Black History Month in Archaeology

February 1, 2017

by Hannah Rea, Social Media Intern


In honor of Black History Month, let’s take a look at a few African American archaeologists and anthropologists who have enriched the field of archaeology:


John Wesley Gilbert

Gilbert is generally regarded as the first trained African American archaeologist.  Born in Georgia in either 1864 or ’65 (sources dispute his birthdate), Gilbert faced poverty and discrimination throughout his life.  He earned his B.A. in ancient Greek from Brown University, and in 1888 was appointed to Paine College in Augusta, becoming the first Black faculty member.  The first African American to work in classical archaeology, he helped excavate Eretria on the island of Euboea, and the map he created of the site was later published.  In the early 1910s, Gilbert accompanied a Methodist mission trip to Africa with his friend Walter Russell Lambuth.  Utilizing his language skills to aid communication, and religion to overcome racial divides, the trip was viewed by many as a success; in 1968, the Gilbert-Lambuth Memorial Chapel was built on Paine College’s campus to celebrate the two men.


Theresa A. Singleton

Currently an associate professor of anthropology at the Maxwell School of Syracuse University, Singleton was the first Black woman to earn a Ph.D. in historical archaeology and African-American history and culture from the University of Florida.  According to her biography in Syracuse’s faculty listing, she specializes in historical archaeology, African-American history and culture, slavery in plantation America and archaeology of the African Diaspora.  She started studying slavery on the coast of Georgia, looking into the Gullah-Geechee, a group of people who were descended from slaves and were named for a variation of creole.  She published several books on African-American life in America, and is currently studying the history of slavery on coffee plantations in Cuba.


Alexandra Jones

Jones is the Founder and CEO of Archaeology in the Community, a nonprofit organization that works to teach people of all ages about archaeology and history.  She has B.A.’s in history and anthropology, as well as a Master’s in history from Howard University, and a Ph.D. in history from the University of California, Berkeley.  According to her biography on the AITC site, Jones has taught in primary schools, museums, colleges and camps, and, in 2013, worked as the Archaeology Field School Director for PBS’s “Time Team America.”


Whitney Battle-Baptiste

Battle-Baptiste is an associate professor of anthropology at University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and specializes in the crossing of race, class and gender as it relates to the African Diaspora.  She graduated with a bachelor’s in history and secondary education from Virginia State University and a master’s in history from the College of William & Mary, as well as a Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin in anthropology.  In 2015, Battle-Baptiste was named director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Center at the UMass Amherst Libraries, which works to educate on and lead discussions about issues relating to race, labor and social justice across the world.  She has worked on historic sites from the W.E.B. Du Bois Homesite in Massachusetts to the home of Andrew Jackson in Nashville, and has published a book on Black feminism as it relates to archaeology.


Michael Blakey

Blakey is a National Endowment for the Humanities professor at the College of William & Mary, and has a B.A. in anthropology from Howard University, and a M.A. and Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.  According to his faculty listing, his specializations are in biological anthropology, biohistory, skeletal biology and the African Diaspora.  He rose to prominence in the 1990s during the controversy surrounding the excavation of a building site, now known as the African Burial Ground National Monument: though the site was listed on maps as a burial ground for slaves in the 1700s, a previous archaeological survey had determined it was unlikely remains would be found, due to centuries of urban development.  Upon digging, intact burials were found and the African-American community in New York City was angered that they were not consulted, and worried the remains would be destroyed or otherwise disrespected.  The site was turned over to Blakey and a team of archaeologists and anthropologists at Howard University, whose efforts in studying the remains gained media exposure and helped the site be registered on the National Register of Historic Places in 1992.



“Field School Director: Dr. Alexandra Jones.” Oregon Public Broadcasting, 2014,

Fitzgibbons, Daniel J. “Battle-Baptiste Named New Director of W.E.B. Du Bois Center at UMass Amherst.” University of Massachusetts Amherst, 26 Jan. 2015,

“Michael Blakey, National Endowment for the Humanities Professor.” William & Mary, 2017,

Ronnick, Michele Valerie. “Gilbert, John Wesley.” African American National Biography, 2006. Oxford African American Studies Center, doi: 10.1093/aasc/9780195301731.013.1474.

“Theresa Singleton, Associate Professor, Anthropology.” Maxwell School of Syracuse University, n.d.,,_Theresa/.

Biography of Andrew Wylie

January 28, 2017

by Rachna Chaudhari, Bicentennial Intern, Spring 2017

Andrew Wylie was born in 1789 and was the son of an immigrant Irish farmer. He grew up in Washington County, Pennsylvania, where he was a licensed Presbyterian minister. In 1812, he was unanimously elected the president of Jefferson College. In 1813, Andrew Wylie married Margaret Ritchie, and together they had 12 children. Only 10 of the 12 lived in the Bloomington home. In 1828, Wylie was invited by the trustees of Indiana College to be its first president. This would be the beginning of a 21-year term as President. Andrew Wylie remains IU’s third longest serving president, and its longest non-Hoosier chief administrator.

Imagine this: Bloomington with no cars, a few brick houses and tiny farms everywhere. Two hundred years ago, this is exactly what Bloomington looked like. When Andrew Wylie arrived in Bloomington with Margaret and 9 of his children, the population of Bloomington was a mere 1000 people. Andrew Wylie, to the dismay of his wife, was a frontier settler.

By the 1840s, the population had increased to a few thousand. To think, the first class at Indiana University (then Indiana College) had 10 individuals. Today, there are roughly 38,000 undergraduates enrolled at Indiana University. Indiana University has truly come a long way.

Not only was Andrew Wylie the college administrator, but he also taught 3 classes: moral and mental philosophy, political economy, and literature. He also stayed highly involved with his church as a Presbyterian minister. Andrew Wylie was one busy man! Under his guidance, the student body increased, the curriculum was expanded and the college became a University in 1838. In 1835, Andrew Wylie built the house now named in his honor, Wylie House, located at 317 E. Second Street. The architectural style of the house reflects Wylie’s Pennsylvania origins. It is believed he did this to make his wife feel more at home. When Andrew Wylie built the beautiful “mansion on a hill,” Bloomington’s streetscape mainly consisted of log cabins and a few brick houses. Wylie’s house definitely stood out in the community. As the weeks go on, I will be travelling back in time to 19th century Bloomington and telling the story of the esteemed Wylie family and life on the frontier.

Recently, in 2009 (which actually isn’t so recent now that I think about it), during construction of the Morton C. Bradley Jr. Education Center next to the Wylie House, Sherry Wise, the outdoor interpreter of the Wylie House, found artifacts including teapots and bowls. These finds have the potential to give us a new perspective and insight into the lives of the Wylie family. With the help of the Glenn A. Black Lab and the Wylie House, I will be analyzing these artifacts along with compiling historical information about the Wylie’s daily lives for my bicentennial project. The Glenn A. Black Lab will be writing a proposal to begin a more in depth project on the property. As Robert Mazrim said, “Archaeological excavations…help to better define a place and a time…archaeology has a peculiar ability to enhance and also challenge the written word, to uncover the aspects of daily life long since passed.” This is the exact goal of the Bicentennial Project; to bring to light the rich history of our amazing university.



Mazrim, Robert. The Sangamo Frontier: History & Archaeology in the Shadow of Lincoln. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2007. Print.

[Museum Brochure], [The President’s Homes Indiana University: Wylie House Museum], Reference Files, Indiana University Archives, Indiana University, Bloomington.

Old Newspaper Clippings

January 20, 2017

by Maclaren Guthrie

Newspaper clippings concerning Angel Mounds

As you may know, the Glenn A. Black Laboratory of Archaeology is home to a large amount of information and different media stored in its archives. There are site records, maps, soil surveys, field notes, newspaper clippings, and more. For my project, I spent a few days looking through old Indiana State Site Files looking for old newspaper clippings about archaeology. In the archive, everything is sorted by county. So I had to go county by county recording how many newspaper clippings there were, what they were about, and any other notes I thought would be helpful later. My goal was to figure out if there is a difference in the public’s interest in and attitudes towards archaeology by comparing articles from the past to the present.

Since most of the articles in the archives are from the 1930’s, there are a fair amount of articles that mention the WPA (Works Progress Administration) and the work they did relating to archaeology. As part of the New Deal, WPA excavations were credited with uncovering some human remains, relics, and most notably for funding the Angel Mounds excavation in Evansville, Indiana. One clipping from February 1938 discussed that the Indiana WPA director John K. Jennings said that WPA crews could begin work at Angel Mounds in April. Another article shared that the WPA was going to finance the excavation at Angel Mounds with a $200,000 grant. Before looking at these articles, I hadn’t considered how good an investment archaeology was during the Great Depression. Archaeological excavations require lots of fieldwork and lab analysis, and all seemingly without developing a product. According to a newspaper article from December of 1938, the $200,000 WPA grant funded 50 to 100 otherwise unemployed men and women to work at Angel Mounds for 10 months.

There is also a large amount of newspaper clippings about members of the general public finding relics, features, or even remains. For example, in December 1938 a property owner found a burial while constructing a fence. There are many similar stories of residents finding and reporting sites and materials. There were also articles about people visiting sites, and in some cases getting injured while attempting to get a closer look at a discovery.

While reading all of the articles, I kept asking myself if archaeology is perceived the same way now as it was back then. The short answer is, I still don’t completely know. From these articles, it seems like people have always been interested to hear about someone digging up artifacts in their backyard, or just new discoveries in general. I did see that a lot of the articles were about finding or excavating remains or burial sites which doesn’t happen as often now, as laws and ethical codes governing the excavation of human remains have since been emplaced. These articles were collected over years, but I don’t see nearly as many articles about archaeology in the newspaper now as I saw represented in the archives. However, it is important to take into consideration the new methods of news and communication that weren’t available in the early 20th century, like online news, television, and social media. I may not have a solid answer to what I wanted to know yet, but looking through the archives has started me in the right direction.

Introduction from the Bicentennial Intern

January 20, 2017

by Rachna Chaudhari, Bicentennial Intern, Spring 2017

Today is IU’s 197th birthday. In three years, it will be the bicentennial. This is very relevant to me, as a Bicentennial Intern. I will be posting on the Glenn A. Black Laboratory’s blog this semester documenting my journey on my bicentennial project involving the Glenn A. Black Lab and Wylie House. Together, they are proposing an archaeological project at the Wylie House, led by the Glenn A. Black Lab. My job is to research relevant historical archaeology pertaining to the 19th century. Shockingly, not as much information exists as there could be. Throughout the semester, I will hopefully find some interesting things I can share with you all, and I will be travelling to different places in Bloomington to aid my research. I will be doing spotlights on these potential partners of this bicentennial excavation!

A Conversation with the Curator

November 1, 2016

by Hannah Rea, Social Media Intern

Recently, I sat down with Melody Pope, Curator of Collections for the Glenn A. Black Laboratory of Archaeology (GBL), who is nearing the one-year anniversary holding the position.  She describes the job as one of oversight and stewardship, since she is in charge of complying with curation agreements the GBL has made with federal agencies and managing the collection, among other things.

Pope has had a long relationship with Indiana and the GBL.  Born and raised in southern Indiana, she worked at the GBL during her time as an undergraduate student at Indiana University, and said that this link is part of what attracted her to the position, seeing it as an opportunity to return to the Hoosier State.  This new job was not only a geographical shift from her previous position at the University of Iowa, but also a career shift.

Much of Pope’s previous work has been in compliance archaeology, programs that operate under the National Historic Preservation Act and various state and local guidelines to survey land considered for development, and ensure the work will not disturb any archaeological sites.

“It’s doing archaeology for historical preservation,” Pope said. “Now I’m in more of a museum-kind of position.”

One skill she has utilized throughout her career is photography.

“I’ve always had an interest in photography as a hobby,” she said. “It was a skill I was able to build and utilize in my work.”

Pope began in film photography, and was the designated photographer on three archaeological expeditions to Iraq during her time as a doctoral student at Binghamton University.

“It was a lot of fun to be the photographer for the expedition,” she said. “I never in a million years imagined I would go to Iraq and do archaeology.”

Pope traveled to the country in the late 1980s and early 1990s.  While there, the American and British archaeologists on the team lived on site in field camps: “Living archaeology 24/7.  It’s fun if you like roughing it.”

She said it was relatively easy to get the correct permits from the Iraqi government, though there still was plenty of red tape to get through.  There was a representative from the Department of Antiquities constantly overseeing the progress, but otherwise, Pope said, the experience was not too different from doing archaeology here.

“We got back and within two weeks, Saddam Hussein had invaded Kuwait and started the First Gulf War,” Pope recalled.

As for the current situation in Iraq and surrounding countries, many archaeologists are working to make people aware of how manipulative governments can be of archaeological finds.  The manipulation of archaeology to create ideologies about a past the governments want people to believe often leads to the destruction of historical sites and artifacts.

“I think a lot of anthropological archaeologists are becoming activists in their work,” Pope said.

Some devote their time and energy to work like investigating war crimes and excavating mass graves.  Others take a different route: “A lot of folks simply shift their work into safer areas.”

“It’s been hard to get back over there and assess the damages,” she said.  And though it’s important to preserve history, “People’s lives are more important than the past, when you get down to it.”

Preserving culture and bringing the human aspect back into focus is also part of the mission at the Glenn A. Black Lab.

“Early on, the lab was very much a central hub for Indiana archaeology.”

Like many similar institutions, inconsistent record-keeping practices have led to challenges for collections management today.  After early excavations, many artifacts received only basic cataloguing, and some are even in the same bags they were put in when they were originally excavated in the 1940s, Pope said.  The lab today is focused on balancing museum work to rehabilitate collections, create new exhibits and conduct research.

“With so much time having passed since most collections came into the lab it can be a real challenge to rehouse collections, to put things back together again,” she said. “We’ve got a lot of work cut out for us.”

The strong museum identity was part of the early mission of the GBL with over half of its square footage dedicated to storage and display of artifacts.  The laboratory part of its identity comes with research and teaching opportunities that involve diverse scholars and stakeholders.  The combined museum and research laboratory identity allows the GBL to serve double-duty as a place to conduct research, educate students and engage with communities interested in Ohio Valley archaeology and history.

“We’re collaborating more and more with the public,” Pope said. “It’s all integrated here, and it’s a really unique place.”

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  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.