Public Anthropology Essay

Dianira Ramos

Professor Sarah Rowe

Anth 4385

8 December 2017

Public Anthropology Project

Working in the cemetery project I eventually realized how big of a task it was going to be. The process of collecting field data from roughly a thousand graves was not as hard as it sounded, but it would prove to be a very tedious task. We were given the option of using an application on our phones to collect information such as name, birth, death date, the type of gravestone, measurements of the gravestone, and even what kind of grave offerings were given. This task would take any where from three to ten minutes. Depending if we felt there was more information about the sight to be given. At times the grave site was an elaborate headstone with an assortment of grave offerings, but in others, we found but a simple headstone with nothing engraved on it. Not a name, date, or empathy indicating who this person might have been. It was with these gravestones that the name poppers cemetery finally began to fit in with its name description.

Despite the negative views of a poppers cemetery being for the forgotten of society, I felt a little of the opposite when exploring the sight. Even with its cracked tombstones and sunken graves, there was still a strange variety of colors peppering the landscape. Old flowers that were left behind, teddy bears and cars for young children, and even a strange case of antifreeze as a grave offering. My partner and I speculated that perhaps the man that was buried there was once a mechanic of some kind. Combining all of these factors you soon realize that these are somebody’s stories to tell, both questions and answers in each grave site. This version of the cemetery while it may have been neglected for years there were still cases of people who still cared for their loved ones. We met with many people who were concerned about the possible reasons for why we were there. Two of the main concerns they seemed to ask more about was the question for if the information we were collecting was strictly for the county and were we planning on exhuming any graves. All these concerns were met with the reassurance that the information we were collecting was for everyone and that we would not be exhuming any human remains.

I felt that the fear of exhuming graves may have been driven from the local news station who had reported somewhere in 2016 that a similar group of university students were working on a cemetery project. In their case however, these students were there to help identify the remains of immigrants that died trying to cross the border. An even more extreme case of a potter’s field as their area was where unclaimed bodies were buried. In our case, however, it seemed to be more along the lines of a cheaper way to bury someone. As the valley back in the day had many people who simply could not afford a proper burial. Evident in the variety of unique tome stones that were either made from wood, metal, plaster and for some a tree marked their grave.

While I do feel that it is necessary that we continue our work with the cemetery, I hope that we can somehow find a way to sort out the misinformation that can potentially spread. It’s not uncommon for rumors to spread rapidly in the valley. Letting people know and understand that we are there to document the graves and not disturb them should be one of our main priorities. Explaining to people the process of how we collect data and what we hope for the future would be beatifical for both parties as well. However, the main concern we should have would be who our target audience will be and how we will contact them. Should we use channels such as Facebook and Twitter, or should we contact the local newspaper?

In regards to what electronics we should be using to contact people, we should also be thinking of what devices would work better in the cemetery. There were cases where our cell phones simple could not work for data collection. This was either due to lack of signal or our phones were overheating in the humidity of South Texas. I suppose this can’t be helped, but in the event that our phones don’t work another task should be assigned to keep the process of gathering information moving. Putting on our thinking caps and finding a backup for our backup would be helpful. Also, while it does not have to be necessary assigning a student a certain number of graves could make that process even faster. For example, Student A and their partner will collect grave markers 300 to 310, while Student B and their partner can take numbers 311 to 320. In this way, we can keep ourselves organized and if our data collection doesn’t go through like it normally did, then it should be easier for the students who were assigned that number to be able to backtrack and find the proper grave.

Assigning people in teams of three might work out as well. Two students armed with their cell phone and another armed with their trusty measuring stick could also help us organize a little better. Of course, assuming that we have a larger class next semester. If we do manage to have a larger class along with some new students explaining to them how to properly identify a potential grave marker (if we somehow missed any) and how to document it properly might be helpful. Using examples from previous class outings would help to potentially get a better visual of what is to be expected. Yet even after only one semester I still feel that there is still a lot more to do, but at the same time, I’m surprised at how much we were able to accomplish in the little time that we had. I hope that in the coming semester we will be able to work out the wrinkles in our project and find closure to the people who are looking for their loved ones.


Sight Interpretation

Baram’s website on excavation reminds us that communities are and always will be an ever-growing society. Information gets lost or forgotten and important sights such as a cemetery will eventually become neglected only to be rediscovered by accident. Many important sights are discovered by accident such in the case of ancient Rome. The city was build a top of another city for many centuries. This is what I mean when I said that communities are constantly growing. This isn’t to say that sights are entirely forgotten, it maybe that no one has been looking for them in a while. And when communities do go looking for answers they may often find many road blocks ahead. For example, land may already be owned by some one else such as a farmer who uses his land to plaint crops. The land is the life blood of the farmer but it may also be a historic sight as well. This is one of the many problems that can occur.

In the rosewood project Gonzalez reaches out to the public by finding anyone with a story to tell. Looking at stories about the rosewood riot is best taken in from a folklorist perspective. Folklore is not just a simple story about a fairy but can also include relief events as well. Finding people collecting their name and asking to record their story is useful for future generations to hear about real life events.

What is Public Archaeology to Me

I never thought that I would be given the chance to work in an area that was so closely related to my personal self. When I was going to work in the cemetery the name of the place just flew over my head. Later on, when the names of the cemetery were mentioned again I realized that my grandparents were buried there, and so many other people that I knew had known of people that were buried their as well. The list just kept on expanding where my family, and family friends would tell me, “I remember when so and so was buried there. They died around this age around that year. But I don’t remember where exactly.” This way of talking would continue on for some time and I soon realized that there were some concerns regarding with what we were planned on doing. Many family members and friends including complete strangers some that I met at the cemetery others from different channels were concerned that we were going to be excavating the sight. This seemed to be the main concern mainly because the local news channel had once done several reports about Anthropology students from Texas State excavating remains from diseased immigrants in order to identify them.

People often have no idea what Anthropology is and sometime often confused with Paleontology which is the study “Dinosaurs,” but it’s so much more than that. Anthropology isn’t about digging up someone’s grave. Its about preserving the sight for future generations to marvel at and remind themselves of where they come from and how people lived back then. We don’t just traps around somebody’s grave, nor do we remove the items that were place there. We are careful not to disturb these resting grounds as we are fully aware that removing anything is destroying the past that once there. Sometimes this is a necessity as was explained in the local news channel, for people to find the closer they are looking for.

Ethics of Public Archeology

It’s good to not have tunnel vision on when working with sights. Our westernized training in archaeology can sometimes neglect what the people want. It would be nice to take a little bit of everything and make something great from it. However, it can be hard to figure out where to draw the line in what is allowed and what someone does not want. For example, while it can be invaluable information to excavate a Native American burial ground, it would be disrespectful and even shameful to do so without any kind of blessing or permission from the people who claim to own close ancestors to that sight. With our cemetery project the exact opposite has occurred. We have actually received a welcoming embrace from the community in hopes of finding lost loved ones. Here if feel that as long as we respect people wishes we can continue on an ethical path.

Digital Techniques

Working in the hot sun in 80-degree weather can be a difficult task. Combine this with a cemetery that’s filled with inch long thorns, tall grass, and the occasional deep hole in the ground, everyone needs to be mindful of their surroundings. Yet despite all this it was still enjoyable to go out into the cemetery every Friday with our cell phones to collect data. It was a change in sensory from the stuffy class room. While collecting data with our cell phones we soon found that this would be the hardest task of all. Using a phone application on our phone we were supposed to gather information from burial sites. This included collecting data such as name, head stone description, burial offerings, size of the head stone, the direction its was facing, and so on. While this task was not at all hard it did prove to be tedious. Collecting information from a head stone can take anywhere from 3 to 10 minutes, even with a partner advising you the best way to write this information down. However, not everything is perfect when doing data collection work out in the field. Sometimes our most important tools, our cell phones which rely on signal, don’t work properly. This can cause use a lot of anxiety as data can become lost or our cell phones will over heat in the 80 degrees weather, but being the stubborn group that we are we will most often go back and recollect the data again 3 maybe even four times in necessary.

I eagerly await the day when all our hard work can one day be viewed in 3D format. Each grave stone is not just a sight where a the departed was buried. It tells a story of what could have went on during that time. Weather it was a simple wooden cross or an elegant head stone with an empathy carved into it, it can show to the public their own past and remind people what life was like. Being able to explore a sight from a position of covenant’s at anywhere and time can be beneficial to everyone. Especially the elderly who may not be able to explore the sight on foot. This can possibly help them identify their loves one more easily. Now the only hard part would be to hoof down to the Cemetery and digitally collect everything.


Many anthropologists have become members of the communities that they have worked with over time. For some it takes years for others they may have been born into these communities had have a better understanding of them. This can benefit them but can even cause a few problems. I’ am not referring to anthropologists who were born into these communities as being biased. What I’ am referring to is that what may appear obvious for some anthropologist may not be to others. Explaining everything even down to the tiniest of details is beneficial. Not neglecting and understanding the cultural values behind these archaeological sights can lead to a healthier relationship with both the communities and stakeholders. While it can be helpful but not necessary to have cultural affiliation, I do believe that it can put the community at easy if they see a familiar face.

Social Justice& Archeology

The Rio Grand Valley use to be heavily segregated. It use to be that the rail road track would separate “white society” from the rest of the valley. Even with the Jim crow laws and the Texas vs. Hernandez case (a court battle in which the argument was made that the accused had the right to a trial of his own pears) ending in the 1950s the area was still heavily segregated. Tucked away from the rest of the world living in its own little bubble it took years and longer after the civil rights movement to ended for the valley to finally become desegregated. Looking at the cemetery and you can clearly see a difference in social status in terms of economic wealth. I’ am not simply referring to the different cemeteries such as Hill Crest or Brushwood. I’ am referring to all cemeteries as whole. As with any project there is a chance of unknowingly overlooking something important. Just like how the valley was over looked-for years. First understanding the reasons why people were buried there is helpful. Was the reason because they had not next of kin, did they die suddenly and was their anytime for a proper burial? These answers can possibly help with the social justice in archaeology. As always there is always something more beneath the soil of archaeology.