. It has been eye opening and humbling to see firsthand the level of detail that archaeologists strive for. While I do not see myself becoming a career archaeologist, as I am leaning toward the global health field, I have developed a newfound respect for archaeologists and their work ethic.

Upon leaving the classroom and beginning to build a relationship with the community, it allows one to not simply see or hear the course content, but to experience it firsthand. This semester I took Intro to Archaeology in addition to this Public Archaeology course. Because of the service work, I was able to apply many of the anthropological concepts I was learning in Intro to Archaeology, and that was very cool. Another important dynamic has been the strong focus on social justice. The hope of this project is to strengthen what has been a very neglected and overlooked cemetery. Many of the individuals buried here were dealt an unfortunate hand in life and were unable to afford a private burial. We want to keep the public, and the loved ones of those buried in the cemetery, informed throughout this process and provide them with as much information as possible as we move forward. For anyone who may have a family member or friend buried in an unidentified grave, it is important that they do not lose hope in finding the location. While it may take time and resources, there are people who care and want to keep working toward these goals.

I, personally, benefitted from this experience by growing as a student. This was my first university course that did not take place entirely in a classroom, so it was a useful experience for me to participate in a project that needed help. After I earn my bachelor’s degree, I will be looking at master’s programs in applied anthropology, so having been able to “apply” anthropology at least once already will be beneficial for me. Speaking on behalf of the class, I would say that this project has been a great way of testing our abilities, as students, in order to take the skills we have learned in the classroom, and apply them in the real world. On top of that, service work is needed in so many areas and having been able to contribute to one of these causes is advantageous in its own right. As I continue my education and one day build a career, I will enjoy looking back on my first educational community involvement experience and the imprint it left.

I would really love to take this public archaeology class again and continue my involvement with cemetery fieldwork. At the moment, it looks as though I will have a full schedule up until graduation. This being said, I consider myself invested in the outcome of the  Hidalgo County Public Cemetery Project and would love to visit the class in the future and see what progress has been made. I’m interested in seeing changes that have been made and learning of any new developments. I have already spoken highly of my experience with two fellow members of the UTRGV Anthropology Club, who are both scheduled to participate in the spring, so I will be kept relatively in the loop.

To close this essay, I would like to discuss what I feel I have taken, and what any student may take, from this experience. There were many things to be gained from this project, and from service learning in general. At the top of the list would be: experience, knowledge, confidence, stronger partnerships with fellow classmates and the overall feeling of having contributed to something worthwhile. I truly hope that anyone who is familiar with our work has been happy with what we have done. I remain hopeful that the project continues in a manner which brings support to the community and receives support in return.

Importance of Social Justice for HCPCP

The main form of inequality that HCPCP can and should address is economic marginalization. Being a pauper cemetery, the HCPCP is the burial place of the individuals who, for a variety of reasons, could not afford a paid-for burial. These are individuals who may have had a variety of reputations within the community, some extremely positive, but did not possess financial resources. The HCPCP happens to be located in very close proximity to privately owned memorial grounds. Upon entering the vicinity, it is immediately apparent which cemetery has funds and which does not. The HCPCP has seen neglect, not because those in charge do not care, but because resources are minimal. Racial marginalization does occur in many places, though in Hidalgo County, Latino culture is the most prevalent. The vast majority of individuals buried in the HCPCP are of Latino/Hispanic descent, so I do not believe these individuals have been marginalized solely because of their ethnicity. This being said, many of the individuals may have come to Hidalgo County from Mexico or may have come from Mexican families. If any of these individuals were undocumented, they may have had a more challenging time earning money or gaining economic status in the community. In this way, racial and economic marginalization may be linked.

            The individuals who are buried in the HCPCP may have experienced economic marginalization in life, but deserve no less justice than those of higher social standing. This public archaeology class has an opportunity to not only map out the cemetery and locate additional graves, but bring justice to each and every individual. To begin, we can use our social media and university platforms to shine light on this cemetery, reminding inhabitants of Hidalgo County that it does exist and deserves our attention. The occupants of these graves matter and should not be regarded as community outsiders. We can also use said platforms as a reminder to all, of the ongoing issues surrounding social inequality in this community of which we are all members. The HCPCP may no longer operate as a cemetery, but economic marginalization is still very present today. It is important to recognize the issues of the past in order to achieve fairness in the present and future.

I do not believe our public archaeology platform is reproducing economic inequalities. If anything, I believe we are shining light on the inequalities of the past and showing that with hard work and attention, any individual, alive or buried, can and should be shown the respect they deserve. No one deserves to be buried in an overlooked or unmarked grave, regardless of their previous financial means. Archaeologists have the unique opportunity of investigating the ‘forgotten’ in a way that is respectful to the past and beneficial to the future. Paul R. Mullins (2007, pp. 92) states, “Ultimately the goal of an engaged archaeology should be a critical analysis of inequality and not a flood of volunteers who troop off to the PTO to potentially craft collective political interests”. It is undeniable that in certain situations, a profit of some sort may be sought after by a collective of scholarly or political professionals. In our situation, I see the standout gain of our work being our contribution to a stronger community.



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.

Stakeholders and Complexities

The stakeholders for the HCPCP consist of anyone within the Hidalgo County who may have a vested interest in the Hidalgo County Pauper Cemetery. Many communities exist in the valley, though this does depend on what one would consider a ‘community’, as discussed in the blog prompt. The prompt asks, “How might these changing conceptions of community implicate how we identify those we should work with – the publics in our public archaeology?” To this I would answer: In Hidalgo County, cultural diversity plays a large role. While community may at one point have referred simply to those one might live in close proximity with or see at local social spots, it can in this situation refer also to others within the same cultural circle. This does not necessarily refer to racial groups, but groups of individuals who engage in similar cultural practices. In addition to this, groups of a particular financial status may become inadvertently lumped together by society.

Communities which may include the cemetery and individuals within as members might be: the Mexican-American community of Hidalgo County (as many individuals buried in the cemetery were more than likely local, Mexican-American residents), the Mexican community residing within Hidalgo County (as some individuals in the cemetery may have originally arrived from Mexico), the community of individuals living below the poverty line in Hidalgo County (as the Rio Grande Valley deals with issues of financial inequality) and the Hidalgo County as a whole (because the cemetery is located within the county and should therefore be a concern of the county). Of the individuals working on this project, some may consider themselves to be a part of the communities we are working with. Speaking for myself, I can claim to be a resident of Hidalgo County, but having lived here for only the last three years, I am not fully immersed in the community.

The prompt also asks, “Should we be conducting investigations without cultural affiliation?” I would say, yes, so long as the investigations are done in a thoughtful, educated and respectful manner. In La Roche and Blake’s (1997) article, “Seizing Intellectual Power: The Dialogue at the New York African Burial Ground”,  the reasoning behind the resistance of the “African American descendant community” in part, “ensured that the spiritual aspects of the site would not be lost in the face of scientific inquiry (Laura 1992; S&S Reporting 1993)”(p. 1). Potential power dynamics between communities with interest in this project would primarily exist between those (our class included) interested in identifying and preserving archaeological knowledge found within the cemetery and the communities which may be unsure or questioning of our motives. La Roche and Blake’s (1997) article discusses the complex history between African-Americans and Euroamericans, stating, “The potential for stereotypical, sterile, and denigrating interpretations of the site based on morphometric analysis became increasingly apparent to the African-American community”( p. 6). In this particular project, it is imperative that we are aware of historical, cultural and social interpretations and remain sensitive and respectful of the complexities involved in  this work. Keeping these communities informed of our motives and involved in the process is key.


La Roche, C., & Blakey, M. (1997). Seizing Intellectual Power: The Dialogue at the New York African Burial Ground. Historical Archaeology, 31(3), 84-106. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org.ezhost.utrgv.edu:2048/stable/25616551

A Personal Interpretation of Public Archaeology

As do many individuals, I consider public archaeology to be a very broad and debated topic. Prior to signing up for a course in the field, I had little to no knowledge of what exactly public archaeology entailed. Upon reading Lorna-Jane Richardson and Jaime Almansa-Sanchez’s “Do You Even Know What Public Archaeology Is?”  and Barbara J. Little’s Public Benefits of Public Archaeology, as well as learning from class lecture and notes, I have come to a more developed understanding.  I can only hope this will deepen upon completion of the semester. Based on the perspective of my minimal understanding, I would say public archaeology refers to the sub-field of archaeology which encompasses the growing need to educate, involve and inspire a community (the ‘public’) with the projects and findings of which said community may be involved, directly or indirectly.

Our ‘Hidalgo County Pauper Cemetery Project’ aligns with this on multiple levels. For one, in the process of mapping and identifying within the Hidalgo County Pauper Cemetery, we will not only be educating ourselves, but the public as well. While the cemetery itself may be known within Hidalgo County and surrounding areas, little is known about the extent of its inhabitants. Some graves are marked and many are not, creating an opportunity for exploration and data collection. This information may prove to be useful, if not meaningful, for many, including family and friends of the deceased. This brings me to community involvement. It is not difficult to see how archaeological knowledge has often been confined to professionals.  By use of a public blog, which is accessible to all, the participants involved on the exploration end will be able to openly share information and updates with anyone who is interested in being informed. If non-archaeology professionals or students within Hidalgo County become inspired by the project and techniques used within the anthropological process, this would only be beneficial to these individuals, UTRGV and the field  itself. In my humble opinion, the beauty of public archaeology lies in the opportunity to reach out to a community, without which public archeology would be impossible, and thus educate, involve and inspire. Richardson and Almansa-Sanchez’s article describes several theories/models behind public archaeology, though I will limit this particular post to the personal and early interpretation I have formed.

The lines of investigation I wish to pursue during this project include, but are not limited to: mapping, data collection, photography, archiving, communication within the media and community feedback. My educational background does not include mapping or archiving, so I am very excited to learn more about these techniques, as they may become essential to me one day. As an aspiring anthropologist, I am enthusiastic to learn the techniques behind specific data collection as well. As an aspiring author, I feel motivated to build a stronger social media presence and practice communication and feedback.  I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in this project, led by Dr. Rowe, and share the findings of myself and my classmates.