Most people today are addicted to social media and the internet. You can now stream live news footage and follow stories or news of your interest from your phone, tablet or laptop. Social media has become something not only for people to connect but to stay informed about the world around them. However, there are still many people who do not have any type of social media account or may not be on the same social media sites as some informative news or projects are.
I have been with this project since the Fall of 2017 and even though this semester we had a local news crew do a story on us I still don’t think we have reached out to much of the community. The class however was able to gain at least three platforms with that exposure. Not only was the class featured on TV but the story was also put online and in the newspaper by the news station. Here we were able to reach people both on and off the internet or social media. It occurred to me though; the graves at the cemetery are decades old. Some graves are those of relatively young adults from the 1930’s- 1960’s; if they have any surviving relatives they may not be on any type of social media. Not many of our elders have social media or regularly use the internet. Another thing to consider is that most Hispanic families of the RGV especially the older generations primarily speak and understand only Spanish. Perhaps this fall we can contact Telemundo 48 (Noticias del Valle del Rio Grande) to be able to reach out to a greater population of the community. If we continue promote using the internet and social media to communicate with the community we should consider the community we are working with and have the information available in both Spanish and English.
Another tool that can be used to communicate with the local community is radio stations. Yes most people listen to radio stations online but there are still those who listen to local radio stations. Some businesses also have a local radio station playing in their facility. Again I would suggest a local Spanish and a local English radio station.
Archaeologists will often find themselves working with or in a culture that is unfamiliar to them. Having good ethical standards and knowledge of local and international laws help archaeologist respect and work with all kinds of communities. Working with the public and reporting archaeological finds not only help archaeologists and anthropologist understand a particular society, but by including the community with the project researchers can gain an understanding of many aspects of the community’s culture including; religious materials, structures, symbols, language, rituals, and so forth. Understanding the local culture can also help archaeologist from misunderstandings with the community that could result in a failed project.
A community’s history belongs with its citizens to be shared and preserved for future generations. At HCPC we have come across many religious materials and other grave offerings including children’s toys, vases and potted plants. Most items have remained at the grave they were placed at while others unfortunately have ended up in the pile of debris that will be thrown away. The loss of some of these items was likely due to the cemetery having been abandoned for decades. The items lost can now never be recovered and placed at their proper grave. To some these grave offerings may not appear to be anything more than an old toy or candle, but we have to remember these items are also part of this community’s history. Now with the work we are doing hopefully we can preserve the cemetery more effectively and learn the histories of the people buried there to be able to share with the community.
Hopefully by engaging the community with this project it will help the public have a better understanding of archaeology and what kind of pertinent information it can provide.
Social status is something we have been able to observe in burials and graves that date back thousands of years. Some ancient grave markings are monumental while others can be a simple carving on an available piece of stone if anything at all. As seen throughout history, those of higher status tend to have better or easier access to resources and materials. This status and wealth division can be seen in civilizations and communities throughout the world; even here at HCPC it is evident. When we arrived the first day you can see the clear difference in social status between HCPC and the neighboring Hillcrest Cemetery. Hillcrest Cemetery has graves with headstones of granite and marble. The lawn is green and well maintained. While out doing data collections, gardeners and maintenance workers could be seen tending to the grounds. Before our class began meeting at the cemetery the area had to be cleaned up due to overgrown vegetation. The ground is for the most part dry vegetation and dirt. The graves have been poorly kept and many had been severely damaged. Some grave markers were constructed of metal pipe while others were of wooden crosses or home-made cement. At HCPC we have found most of the graves are that of young Hispanic individuals. Many children and infants were also found to be buried at HCPC. This made me wonder, what could have been happening in the community at this time? Was there some type of illness that contributed to young children dying? Were children of lower social status able to receive adequate healthcare compared to those of higher social status? Are there infants and children from the same time period buried at Hillcrest?
It is unfortunate that HCPC had been neglected for so long but I am glad to be part of this project that is giving a piece of Hidalgo County’s history back to the community.
This semester taught me a lot about doing archaeology not only out in the field with the community but the technical and digital aspect of it as well. Before taking this course I didn’t think much about archaeologist having to work with computers and different types of software for data collecting and interpretation. Hopefully in the fall we will be able to learn our way around the digital aspect of the project a little more in depth. I know eventually I will need to become adequately familiar with these computer and digital resources for any future projects.
This semester I think went fairly smooth and I believe we were able to get more done this semester. We were able to record data for most if not all the graves. Having a bigger class this semester and returning students helped move things along. Those of us returning had already experienced some glitches in uploading data and were able to assist other students. The Total Station continued to be used and setting it up seems to be the overall most difficult part of its process. Dr. Rowe has been very patient in helping us set it up week after week! Once it’s up and running it’s easy to use and take measurements. It’s been fun watching classmates bending tree branches in order for the total station and prism to line up. I personally enjoy working with the total station and prism. I didn’t master setting it up this semester but there’s always the fall to continue working on it. I’m looking forward for the fall semester to continue with this project. I intend to continue with it until I graduate from UTRGV.
As far as the HCPC goes I believe the stakeholders of the cemetery are all the members of the surrounding community itself. This cemetery is the final resting place of local and traveling people that all have a story to tell that reveal the history of the RGV at one point. The people buried at HCPC likely came from a lower social status and their families had no choice but to bury their loved ones in this public cemetery. Unfortunately at this point it is difficult to connect lost relatives but as the project progresses hopefully we can accomplish this goal. Many graves have been damaged due to no maintenance of the grounds for decades, again indicating the possible low social status of the individuals.
The RGV is a unique place to live. Here we mostly feel a shared identity and uncovering our history is something the community should actively invest in. Having this project and engaging with the community educates the public about archaeology and the importance of preserving historical features and landmarks. It has also shown the community that archaeological projects don’t just happen in far off places like Egypt and that they too can get involved. Hopefully with more publicity and education the community will continue to have an interest in the project and assist with histories of those buried at the cemetery.
For me Public Archaeology is a way to bring history and maybe a sense of identity to a community. I never thought I would be involved in a project like this and so far it has been an experience I won’t forget. Combining professional archaeology with the community has helped identify some graves at HCPC that had been unidentifiable due to a lack of a grave marking. Having Archaeologists engaging with the community has also helped students get a better understanding of some items encountered at HCPC. For example, we have found many religious materials that we didn’t understand their meaning. Fortunately after asking a few local friends from the area, we were able to know the meanings for some of the materials observed.
This project so far has been very inspiring and I have been enjoying being a part of something that is giving back to the community. Some families have come forward and have asked if we could find a lost relative. Having that type of goal for me is what I am looking for. I am hoping to pursue a career in forensic anthropology to be able to identity human remains and give families closure. I intend to remain active with this project for as long as possible so that I can continue gaining the experience I’ll need in the future. In this class we don’t just learn how to use the equipment and collect data; we learn how to engage with the community through the media, social media and scholarly conferences. Hopefully this fall we will be able to have some type of event with the community at HCPC as Dr. Rowe has suggested.
Last year Hidalgo County Officials contacted UTRGV’s Anthropology Department to assist in identifying graves at the Hidalgo County Pauper’s Cemetery. The cemetery had been virtually abandoned since it had not been used since the 1990’s. Information of individuals buried there had not been kept up with or were lost due to water damage at the facility housing the records. Over vegetation had taken over the cemetery grounds and damaged headstones as well as grave offerings/decorations. Hidalgo County provided a cleanup team to clear the area for Archaeology students in 2017. Many graves had headstones that showed signs of biological damage as well as weathering. Some graves had no identifying markers but were able to be identified as a grave by an obvious slump. These areas were then verified as a grave with the aid of human remains detection dogs. Use of GPR has not yet been applied; hopefully this semester our class will have the opportunity to practice using the GPR and perhaps even more unidentified graves can be found.
Many of the graves encountered have headstones composed of different types of stone, wood, and different types of metal. The type of headstone can possibly give an insight to the individuals’ family and their social status. Most of the headstones of the neighboring cemetery seem to be made of marble and granite while those of the Pauper’s Cemetery are mostly made of inexpensive materials. Most wooden crosses of HCPC no longer bare the name of the individual who is buried in the plot, and some wooden crosses have broken and fallen onto or into the grave. Some headstones appear to be homemade with cement and pebbles. Grave offerings and decorations can be found all through the cemetery. Children and infants usually have toys or angels while adults mostly have flowers and/or other items. Some other items include candles, jars, voo-doo dolls, and other religious materials.
Descriptions of each individual grave are being recorded for data collection. This information will be entered into a data base where the public will have access to find lost buried relatives. Some students have been approached by families that come to visit the cemetery to ask what the group is doing. When families are made aware of this project they are usually glad to hear what we are doing and will ask if we can find their family members. So far most of the public doesn’t know about the project but we are hoping to change that and make the community aware. With the help of the community we can learn the stories of the individuals buried in the cemetery. We have noticed many children and infants from the 1960’s and 1970’s are buried at HCPC. Some of the infants have the same birth and death date. This could indicate that the infant was stillborn or possibly born with life threatening complications which led to death shortly after birth. I personally would like to know the stories of these young lives lost. What was happening in the area at the time these children and infants died? What improvements have been made to decrease infant mortality?