This semester has been amazing, I have learned so much ,not just from professor Rowe ,but about my community around me. I hadn’t really ever paid attention to the history around me before, I always seem to focus on the history everywhere else but here. But now I realize that I don’t have to travel far for me to find a rich and culture filled history. Collecting data at the Hidalgo public cemetery has been a great experience. I go to do hands on work with actual tools that archaeologist use on field excavations, I made new friends and got close to old ones. My professor has opened new doors for my future ,which is something I’m very excited about. I’ve also kind learned to understand life and death . The deceased buried at the cemetery all had stories ,some of them could’ve been happy or sad, but at some point of their life they must’ve had someone that loved them,because if they didn’t then they wouldn’t have had some many grave offerings. My eyes this past semester have somehow been trained to look at things differently even more than they already were before. I can now see different details in the ground , I can now tell what a grave slump looks like and am able to tell what it means , I can see the walking trails in grass that have occurred over time from students taking shortcuts. The Utrgv symposium is something I thought that I would’ve never be apart of, I never thought we would ever win a team award for it either, but we did, which was an amazing moment. That moment meant that our work was also important not only to ourselves but to other people in the public and that this project intrigues people and makes them think about the history of the community they’ve lived in all their life. This project is also a great experience for myself and my fellow students, those of us who are studying anthropology, know how expensive field schools can be , so I know that we all really appreciate the hands on work we get to do with the equipment, such as the total mapping station, which is what we used to map the cemetery that way in the future we can upload the map online and it can allow people searching for their loved ones ,see images of the headstones and know there location. Overall this semester has been an amazing experience and it has opened more doors for my future and I am very excited to see where those doors will take me.

Reflection: Spring 2018

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.

Final Reflection

Working on this project has opened my eyes to many differences in culture here in the Valley, the cemeteries here are so much more a part of the community than the cemeteries where I grew up in Indiana. Up north, cemeteries are quiet, tranquil parks with rows of similar yet simple headstones, nothing is ever handmade or decorated. Here in Edinburg, this cemetery is almost alive with decorations, every time we visit we find that family members have come and freshened up some graves, or added new decorations. I find it very comforting to know that even tho the community has lived through difficult times, they never forgot their loved ones. It was striking to me that some headstones seemed much newer than the dates of death, indicating that many families had saved up for years until they could afford a headstone. Other families never could afford commercially made headstones, but they took the time to build unique and individual graves that spoke to who the deceased was in life. One of the headstones was a stainless steel television! These personal touches are something that I never saw up north, and to me they make our local cemeteries so much more meaningful.

I watched the movie Coco during this semester, and I really found the movie valuable in explaining the significance of a lot of the symbols and beliefs in the local culture. As a person who isn’t from this area, movies like Coco help me understand why cemeteries are so important to the community. In my community, cemeteries aren’t a part of the living world, you only go there for funerals. In this area, though, cemeteries are regularly visited and interacted with. When Dia de los Muertes comes this fall, I want to see how the local community celebrates it, and how they interact with the cemetery. I think this is something that is unique to this area, and we should not only record and research it but encourage and participate in it! This is part of the beauty of public archaeology, telling the story of how a local community personalizes a well known celebration and sharing that with the world.

I’ve also come to appreciate how much superstition is still alive in our region, voodoo dolls and other evidence of superstitious activity abound in the cemetery. Meanwhile, a majority of the headstones contain religious imagery of some sort, mostly Catholic. This blend of beliefs is fascinating to me, and I am very curious about what these voodoo symbols mean to those who participate in it, and how they reconcile their beliefs with Catholicism. I hope that next semester someone researches this. If we could interview the people who are placing these items in the cemetery that would be fantastic! I think this belief system is very powerful, and it would be enlightening to know just what these beliefs are.

Over this semester, we were able to record a large number of graves, we identified a few graves missing headstones, and we were able to publicize our project in two local news stories as well as at the UTRGV Engaged Scholar Symposium. I feel like we have accomplished alot, but it has been mostly data collection. In the coming semesters other classes will begin to put our data into context, and I am so excited to see what they can find! There are so many stories just waiting to be told, and in my opinion that is the main point of why we are doing this project: to tell the stories that would otherwise have been lost. I think the plans for next semester are going to go along way to making this happen. Shifting focus from data collection to application and research is going to reveal new directions we haven’t thought of. Statistics may show us commonalities we hadn’t considered, and maybe highlight times of social unrest that haven’t been well publicized. Next semester, with a focus on interacting more with the community and producing work from the data we have gathered so far, we will really see the project come alive. So far, we are just scratching the surface of what we can do!

But the most important part of what we do is for the community, how can our project benefit the families of those interred at the cemetery we are researching? I think the best benefit we can provide is a permanent record of their loved one’s grave, because the reality is the cemetery is not permanent. The headstones made of temporary materials, or that are falling apart due to age, or that are broken by storm damage; we have taken photographs of, recorded the official details, and thus we have created a virtual record of that grave. The virtual record can be edited, added to, and shared. One day in the future, these virtual records will be all that is left of some of these graves. So publicizing our research is the most important thing we can do, simply recording this data is more than has been done in the past. Telling the stories is nice, but the family can tell the stories too. Its a side benefit, the icing on the cake. They can’t, however, make a digital record of their loved one’s grave in a way that makes it meaningful. That is where we come in, by providing a digital forum and gathering place for information that is otherwise not available. In time, family members can start to add stories to our data, in addition to the stories that we learn in the course of our research. We can provide a way for the family members to bring context to our project online, which can make our project so much more rich and valuable.

I am very happy that I got to be involved in this project, and I hope that I can continue to be involved in it! I am curious about the information we will learn, but more importantly I am proud to be a part of a project that is permanently recording a part of this community’s heritage.

Final Reflection – Spring 2018

Having taken this course before I was a bit hesitant about the new opportunities it would offer. Though I was nervous, Dr. Rowe provided such amazing news at the end of last semester and at the beginning of the new semester about how our project was developing. Recent developments showed we would be getting additional technology and more acknowledgement towards our project. My first semester working on this project was certainly fun, but this semester was a little more fun and exciting because the project moved more smoothly. Last semester we were still figuring out technology and constantly running through the same grave sites to redocument their data. While this semester we still encountered those troubles, it was reduced extremely, and we had more people working allowing us to move at a faster pace. With everyone working together and effectively we have been able to document so many graves at a much smoother, faster rate and that was real exciting news to hear. Another thing that was exciting was having the news people come out to the cemetery to see what we do. With the reporter came a few people to talk about their family members that were buried at the cemetery. I had no problem being on the news or included for even a second, but I decided that I would keep it low and just work on what needs to be done. As I worked on one of the graves, the two females that came with the reporter began walking up to me and questioning what the class does when we find an individuals family member, how we go about the data we find, etc. I provided the best answers I could offer, and the two females were pleased. Next thing I notice they are talking about a distant cousin that was buried just a few graves away from the grave I was working on at the time. This semester has been insanely exciting because I was able to work with equipment I did not get much time with last semester. I am now more comfortable with documenting information online and I move at a much faster pace because I have gotten the hang of the system, though I do constantly finding myself referring back to the cheat sheet we are provided. So far, my favorite piece of equipment is the Total Station. I do not have much experience working on the actual station but I have had an acceptable amount of experience with holding the Prism. In all honesty, it might be my favorite thing. In addition to using the walkie talkies. We have been working at an incredible pace that it is truly satisfying. I catch myself wondering what we will do next. There is still so much more work to be done but at the efficiency the class has been working on I have no doubt that everything will be getting put together in the next couple years. The whole project is amazing but there is only one thing that tends to make it difficult and that is the weather. Last semester, in addition to learning the equipment, the heat made it difficult to work as effectively. This semester it has been much easier to work effectively because the weather was cooler a majority of the time. On an occasion or two we were rained out near the end of class. I thought that was exciting because everyone was rushing to get the equipment covered up and put away while others were out there finishing up the grave they were working on, me being one of those people. Near the end of the semester is when the heat started coming back but with the water that is provided for us it always makes it a little easier to get work done! The cemetery is a very interesting place. When we returned to the site there was so much color and it really showed that individuals do continue to come and see their family members and place new offerings. With that came other interesting finds that some of the new teammates found when they went adventuring around the site. That is another cool feature of the project. Fresh eyes could find new things that in other words would have gone unnoticed. That brings me to my most exciting find! One day I was looking around the cemetery and I found old animal remains and it was super interesting for me because I felt like I was a detective looking at everything that was around the animal and imagining the life it lived on its final days. Unfortunately, for the semester, the class had to come to an end and with that came planning for next semester! The project finished off on a positive note. We mapped almost all the graves on our final day at the site and it was all done over the course of a year, give or take. On our final day of the semester we wrapped up with our progress throughout the semester and began to plan for the upcoming year. There are so many great and exciting things planned up ahead for the team and the community! We thought of ways to better the effectiveness of the project and how we would incorporate our new plans. Laying out the cemetery and transferring data will be a lot of work but once the data is all put together and sorted the team will be seeing great results. Unfortunately, I will not be able to see the project all the way through, but with what I was exposed to, I had so much fun and learned so much. If I am ever able to offer my time to the project, I will because with all the upcoming projects to fulfill our ultimate goal it will be super exciting and a great learning opportunity. I do not plan to spoil the tasks our team has in store, but I can confirm that it will be a wonderful (and semi-required) characteristic to reach our goal!

Spring 2018 Reflection

The Hidalgo County Public Cemetery Project lead by Dr. Sarah Rowe in order to restore dignity, awareness and identify countless unmarked graves whose records have been lost/abandoned at the Public Cemetery in Edinburg, TX formally known as Pauper Cemetery on Schunior Street, east of Expressway 83. This project began in the Fall of 2017 as a field-based Public Archaeology course where Dr. Rowe and 17 students identified and recorded hundreds of unmarked graves with the help of a forensic K9 unit from California. The project continues in the Spring of 2018 and I am fortunate enough to have been able to join in this amazing project. I missed out on the start of the project because of conflicting class times, but I was not going to miss out this opportunity again. I got to experience actual field experience right here in the city that I was born and raised in.

On my first on-site class day I was shocked to find out that the Pauper Cemetery was a less than 5-minute drive from my house. I have actually passed by this cemetery countless times on my way to school and never thought twice about it. I never knew about the public sector of the cemetery because it was on the outskirts of the property. Dr. Rowe was very enthusiastic about the projected and it was contagious because this is exciting work, discovering and identifying the lost identities of the loved ones of the people who live in this area. The work itself is thrilling on its own, and knowing that we are helping others reconnect with grandparents, great-great grandparents, etc. At about 11 A.M. Dr. Rowe instructed us on the data collecting and provided us with charts and measuring tape/rulers to help us correctly identify and measure the various types of gravestones throughout the cemetery, and sharpies to mark the recorded graves in order to avoid double recording. My first day was just grave recording but it was still a very fun because I was getting into the groove of what we were going to be doing for the rest of the semester.

The following week at the cemetery the Total Station Theodolite (an electronic/optical instrument that shoots a laser at a prism placed over the surrounding points of a grave in order to survey individual graves) was brought out and I was intrigued because this was the first time that I got to use an actual archaeological tool. Watching how the Total Station was set up and calibrated and actually recording measurements was something that I enjoyed doing because I was learning a skill that could help me in the future if I’m lucky enough to be a part of another project. Another benefit of working the Total Station was practicing teamwork and communication because for most days at the cemetery there were 2-4 students working the TS actively giving grave numbers and point locations, and letting the prism team know when it was okay to move. Admittingly there were times where there was miscommunication that resulted in redoing grave measurements, but we got better as the semester went on.

The Total Station is important but going grave to grave collecting the data is this semester focus point and it allows you to explore and get to know the area. Something that we saw a lot of while data collecting was Brujeria or witchcraft spread out throughout the cemetery. Tied up Voodoo dolls with pins in them were found near or on the grave and we were advised not to touch them for safety reasons and no one really wanted to because they’re Voodoo dolls and those are generally nasty business. The dolls would be in a variety of colors and sizes, form what I saw there were red, blue, green, and black. Whether the color of the doll meant anything is unknown to me but something I would look into. One specific run in with Brujeria that was curious to me and a few classmates was a small olive jar wrapped in a black cloth that was filled with soil, garlic cloves, Chile seeds, possibly other herbs, and two photos tied together with paper clip chains. We could all agree that this was both interesting and frightening but our curiosity was too strong but we stayed away from anything else for the remainder of the semester. Another unsettling thing were the infant graves, and there were quite a few of them, but given that some of these graves do go back to the late 19th century, medicine unfortunately was not as advanced as it is today.

Each grave is special and important to someone somewhere so identifying them and knowing their story is crucial. Most of the graves are as I said before 100 years old and very worn out/damage to a point that we barely get a name and date of birth/death. Although there was one large grave that a fellow classmate recorded that I assisted with because it was so large. It was nearly destroyed and littered. We thought that there was no marker left to tell us who the deceased was until we turned over a slab and noticed faint inscriptions that were unreadable until we filled in the engraving with dirt, then it was crystal clear. This one was interesting because it told an actual story of the deceased, his name, when and where he was born, and when/how he died. When we read and recorded the findings we were ecstatic like when you finally solve a riddle/mystery. At the end of this semester we recorded over a thousand graves, nearly all of them. On our last class of the semester Dr. Rowe went over next semesters curriculum that involves using more of tech like Ground Penetrating Radar, 3D Modeling, drones, etc. but in the Fall the class will be splitting the work load of data cleaning/mining and cemetery work. I am looking forward to doing diving back into the work because this is valuable experience and personally fulfilling to learn about the people form my area and giving the that information back to the public.

What Public Archaeology Means To Me

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.

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.

Final Reflection

Our very first blog post was about each member of the class identifying what “public archaeology” meant to them and with slight doubt in my initial post I found myself to be proven wrong. I mentioned that I felt public archaeology was more of a concept in which we bring a community together to find solid research and maintaining communication with the public for what has been discovered. There was not full confidence in this statement because I personally felt unsure the public would become aware of our project as quickly as they had. To my surprise and satisfaction, members of the community were in fact aware of the project we had begun and were thrilled to hear of our efforts. I was unaware of the amount of communication and collaboration it would require for our project to excel as quickly as it had. As a group we gathered occasional volunteers, collaboration with archives, human remains detection dogs and the general community becoming aware of the mission we set out for ourselves. Just in the first semester of working on the Hidalgo County Public Cemetery Project (HCPCP) the course has been able to branch out to various people, even professionals in other states, and this remains to only be the beginning of our project. With outside efforts, we have been able to learn more of the cemetery than beyond what is on the surface.

My perspective of the overall objective of HCPCP is to benefit those who lost loved ones as well as bring a sense of justice to those who are deceased and have gone unmarked or neglected. I can confidently state our motives are of the most genuine and it has been very interesting to experience technological techniques while creating a sense of a bond with the descriptions on marked, and even unmarked, graves. Typically, I am a believer that though technology is wonderful it is consuming too much of our lives and we have become reliant on it despite it not always being reliable. However, while working on this project I have been capable of bending my belief in understanding that the equipment is incredibly helpful. Some individuals within the class were granted the opportunity to digitally mark grave dimensions with advanced technologies while others documented information of each grave. There have been occasional run-ins with technology, where we are set to re-mark graves, that soon become tedious and slows down our progress but balances when I am reminded that we are benefitting other individuals. Through my observations, I have become aware that the project is primarily technological based for items on surface level, however the human remains detection dogs were useful in discovering what is below surface level. This benefitted our project but allowing us to acknowledge the graves that have gone beyond unmarked and resulted in being entirely unknown. Unfortunately, with respect to the deceased and their loved ones I am unsure of a way we could distinguish these individuals but we can now note there is a grave in areas that appear to be nothing but ground.

Contrary to my usual opposition of technology, I find as though technology is greatly improving and allowing for more accurate research. With possibilities of a drone in our research future it could provide a more accurate scaling of the public cemetery and improve our research findings. This is especially helpful for graves the human remains detection dogs discovered. Hopefully in the future of the HCPCP we can utilize more outside, physical help to provide a more accurate representation of the cemetery as we have worked on it. Additionally, I hope for a lively looking cemetery. The borders of the Hidalgo County Public Cemetery, other cemeteries, appear to be more “attractive” to the eye, thus I hope in the near future we will be able to offer a similar appearing cemetery so there is no sense of neglect and disinterest.

A small thought has lingered through my mind and it is the attempt we may make in meeting the needs of the public. As an individual in a group project I have acknowledged our goal contributes to involving the public, though at this very moment there is not much involvement from the public. This is entirely acceptable, for we have just begun our project, though in the future will public and archaeological methods and/or ideas clash when deciding what is best for the cemetery? From my individual stand point I view this to potentially slow down the research process in which there will be continues lessons to be taught for new individuals involved in the project. However, there is a very strong possibility it could improve the project, as well. With outside perspectives from individuals who may have nearly no knowledge of archaeology, their inputs could guide our research into an unforeseen, positive direction. I feel as though the primary focus in caring for the cemetery should stem from putting yourself in the perspective of which your loved one is buried in this exact or a similar cemetery. It is then that the best public understanding and changes to what is the “now” could be made.

Finally, the amount of effort and collaboration that is required for this project to become successful is outstanding and entirely worth the effort. There is a bunch of support on the project that has been developed and the few interviews that have approached the group with questions have been more than kind and ecstatic. There are individuals that have asked to remain informed or have reached out to an individual and provided names for us to look out for. Minor, yet helpful, requests have been established and, as stated earlier, with this being the barely the beginning of our project the final outcome will be incredible. Personally, I look forward to the project development as well as the technology development that will be made to aid in creating the most accurate, realistic, digital display of the Hidalgo County Public Cemetery in years to come.

Reflection Essay

In the Fall 2017 semester, I participated in the Hidalgo County Public Cemetery Project through a Public Archaeology course taught by Dr. Rowe at UTRGV. Through this project, our goal was not only to collect information for a comprehensive database, but to restore dignity to a pauper cemetery that has only recently been detangled from the grasps of nature. Through these measures, we aimed to establish a connection with the community. Our hope was that the community would become interested and involved with the project.

We began the course by reading about public archaeology and its parameters as a practice. We learned about the purpose of public archaeology, which is to engage the community and to work on a project that will benefit them. There are different levels of community engagement, from data being presented by archaeologists to community members actively participating in projects themselves. Of course, there are disagreements on the degree of involvement that should be enacted by community members, with some deeming them too inexperienced to properly participate in an archaeological project. I am of the belief that so long as the community wishes to actively participate, they should be allowed to do so. Working on a project that can affect, or is part of a community’s life should include the community. Often, community members can offer insight that would otherwise be unattainable by archaeologists unless they themselves are from the same community.

After doing some preliminary reading, as well as learning how to use the totally station, and everything was properly set up with the county, we were able to finally begin work onsite. We began by numbering a modest amount of flags (about 200), which we quickly realized were not nearly enough to mark all the graves of the pauper cemetery. Nonetheless, a few of us began placing them while the rest of the class dove into data collection. The county provided us with a porch, a table, water and a fully functional restroom, which genuinely facilitated our work. The biggest obstacle had to be the weather, especially since we were at the cemetery during the hottest period of the day. Having an area to take breaks from the sun (as the cemetery does not have a lot of shade) was of great assistance. Other obstacles included a general lack of knowledge in regards to gravestone materials, a lack of consensus on the units of measurement and a lack of a stable internet connection, which often caused the loss of input data. The first can be easily corrected through a brief lesson on the different materials used for gravestones. The second was an inconsistency on our part as students, which we can easily rectify in the continuation of this project. The third, however, is a problem that rests out of our hands. An issue that developed once all the flags had been placed (more than one thousand), was that they were not placed in a very cohesive pattern which resulted in a lot of confusion when searching for specific grave numbers to recollect lost data.

During the time that we were working at the cemetery, a few community members did contact us in search of information on lost relatives that had been buried at the pauper cemetery years ago. What is interesting to note about the Hidalgo County Pauper Cemetery is that while most pauper cemeteries fell out of use in the mid-1900s, the Hidalgo County Pauper Cemetery was in use almost into the 21st century. For this reason, the cemetery still receives many visitors which is all the more sad when considering the state of ruin it has fallen into. Unfortunately, due to the significant amount of graves still left to work on, we were unable to help most of the people who reached out to us. However, other community members did communicate with us in person while we were at the cemetery. Many were curious as to our objective, and when we explained the purpose of our project, they seemed pleased. A few even offered more in depth conversation.

At the cemetery, there were many graves that were damaged or illegible which allowed us very little opportunity for data collection. In worse situations, there were hints of a grave but no marker, or completely destroyed gravestones that could simply be overlooked as rubble. Since the county already had a suspicion that bodies had been buried without markers, two cadaver dogs and their trainers were flown in from California to inspect. I expected them to find a couple of bodies, but they found upwards of 20 unmarked graves. However, the implications of these findings are minimal, since it is nearly impossible to figure out who is buried in these unmarked graves.

As a beginning, the Fall 2017 Public Archaeology course has been immensely successful in achieving its goals. We not only collected large amounts of data and set up flags for next semester, but we were also able to establish a connection with the community. Since this has barely been the beginning of an ongoing project, the connection with the community is understandably minimal, but it provides the groundwork for a larger collaboration in the future. Fortunately, the Hidalgo County Public Cemetery Project has been much loved by many of us and most of us intend to continue working on this project in the semesters to come. There has already been talk about plans for next semester, including a Dia de los Muertos event at the cemetery where we could communicate with a larger part of the community. Events are a great way to garner community attention, and a Dia de los Muertos event would fit perfectly with what we are trying to achieve through this project, which is to establish a place that the community can be proud of when visiting and their loved ones. Hopefully in the future, all of our goals will be realized and the community will be able to hold on to something that was nearly lost to them.


The beginning of the semester was rather confusing in the sense that I was not entirely sure what the class will teach me. While yes, the objectives of the course were taught and for the most part understood, there is always something else that I personally take from the class. As the semester progresses what I think I’m learning constantly changes. For instance, in the very beginning I thought I would simply learn first what exactly Public Archaeology is, as well as, learn some archaeological skills that I feel I would not have learned otherwise. While I did in fact learn these things, it was more of an addendum to what it is that I was to learn from the class. That being said, I learned a lot of different things about the cemetery, the people, archaeological methods, anthropological methods and over culture of both the past and present cemetery. One of the things that I learned, is how intertwined the cemetery and the people are. While personally I know that this is because of the fact that in the culture here in the Rio Grande Valley, family is highly prioritized. This does not mean that they abide by the traditional roles of family, for some family is an accumulation of people that they care about, which can be especially seen in barrio areas of the Valley. These areas consist of very closely-knit communities that are often there to support one another. However, this is not the only way in which the two are very closely intertwined, curing the course of the semester I learned that this is due to the fact that though there is a strong bond between the dead, their loved ones and sometimes the community around them. The fact that there is still an interest in this cemetery says a lot about the people of the Rio Grande Valley. Before I move on and talk about all the other things that I have learned over the course of the semester, it is important to me that I talk about the cemetery itself, as this is where I believe that I learned the most.

In the very beginning of class we learned that the cemetery was built in the early twentieth century, and was closed in the late twentieth century, making it one on the youngest Potters field cemeteries. The cemetery is owned by Hidalgo County and is usually referred to as a Potters field or as a Paupers Cemetery, however, I disagree with the use of those names. While, yes, these name do most accurately describe the purpose of the cemetery, it has negative connotations and associations attached to it and, it does not change the fact that the dead who are buried there are or were a loved one to someone else. For instance, during the semester we saw a few people come to into the cemetery to put flowers on their loved one’s graves and to tidy it up a little, this shows us that though we are working in a cemetery for people who did not have the means to have an elaborate funeral, either for themselves or their loved one(s), it does not make them any less human than anyone else. Which is why I like the idea of changing the name of our project name form Hidalgo County Pauper’s Cemetery Project to Hidalgo County Public Cemetery Project. The only problem that I can see with this is that, because of the fact that the word pauper may be more readily known than what a Public Cemetery is exactly, it may garner more interest in the project than a more neutral name for the project. However, I am still in favor of using Public Cemetery instead of Paupers Cemetery as a whole.

The use of a different name of the project helps to influence the kind of attraction that it will garner not only in the general public, but in the academic spheres as well. For example, during the semester we were reading a few academic articles that were similar to the project that we have started here. In these articles it is interesting to see the direction that people take when they start the project. Though I cannot remember the specific article that has originally started with one named and changed it to another, I can remember there being an article written about a project done at a university. In this project they encountered some problems in dealing with a group of people who were looking to maintain their local history. The way that they dealt with this is by listening to the group and attempting to appease them as well as give as much factual evidence as they could. This is one the articles that stood out most to me because I was able to read a little bit more into the way that the project was affecting the community, as well as, having some historical context to the area. The historical context is extremely helpful to me, because as a reader or general public I have less knowledge as to why this project is important not only to the area, but as a whole. Therefore, I believe that it would be beneficial to have a class period or special project for any given semester that would allow for us to talk to the people who are directly affected by this project. I feel that talking to them would allow for a very open communication system that will help us further shape our project.

In terms of the project itself, I believe that we have had a great start in being able to learn how to interact not only with others in our field of study, but with people whose field of study may not outwardly seem to work in conjunction with ours, but ultimately can, as well as learning how this will benefit the community. It will do this by allowing for people to find out who exactly is buried there, for some it may mean being able to finally find their loved ones and for others it will allow for a sort of piece having their loved ones properly documented once again.