Banned Books Week in Archaeology

October 1, 2016

by Hannah Rea, Social Media Intern

The 2016 Banned Books Week, which lasted from September 25 to October 1, celebrated the freedom to read through education on the issue of book censorship.  It began in 1982 after a large number of books in schools, bookstores and libraries were challenged, according to bannedbooksweek.org.  Censorship, or the suppression or prohibition of any parts of media that are considered obscene, politically unacceptable or a threat to security, has always been part of world history.

Science and censorship have faced off for centuries.  According to the New York Times, “Governments have repeatedly tried to keep scientific information secret,” especially in fields concerning warfare, weaponry and virology.  One such field is archaeology.

Possibly the most infamous occasion of government censorship of archaeology came in the 1930s and 40s from the Nazi Party.  Led largely by archaeologist Hans Reinerth and many amateur archaeological enthusiasts, the group manipulated facts and finds as a way to strengthen nationalism.  This pseudoarcheology, written about extensively by Bettina Arnold, was an attempt to prove Germany had been center of prehistoric Western Europe.  “Politicians began to take an interest in prehistoric archaeology,” because it could easily be shaped to meet their needs, Arnold wrote in “The past as propaganda: totalitarian archaeology in Nazi Germany.”  Evidence that Roman Empire had flourished in the region was subtly scrubbed out and replaced with Germanic influences.  Many of the National Socialists used such evidence to prove Germany had a right to claim Poland and Czechoslovakia as its own land, which presumably influenced Adolf Hitler greatly during his years in power.  Hitler himself even implied that the Greeks were in reality Germans who had been forced to flee south after a natural disaster in the north; this “piece of wishful thinking,” as Arnold described it, was backed by several reputable archaeologists, and even inspired a German expedition to Greece to claim they had found further evidence of the “Indogermanic migration.”

This direct censorship came directly from the government, who were able to pick and choose which expeditions to fund and which evidence to support.  This therefore was instrumental in shaping the average German’s view of European prehistory, as no one but scholars with outside contacts had access to other sources of information.  Prehistory was rarely appreciated before the National Socialists’ rise to power, and afterwards was merely exploited in journals, museums, films and reconstructed sites which were meant as propaganda; writes Arnold, “There was no real respect for or its remains; while Party prehistorians like [Hans] Reinerth distorted the facts, the SS destroyed archaeological sites.”

While anthropology and its daughter fields still face adversity from certain governments around the world, it is certainly in a much better place than it was a century ago.

The Beauty of Shawnee Pottery

September 23, 2016

by Hannah Rea, Social Media Intern

The screen at the front of the room filled with pictures of elaborately sculpted pots as Ben Barnes, Second Chief of the Shawnee Tribe, described traditional Shawnee pottery and efforts to recreate it.  Second Chief Barnes presented “Beauty of Shawnee Pottery” from 4-5:30, September 23, to a packed crowd at the Mathers Museum.

The talk, sponsored by IU’s Beauty Themester, detailed the restoration of Shawnee ceramic art, as well as the recovery of the methods used to make them.

“The way ceramics were made…signifies this region had a very specific cultural paradigm,” he said.  This paradigm would shift away from ceramic pots to metal kettles, acquired through trade with the Spanish.

“For Shawnee People, pottery was largely gone by the 1700s,” Second Chief Barnes said.  “Metal pots were superior because they traveled well.”

Second Chief Barnes compared the curiosity to a seed, planted by a question of one of the tribe’s elders: What did Shawnee pottery look like?

“As historians water that seed, Shawnees are coming into this information, sometimes for the first time,” he said.

The ongoing project is a collaboration between among the three federally recognized Shawnee tribes and scholars from University of Kentucky, University of Iowa and Indiana University, as well as from the Ohio History Connection.  Second Chief Barnes said the hope is to create a new record of Shawnee People pre-European contact.

In shaping the project, influence was taken from Eli Lilly’s method of triangulation: approaching a problem from different angles.  Lilly popularized the approach by hiring people from different disciplines in order to gain different perspectives and study a problem in an interdisciplinary way.

“We believe triangulation has largely been forgotten,” Second Chief Barnes said.  “Perhaps we can have these interdisciplinary teams, too.”

These teams have helped in their own way toward the ultimate goal of using pottery methods to learn about Shawnee history.  One area of particular interest in the language utilized in the creation of and daily use of the pots.

Second Chief Barnes explained the importance of verbs in the Shawnee language, and how, “The use of the thing usually describes the thing.”  He continued, “The verb becomes the center of the universe.  Verbs become nouns.”

Thanks to the different partners the project has, there is a variety of experience in this and other areas of interest.  The Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma, the Eastern Shawnee and the Absentee Shawnee Tribe are all actively involved in the efforts, as well as artisans and potters who apply their modern experience to the ancient art.

“We would be nothing if we didn’t have master potters, master artists to guide us,” Second Chief Barnes said.

Working in tandem, the groups involved have been able to recreate to ballpark temporal and geological zones for the methods: areas of Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia and northern Kentucky from 1400-1550 C.E.  This time and place aligns with the archaeological culture known as Late Fort Ancient.  Most of the pots that have been recovered and are used as models are cord-marked with thick handles and thin vessel walls.  Without tests to figure out the exact composition of the pots’ shell-based temper, trial and error taught the potters that the calcium carbonite they needed could not come from just any shell.

“Little did we know that all shells are not equal,” Second Chief Barnes laughed, explaining the difficulties in finding the correct ratio of shell to clay.  He continued that once they found an ideal shell – burned and crushed mussels – they faced difficulties in finding good sources of clay, and sources of the shells themselves, since mussels are endangered locally in Oklahoma.

After finding the clay and adding the temper, the mix is cured, sitting in a fine paste for anywhere from a few weeks to a few months, depending on the potter.  Then it is formed, usually into a discoidal shape that gradually will become globular.  Cord markings are used to stretch the clay and help remove air bubbles, and handles, usually two or four, are added.

The piece then must dry until all moisture is removed, before it can begin firing.  Starting at a low temperature to acclimate it, the pot will eventually be put into the coals and brought to a glow.  Second Chief Barnes showed photos of what happens to pots upon over-firing: “I don’t think disintegration is too strong a word to use.  They just crumble.”

In the future, he said the project hopes to do several things.  Firstly, to create a database of Ohio Valley Late Fort Ancient ceramics.  Next, to source temper and clay to be able to pinpoint the natural sources used in creating the pot, to trace what village it came from.  Finally, to use the organic residue to determine the vessel’s function and, in the case of food remains, try to decipher some of the food culture that has been lost over the centuries.

“We might be able to see new things about our people and look backwards through time to see, ‘Okay, here’s when beans arrived,’” Second Chief Barnes said.  “It’s a unique thing to be able to write a page of your own history.”

Watch the talk here.

The Beauty of Shawnee Pottery — Press Release

September 16, 2016

The Glenn Black Laboratory of Archaeology is hosting the Second Chief of the Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma.  Second Chief Benjamin Barnes is scheduled to speak at the Mathers Museum, in conjunction with the opening of a new exhibit at the Laboratory.

“The Beauty of Shawnee Pottery” will be held from 4 to 5:30 p.m. September 23, at the Mathers Museum of World Cultures Classroom, and light refreshments will be served at a reception beforehand.  Second Chief Benjamin Barnes will speak about the ongoing project to restore traditional Shawnee pottery, and open an exhibit of the restored works to the public.

The project is a collaboration between members of all three Shawnee Tribes – the Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma, the Eastern Shawnee and the Absentee Shawnee Tribe – and scholars from University of Kentucky, University of Iowa and Indiana University, as well as from Ohio History Connection.

The project intends to rediscover ancient ceramic technologies that were disrupted by European colonization, Liam Murphy, public programs and exhibits coordinator for the Glenn Black Laboratory, said.

“This project is an attempt to reclaim ancestral ceramic arts of the Shawnee,” Murphy said.

The event is sponsored by the Glenn Black Laboratory and the College of Arts and Sciences’ Beauty Themester.