culture

  • justDIGine: The Early Years

    There are two questions that I usually get asked:


    “How did you become an archaeologist?” (which I love talking about!)
    and
    “Do you ever find buried treasure?”…Slow clap. Off the bat, I’ll tell you that archaeologists don’t like that question. Archaeologists care about context (i.e. an artifact’s association to its environment), not whether it’s sparkly or made of gold. So with that logic, all of it is buried treasure.

    As for the first question, it started from a youthful passion fostered by Indiana Jones (of course), because who isn’t charmed by Harrison Ford?

    However, the most influential memories I have are actually exploring the American Southwest for fossils with my Dad. This was in the ‘golden days’ of air travel, pre-2001, when you could take anything you wanted on a plane—which in my case, included bringing trilobites and brachiopods to decorate my bedroom. I was too young to realize that archaeology wasn’t the same as paleontology, nor that taking fossils wasn’t good practice (remember the context part above! Although I did occasionally donate my finds to local children’s museums), but nevertheless, I was hooked.

    I knew early on that I was destined to work in their environment

    Years later, before I was sure I was going to attend The George Washington University, I had to attend an orientation day. Luckily for me, Dr. Eric Cline, who would soon become my mentor, was speaking about the archaeology program. He was so enthusiastic about his subject that I signed up for Archaeology 101 in the fall, reigniting my long forgotten dream. 

    Two weeks into my first semester of university, I declared my major and I have never second-guessed that decision.

    to be continued….

    For a full rundown of my experience, education and skills, please visit my LinkedIn profile.

    All thoughts and opinions on my blog, social media, etc… are my own and are not representative of any group or organization.

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  • Ocean Threats from Underwater Cultural Heritage? WWII Shipwrecks

         World War II was the bloodiest, deadliest and most destructive war in human history. The National WWII Museum puts battle deaths at 15 million, battle wounded at 25 million, and civilian deaths at 45 million- all unfathomable numbers to comprehend. Memories and reminders of that war are all around us, from politics to economies to cultural institutions and more. However, lying in wait on the bottom of the ocean floor are about 7800 wrecks that were involved in World War II, with 3800 of them in the Pacific Theater alone. Wrecks from WWII are significant because it was the first time where petroleum ships were specifically targeted for attack- some even say that America’s biggest contribution to winning the war was petroleum. Although oil pollution is the most noted risk from these vessels, it can also include threats from munitions, chemical wastes, radioactive materials and others. Damaging activities, both environmental and manmade, that can release these hazardous materials include dragging anchors over wrecks, dynamite fishing, shipwreck looting, more substantial/invasive archaeological methods, storms, earthquakes, and the list goes on. The amount of oil contained in these ships could be anywhere from 757 million to 6 billion gallons according to a 2005 assessment prepared by Environmental Research Consulting and others. (It should be noted that when the term ‘wreck’ is used here, it includes not only shipwrecks but also aircrafts and submarines.)


         The President of the Ocean Foundation, Mark Spalding, recently wrote a piece for National Geographic about the hazards of underwater cultural heritage (UCH) towards a healthy ocean environment. Many articles over the last two or three years have debated the issues around the potential for oil pollution from these UCH sites, as these are sites of cultural significance, and in many cases, grave sites. One of the more well known examples of oil pollution is the 1953 wreck SS Jacob Luckenbach, a supply freighter headed to Korea during the Korean War. Scientists were able to pinpoint the shipwreck after decades of questioning why sea life were being killed from oil spills with no apparent source. The cleanup from this wreck alone cost between $18-22 million. The USS Arizona, which has been leaking oil since it was attacked at Pearl Harbor in 1941, is another prominent example where multidisciplinary teams are still working to solve the same catastrophic issue.
    A gun on the deck of the sunken U-166 German submarine
         There is much debate about how to go forward, despite the simplest solution being to pump out the oil before the tanks are destroyed. No one organization controls, let alone has the ability, to survey and intervene on every potentially threatening wreck in the Ocean- a feat that is nearly impossible at the present moment, even if every organization were to intervene. In 2013, NOAA, as part of their Remediation of Underwater Legacy Environmental Threats (RULET) project, released a report that narrowed down the estimated 20K vessels in US waters down to close to 600, of which they completed 87 individual assessments. This report contained several vessels from WWII, amongst others, and found that only 36 of those posed a significant oil pollution threat and 17 are recommended for further investigation. So if you look at the number 7800 wrecks vs 36 or even 600 wrecks, there is room for debate for how imminent the problem might actually be. Although, certainly no one is arguing that these threats shouldn’t be mitigated for the more hazardous wrecks. And yet, despite all the problems highlighted here, many of these vessels have become artificial reefs where sea life and algae thrive. Plans for solving this global crisis must include measures for minimal disturbance of the sea life and their habitats. Because these UCH sites are by definition ‘underwater’, interested parties must work even harder to keep the public and ruling agencies apprised of the problems, but also these wrecks’ importance to our humanity and history. Conservationists, environmentalists, archaeologists, and others must create mediation plans for the coming years when oil pollution and other, potentially worse issues, arise from these wrecks so that history doesn’t become catastrophe. 
    USS Abraham Lincoln manning rails for USS Arizona

  • Hidden History: Slavery Struggle in the North & Brooklyn’s Underground Railroad

    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.

    (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)
  • justDIGine: The Professional Years

    …Continued from “The Early Years”

    My professional career as an archaeologist began by receiving my Archaeology B.A. and Anthropology M.A. in a five-year program at The George Washington University in 2010. By the time I graduated, I had my fair share of global expeditions and excavations, ranging from biblical archaeological projects in Israel to working on a former slave plantation in Virginia to working at the British Museum’s Egyptian department to searching for 11th century structures in the nomadic wilderness of Eastern Mongolia. All of these adventures taught me that I needed to pursue archaeology in a way that would continue to allow me to travel internationally, while expanding my academic and digging skills.

    Shortly before I graduated with my Master’s, I was hired as a contract researcher for the Slave Wrecks Project (SWP) by a former graduate professor Dr. Stephen Lubkemann, whom I can now call a dear colleague, mentor, and friend. To continue with this project, he suggested that I get PADI scuba diver certified (and I blame him because now I want to dive everywhere!). Based at GWU, the Slave Wrecks Project is currently co-sponsored by the National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, Diving With a Purpose, IZIKO Museums of South Africa, South African Heritage Resources Agency, and African Centre for Heritage Activities.

    As a result of this project, I was able to live in South Africa and work at IZIKO and SAHRA in 2011, and discover my real passion for archaeology ‘with a purpose’. As I look back to my first archaeological excavation at Tel Megiddo in Israel in 2006 (the sight of would-be Biblical Armageddon), it made me realize that I wasn’t cut out for bucket lines and the hot desert. Therefore, I am so grateful for being introduced to maritime archaeology in South Africa, where I realized one could dive and dig. While I was gathering my wits as an underwater archaeologist focusing on shipwrecks of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade with the SWP, I became aware of the lack of several things, including diversity within this particular discipline, outreach towards the general public, and capacity-building initiatives by other archaeologists working in the developing world.

    When I was hired as the first full-time Associate Researcher for the Slave Wrecks Project in April 2012, my activism as an archaeologist flourished. The SWP not only pursues an archival and archaeological field research program to locate, document, and preserve shipwrecks engaged in the international slave trade (in both the Transatlantic-post 1400 and in the Indian Ocean-post 800), but we have come to develop a cultural management program that will preserve and protect this irreplaceable—and increasingly threatened—underwater heritage. We assist developing-country partners in the expansion of heritage management programs that can preserve and protect threatened heritage and looted cultural antiquities, while also fostering a unique niche for regional cultural tourism with tangible economic benefits, and promoting a new model of self-sustaining research for national educational and scientific institutions. In the countries that we are active (South Africa, Virgin Islands, Mozambique, Senegal, Liberia, Southeastern USA) or are pursing projects (Angola, Cuba, Cape Verde, São Tomé), we have gained an even greater understanding of the cultural issues at stake beyond the proverbial ‘hole in the ground’ that many archaeologists seem stuck in.

    Since I have become a maritime archaeologist, I have expanded beyond my excavating resume (turns out, it’s much harder to conduct an archaeological excavation underwater!), and become a part of several other organizations that I am deeply humbled by and proud to be associated with. The first is the Capitol Archaeological Institute (CAI), which holds a special place in my heart because the people there have truly shaped my life. CAI was created by Dr. Eric Cline, my mentor mentioned earlier, by Ms. Deborah Lehr, a beloved mentor and friend, and by Ms. Katie Paul, my fellow ArchaeoVenturer and partner in crime! At CAI, I remain their maritime heritage consultant and Historical Beer event organizer (ok, just once).

    These same colleagues mentioned above expanded upon our collective initiatives to form The Antiquities Coalition (TAC). It is an organization that works to safeguard global heritage, empower local communities to be stewards and not looters, and to combat cultural racketeering (the systematic theft of art and antiquities by organized crime syndicates) in an ever threatened world. At TAC, as their maritime research analyst, my aim is to work in/with these nations in crisis to focus on the submerged cultural resources that are being relentlessly plundered under the radar and with no end in sight.

    My last mention is a program called Youth Diving With a Purpose, a week long course designed to supply high school age lay-diver with knowledge to become underwater advocates for conservation and preservation through the pursuit of maritime archaeology in the National Parks in Florida and in Africa. While working on a boat in Cape Town, South Africa, I met Ken Stewart, whom I instantly knew was a kindred spirit. He and I helped create YDWP, a subgroup of Ken’s adult Diving With a Purpose. The kids come from all over the US and as far as Mozambique! I am the Mentor for the young women in YDWP, and amongst all my other projects, this might mean the most to me personally. Even if they pursue other career paths, they will always remain patrons and stewards of submerged cultural resources and environments. It gives me hope to watch them thrive and become successful young adults in our society, as they truly make me proud, and I only hope that our program had an influence on that.


    In sum, I want to be a maritime archaeologist that makes a real and tangible impact on the world, both locally and globally. I won’t work to promote the unforgiving inner circle of academics, but instead seek to promote an archaeology that is publicly accessible, supports the next generation, and is culturally aware. I am truly living the LIFE AQUATIC!



    …Now that you know more than enough about me, I can move on to writing substantive posts about culture, heritage, tracking and preventing looting, maritime archaeology, global women’s issues, travel, and other relevant topics in the news.



    For a full rundown of my experience, education and skills, check out my LinkedIn profile.

    All thoughts and opinions on my blog, social media, etc… are my own and are not representative of any group or organization.

    Follow me!!
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  • HAPPY HOLIDAYS FROM ARCHAEOVENTURERS

    Greetings from the ArchaeoVenturers team! This holiday season, we wanted to share our own special holiday traditions from each of our families with you all! These past 3 months since launching #AVProject, we have gotten so much support and received all kinds of positive feedback from people trying to accomplish similar things in life, that we just wanted to say a resounding THANK YOU FROM THE BOTTOM OF OUR HEARTS! SEND IN YOUR holiday family traditions with us!
    The Digger:

    For so many of us, our most memorable Christmas traditions come as children. My sister and I would impatiently wait at the top of the stairs until mom and dad would get the camera ready to film our faces as we came down and saw what Santa had left. Waking up and waiting for what I am certain was forever, is one of those memories that stand out so clearly. But as I have gotten older and our traditions have evolved I find so much more solace in our recent memories. As kids it was all about the presents – but as adults it’s about the people. I am very fortunate that my family attendance at holidays has remained constant with all of my grandparents, all four of whom were born and raised in Canton just like my parents and myself. Waking up now means straight to the kitchen for a morning mimosa with mom and dad rather than making a mess opening presents. The activities change but the people have not, which is probably the best thing about Christmas. Even though I have broken the family chain of Canton-residency, returning home and having the same atmosphere and company to enjoy year after year is what has made the most important Christmas traditions for me – home is where the happiness is. 

    The Diver:
    I wanted to share a small special tradition that went on for years when I was a young child. My parents, although divorced, lived across the street from one another and this is a very special set of memories that I recall them working together on to make it believable. Every year for weeks leading up to Christmas, my parents would ask us what we wanted Santa to bring us so that they could give the message to our family elves. Now, since we had two homes, my dad’s apartment and my mom’s apartment both had their own set of twin elves (usually with alliterated names like Peter and Penelope) that collaborated with one another. At night, after being tucked in, we would pretend to be asleep and listen at the door for them on the phone. We would hear them secretly on the phone with the elves, telling them how good we had been (or naughty in some cases I’m sure) and what presents we wanted. Then, on Christmas morning, the elves and Santa always delivered. It truly wasn’t until many years later that I realized the ruse that had been played on us as kids, and yet it’s one of my fondest memories. This is one holiday tradition that I plan on continuing one day… 

    HAPPY HOLIDAYS!
    Katie & Justine
  • "We Fight Our Country's Battles In The Air, On Land and Sea"

    We fight our country’s battles
    In the air, on land and sea; 
    First to fight for right and freedom 
    And to keep our honor clean 












    Major Mariam al-Mansouri gives the thumbs up sign!



    – US Marine’s Hymn 

    Coming from a country like the United States, where one can easily make the argument that women have close to, if not the most rights in the world, watching countries in the Middle East, especially with what is going on now with ISIS/ISIL/IS, can be incredibly heartbreaking for many reasons. Despite our continuous political arguments over women’s issues, as a nation, the United States continues to be a champion for women’s rights globally. An article marking the eve of International Women’s Day back in March put it succinctly “From ‘honor killings’ to legal restrictions, women in the Arab world face challenges foreign to Westerners.” And yet, only in January 2013 did the USA revisit the effort to put women back into our combat forces, including special operations. Israel, Canada, France, amongst others, are just some of the few nations that already send women to combat. 

    The reason we did this special episode series of ‘Women Warriors/Female Fighters” for #AVProject was because we wanted to highlight some inspirational women, both historical and contemporary. Clearly, in only 2-3 minute segments each, we can only chat about a very tiny select few heroines (and we encourage YOU to send in your favorites!) but there were a few certainly worth mentioning. 
    This episode, “Eliminating ISIS/ISIL/IS Terror: By Air” focuses on the contribution of Major al-Mansouri- the United Arab Emirate’s (UAE) first female pilot to fly an F-16 fighter jet and lead the UAE’s air strikes against the Islamic State* against Syria. Not only is she fighting against an active terrorist group, she was one of the first women to join the UAE Air Force academy after women were allowed to join, graduating in 2007. In the media, she has been referred to as ‘Lady Liberty’ and her attack as ‘Operation Desert Maiden’. This milestone was in part due to Major al-Mansouri’s passion as well as the fact that the UAE is known to have the most liberal views on women’s rights in the Middle East. In stark contrast, Saudi Arabia doesn’t even allow women to drive cars or vote, amongst other oppressive laws.

    When I first became aware of the Major’s achievements, I read that as a teenager, she too had dreamt of becoming a pilot in the armed forces. Unbeknownst to some (mentioned in this episode), I got my private pilot’s license while I was in high school at Republic Airport in Long Island. Although I never made it to the armed forces (the farthest I got was visiting the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs), because I was instead drawn to archaeology, I still always dreamed I would use my skills as a pilot for my career one way or the other. I rationalized in graduate school, once I went from air to sea with maritime archaeology, that eventually I could still fly planes for aerial remote-sensing surveys of underwater sites. Years later, it is still a goal of mine, however one that is as of yet, unfulfilled.

    What I hope that our audience takes away from this episode and mini-series, is that despite impossible barriers, the human spirit finds a way to persevere. In this case, women throughout history have been often unsung heroes and it’s high time that their achievements be publicly lauded. 


    “A woman’s passion about something will lead her to achieving what she aspires, and that’s why she should pursue her interests.”- Major al-Mansouri
    Air East Flight School ~2002
    Pre-flight checklist
    Flying a Cessna in Rocky Mountains, CO

    Pilot Instruction ~2003
    Practice Makes Perfect ~2003
    2005-Volunteering to build a life-size version of
    Wiley Post’s Lockheed Vega, the “Winnie Mae” for National Park Service 

    *The modern activities of IS are hereafter referred to only as ISIS or ISIL, because ArchaeoVenturers refuses to acknowledge active terrorists/jihadist militant groups as a legitimate state/entity

  • Grandiose Archaeological Claims: Do they Help or Hurt the Discipline?

    The media has always thrived on the next ‘big’ archaeological discovery- whether the claims are made by amateurs or professionals, the media circus remains the same. We as the public, crave a connection to our history and heritage, regardless of initial authenticity. Some dubious examples that come to mind are the Etruscan terracotta warriors, the James Ossuary, the Kensington Runestone, or more recently a British maritime archaeologist claiming to have found missing flight MH370 thousands of miles from the search zone.

    One particular story that has recently grabbed media attention is the purported ‘discovery’ of the Santa Maria, the largest of three ships sailed to the New World by Christopher Columbus in 1492. The discovery was announced by Barry Clifford, who in several articles, is classified as a maritime archaeologist, while in others, as an underwater explorer. Make no mistake, Mr. Clifford is not an archaeologist. He may certainly claim to be one, but his career has been built upon the salvaging of shipwrecks around the globe. The practice of shipwreck salvage is not applicable to the protection and recovery of evidence relating to submerged landscapes and resources, and is by no means, archaeology (not to be confused with rescue archaeology which is legit). However, with all of these mainstream news outlets describing him as an archaeologist, it gives a level of recognition and legitimization to his claim that he wouldn’t have otherwise, regardless of how the archaeological community feels.

    With several historians and scholars already refuting his claim, I am not concerned with whether it is or it isn’t the Santa Maria. Most certainly, a shipwreck has been found, and has been investigated since 2003, but whether it is indeed the Santa Maria is certainly too early to determine, if at all possible. Although, UNESCO and the Haitian Government are taking the claim very seriously. As a maritime archaeologist, I know firsthand how long it can take to identify submerged remains, if one can ever say for certain.

    What worries me about this trend with fantastical archaeological claims, is that it seems to be intended more as a PR campaign vs. grounded in scientific reality. Clifford isn’t sure whether this is Columbus’ ship, but now, he will never run out of funding sources. As a business strategy, follows the typical commercial salvage investor model (Kleeberg 2013), but as a pseudoscientist, it seems fraudulent.

    When the Santa Maria first was in the news, friends and family bombarded me with queries about whether or not it is true, and why I hadn’t hopped on the first flight to Haiti to dive on the excavation. The reason I have held back, as I imagine many of us have, is because these types of discoveries only hinder our mission when justifiable claims are in fact proven. There is too much crossover between pseudo and legitimate archaeology, and as referred to in my first post, the public needs to know that an archaeologist’s priority is not buried treasure or to intentionally mislead, but instead as the Society for American Archaeology says, “is to expand understanding and appreciation of humanity’s past as achieved through systematic investigation of the archaeological record.”

    – Do you think these unsubstantiated discoveries that capture the public’s attention help or hurt the archaeological discipline?

  • International Archaeology Day 2014

         International Archaeology Day is the perfect way for archaeological and cultural heritage academics to give back to their respective local communities. I have become a huge supporter over the last few years of archaeologists taking the time to become involved in public archaeology, community archaeology, local capacity building, and investing in young kids who love exploration and history/science. Education and public engagement are in most, if not all, professional archaeological societies’ ethical or standard professional codes (examples include AIA, SHA, SAA) and it is high time that professionals in the field, make more of a concerted effort to incorporate these principles into their fieldwork and research practices.

         Started in 2011, International Archaeology Day is described by the Archaeological Institute of America as:

    “International Archaeology Day is a celebration of archaeology and the thrill of discovery. Every October the AIA and archaeological organizations across the United States, Canada, and abroad present archaeological programs and activities for people of all ages and interests. Whether it is a family-friendly archaeology fair, a guided tour of a local archaeological site, a simulated dig, a lecture or a classroom visit from an archaeologist, the interactive, hands-on International Archaeology Day programs provide the chance to indulge your inner Indiana Jones.”

         This year, ArchaeoVenturers and Youth Diving With a Purpose co-participated with Archaeology in the Community for their IAD event at the Georgetown Library. Run by Dr. Alexandra Jones, Archaeology in the Community organizes events and activities all year round in the DC/MD/VA region (for anyone reading who might be interested in participating or volunteering). We had several interested children from the neighborhood join us for the activities, such as reconstructing broken ceramics (courtesy of DC SHPO office, organized by Ruth Trucolli) or rolling clay pots with Sara Ayers-Rigsby (all the way up from CRM work in FL) to trying on scuba equipment (which is always a favorite as kids love playing dress up). The number one question, behind the inevitable shark questions, is ‘when can I learn to dive?’ which always makes me quite giddy knowing that, in a few years (you can technically start with PADI at only 10 years old!), we could have a new crop of intelligent and inquisitive young kids becoming divers and scientists one day!

       Also on IAD, I was fortunate enough to be extended an invitation to participate in “History, Heroes, and Treasures” organized by the National Archives and Records Administration- which is literally “Night at the Museum”- I wish I had these kinds of opportunities available when I was a kid! The #ArchivesSleepover is described by the Archives Foundation as:

    “Throughout the night, young explorers investigate – through music, chats with historical figures, games, and more – some of the greatest adventures of all time. Campers will discover mysterious shipwrecks, venture into outer space, explore the wild West, and trek through the rugged Arctic as they explore the National Archives Museum’s treasured records.”

         All the while, these lucky kids and their parents get to SLEEP NEXT TO THE ORIGINAL CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA- a truly once in a lifetime opportunity-they will hopefully be regaling tales of this night to their children and grandchildren!

         I worked with David Gadsby of NPS to teach the young explorers how to document artifacts on a shipwreck map (the sitemap of the shipwreck America)- to which they exceeded all expectations. Following that, I was asked to play the part of the Underwater Explorer/Archaeologist (modern day) alongside historical characters Meriwether Lewis (of Lewis & Clark exploration fame) and Matthew Hensen (1st African American polar explorer). I donned my full scuba kit for my costume- luckily, I wore a child’s size tank, since we were standing up there under those bright lights for an hour! We were set up on stage, in tv interview format, so that all 100 kids in the audience were allowed to ask us questions. I assume I can speak for my fellow explorers when I say that being on stage answering their queries and helping to educate them about archaeology (not Indiana Jones archaeology), was an inspirational moment for me, knowing how genuinely interested these students and parents were in science and history.

         Overall, it was an outstanding year for International Archaeology Day and for getting young kids interested in maritime archaeology – I cannot wait to be invited back next year!


  • Revising Antiquities Laws- Does it Put a Stop to Illegal Looting?

    There are many outdated laws and regulations concerning heritage and site protection around the world. However, with their recent change in government, India has recognized the necessity of revisiting their cultural resources legislation. The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has decided to push for an update to their 1972 Antiquities and Art Treasures Act (AAT). In their belief, this Act has encouraged illegal looting of Indian antiquities and has made it more difficult for legitimate persons/dealers to obtain licenses for private antiquities ownership. While there is no ban on private ownership of antiquities, one must still obtain a license/submit registration to own them. The ASI has argued that if the law is updated, the black market for illegal items will slow down, bringing more transparency to their legal domestic trade.

    The ASI has previously attempted to change the law to be more compliant with their view, but so far their efforts have been stonewalled. If the ASI were in fact able to pass a new Act or an updated version, does this actually indicate that illegal looting will subside? Or, will it merely make it easier for those persons who already want to abide by the AAT law to comply, and not in fact dissuade those looting for subsistence or other fraudulent reasons? It isn’t inconceivable that once registered, these items, because of their new transparency to the government and other dealers, will become targets for seizure by the state or museums. In that same vein, people may be persuaded by the availability of permits and amplify their search for archaeological sites and artifacts.
    To be clear, I am certainly not arguing that the ASI should not attempt to update these laws- this law created in 1972 must be revisited by Indian lawmakers and heritage managers. However, I play the devil’s advocate when I question whether or not this will in fact make a marked improvement on looting in the country. Perhaps an educational component about the economic incentive fueled by cultural tourism, in addition to the mere redrafting of legislation, would encourage those Indian citizens to become stewards of their own heritage, instead of incentivizing them to own/sell. 
  • Treasure Hunter Barry Clifford: ‘Santa Maria’ Access Denied

    Here is an update to my post about Barry Clifford, the treasure hunter who discovered the Whydah and ‘discoverer‘ of what he believes to be Christopher Columbus’ flagship, the Santa Maria.


    This post is also featured on The Antiquities Coalition blog posted on Monday, July 14th 2014.


    Barry Clifford’s photograph of the alleged Santa Maria
    wreck. Credit: CNN

    On July 7, the Haitian Minister of Culture, Monique Rocourt, publicly stated that the Haitian Government has revoked the permit of famed treasure hunter Barry Clifford’s on the alleged Santa Maria site. When the discovery news first went public back in May 2014, UNESCO was asked for Minister Rocourt also pointed out that although Clifford had announced to the public that he had discovered this site, it had actually previously been studied by the University of Florida back in the 1970s-80s. Maritime archaeologists – trained academics and scientists – who don’t harbor the same focus on profit and fame over proper research, would have done their due diligence by conducting a full research analysis and likely have left Christopher Columbus out of the equation, until there was concrete proof of this allegation.

    As to the ‘state of emergency’ invoked by Clifford concerning this site, the Haitian Government and UNESCO have also rejected this claim, as the wreck remains protected by the natural elements and sediments, meaning immediate danger is not imminent. Doing a full excavation would do more harm than good in both the short and long term. The Council has cautiously recommended that some archaeological fieldwork will continue on this site but only under the auspices of UNESCO’s technical assistance. Their team will likely survey the site in August of this year.

    This is an example of what many maritime archaeologists face – their efforts are not only focused on research but on struggling to counteract the claims and extensive financial flows of treasure hunters worldwide. It is governments in the developing world that need to recognize the difference between claims of grandeur and hard scientific fact. Even small decisions to restrict actions by alleged archaeologists; help foster a scientific and knowledgeable environment.

    Treasure Hunter Barry Clifford discussing his ‘discovery’
    on CNN. Credit: World News

    This situation becomes even more interesting beyond the Santa Maria discovery. A simple news search shows that media coverage of this decision has only been covered by Haitian or foreign language media outlets. Once the initial announcement via the mass media was released in May to the American press, there has been little to no coverage of these developments since May in English-language outlets.

    This illustrates a trend in American sensationalist media where only the exciting or provoking news is made public, while the follow-up stories that are grounded in reality, are forgotten or dismissed. If the American public were able to know about why Clifford’s permit was revoked or why treasure hunters and archaeologists are ethically at odds, it would foster a new thoughtful perspective on cultural resources management and site preservation. The media is an integral part in spreading awareness of issues surrounding our cultural resources.  

     their technical assistance to determine the validity of Clifford’s claims and assess his permit and archaeological methods. UNESCO has since determined that the methodology and diver team employed by Clifford does not comply with the standards set by the Scientific Council of the UNESCO Convention.