by Tristan Harrenstein
Interpretation is scary to many people, and I understand why. We put ourselves out there and when it goes wrong it can really go wrong. We talk about subjects that fascinate us and we want to share that enthusiasm, but then, out of the blue, the salmon of outrage slaps us in the face.
And the natural response to such an assault is to lash out, to get defensive, and to blame our audience for “not getting it.” Reacting like this in the moment is a difficult thing to suppress but reacting like this given time to reflect? There is a very real problem here.
I bring this up because I witnessed a paper at our last SHA conference that deeply dismayed me. I want to be perfectly clear, I am not writing this to pick on the speaker and this issue is certainly not theirs alone in any case. However, the presentation reflected a deep-rooted attitude in archaeology that only harms our overall efforts to connect with a public audience and show them that our work is worthwhile.
The problem is that our audience is getting a human response, but they are not likely to see it that way. They will see an out of touch elitist, and as hard as this is to swallow, they are not entirely wrong. The ultimate issue here is that we are the ones that did not get it. An audience’s understanding is not their responsibility; it is ours.
But this is good news! This small shift in perspective from, “my audience didn’t get it” to “my program was inadequate” makes a huge difference. With the former, we absolve ourselves of responsibility and set ourselves up for failure time and again. With the latter, we take control of the only thing we can control and then we sway the things that we cannot.
To figure out the problem when you get this reaction, look to the audience for clues. What did they say? How did they say it? Often, a question or comment only seems foolish on the surface. If we take the time to really consider what the individual was telling us, we can find a clue to where we went wrong.
If, for example, someone goes into great detail about their personal investment in the site or subject and concludes by saying, “Why can’t you just talk about nice things?” this, despite superficial appearances, not a stupid question. They are not expressing themselves very well, sure (few of us do in moments of high emotion), but this person is actually pointing out two problems.
First, they did not know what to expect when they attended the program. Look at the title, look at the introduction, or look at how it was marketed. Somewhere in there is a problem. Find this flaw. The program might simply require a word or image change, or (as I have often found myself) maybe all our audience needs is a more explicit explanation of the subject. That individual might still have chosen to attend if they knew what to expect, but they would have walked away elated or intrigued having learned something that enriches their understanding of the site or subject they love so much.
I am prone to this tendency myself. For example, I give a talk where I demonstrate the personality encoded in primary documents using a collection of letters written by a soldier stationed in Pensacola, Florida for a part of the Civil War. Unfortunately, I kept getting suggestions that I include more history of Pensacola during the war. I took far too long (with much griping about people not “getting it”) to realize that the fault was with my presentation. All I needed to do was directly tell the audience in my introduction that, “This is not really about the Civil War, this is about how I came to know Melvan Tibbets who wrote these letters 150 years ago.” I have never gotten a request for more history since.
The second clue the irate attendee was providing us is a failing that archaeologists (and perhaps anthropologists and historians) often fall prey to. We forget that our work is important. Not just to the higher ideals and the deeper understandings we strive for, but to the cultural descendants of our research subjects.
To them, this is not an abstract, but interesting, topic. It is a part of their community identity. When we go into these communities and disprove a local legend or lambast a favorite site, they are (in a very real way) under assault from outside invaders and a defensive reaction is perfectly understandable.
We have a prime example of this mistake here in my part of Florida. In this case, a biological anthropologist (so it’s not just us) decided to do what amounted to a criminal investigation into accusations of abuse at a recently closed and long-running state operated boy’s reform school. The town this school was located in went berserk. But of course they did. Every single person in that town either worked in that school themselves or had a relative, friend, or ancestor that worked there. This was personal.
Does this mean we avoid these difficult or contentious subjects? Naturally not. A subject’s sensitivity often means it is more important to discuss. However, we need to be more tuned into the communities we are working in. If applicable, take the time to hold meetings, hear their concerns, discuss compromises where necessary, and explain our reasoning where compromise is not possible. If meetings are not practicable then we must choose our words carefully and show that we acknowledge and understand their feelings. Most importantly though, give them a chance to see and know us as people, not just some faceless, out of touch academics here to attack them.
In this context at least, the public is not our enemy, we are both their enemy and our own. The onus is on us to ensure the audience understands our message. And when we are unsuccessful? Look to their responses to clues for how to fix the problem. When things go wrong, do not take the easy road and blame the audience, we must consider our own actions. They are the only things we can control.
If you want some good advice on how to better connect with an audience, I highly recommend the excellent “If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face?” by Alan Alda. I also recommend “Interpretation: Making a Difference on Purpose” by Sam H. Ham as an invaluable guide for helping us be intentional in our public outreach.
Ewumi, Kayode (actor)
2016 Image from Happy Belated. From television series Hood Documentaries. BBC Three.
2012 “In Between the Big Stories: Crazy Things Happen When You’re Cruising Around.” Stanley Foreman Photos. <http://stanleyformanphotos.com/news/?p=650>. Accessed 18 October 2017.
Kospoth, Nicolas von
2005 Hercules Bosio Louvre. Statue by Francois Joseph Bosio. Wikimedia Commons. Accessed 12 June 2018.
1988 A retouched photograph of painting T1987b-98 showing the forward part of the bow section with Alvin illuminating the crow’s nest in 1986. The Art of Ken Marschall. <http://www.kenmarschall.com/wreck.html#Num5>. Accessed 12 June 2018.
2015 Fish Slap! imgur.com. <https://imgur.com/gallery/rT5iCil>. Accessed 12 June 2018.
University Archives and West Florida History Center
186? Photo of Melvan Tibbetts. Accession M1986-16. University Archives and West Florida History Center, Pensacola, Florida.
Impact of climate change on coastal cultural resources in Brunswick County, NC
Coastal cultural resources provide crucial links to the past and are important centerpieces for interwoven maritime heritage community narratives, and are valuable cultural resources. Similar to many other places in the world, in southeastern NC, natural and environmental factors have caused damages to, and continue to threaten, cultural heritage in different ways. The major factors threatening North Carolina’s coast are sea level rise, the recurring annual danger of storm surges during hurricane season, and floods from heavy rain events. In this area, Brunswick County is considered as one of the most exposed and vulnerable shorelines, with some of the most significant cultural heritage sites.
Categorizing the level of importance of cultural heritage sites and prioritizing actions for their preservation can not only facilitate preserving some sites, but also contribute to our understanding about the past, before these assets vanish from coastal areas. For this purpose, I conducted a research synthesis, which includes a systematic review of literature and previous experiences, and various data analyses result in new knowledge about the probable future state of coastal cultural heritage in Brunswick County. The result is a set of risk maps for coastal cultural heritage in Brunswick County that can assist managers and policy makers to prioritize their actions regarding conservation, preservation and management of coastal cultural heritage.
Since one of the major concerns is the impact of sea level rise on cultural resources in long term, here the sea level rise risk map for Cape Fear Area is presented [Fig. 1] (For more information refer to: Dynamic coasts and immovable cultural resources: an assessment of the impact of natural—environmental factors on coastal cultural resources, Journal of Marine and Island Cultures, Vol. 6: 2:3). Although in some cases the water might not reach the sites or cause inundation, the proximity of these sites to water will increase the risk of by penetration of salt-water into these entities, which increase the risk of material and structural erosion.
Fig. 1: Sea-Level Rise Risk Map for Cape Fear Area. The map shows the location of cultural resources in relation to the three scenarios of sea level rise.
To understand the long-term impact of natural factors on cultural heritage sites, I studied two actual examples of cultural heritage sites in Brunswick County.
Bald Head island Boathouse
This site is an old wooden boathouse, listed as a National Historic Place, associated with fishing and boatbuilding, which have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of history. “Bald Head Creek Boathouse is a surviving member of a series of structures erected beginning in the late eighteenth century that signified efforts to provide safe ship passage in this treacherous stretch of the North Carolina coast.” This site is one of the most popular paintings and photographic scenes on the island and it is a registered site. However, the building is standing on wooden pilings in tidal marsh, which suggests that the stability of the building is questionable. The comparison between the pictures taken at the time of its registration form preparation (1997) with recent pictures (2015) shows the extent of its deterioration in about three decades [Fig. 2a & 2b]. In addition, considering the location of this building in lowland areas of Baldhead Island and the projection of sea-level rise and storm surge data, this building is in imminent risk of damage. The Creek Boathouse would be affected by one-foot sea-level rise scenario, which is the minimum predicted sea-level rise scenario.
Fig. 2a: Aerial image showing deterioration of the roof structure of the boathouse (Photo by: Lynn Harris)
Fig. 2b: The Creek Boathouse in 1997 © NC State Historic Preservation Office photo collection.
Brunswick Town was one of the most prominent ports and political centers in the 18th century. The site comprises historic houses and ruins, and remains of the port and wharves. Cape Fear River experiences hydrological floods, which is a peak in river discharge following rain or snowmelt, and causes erosion along the river shoreline. Jim McKee, historic interpreter for the Brunswick Town State Historic Site, stated that since 2010, due to the Cape Fear’s flooding and strong water flow, the banks of the river are constantly eroded, which results in the exposure of more wharves [Fig. 3]. Superimposition of this site on the risk maps shows that this site can easily be affected by one-foot sea-level rise scenario. The existing data shows that seasonally, there will be more severe river current and flood in the riverbank, which will result in more erosion and loss of material and structure.
Fig. 3: Images show different sections of Brunswick Town along the Cape Fear River, where the impact of water flow clearly altered the sites and caused exposure of some artifacts and destruction in some sections. ©The State Archaeology Office, Photo courtesy: John Mintz.
Assessment of the state of existing cultural heritage sites, buildings and their structures will help to analyze the impact of different factors more accurately. The two mentioned case studies are example of a few fairly well documented sites and structures, with existing information about their present condition. Nevertheless, not all the cultural-archaeological entities cover the information about their structures and materials, which is necessary for decision-making. Therefore, using risk maps is the first step to highlight probable major factors that possibly affect cultural resources, not the extent and exact form of impact. For a proper mitigation and protection of cultural properties, a better understanding of the nature of cultural properties, their state of preservation, their susceptibility to salt and fresh water penetration, their materials and structural stability is required.
Evaluation is recognized by colleagues.
This has become clear over the past ten years as conference sessions on the topic have become common. The PEIC-sponsored session at this year’s SHA meeting, “Motivations and Community in Public Archaeology Evaluation” (organized by Kate Ellenberger & Kevin Gidusko) is the latest in a long line of conference sessions and activities devoted to public archaeology evaluation starting in 2008. In this session alone there were authors from academia, CRM, non-profits, and the federal government setting and evaluating their progress toward outreach goals. Though the published literature on the topic may be thin, there is much support for pursuing evidence-based public archaeology (see the infographic below).
Evaluation is scaleable.
Evaluation can be done for little cost, in a short time, for a narrow use, or they can be scaled up for larger, more extensive applications. At any size, implementing evaluation or self-assessment seems to have a positive impact on public archaeology projects.
Evaluation can be easy.
Evaluation can be done by people at all skill levels with a little research, consistency, and persistence. Although we advocate the use of evidence-based evaluation practices where appropriate (such as those developed by education professionals and program analysts), we also acknowledge that archaeology work is so variable that existing practices may not fit everyone’s needs. There are numerous tools developed within and outside archaeology to understand what people are learning at your program, who is showing up, and what impact your work might be having on your target audiences (see infographic for a few leads).
Even in this year’s SHA session, colleagues from all sectors – CRM, academia, non-profits, federal employees, and independent researchers – have been able to conduct evaluations. Each of them had identified strengths, weaknesses, and future directions in some way by strategically evaluating how their programs went. They employed surveys, statistical analysis, and participant observation to assess whether public archaeology programs had met their goals. Only two of them had specialty training in statistics or evaluation. There should be no doubt that any archaeologist can evaluate, and not having a specialist to do so is not an excuse.
Evaluation is best practice.
Evidence-based public archaeology is good for archaeologists and the publics they are interacting with. Even though public engagement projects have a wide variety of goals, clearly articulating and following up on those goals is good research practice. Being able to demonstrate that we have made some progress in public perceptions of archaeology is important if we expect to be able to continue outreach work. It helps to see patterns of successes and failures across within our work so we may better adjust our future engagements.
This post written by: Kate Ellenberger
By Edward De Haro and Claire Yancey
Archaeological excavation of the Spanish Colonial fort of El Presidio de San Francisco started in early May 2014. They revealed archaeological deposits with artifacts and features dating to the Spanish, Mexican, and American occupations of the area. It is the biggest public site of its kind west of the Mississippi. Our open site approach allows visitors to talk directly to archaeologists and ask questions as they witness excavation first hand. Docents are available to give overviews on the history of the Presidio. They answer general questions about archaeology and the goals of the excavation.
At the Presidio Archaeology Lab, much of our work relies on the help and dedication of our volunteer community. The volunteer program was conceived well before the El Presidio de San Francisco excavations began. We currently have a pool of 225 volunteers who have undertaken training in the proper handling and processing of artifacts and lab techniques. This group helps us in the lab throughout the field season. They participate in a variety of tasks both indoors and out. Our mailing list now exceeds 500 interested individuals, and we get more sign ups every day.
As our volunteer program has grown, we’ve continued to seek opportunities to create a program that is not only beneficial to our lab and the work that we do, but also supports and encourages the interests and hard work of our volunteers. Each year, we hold two bookend events. The first, Back into the Earth Day, signifies our return to the earth and the launch of the season by exposing our units from the previous years. International Archaeology Day is our end-of-season open house. We invite the public to see all aspects of our work and what we discovered during the field season.
Back into the Earth Day is a day to reconnect with our docents and volunteer community after a winter hiatus and is a fun hands-on way to introduce archaeology to the curious public. The Presidio Archaeology Lab is dedicated to public archaeology and tries to offer multiple opportunities for park visitors to be exposed to archaeology and its significance. Back into the Earth Day is the one day each year that we invite the general public to step into our units for a day and “dig” alongside us.
On Earth Day 2018, Saturday, April 21st, volunteers ranging from the young to the not-so-young helped us to remove the sand fill used to protect the archaeological site during the offseason. A total of 162 volunteers made short work of the majority of the sand. Volunteers alternated between shoveling sand and emptying buckets – quite a task! Throughout the day we had curious onlookers step onto the site to ask questions and take pictures. Quite a few even decided to join the fun! The day finished with a BBQ and socializing at the outdoor lab area situated only a short walk from the site.
At the end of the season, in October, we hold our second bookend celebration that is coordinated with other International Archaeology Day events throughout the world. We open our lab and collections facility, in addition to the site, encouraging the public to get a behind the scenes look at what we do. This event is youth-oriented, with educational games, puzzles, scavenger hunts, adobe brick making, and many more activities. International Archaeology Day is also a reunion of sorts, with many former volunteers, interns, and team members returning to reconnect with each other before the site is closed for the winter. The 2017 event saw us welcome over 300 visitors of all ages, and we expect even more this year! After our celebrations, the site is again covered in landscaping fabric and backfilled with locally-sourced sand until it is unveiled again in April for Back into the Earth Day. These events are incredibly popular and are great ways to acknowledge our volunteers, but we are constantly on the lookout for ways to improve our program and to honor our volunteers throughout the year.
Throughout the season, volunteers help wet screen in the outdoor lab and sort and process artifacts in the indoor lab. Over the years, with a combination of surveys, individual suggestions, and in-person conversations, we have been able to craft a program that is not only beneficial to the lab, but also cultivates a feeling of ownership and agency for our volunteers. Based on this ongoing feedback, we are able to create special programs and engaging events that often reach a wide range of age groups and communities. These programs and our research excavation would not be possible without our community of volunteers and docents.
One such suggestion from volunteers resulted in after hours workshops geared towards learning the finer details of archaeology and research. These workshops will cover ceramic types, zooarchaeology, glass identification and manufacturing techniques, and more topics still in the works. Eventually, we hope to partner with outside institutions to expand our offerings by inviting guest speakers and specialists.
As we move forward, we are seeking more ways to improve or expand the program without sacrificing the quality of our offerings and overtaxing our staff. We will look towards our volunteers and listen to their ideas on what could be improved, or removed, and make the necessary adjustments. They allow us to meet our goals in interpretation, investigation, and education.
So, as we embark on our fifth season, we remind ourselves that we are not only a team of archaeologists, but a community that reaches well beyond the limits of the park.
Coastal Environments, Inc.
As a member of the Society of Historical Archaeology’s newly-formed Heritage at Risk Committee, I am interested in creating a dialogue – or at least being a part of the dialogue – on how climate change affects archaeological sites around the country, and what we as archaeologists can do to protect these sites.
Climate change has impacted cultural resources either directly or indirectly for some time, but this issue has gained traction only recently. It has become painfully clear that many sites, particularly those in coastal areas, are in danger of disappearing forever. In fact, I have seen the end result of years and years of climate change wreaking havoc on our heritage. Several years ago, I worked as an archaeological monitor for the National Park Service during the BP Oil Spill cleanup. The cleanup effort took place on the Mississippi Barrier Islands (Cat Island, East and West Ship Island, Horn Island, and Petit Bois Island). In the early part of the twentieth century, there was another small island, called Dog Island. Dog Island (later renamed the Isle of Caprice) was not a true barrier island, but rather a developing shoal created from the merging of several small ephemeral sand keys known locally as the “Dog Keys.” The island became the site of a bustling resort and casino between 1926 and 1930. However, the resort’s success was cut short in 1931, when the sediment required to nourish the island began to diminish. Without this nourishment, the island slowly began to erode in response to the normal effects of winds, waves, and tides. By 1931, the island was reduced to a sand bar devoid of dunes and vegetation, and a year later it was completely submerged. Although it is difficult to attribute the disappearance of the island to climate change, as it succumbed to natural processes, I firmly believe it had a hand in it. The rapidity of the site’s demise got me thinking: How many other sites have been lost, swallowed up by the Gulf?
Unloading oysters at the Alabama Canning Company factory wharf in February 1911 (Anonymous 2018 ).
Since I am a coastal Mississippi native, my primary focus is on archaeological sites located along the Gulf Coast. Initially, I wanted to discuss in general the affect climate change has had on these sites; however, as it happens, I recently worked on a survey project that involved this very issue. The survey, which entailed both a terrestrial and marine component, was for a proposed shoreline protection and marsh restoration project by the Nature Conservancy in the small, coastal town of Bayou La Batre, Alabama. As with any project, I began conducting background research to locate any cultural resources that existed in the area. This research led to the identification of a historic site that had not been recorded previously. This site consists of building remnants scattered along approximately 150 meters of shoreline. Some of the remnants were located in the water, undoubtedly the result of decades-long erosion and severe storms. The site turned out to be the old Alabama Canning Company, which was an oyster cannery in operation during the early-twentieth century.
Concrete blocks observed on the surface at the cannery site. Note the inclusion of shell in the concrete. Photo by Philip Jungeblut.
The historic site clearly had suffered from the effects of climate change. Storms have torn the structures apart, and much of it is partially submerged by the waters of Portersville Bay. It is likely the site will disappear completely in the near future. As I was writing the report of the survey results, I pondered how to preserve this part of history. Typically, I would recommend avoidance, so it would not be disturbed any more than it already has been. However, avoidance does not really solve the problem of disappearing heritage on coastal sites. Of course, a data recovery phase of excavation would be ideal, but limited funding renders this option unfeasible. As it turns out, the proposed shoreline protection and marsh restoration project may ultimately preserve the site. Dredge spoil deposition will result in shoreline stabilization and probable sediment accretion over and across the site. Sediment accretion may work to halt further structural degradation and may in fact aid in in situ preservation.
Part of a brick wall observed at the cannery site. Photo by Philip Jungeblut.
While the above action may help to preserve the cannery site, it may not work for others. Archaeological sites are unique, and the issue of preservation should be handled on a site-by-site basis. So, how do we protect cultural resources when every site is different? I believe communication is the key. Archaeologists, professional and amateurs alike, should talk to one another. Share our experiences, problems, and solutions. Additionally, we should engage the public. By getting communities involved, we are exposing more people to the topic of how climate change affects archaeological sites. Maybe with enough boots on the ground, we can find a way to save these sites and ensure the survival of our heritage.
The next issue of Historical Archaeology will arrive in your mailbox in the new few days! Issue 52(1) is the first to combine a thematic collection with other content including research articles, technical briefs, memorials, and reviews. This opportunity to publish more content in each issue is a welcome benefit of our publishing relationship with Springer. It will cut down on our past delays in publishing accepted articles, allowing HA readers to keep up to date on current research. The following is a brief description of the thematic collection from guest editor Bradely D. Phillippi.
We are pleased to present a new thematic collection of articles in Historical Archaeology entitled “Labor and Plurality in the Northeast.” The collection revisits the familiar topic of plural archaeological contexts but problematizes the concept by acknowledging the material vagaries they produce. Working with ambiguous assemblages devoid of the traditional markers of identity in shared spaces, writers collectively work to recover those muted by historical circumstances of plurality and conventional readings of their material lives. Accordingly, authors recover and render the past in ways that emphasize working class families, indigenous Americans, enslaved and free people of color, and descendants of mix-heritage households, each victimized by peculiar impositions privileging some and subordinating others. Analytically prioritizing labor systems and relations of production, rather than culture, binds this collection together. Although exploratory, case studies convincingly identify and read various aspects of labor in ways that parse out diversity from ambiguous and seemingly homogenous assemblages.
The collection includes case studies from the American Northeast. Organized by scale of analysis, settings gradually narrow from macro treatments of labor and plurality at the regional scale down to refined considerations of individual households. Following the introductory essay, “Introduction: Labor and the Challenge of Plurality in Historical Archaeology,” by Bradley Phillippi, articles in the forthcoming issue include:
* Markers of Difference or Makers of Difference?: Atypical Practices at Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Satellite Sites, ca. 1650-1700—Kurt A. Jordan
* Created Communities: Segregation and the History of Plural Sites on Eastern Long Island, New York—Christopher N. Matthews and Allison Manfra McGovern
* Survivance Strategies and the Materialities of Mashantucket Pequot Labor—Russell G. Handsman
* Modernity and Community Change in Lattimer No. 2: The Archaeology of the American 20th Century through a Pennsylvania Anthracite Shanty Town—Michael P. Roller
* The Plurality of Parting Ways: Landscapes of Dependence and Independence and the Making of a Free African-American Community in Massachusetts—Karen A. Hutchins-Keim
* Homeplace is Also Workplace: Another Look at Lucy Foster in Andover, Massachusetts—Anthony Martin
* Muffled, But Not Mute—Bradley D. Phillippi
* Laboring Under an Illusion: Aligning Method and Theory in the Archaeology of Plantation Slavery—Anna Agbe-Davies
The image is of the monument at the site of Parting Ways commemorating the lives of Plato Turner, Cato Howe, Prince Goodwin, and Quamony Quash. Photo by Karen A. Hutchins-Keim, 2011.
Hello all. It’s my pleasure to introduce the newly-formed Heritage at Risk Committee (HARC).[
Our first meeting was held during SHA conference in New Orleans last month, after the committee was established by Past President Joe Joseph at the mid-year meeting in June. We were delighted to see 24 members in attendance – almost half of the over 50 SHA members who have joined the committee! – and to engage in stimulating discussion about our present and future goals.
The committee was formed to promote heritage at risk research and outreach within SHA, including the development of resources for use by the membership, and to disseminate information to the public about climate change’s impacts to archaeological sites. A few of HARC’s key goals include increasing advocacy efforts at the national and international levels, promoting expansion of heritage at risk themes at the annual conference, and increasing collaboration both with other committees within SHA and with professionals outside of the membership who study the impacts of climate change on our shared cultural resources.
Short-term projects discussed at the meeting include the development of a pop-up exhibit highlighting case studies within SHA to build resources for the membership, as well as opportunities for HARC involvement at the 2019 meeting to be held in St. Charles, Missouri. These opportunities include: 1) a case studies/best practices symposium, 2) a policy and regulatory session, and 3) a panel addressing climate change by going beyond science to engage the arts and humanities. Longer-term goals include the development of publications within SHA by HARC members. The meeting closed with each member contributing suggestions for future directions and additional topics to address.
If you were unable to make it to the first Heritage at Risk Committee meeting but would like to participate, please contact the HARC Chair Sarah Miller at SEMiller@flagler.edu.
If you see an interesting article about climate change and/or other heritage at risk themes from which you feel the SHA membership could benefit, please send me a link! I can be reached at:
Valerie M. J. Hall
Social Media Liaison, Heritage at Risk Committee
I hope to hear from you soon!
Submitted by Rebecca Allen
Environmental Science Associates (ESA), Cultural Resources Director
SHA Associate Editor
In 2011, the University of Nebraska Press and the SHA jointly published the first of the Historical
Archaeology of the American West Series. Annalies Corbin and I are series editors, and over the course
of this year, we will be contributing to the SHA blog to highlight authors in this series. The primary goal
of SHA’s co-publication program is to expand our membership’s publication opportunities, and find
more partners to promote our field. UNP publishes many titles in American Studies, Anthropology,
History, and Native American and Indigenous studies. The press regularly exhibits at western regional
and national history conferences, bringing the topic of historical archaeology to a wider audience.
Take advantage of the discount to order your copies of new volumes by Jun Sunseri and Chris Merritt.
On behalf of the SHA, I’d like to thank these authors, as all royalties in this series return to SHA
publications, to fund future studies. And please contact me (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you are interested
in contributing a volume in this series.
ABOUT THE BOOK
Situational Identities along the Raiding Frontier of Colonial New Mexico
Jun U. Sunseri
3 photographs, 39 graphs, 5 maps, 16 illustrations, 4 tables, index
Situational Identities along the Raiding Frontier of Colonial New Mexico examines pluralistic communities that navigated between colonial and indigenous practices to negotiate strategic alliances
with both sides of generations-old conflicts. The rich history of the southwestern community of Casitas
Viejas straddles multiple cultures and identities and is representative of multiple settlements in the
region of northern New Mexico that served as a “buffer,” protecting the larger towns of New Spain from
Apache, Navajo, Ute, and Comanche raiders. These genízaro settlements of Indo-Hispano settlers used
shrewd cross-cultural skills to survive.
Researching the dynamics of these communities has long been difficult, due in large part to the lack of
material records. In this innovative case study, Jun U. Sunseri examines persistent cultural practices
among families who lived at Casitas Viejas and explores the complex identities of the region’s
communities. Applying theoretical and methodological approaches, Sunseri adds oral histories,
performative traditions of contemporary inhabitants, culinary practices, and local culture to traditional
archaeology to shed light on the historical identities of these communities that bridged two worlds.
RA: What are some of your motivations for writing this book?
JS: Discussions with my colleagues, the SHA co-publication editors, and editors at UNP reminded me that
this story that I first addressed in my dissertation was truly worth re-working and re-telling, and they
helped me bring it alive. In more ways than I can count, the opportunity to work closely with the
descendant community and a rich network of scholars on this project was rewarding and truly affirming of why I left engineering for archaeology. I am hoping to share some of that energy and the nuances of
the story with a wider audience.
RA: Who would you like to read this book? Who is your audience?
JS: First and foremost, this book is dedicated to the descendant community and the places and people
who guided, protected, and sacrificed to bring the work to fruition. It is incredibly gratifying to hear that
advance copies are already being read enthusiastically and handed from person to person there. I am
also hoping that communities who are also struggling with land and water rights, for whom archaeology
has not always been a service or a resource, might be inspired to connect and build coalitions with each
RA: Now that you have published this book, what kinds of things are you dreaming up next? What is in
JS: I’ve already been asked to present with community partners about this book this fall in New Mexico
and we are looking forward to building momentum on a number of issues related to this work. Other
villages in New Mexico have asked for partnerships related to these kinds of complex cultural
patrimonies. I might change gears for a little while and concentrate on method and theory a little more,
specifically issues of labor and scales of economy related to butchery and other human-animal
When I (Lindsay) first started visiting archaeological collections from historic kiln sites in the mid-Atlantic for my dissertation research, I found time and again that the same researcher had already been there: Brenda Hornsby Heindl. We eventually met, and learned that we had distinct but complementary interests in these collections. Brenda is a stoneware potter, and has focused her recent research on historic kiln and ceramic production technology. I research coarse earthenware production and trade in the Atlantic World. In other words, we love to get very technical about clays, kilns, and all things pottery-related! At this year’s SHA annual meeting, we led a workshop that had been several years in the making, “Clear as Mud: A Toolkit for Identifying Coarse Earthenwares and Stonewares.”
This workshop idea arose because both of us have been frustrated by the issues plaguing coarse earthenware and stoneware identification in archaeological collections. These wares are ubiquitous, and superficially share a number of characteristics. Yet at the same time, as handmade items, each varies in ways that may seem random to the casual observer. These wares also tend to lack the defined date ranges we have come to expect for most historic ceramics. For these reasons, many archaeologists fall back on general categories such as “American Stoneware” or “Redware,” lumping sherds into large groups that are not very useful analytically. After years spent digging through boxes of wasters and kiln furniture from pottery production sites, and many hours spent with microscopes, mass spectrometers, and pottery wheels, we have come to recognize some key patterns for earthenware and stoneware identification. Generally there is no single attribute, but a constellation of attributes that together are diagnostic.
Our goal in this workshop was to train participants to recognize the characteristics that are meaningful markers of production method and source. Attributes like firing cores and glazing patterns can be tied to specific production practices that may have temporal, geographic, or ethnic connections. Better identification of these wares has a big payoff for research, from improved mean ceramic dates (MCDs) and site chronologies, to providing evidence for trade at all levels, from very local to global.
It was important to us that the participants learned as we did, by being able to handle and study a variety of broken and complete pots. So, we packed up our study collections and brought the many boxes with us to New Orleans. The four-hour workshop toggled between lectures and hands-on activities. We provided each table with a pile of sherds representing different ware types, vessel forms, and sources. Participants sorted these in various ways, as they learned about kiln firing temperature and atmosphere, surface treatments and vessel form. At the front of the room we laid out a table of earthenware vessels and a table of stoneware vessels, each piece illustrating different technological and origin markers. We also set up a digital microscope with mounted sherd cross-sections, to show how characteristic aplastic inclusions could point to a vessel’s source.
While the conditions in the conference room were arctic, feedback from the workshop has been very positive. In the post-workshop survey, responses have been evenly split between those who found the lectures most useful, and those who learned more from the hands-on activities, with several responses valuing both equally. We recognize that many archaeologists are working with limited study collections or without access to identified materials. Online galleries are great, but they can’t substitute (yet) for the tactile and three-dimensional nature of the objects themselves. The “emery board” texture of London-area redware, the gleam of a well-salted Westerwald stoneware are difficult to capture in pictures. As archaeologists we need more opportunities to handle unfamiliar artifacts and share diagnostic materials. In this brief experience, we only introduced a small fraction of the body of knowledge to be gained from these artifacts. However, we hope that some of our participants now agree that “clear as mud” doesn’t have to be an oxymoron when it comes to historic pottery production. The answers are written in the clay.
If you want to really understand the handmade pottery in your collections, we recommend the following:
- Keep a microscope on hand for ceramics analysis. Pay attention to inclusions, clay mixing, and texture. If you’re permitted to make fresh breaks, use a set of tile nippers to obtain a small clean cross-section to examine. You’ll discover there’s a lot more variation than you thought.
- Take a pottery class! Many community colleges or parks and recreation departments offer classes for adults. Once you start playing with clay and watching it transform into fired pots, you’ll gain a greater understanding of and appreciation for these wares.
Lindsay Bloch, Ceramic Technology Lab, Florida Museum of Natural History