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PostContactHistoric Archaeology


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Title: PostContactHistoric Archaeology

Post-Contact/Historic Archaeology
Historical Archaeology
  • Historical Archaeology
  • In conjunction with analysis of written records.
  • Information on societies is also available in the
    form of documents that may or may not be
    retrieved archaeologically
  • Thus in one sense all archaeology of the
    civilizationscomplex statesinvolves Historical
    Archaeology to some extent.

Contact and Historical Archaeology
  • The archaeology of European contact and the
    historical archaeology of North America in
    general were largely neglected until CRM laws
    mandated their development.
  • Historical archaeology, or text-aided
    archaeology, provides insights into North
    American Indian societies not available, or at
    least not easily available, through traditional
    (prehistoric) archaeological approaches.
  • An example is good descriptions of the
    hierarchical social organization of chiefdoms in
    the Southeast.

  • Major disadvantages of historical archaeology in
    North America until recently have been its
    Eurocentric perspective and focus in general on
    Euro-American historic sites.
  • Text-aided archaeology has its own problems.
  • An example is that information in a text can be a
    distortion (or even a lie) about real events for
    some political, economic, or ideological reason.
  • In addition, explorers and early fur traders
    usually did not comprehend what they saw and
    heard (i.e., they understood it through their own
    cultural perspective).

  • Traditionally, who write documents?
  • In most of history the average person was
    illiterateeven in literate societies!
  • Thus people who wrote were usually
  • Professionals (e.g., scribes or some other
    bureaucrats) and/or
  • Elites (kings and other royalty, priests,
    etc.privileged people)
  • Traditionally, why were documents usually
  • Writing appears initially to have served an
    inventory function
  • Early writing also documents ritual and
    supernatural symbolism, for example Passage of
    time, Sacred signs, Auguries.
  • Thus, for most of human history, writing was a
    scarce resource and one that was often employed
    for what we would today consider political
    considerations or elite agendas.

  • Therefore, one immediate concern involves the
    inherent built-in bias of history.
  • This does not mean that we should throw out
    history, but that we should consider documents
    from the perspectives of
  • Their sourcewho wrote them?
  • Their audiencewho (or what?) was the target
  • Culturally, how was writing used in the society?
  • Can we expect to find documentation that will
    inform us about things such as
  • all levels of society?
  • the workings of the economy? (Beyond the concerns
    of elites for their prestige accumulation)
  • non-elite domestic life?
  • village life?
  • Usually, the answer is "No."
  • Significant questions to ask are,
  • "What kinds of observations have not been made?"
  • "What kinds of things have not been accounted

Historic Archaeology
  • Issues, problems, research areas, etc., in
    historical archaeology.
  • Definition
  • study of the development and spread of European
    culture globally since the 15th century to the
  • how this expansion influenced the lives of people
    not typically included in written records
    (Indians, slaves, farmers, factory workers, and
  • understand how the culture of these groups
    changed in new setting among different people.

Goals and Methods
  • Goals
  • reconstructing past lifeways and explaining how
    and why societies changed through time.
  • i.e. How did groups organize socially? What
    kinds of food did they eat? What types of
    technologies did they use?
  • Methods
  • broader range of available information, such as
    written records.
  • uses archaeology, history, folk life, cultural
    geography, psychology, sociology, and political

  • Studies
  • African American and Native American studies
    explore the impact of European expansion upon
    these groups and issues related to inequality and
    the maintenance of traditional culture.
  • Gender studies are concerned with the way the
    division of labor between men and women within
    New World households changed as a result of
  • Farmstead studies focus upon the changes that
    occurred within rural households as they became
    increasingly involved in commercial farming.
  • Urban studies examine the development of cities,
    industries, and technology.
  • Maritime or underwater studies explore the
    technological history of ships and ocean

African American Studies
  • Since the early 1970s historical archaeologists
    in the South have excavated sites inhabited by
    enslaved African Americans.
  • African American studies have been guided by two
    main questions How did African American culture
    develop from West African origins and what was
    everyday life like for enslaved blacks?
  • The persistence of West African traditions in
    material culture have been identified by
    archaeologists in the areas of architecture and
  • In South Carolina during the early 18th century
    slaves constructed West African-style, wattle and
    daub, thatched houses.

Colono Ware
  • They also made pottery, called Colono Ware,
    derived from West African traditions.
  • During the late 18th and 19th centuries elements
    of European material culture, such as
    European-style houses and imported household
    goods, were increasingly imposed upon African
  • However, West African derived cultural elements,
    particularly along coastal South Carolina and
    Georgia, persist to the present in areas such as
    language, foodways, music, funeral customs, and
    decorative crafts.

Colono Ware
African American Cemeteries
  • There are a lot of differences between
    traditional African-American and traditional
    Euro-American cemeteries.
  • African-American graveyards are usually located
    in marginal areas, for example, and was probably
    the result of blacks being enslaved. Not only did
    owners not want to lose valuable land to slaves,
    but controlling even where the dead might be
    buried was yet another example of the power
    plantation owners had over their slaves.
  • The use of plants to mark graves is likely
    related to African antecedents.
  • Marking the graves was important, regardless of
    what was used, at least for the current
    generation. The predominance of temporary items
    plants and wood planks, for example suggests
    that it wasn't particularly important for future
    generations to know the location of any specific
  • The use of temporary markers helps to ensure that
    the cemetery is always available to those who
    want to be buried with their kin.
  • As one modern black man explained, "there is
    always room for one more person." This, of
    course, sounds impossible to many whites, who see
    cemeteries in terms of a finite number of square
    feet. But this is simply not how
    African-Americans have traditionally viewed

African American Cemetery Preservation
Palmetto Grove Cemetery
African American Cemetery in NYC
  • The African Burial Ground is a cemetery that was
    used between the late 1600s and 1796.
  • Ten to twenty percent of the city's inhabitants
    during this period were African.
  • The remains of 419 individuals excavated from the
    site were eventually reinterred.

  • Michael Blakeys analysis of human skeletal
    remains revealed that these men and women faced
    brutal working conditions, premature rates of
    mortality, and excessive workloads, while
    nutritional deficiencies were common among young
  • This reveals how much local merchants relied on
    slave laborers to operate the bustling port and
    to work in trades such as shipbuilding,
    construction, domestic labor, and farming.

1755 Map
Coffin lid with Sankofa symbol (from W.
Africa-take the good from the past and bring it
to the present).
Coffin excavation
Native American and Gender Studies
  • The impact of European colonization upon native
    groups and the way the sexual division of labor
    changed in the historic past are central topics
    in historical archaeology.
  • These issues are illustrated by historical
    archaeology conducted in Labrador, Canada.
  • During the late 18th century Moravian
    missionaries from Germany established mission
    towns along the Labrador coast.
  • This region was inhabited by the Inuit (Eskimo).
    The Moravians sought to convert the Inuit to
    Christianity and persuade them to live in mission
  • The Inuit were nomadic hunter-gatherers and
    depended upon arctic animals such as seals,
    whales, and caribous.

Archaeological excavation of an Inuit house
midden in Nain, a mission town
  • Illustrates the impact of European culture upon
    the Inuit and the way it restructured traditional
    divisions of labor between men and women.
  • European style houses and household items largely
    replaced Inuit material culture. However,
    artifacts from excavation illustrate European
    goods were used in distinctively Inuit ways.

Changing Times
  • For example, numerous European ceramics such as
    tablewares possessed oil discoloration from being
    used as lamps.
  • Previously, the Inuit had made lamps from
  • Also, bowls made in Europe comprised the bulk of
    the imported tablewares, indicating that stews,
    previously consumed from soapstone bowls,
    continued to be the main fare of the Inuit.
  • The Inuit also mended European ceramic vessels by
    drilling and tying the pieces together with
    sinew, a practice previously conducted with
    soapstone vessels.
  • Concerning changes in the division of household
    labor, European goods such as metal and firearms
    increased the efficiency of hunting and
    reinforced male activities.
  • Conversely, the incorporation of European
    household goods by Inuit women increased the
    time and labor needed to maintain the household
    and in turn encouraged sedentism.

Exchange items
The Five Points Site
  • Archaeologists and historians rediscover a famous
    nineteenth-century New York neighborhood.
  • Named for the points created by the intersection
    of Park, Worth, and Baxter streets, the
    neighborhood was known as a center of vice and
    debauchery throughout the nineteenth century.
  • The archaeological excavation of the Foley Square
    courthouse block provided the opportunity to
    examine the physical remains of life in this
    infamous place.

Early Accounts
  • Outsiders found Five Points threatening and
    fodder for lurid prose.
  • Describing a visit in 1842, Charles Dickens
  • "This is the place these narrow ways diverging
    to the right and left, and reeking every where
    with dirt and filth. Such lives as are led here,
    bear the same fruit here as elsewhere. The coarse
    and bloated faces at the doors have counterparts
    at home and all the wide world over. Debauchery
    has made the very houses prematurely old. See how
    the rotten beams are tumbling down, and how the
    patched and broken windows seem to scowl dimly,
    like eyes that have been hurt in drunken frays.
    Many of these pigs live here. Do they ever wonder
    why their masters walk upright in lieu of going
    on all-fours? and why they talk instead of

Five Points Excavation
Five Points in 1827 as depicted in Valentine's
Manual, 1855
The Pearl Street Tanneries
  • A 1785 map shows the courthouse block divided
    into eight lots that belonged to George and Jacob
    Shaw, tanners.
  • Taking advantage of the moving water of the
    eastern outlet of the Collect Pond and standing
    water in the surrounding swamps, the tanners
    sited their operations along the sill of land
    that eventually became Pearl Street.

Tannery Artifacts
Iron hook for moving hides around
Cattle bones
The Hoffman House
  • While the Hoffmans ate on fancy Chinese porcelain
    dishes, other citizens complained loudly about
    the industries that were polluting the nearby
    Collect Pond.
  • In addition to the tanneries, slaughterhouses,
    breweries, ropewalks, and potteries contributed
    to making the neighborhood less than desirable.
  • Despite these conditions, artisans continued to
    live here in order to be near their businesses.
  • The Hoffman bakery (managed by a sequence of
    tenants) remained in business on Pearl Street
    well into the 1850s the widow Hoffman lived on
    the property until circa 1830 when the Five
    Points had already achieved its notorious

The Hoffman Assemblage
Irish Tenement and Saloon
  • Newly arrived immigrants worked in a variety of
    skilled and unskilled jobs, including
    construction, carpentry, masonry, dressmaking,
    printing, housekeeping, and hat making.
  • Men, women, and even children contributed to the
    family income which hovered around 600 a year,
    enough to put meat on the table at most meals and
    buy fashionable household goods and clothing.
  • For working-class men, life included membership
    in fraternal orders, trade unions, and fire
    companies as well as the camaraderie of the many
    local grog shops.
  • Women formed strong support networks in the
    tenements, sharing the burden of child care and
    domestic responsibilities.

Irish Tenement Artifacts
Kids toys
Soda Bottles
Medicine Bottles
  • We have to be careful not to let the biases of
    nineteenth-century observers, men like George
    Foster who were outsiders to the neighborhood,
    prevent us from hearing the voices of the actual
    residents who lived there.
  • The Five Points artifacts speak for those whom
    Walt Whitman described in 1842 as "...not paupers
    and criminals, but the Republic's most needed
    asset, the wealth of stout poor men and we will
    add women who will work" (the Aurora).

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Theory Refinement in Historical Archaeology
  • Acculturation
  • Syncretic

  • Explains the way non-European groups react to
    interaction with Europeans.
  • Stresses that non-European groups, such as blacks
    and Indians, quickly abandon their traditional
    culture and eventually entirely adopt the
    material and non-material culture of the
    principal colonizers, such as Europeans.
  • Problems with this theory are
  • it is Eurocentric (what does this mean?), biased
    toward European or Western perspective.
  • it ignores the well documented fact that cultural
    exchange is multidirectional rather than
  • it de-emphasizes that traditional cultures
    persist beyond the impact of European ideas.

  • Emphasizes the way in which cultural elements
    become fused and transformed.
  • Acknowledges that through time the differences
    between cultural groups diminish.
  • it is a selective and progressive process, with
    some cultural practices changing and others
    remaining unchanged.
  • it emphasizes that elements of culture that do
    not change typically are used to reinforce and
    maintain identity among people.

Syncretic Examples
  • Southern foods represent a fusion of Native
    American, West African, and European food ways.
  • Religion, political opinion, and regional
    dialects are usually resistant to culture change.

The Issue of Disease and Depopulation
  • This is a pivotal problem in the archaeology of
    European contact for a variety of reasons
  • If there was great depopulation and social
    readjustment among Indians at contact (and in
    some areas before direct contact), then does this
    mean that the 'ethnographic present' that
    anthropologists and historians use as a baseline
    to understand various Indian societies is of
    limited value for understanding what these
    societies were like before disruption?

Native American Responses to Contact
  • A main focus of early contact historical
    archaeology is the nature of Indian-White
    material interaction.
  • How were metal pots, guns, and axes (etc.)
    incorporated into Indian culture?
  • As superior materials?
  • Power items? Prestige items? Utilitarian goods?
  • Who had access to them and what were their
  • What kinds of materials were exchanged and why?
  • Is there a pattern to changes in the availability
    and use of European material items? How did these
    changes affect Indian cultures?

Historical Archaeology as a Tool
  • Historical Archaeology as a Tool for
    Understanding Culture Change in Specific Regions.
  • I.e. the archaeology of De Soto.
  • To what extent do the archaeological record and
    written texts about De Soto's 'foray' through the
    Southeast in 1539-1543 agree or disagree?
  • What kinds of questions cannot be answered by
  • What dangers exist in depending on the texts

Other Kinds of Historical Archaeology
  • The Black experience and archaeology.
  • Examples of 'unconscious' resistance to slavery
    and the plantation system.
  • Excavations at Monticello(http//
  • Ships and Shipwrecks.
  • The U.S.S. Monitor (http//

What the History Books Forgot to Mention
  • History is written by those who have the means
    and ability to write.
  • Not all people during "recorded history" recorded
    their own history!
  • Historical archaeology is a relatively new, but
    rapidly growing, branch of archaeology in the New

Archaeology and History
  • The bottom line here is that archaeology can
    provide us with a glimpse into what actually
    occurred in the past.
  • Historical accounts written by well-fed, educated
    members of a priestly order or of the elite class
    will probably tell us little about the material
    conditions, preoccupations, and mealtime
    conversations of rural farmers.
  • Such accounts, if they exist, most probably will
    be either ethnocentric, "sociocentric," or, on
    the other hand, idealistic.
  • Such accounts may be perceived as sorts of
    hypotheses to be archaeologically tested.
  • When such accounts do not exist, we can use
    archaeological techniques to help us make such
    large gaps in our understanding "windows of