Symposium to Examine Human Adversity through Archaeology

Posted: February 20, 2008 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Dave Andrews

Rarely is archaeological evidence used to debate human rights issues of slavery, oppression, revolt and conflict. But researchers hope to improve the welfare of struggling peoples around the world by illustrating the human experiences of the past.

Mason’s Department of Sociology and Anthropology will host a public symposium called “Archaeology and Human Rights” on Friday, Feb. 29. The event will be held in Johnson Center Room E on the Fairfax Campus from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

The symposium will explore two topics that have received considerable attention in recent archaeological dialogues — exploitation and resistance. Presentations will be given by six scholars:

James Snead, assistant professor of sociology and anthropology at Mason, will present “Benign Irrelevance: Archaeology’s Place in the Social Sciences,” in which he will introduce the subject and outline the potential for archaeological research to engage the social sciences and the general public in new and important ways.

Sarah Chicone, director of exhibits at the Museum of the Earth in the Paleontological Research Institution, will present her paper, “Archaeology and the Great Moral Issue of Our Time: Working-class Poverty and the 1913-14 Southern Colorado Coal Strike.” She will use the events of the coal strike to describe working-class poverty and the role it plays in shaping contemporary ideologies and public policy.

Elizabeth Grzymala Jordan of the Virginia Department of Transportation will present her paper, “From Time Immemorial: Archaeology and Social Responsibility.” Jordan uses archaeological data to reconstruct the daily lives and labors of slave washerwomen in Cape Town, South Africa, and their descendants to explore the strategies they employed for survival.

Lori Lee, professor of sociology and anthropology at Mason and Syracuse University, will present from her paper “Land of the Free, Home of the Slave: Race and Contested Human Rights in Antebellum Virginia.” Lee will describe the exploitative work relationships of antebellum plantations and the archaeological analysis that reveals resistance through material evidence of social and consumer practices.

Matt Liebmann, assistant professor of anthropology at the College of William and Mary, will present “Now the God of the Spaniards Is Dead: Archaeology, Human Rights, and the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 in Colonial New Mexico,” an examination of artifacts and architecture from late-17th-century New Mexico to investigate both the causes and the effects of the revolt.

Dawnie Wolfe Steadman, associate professor of anthropology at Binghamton University, SUNY, will present “Archaeological Contributions to Human Rights Investigations: Documenting Evidence of Atrocities.” The presentation will outline systematic archaeological excavation of mass graves and how such research can aid in reconstructing the events of death and burial.

More information can be found on Mason’s Sociology web page.

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