Jun2015082015 / Jun / 08Several times before I’ve discussed the topic of social media and how it can be used for the positive and the negative. The positive is found in the ability to give voice to the often voiceless especially in countries where medias stay controlled. In other places like Iraq, groups like ISIS have a global reach in multiple languages by manipulating the demographics of social media’s key users, often young people.However, there is another value in social media that is less often discussed. Its value as a data collection hub and tracking tool. In nations like Nepal and Japan it an be used to monitor aid need for natural disasters. In America – aside from some of the more social uses – it can be used to track political upheavals. Social media is even used as a tool for monitoring terrorism.Egypt for instance, has become a hub of technology in the Middle East. Millions of dollars from United Arab emirates have been poured into technology in Egypt making it one of the most wired countries in both the Middle East and Africa. Twitter and Facebook became famous in Egypt during the Arab Spring for their role in not only creating a gathering platform, but in sharing and revealing information that was not privy to the presses once the regime cracked down on the media and on TV and Internet output. Social media was used as a tool for the voiceless as was discussed in a previous post about 21st century freedom fighter.Egyptians are not alone in their use of social media for socio-political change. In recent months, there has been a flurry of activity across the United States regarding the use of excessive force by the police in cities across the nation. I was able to participate in more than one of the #BlackLivesMatter protests as a result of following the information by protest organizers on social media.Social media has gone far beyond the social and launched a society whose history and movements are forever digitally recorded in archives of the Internet.Visit this week’s new #AVProject entitled “Social Media: Science Beyond the Social” HERE or visit youtube.com/archaeoventurersAdditional Reading:
Jun2015022015 / Jun / 02
For years pop culture has used the concept of aliens or some form of extra terrestrial being in order to explain periods of history that have often been deemed unexplainable.
One of the of world’s greatest historic icons – the Great Pyramids of Giza – is subject to all manner of other-worldly conspiracy theories.
In the fourth Indiana Jones – which was widely met with disappointment among diehard fans – was the insertion of aliens into the stories in Peru.
One side or the other, passions can run very high when discussing conspiracy theories and the science – or lack there of – around them. On April 15, 2015 a video surfaced on YouTube showing the culmination of a yet-to-happen debate between Graham Hancock and Egypt’s former Minister of Antiquities Dr. Zahi Hawass. Though the video is only about two minutes long and cast in poor lighting, the ‘lively’ nature of the argument has generated over 100,000 views in the month and a half since its release. And trust me – it’s not because archaeological debates are riveting viral material – it’s all about the drama.
This argument centered around Hancocks showing of a slide that contained Robert Bauval’s Orion Correlation Theory in which it is believed that the stars in the Orion Constellation have a relationship to the kings of the Great Pyramids of Giza. However, this has been regarded by many scholars as pseudoscience or junk science. For archaeologists and other scientists that have spent lifetime examining ancient peoples and understanding the depth of their technological and engineering capabilities, it may come off as an insult to surmise that astrological-type pseudoscience has a place in the world of academia except for its role in Archaeology 101 of what NOT to do.
Keeping in mind that this dramatic debate encounter caught on film was more than simply an argument, but a deep fundamental disagreement, was Dr. Hawass still unwarranted in his fervent disagreement to the Orion Constellation theory and its proponents?
Let us know your thoughts on this and other pseudo-science and conspiracy theories in archaeology on twitter @ArchaeoVenturer
Check out this week’s episode entitled “Why Aliens? Ancient Cultures Deserve More Credit” HERE.
Apr2015282015 / Apr / 28
The past month in the US has proven big in gender and LGBT issues – Bruce Jenner’s transgender interview changed the way America sees trans individuals, the supreme court makes a decision on proposition 8 regarding same sex marriage, and the nation faces the potential of its first woman president with Hillary’s bid to run. And though there are still major strides to be made, America seems to be accepting change at an increasingly accelerated pace.
What do changes in social gender norms mean in nations outside of American boundaries? Change is in the air in the post-Arab Spring Middle East as well.
As parts of the MENA region face increasing oppression under fierce dictators and the rule of terror groups like ISIS – there are young people in areas outside of terror control that are breaking the gender boundaries such Islamist groups seek to maintain.
During the 2011 Egyptian Revolution, women were pivotal in leading the cause to advance their rights and place in Egyptian society. But even as laws change in a few short years, social fabric can often take a generation. In Egypt, women have been taking this into their own hands. Recently, Egypt awarded a mother, Sisa Abu Daooh, who dressed like a man for more than 40 years in order to provide for her family. Illiterate and widowed, she was forced to find work to support her children – being a woman in Egypt can be dangerous, being a woman in the work force equally so, but she courageously worked to do so – albeit dressed like a man.
However, there are women of a younger generation that are trying to break traditional work barriers without the gender-bending cloak and veil. Mennatullah El-Husseiny sought to break taboos of women’s place in the public social fabric of Egypt by doing jobs considered to be “only for men.”
Women are not the only ones who are trying to crack the glass ceiling they face in the Middle East – in Turkey, young men are brining back an age-old art – the Ottoman tradition of male belly dancing.
Known in Turkish as zennes, rakkas, or koceks, the art died out during the Ataturk era and has only recently resurfaced, but in the current political atmosphere is considered part of a homosexual culture in Turkey – a sentiment that while still considered taboo in many parts of Turkey, is becoming more accepted in its modern and increasingly globalizing society. And although the zenne scene in Turkey is becoming more accepted, one of the male dancers interviewed in an al-Monitor last December still declines to have his name and photo revealed – cracking the glass ceiling can still come with a price…
Mar2015192015 / Mar / 19
“We come to it at last, the great battle of our time.” – Gandalf the WhiteI’m hoping that most of you just read that line in Ian McKellan’s voice but regardless, we do come to the end of the first installment of the “Global ArchaeoVentures” series. At this point, my travel companions have expanded to include 4 additional people for our beginning adventures in Vietnam!
Vietnam started off slow as our journey out of Phnom Penh, Cambodia turned from an anticipated 4 hour journey into a delayed 6 hour journey, resulting in our missing the one(!) afternoon ferry from Ha Tien (a border town in Vietnam), thus having to spend Christmas Eve in an unplanned location. When you’re with beloved friends, you can even make a $12/night hotel a special holiday experience (the iced coffee really does make a huge difference)! We did end up making the early ferry which is delightfully called the Superdong VI (FYI Vietnamese money is called Dong), to Phu Quoc Island in south Vietnam.
The style of this video is less interview-esque and more of a footage montage, owing to the fact that Vietnam had more of a vacation-feel, whereas at Angkor, everywhere I looked my archaeological radar went crazy. I think you’ll gather from the video what I thought was most apparent about this small island in the south, known for its tourism and pearl industries, which is that there is this sharp contrast between the rapidly growing infrastructure and a traditional Vietnamese landscape. If you watch the footage of us just riding the motorbikes around the island, you already see a marked difference between what Cambodia looked like on that original drive in from the capital to Siem Reap. But on Phu Quoc itself, which has a booming tourist industry, you can see the remnants of what old Phu Quoc looks like, and then you see the amazing amount of road building going on all across the island. When I went scuba diving (which you can see footage from at the end of the video), my dive buddy who worked with Rainbow Divers, told me that there had been a 50% increase in hotel and road building in the last year alone! I don’t know how accurate that figure is, but it isn’t hard to see in the roadside landscapes, with new half-built roads and lots the size of a supersize Walmart complex. The problem it seems, and I know that Katie and I are going to do a further in-depth ArchaeoVenturers #AVProject episode on it, is the lack of communication and awareness between the local people and those invested in the tourist industry. Nothing is more apparent then on the beaches all around the island- in front of the resorts, perfect white sand beaches, but step 25ft to either side of the resort beach, and the whole beachfront is covered in trash, to the point where it’s impossible to walk sometimes. I’ll leave this discussion to our planned episode, but it is noteworthy to point out that I heard one of the scuba instructors also say that the dive industry in Phu Quoc could be easily gone within 10-15 years because of the serious overfishing problem, dying coral reefs, and unparalleled trash buildup- and if the dive industry goes, a serious chunk of foreign tourism goes with it…
You will also see in bits throughout the montage, is when we landed in Ho Chi Minh City, and visited the Cu Chi Tunnels outside town. I have to be honest here, I had very mixed feelings going into this and even more so on the other end. The Cu Chi Tunnels were an elaborate network of underground tunnels used during the Vietnam War by the Viet Cong. These were used for hiding, living, and guerrilla warfare, which is unfathomable if you realize how small they actually are, and how they’ve been widened for tourists (I barely fit and I’m only 5’3″!). I didn’t add more of the footage beyond my going into the tunnels, which they let you do at the end of the tour after they let you fire AK-47s at a makeshift gun range, and I really could say it’s the closest I’ve come to feeling like I was in an archaeological tomb in Egypt (I also felt that way in the Catacombs in Paris). It was very scary to realize that people lived and died in those tunnels, but at the same time, the entire tour consisted of basically bragging rights about all the ways they managed to kill Americans during the war. Not making this a political statement, but I came out feeling very queasy and eager to depart for the nighttime bars in the backpacking district of Ho Chi Minh.
Lastly, and I already mentioned it, but you’ll see some footage from my two scuba dives with Rainbow Divers on Phu Quoc in the northern part of the island. I am told there aren’t any shipwrecks close enough to dive on with tourists, so that was slightly disappointing but I find it hard to be somewhere now and not take the opportunity to dive. The visibility wasn’t up to what I am used to, having most of my dives in the FL keys (and I know, my friends in the Gulf will laugh at me) but what was most apparent again was the lack of significant sea life- that, and also somehow in 15ft of water, my GoPro bit the dust. I managed to salvage the memory card but what a devastating (and pathetic) end to an illustrious camera companion *bows head*…
Check out An ArchaeoVenture to Vietnam: Chapter 4 on YouTubeTHANK YOU FOR STICKING AROUND FOR ALL FOUR CHAPTERS OF “An ArchaeoVenture to Southeast Asia” with me, The Diver of ArchaeoVenturers!THANKS FOR GETTING DIRTY WITH US!
Mar2015172015 / Mar / 17
Chapter 3 of “An ArchaeoVenture in Cambodia” begins just after our lunch stop with our guide, Mr. Raty. There were three distinct places that we visited after Angkor Wat that morning, in the order of Ta Prohm, Bayon Temple, and Phnom Bakheng:
- Ta Prohm (1186 CE): Originally named, Rajavihara (Royal Temple), is one of the most visited temples in the religious complexes, most likely for its unique look of ruined beauty mixed with invasive natural elements (in this case, ever expanding jungle trees that thrive amidst the native temple architecture and encapsulate the historic remains). The word “Ta” means ancestors and “Prohm” originates from Brahma, Hindu god of creation. As an ode to inaccurate archaeological depictions, which Katie and I talk about in the #AVProject (), I must not forget to mention that the famous Lara Croft: Tomb Raider movie was filmed here, one of the only Cambodian sites depicted with accuracy in the movie- and I must have heard at least 30 different tourists mention it in the hour we wandered around. Our guide said that after the movie came out, there was certainly a larger influx of questions about the temple’s role in the movie, how it was filmed, if Angelina Jolie had been there, etc…, and that many of these questions were still asked today. Because Ta Prohm’s beauty literally lays in ruin, there is a major restoration project being undertaken all over the UNESCO World Heritage Site, as you can see in the video. This restorative conservation is a partnership project of the Archaeological Survey of India and the APSARA (Authority for the Protection and Management of Angkor and the Region of Siem Reap) that has been ongoing since 2004. It is said to be a difficult task as the teams are avoiding vegetation removal, which is used to illustrate “how the trees and the complex coexist.” Oddly enough, Ta Prohm has also been at the center of creationist/evolutionary debate in recent years as a ‘stegosaurus’ has been discovered (see below image) amongst the depictions- judge for yourself!
- Bayon Temple (dating from the 12th century CE): Bayon was the very center of Angkor Thom (Big City), which was the capital built by King Jayavarman VII. It’s position is the manifestation of the intersection between heaven and earth. The many faces of Buddha is how I recall this temple site- Mr. Raty said there are over 2000 large faces carved on the 54 towers! He mentioned that many people point out that the Buddha’s look as though they are smiling and that some have made comparisons to the Mona Lisa’s cryptic smile. There is a tourist stop here that no matter how hard thou doth protest, you must take a rubbing/kissing nose photo with this one Buddha, reminiscent of those timed photos taken at the leaning Tower of Pisa. Between 1995-2001, UNESCO and the Japanese Government Team for the Safeguarding of Angkor (JSA) conducted an extensive research and conservation project at this temple. The World Bank warns that Bayon, and other temple towers, are sinking into their sandy foundations as the hospitality industry drains underground water reservoirs- something to seriously consider as a foreign visitor.
- Phnom Bakheng (Built at the end of the 9th century): Known as “sunset on the hill,” this is where to be when the day comes to a close- and you know you’re in the right spot as suddenly hundreds upon hundreds of people have the very same interest in watching dusk fall from the top of the temple mountain. And it’s certainly a hike up, and at the top you realize why- it has an unrivaled view of the valley of Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples. I’ve never seen more selfie sticks in my life until that moment waiting for the sunset- so many selfies to be had in the twilight of evening (if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em)…. However this popularity comes at a steep price: the World Monuments Fund puts Phnom Bakheng is one of the most endangered of all the complexes. More than 3,000 tourists push their way to the top, up the narrow stone staircases every single evening (myself and friends included).
A huge bonus at the end of our time in Siem Reap, was that I was able to take a sunrise hot air balloon ride over the temple complexes (although that morning the wind had a different plan in mind). While we were supposed to go over Angkor Wat, we ended up flying over several other smaller temples on the way, and after over an hour in the air, we overshot our landing site three times because of tall trees. While we flew over many little villages, the children and adults would yell from below (even before the sun was up) and our handlers would give us handfuls of candy to toss overboard. I still have mixed feelings about this because it seems like a very unnecessary practice to feed into, but then, what do I know anyway- when we finally landed in a random rice paddy field (complete with ankle-deep water and fire ants!), all those nearby children ran up begging for candy but then all whipped out their smartphones to take pictures of the balloon that many were claiming to never have seen before. Moral of the story- hot air balloons are always worth it, despite wet pants and bug bites on your toes…NEXT UP VIETNAM MONTAGE!!Please stay tuned for Chapter 4 and Final in “Global ArchaeoVentures: The Diver Travels to Vietnam” also known as “An ArchaeoVenture to Vietnam” where a montage of travel and scuba dive footage await.Please see Chapter Three on YoutubeFurther Reading:
Mar2015082015 / Mar / 08
So Katie (The Digger) and I decided that if either of us ever have the chance to travel to interesting places with deep histories (which most places are and have), then we would not waste the opportunity and would share them as special ArchaeoVenturers episodes! It goes without saying that every country, city and historic site has a fascinating and complicated story to tell, and we only hope that you enjoy watching these special videos and reading our blogs as much as we love sharing them with YOU!
So this past holiday season, you may have seen on our ArchaeoVenturers social media accounts (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook), that I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to visit some friends of mine who had moved literally halfway around the world from good ole’ Washington D.C. (14, 392 km in fact!) to a part of the world that I had never visited before- Southeast Asia, specifically the capital of Cambodia- Phnom Penh. The Kingdom of Cambodia, once known as the Khmer Empire, saw independence from the French in 1953. Today, one of their largest sources of income has become the tourism industry. Who needs a better excuse to visit friends when you have a warm bed and Cambodian iced coffee on the other end!? If you want to visit a foreign land, my best advice would be to visit with people who are or have become locals- you meet and see things that tourists never get to experience, and luckily, such was the case here!
My two friends and I packed our bags and spent the almost two days of traveling getting to the city of Siem Reap, in northwest Cambodia, where the temple complex of Angkor awaits eager tourists. Our friends in the capital had to wait a few days to see us, because as a history buff and archaeologist, Angkor was a place I could not miss out on, and also, they had already visited a month earlier. This first video in our special Global ArchaeoVentures series is about my friends and my journey traveling from JFK on Eva Air (yes, the Hello Kitty airline!) through Taiwan to Phnom Penh, and straight into a 6+ hour taxi ride with a driver who easily hit 90 mph on roads that had more potholes than all the potholes I’ve ever seen combined! And yet, we enjoyed (and were exhausted) every minute of it! Our driver stopped only once for petrol (which is sold on the sides of the roads in used cola bottles for convenience) and to grab us all bamboo shoots filled with rice and beans for a road snack.
It’s hard to switch from light hearted travel/adventure mode in the videos to writing more about what I heard in this portion of the trip. The most enlightening part of our journey to Siem Reap, was learning more about the destruction of the Khmer Rouge from our driver, who’s family had luckily survived the massacres. Between 1975 and 1979, a genocide organized by the ruling Khmer Rouge government, killed roughly one fifth of the country’s population- from all walks of life and all echelons of their society, echoing memories of the Holocaust. Despite their ousting in 1979, the Khmer Rouge continued to exist until 1999, and the effects of their regime remain ever present in contemporary Cambodian society. Our driver told us that the bamboo with rice and beans snack we were eating, was a popular staple during the war because of its easy ingredients and simple preparation. What I was truly inspired by, and I regrettably didn’t manage to catch this part on film, was how positive our driver spoke about Cambodia’s future despite all that had happened to his family and culture. The world is doomed to repeat atrocious acts of violence if we fail to learn from history, something happening at an alarming rate with ISIS/ISIL in the Middle East right now. Luckily, there are strong communities of people willing to fight back and save what is irreplaceable. That is what happened in Cambodia, and although it is still recovering, the positive and enduring attitudes of their countrymen bring hope for the future.
Ending with that somber note of reflection, please stay tuned for Chapter 2 in “Global ArchaeoVentures: The Diver Travels to Cambodia” also known as “An ArchaeoVenture to Cambodia” where the World Heritage Site of Angkor Wat is highlighted.
Please visit Youtube for Chapter One Episode! or View Below!
For further reading:The Cambodian Tribunal: Khmer Rouge HistoryTime Magazine: The Rise and Fall of the Khmer Rouge (told through images)
Mar2015092015 / Mar / 09
Chapter Two of this special ArchaeoVenturers series begins in Siem Reap, with my friends and I joining up with our tour guide Mr. Raty (highly recommended services!), who was born in the province. Along the way to the temple complex, Mr. Raty told us that while being a local tour guide is one of the more profitable professions in the area, they must take many expensive tests in order to become certified and to stay licensed, year after year. He is the only one in his family to be a tour guide and was very proud of how hard his family, in particular his mother, works in the agricultural realm of area. He also had one of the most infectious smiles I have ever seen- this was apparent anytime he mentioned a fact or tidbit about Angkor or Cambodian culture, which clearly made him happy to speak about. Also, I am not sure if every guide is this way, but Mr. Raty had a memory for specifics and dates that rivaled any academic I’ve ever met- all while speaking 5 languages!
You’ll hear some of the more interesting facts about Angkor Wat in the video, but since this is a syncing of hours of film footage and it has to be attention grabbing (thank you Tony Capelli!), I thought I wouldn’t make the video too audio heavy- the visuals of the temples tend to speak volumes more than I ever could. The interview with Mr. Raty however was important, and while I am still honing my interviewer skills, he was very eloquent while speaking about the affects of tourism and globalization on his community near Angkor. From his answers, we see that it’s a push-pull type relationship between the locals and foreigners- which I suppose is to be expected. The benefits of places with an abundance of tourist opportunities, like Angkor, means that the economy will grow from a natural resource (in this case, a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and the locals will see immediate benefit from a growth in labor, infrastructure, investments, resources etc because the presence of foreigners demand those things. However, on the opposite end of the spectrum, as Mr. Raty pointed out, foreign influences come with baggage, like religious holidays (in this case it was Christmas) or out-of-place foods like Mexican taquerias, and even more serious is the pollution, a divide between those able to benefit from direct contact with tourists and those who are less monetarily affected, deforestation, wear and tear and safety of the tourist site for posterity, amongst other issues. In 2013, Angkor Wat experienced an excess of 2 million visitors (not Cambodia as a whole, just this site) with a steady nearly 20% yearly increase. I am certainly no economist, but there is an obvious constant struggle between maintaining massive historical sites like this temple complex for future generations of visitors, archaeologists, and other knowledge seekers, while still being able to reap the benefits of open access in the present day for millions of current visitors.
As interesting as visiting this site was for me, it was more interesting hearing the perspectives of the local people that we encountered. Our tuk-tuk driver moonlighted as a tourist driver even though he has a full time job as a police officer. But they only get paid 90$ a month(!) for that, which isn’t enough to support his new wife and baby, he said that he gets 20$ a day to be a tuk-tuk driver around the site to supplement his income. Mr. Raty said he dreamed of traveling outside of Cambodia for the first time. Some people near the reflection pool (classic photo-op spot in Angkor Wat) who were visiting from another Cambodian province where there are no tourists, asked my friends to pose with them in photos in order to show their friends/family back home that they met ‘tourists’. Our guide said they wanted to pose with Hannah and Paul specifically because most visitors from other provinces were equating being fair skinned with being foreign, and those photos would prove they had the means to travel to places where tourists frequented.
Just briefly, for Southeast Asia and Cambodia, the temple complex at Angkor is one of the most important archaeological sites and was designated a World Heritage Site in 1992. Cambodia is in fact the only country to have a building on their national flag- and it is an image of Angkor Wat. The temple complex stretches over some 400 square km, throughout northwest Cambodia and contains the magnificent remains of the different capitals of the Khmer Empire, from the 9th century to the 15th century. Places that we were able to visit included the famous Temple of Angkor Wat (which translates to Temple City or City of Temples), and Angkor Thom and the Bayon Temple (which will be featured in Chapter Three of the series). Words do not describe how magnificent these ruins of a long-lost Empire reveal themselves to visitors- calling it ‘stepping into the past’ could not be more literal. The imagination truly has the chance to run wild there, where tales of kings and gods of old become more real with each step up the stairway to heaven….
Please stay tuned for Chapter 3 in “Global ArchaeoVentures: The Diver Travels to Cambodia” also known as “An ArchaeoVenture to Cambodia” where the story at Angkor Wat continues.
Please see Chapter Two on Youtube
– UNESCO: World Heritage Site
– BBC News: Are there too many tourists at Angkor’s temples?
Feb2015022015 / Feb / 02
When most people hear “archaeology” one of the first things that comes to mind is Indiana Jones. How is it that a pop culture icon became the mascot of a scientific discipline?
Archaeology – and all of the romanticized tales of ancient mummies and temples that come with it – has been entwined in pop culture since people first began literally digging into our history.
In the late nineteenth century, common fads for elites involved “mummy unwrapping parties.” Although today many would see this as a desecration of a deceased person, most elite Victorians didn’t see anything wrong with damaging pre-Christian bodies.
Mummies were simply a curiosity of the orient. But as the study of the ancient Near East became a common place academic discipline – particularly after the deciphering of the Rosetta Stone in 1822 by Jean François Champollion – archaeology found its way into the imaginations of the West and the increasingly developing world of popular culture.
Ancient Egypt was used to sell everything from cigarettes to soap. And it carved out its own niche in Hollywood well before the days of Indiana Jones and Tomb Raider.
Elizabeth Taylor’s famous role as Cleopatra is still well known in popular culture today as one of the iconic images of Cleopatra – never mind that many historians believe that it was not physical beauty, but wit, wisdom, and womanly cunning that made the real Cleopatra a legend of history. In reality, she is an example of what women should be valued for in society – their intellect and strength of character – but this was not the idealized beauty that Western culture wanted to portray.
Politics of women in history and Hollywood aside – one question remains: do the common misconceptions created by archaeology in popular culture hinder or help the overall discipline?
Some may think that if the public is going to learn about archaeology or history is should be with accuracy from the beginning.
However, here’s my person opinion: As someone who began studying the discipline just at the cusp of the recession and finished grad school with the effects of an economic crisis in full swing, I must say that anything that gets the public interested enough in a discipline to patronize a museum or donate to an archaeological excavation is something worth containing. Most people get into a science one way or another based on a romanticized view of what it is. Unfortunately, cut backs in government funding for research and an economic crisis that has made many funding sources at foundations and universities tighten their belts means that other routes of funding must be sought.
But this is a debate that can go on forever – so what are your thoughts on archaeology in pop culture? Does it damage the mind of the public or expand it?Crowd funding has become a new means of revenue for archaeologists to seek in gathering funding for their research. But with a source of funding that relies on the public, archaeologists must be able to appeal to the internet world’s non-scholars to get their attention – and of course dollars. This kind of appeal would not be nearly as effective if it weren’t for all of the fantasized, glorified, and heroic archaeology adventures that Hollywood and western culture portray – regardless of how inaccurate it is. Those inaccuracies provide an opportunity to grasp the imagination of the wider public and engage them in a way where those misinformed interests can be put to rest in the name of science.
For further info on crowdfunding your archaeo-project and archaeology in pop culture, check these out:
Jan2015192015 / Jan / 19
Sure, we get a day off from work today- but we must learn to remember to focus on the reason. My guess is the most Americans take the day off for granted without acknowledging what the significance is of this particular national holiday for freedom and human rights. Today is dedicated to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and by pure coincidence, this week’s episode of the “ArchaeoVenturers Project” is about Brooklyn Heights and the Underground Railroad. The Abolitionist Movement was a precursor to the Civil Rights Movement, headed by Dr. King and an inspiration and platform for millions in America.I wanted to have an episode about slavery in Brooklyn because just down the street from where I grew up in Brooklyn Heights, now known for its scenic and private views of Manhattan, is Plymouth Church, which is a National Historic Landmark on the National Register for Historic Places. According to the National Park Service, Plymouth Church, founded in 1847, was considered “one of the nation’s foremost centers of antislavery sentiment” in the late 19th century. I went there several times as a child on field trips, exploring the basement used in the Underground Railroad, seeing where Lincoln sat in the church pew, and I distinctly recall seeing a freedom ring that was given to a enslaved child (Plymouth’s website enlightens that the child’s name was ‘Pinky’ and the ring was given to her when her freedom was purchased by the congregation- Henry Ward Beecher declared “With this ring, I thee wed to freedom”). Also, as a result of visiting Plymouth church, I learned about Sojourner Truth, as she had been one of the famous abolitionist speakers featured. She was born into slavery, freed when New York State abolished slavery in 1827, and became an outspoken antislavery abolitionist and advocate for women’s rights. Her “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech (recounted below) brought tears to my eyes as a child and although I can’t remember what grade, I performed her monologue several times in one year and ended up writing several middle school papers on women’s rights as a result of her influence. (Side note- this is likely why I was so drawn to the Slave Wrecks Project, although a completely independent decision)(As recounted by Frances Dana Gage, in 1863) Ain’t I a Woman?
Well, children, where there is so much racket there must be something out of kilter. I think that ‘twixt the negroes of the South and the women at the North, all talking about rights, the white men will be in a fix pretty soon. But what’s all this here talking about?
That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man – when I could get it – and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain’t I a woman?
Then they talk about this thing in the head; what’s this they call it? [member of audience whispers, “intellect”] That’s it, honey. What’s that got to do with women’s rights or negroes’ rights? If my cup won’t hold but a pint, and yours holds a quart, wouldn’t you be mean not to let me have my little half measure full?
Then that little man in black there, he says women can’t have as much rights as men, ’cause Christ wasn’t a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.
If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.
Obliged to you for hearing me, and now old Sojourner ain’t got nothing more to say.
Everybody thinks that because the North was against slavery, that everyone in the North was by default against slavery, but that wasn’t the case at all. Although New York citizens were legally obligated to manumit their slaves in 1827, many people found ways around the law, even by sending them back to plantations in the South, as many Brooklyn businesses had dealings invested in them. Also, despite the abolished slavery law, it was still illegal to harbor fugitives, hence the prominence but secrecy of the Underground Railroad. Brooklyn’s own harbor was used on the Railroad, as runaway slaves hiding on cargo ships made their way into Brooklyn, often through Plymouth Church, which was called “the Grand Depot” on the Underground Railroad. Henry Ward Beecher, brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe (author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin) and founding preacher of Plymouth Church, was a tireless abolitionist, despite hate and featured such prominent speakers like Sojourner Truth, William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass as part of his antislavery efforts at Plymouth. He was even outed as being a leader on the Brooklyn Underground Railroad by The Brooklyn Eagle in 1872, along with many others in his congregation. One of the most memorable actions of Beecher’s was that he would hold mock auctions at the churchyard, showcasing the horrifying aspects of slavery while he simultaneously urged parishioners to bid for the freedom of escaped slaves. President Lincoln himself worshipped at the church, just a day before his infamous speech declaring his antislavery ambitions that is said to have won him the nomination for the Republican presidential bid.It’s quite cliche to state the obvious, but we must make a concentrated effort to not only engage in topics that make us squeamish as a nation on days where it’s appropriate, like today for example. We need to make it part of the national everyday conversation because there can be no healing or catharsis from ignorance and secrecy. The new Smithsonian Institution National Museum of African American History and Culture will ideally be a platform for these ongoing conversations, and be a safe place for reflection and interpretation. There is a new exhibition called “Brooklyn Abolitionists: In Pursuit of Freedom” at the Brooklyn Historical Society (running through winter 2018 so GO!) which explores a dark chapter in my home borough. There is so much to say about slavery in Brooklyn, and I hope to have more opportunities to highlight the courage and efforts of those involved in its abolition at future opportunities.Highly recommended for further reading- “Brooklyn’s Plymouth Church in the Civil War Era: A Ministry of Freedom” by Frank Decker.- Plymouth Church Website (http://bit.ly/15qOogg)- 10 Stops on the Underground Railroad in NYC (http://bit.ly/1CHAMIs)- Slavery in Brooklyn (http://bit.ly/14YoaB7)- The King Center (http://bit.ly/19AAcCv)- Donate or Become a Member of the New Smithsonian Institution African American History and Culture (http://bit.ly/1DUT8cQ)
Jan2015142015 / Jan / 14
Greeks of Pontus: Maintaining Identity
Growing up in America with any ethnic background allows many of us to relate across cultures – simply by the similar ways in which our families share and preserve the keynotes of each of our cultures. For ethnicities in America today – Greeks, Italians, Arabs etc. it’s the ethnicity that comes first when describing their background, and citizenship that comes second. Greek-American, Italian-American, and Arab-American – to say ‘American-Greek’ sounds strange to us. Perhaps that speaks to the immigrant nature of the United States and the people who left their homelands to be here – and continue to do so to this day. Coming to America meant having the freedom to have pride in your culture and ethnicity and being free to practice your religion, so it may seem only natural to boast that part of one’s identity first. Although in the past – like today – this was not always an easy journey.
Growing up ethnic in America is one thing, growing up Greek-American is another, but growing up Pontian-Greek brings with it a different side of cultural pride – one that has been hard fought, and remains hard fought to keep the culture alive.
The region of Asia Minor once known as Pontus is located on the South coast of the Black Sea in modern day Turkey. Pontian Greeks (like all Greeks) hail themselves as the ‘Greekest’ of the Greeks –language and land, traced back beyond Alexander. In fact, one of the unique aspects of Pontic Greek dialect is that it maintains archaic Greek elements of the Ionian dialect, which was first introduced during the Hellenic colonization of the Pontic region around 800 B.C. Not only that, but Pontic dialect includes many aspects of Turkish vocabulary.
Yet, by today’s national boundaries we (Pontians) are essentially ethnically Turkish and culturally Greek – though you would be hard pressed to find many Pontians today to admit to that Turkish part. The people descended from Pontus are dark haired, almond eyed and dark skinned Orthodox Christian Greeks. And like many of the Christians living in parts of the Arab world who face ISIS and its affiliates today, they were told to convert or die.
In 1914 the Greeks, Armenians, and Assyrians of Asia Minor faced extermination or forced conversion by Kemal Ataturk’s troops. 100 years later, the world watches as the people of Iraq and Syria fight to survive against a similar fate. And much like a century ago – Turkey is playing a major role. A major world power, and a member of NATO – Turkey has turned a blind eye to the efforts of ISIS and has made little attempt to thwart the effects of their cause. And as Turkey’s President Erdogan tightens rights and restrictions on women, increasingly showing his Islamist tendencies, it appears that history is slated to repeat itself again. It has even been suggested that Erdogan is the new Ataturk.
100 Years Later: Today’s tools
My childhood and adulthood were sprinkled with the not so subtle reminders of who our people were. Where we originally come from. Greece and Turkey were rarely referred to as ‘Greece’ or ‘Turkey’ – it was simply “the old country” when referring to Pontus. Because the old country, wasn’t the country it is today.
The Greeks of Asia Minor faced the horrors of ethnic cleansing at the hands of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk during World War I. And though history has forgotten the millions of lives extinguished by these events – the community has not forgotten, and the war is not far from the memories of those still alive today. The imprint that ethnic cleansing can make on a culture is like a birthmark – it is passed from parents to children for generations.
The past century has seen tens of millions lost to genocide. So often throughout history we have said ‘never again’ – and yet again comes, and we do nothing, or remain silent. One incredible asset that technology has afforded the global community is the ability to generate a collective voice to say ‘no more.’ It has also provided an opportunity for those members of cultures without a country to come together and form a collective community. Pages such as the Greek Genocide: 1914-1923 Facebook page use this technology and in doing so inform a new generation of what has happened in our past – the parts that the history books leave out.
These technological tools also give us an opportunity to stand up to history repeating itself. The Facebook Page Operation Antioch continually shares the battles faced by Christians and other minorities in the Middle East today and how they are struggling to maintain identity while fighting terrorist groups seeking to eliminate them from history.
These pages and others like them have allowed survivors and their descendants to develop a community to support the sufferers of genocide across the world. What is unique is that the very religious and ethnic boundaries that were the dividing platforms seem to be erased when one people can sympathize with the suffering of another.
Today, all of those – Christian, Jewish, and Muslim alike – in the Middle East under the rule of ISIS and its affiliates who do not adhere to their extreme interpretation of Islam, are facing the same decimation that mine and so many others’ ancestors have faced.
Today, we have the tools to speak out about these atrocities at the click of a button, or the swipe of a thumb. And though it may seem like the odds are insurmountable – we can help. Today, there are volunteer groups risking their lives to keep their people alive. The people of Syria have been facing waves of cleansing campaigns – whether political cleansing by Assad or ethnic cleansing by ISIS – yet there are still brave and selfless volunteers who stay behind, not fleeing the turmoil. And you can help.
To read more about the Pontian Greeks of Asia Minor – check out my paper on Academia.edu: Tracing Transnationalism: Reconciling American Citizenship and Maintenance of Pontian Ethnic Identity Among First-Generation American Pontian Greeks in Northeast Ohio
To help the White Helmets – Syria’s volunteer emergency medics – donate HERE.
To help preserve the cultures of Asia Minor you can help the Asia Minor and Pontos Hellenic Research Center – donate HERE.
You can also read more about the history of the Greek Genocide at greek-genocide.org