The Mere Distinction of Colour

Montpelier is mostly known for its association with President James Madison.  However, the site has created a new exhibit called The Mere Distinction of Colour focused on the lives of slaves living at the site.  “This provocative, multimedia exhibition, offers visitors the opportunity to hear the stories of those enslaved at Montpelier told by their living descendants, and explore how the legacy of slavery impacts today’s conversations about race, identity, and human rights.” This exhibit, located in the Cellar of the site, aims to educate the public on how slavery impacted individuals, their families, descendants, and the entire history and development of the United States.


“We have seen the mere distinction of colour made in the most enlightened period of time, a ground of the most oppressive dominion ever exercised by man over man” – James Madison, 1787

The exhibit opened to the public on June 4, 2017.  Both historical and archaeological research was used to create this holistic story of America and those enslaved humans whose stories are rarely told.  The emotional and evocative story is told through letters, documents, artifacts, and art, to not only tell the story of the Montpelier slaves but also the full legacy of slavery in the United States and its impact on the world we live in today.

History and archaeology cannot ignore the ugly histories.  Slavery was a large and impactful part of American history that is often glossed over or told in simple black-and-white terms.  Because of this, the real stories of those enslaved peoples are not told.  These stories are just as important to understanding our past as James Madison’s story.  Archaeologists can use the formation of slavery and interactions between the races to combat modern notion of race and racism.  Slavery and its role in American history is more than the black and white picture history classes portray.  The archaeological finds used in the exhibit and Heather Lash’s thesis debunk some of the myths associated around the daily lives of slaves.  In doing this, these people are given their agency, personalities, thoughts, dreams, and voices back.

“This isn’t African American history, it’s American History” – Hugh Alexander, descendant


For more information about The Mere Distinction of Colour exhibit, visit

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Heather Lash Thesis: Foodways of Pre- and Post-Emancipation African Americans at James Madison’s Montpelier

Written by Heather Lash

Archaeology at Montpelier from

For many people, consuming food is one of the best parts of each day. The act of eating provides for most, a moment  to rest, spend time with family, and relate to others. It is especially pleasing for individuals who enjoy preparation and cooking of foodstuffs. And while the act of eating is universal, it is not associated with positive connotations for all people. In fact, the way a person is shaped and influenced by their cultural norms and traditions influences the way they associate with food, foodstuffs, and foodways. Foodways –  the cultural, economic, political, and social aspects involved in the act of eating – influence the production and consumption of food-related materials. These overlapping spheres of influence effect the creation and continuation of foodways and food traditions within cultures.



By focusing on the daily act of eating, and all processes involved in production and consumption of food, the agency of communities and individuals can be illuminated. Reconstructing food processes contributes to better understanding one aspect of daily life that introduces choice based on preference. In my thesis, “Foodways of Pre- and Post-Emancipation African Americans at James Madison’s Montpelier: A Zooarchaeological Analysis of Food Preference and Food Access,” I explore African foodways through Zooarchaeological identification and analysis. By matching each bone to IUPs Zooarchaeological Comparative Collection, and determining the presence and absence of different animals in the collection, Trends describing preference of food and access to foodstuffs can be clearly differentiated. At James Madison’s house, Montpelier, located in Virginia, the need exists for pre- and post- emancipation subsistence practices to be contrasted, compared, and evaluated. Therefore, detailing differences and similarities between one group of enslaved individuals and one free family across the Montpelier property can also delineate post-Emancipation effects on food procurement and the utilization of foodstuffs.

Map created by Heather

The Montpelier plantation is located in Orange, Virginia, about 30 miles north of Charlottesville. The main house was built by James Madison Sr. and then later occupied by former President, James Madison Jr., and his family from 1764 to 1844. Throughout their “Retirement Period” (1809-1844), the period of significance for this research, James and Dolley Madison hosted guests for celebrations and cookouts. Preparation of the festivities were facilitated by their three groups of enslaved individuals—domestic enslaved individuals, artisans, and field hands (Reeves and Greer 2012:73). These enslaved individuals formed a large community across the plantation before emancipation, 1764 to 1860. After emancipation, formerly enslaved individuals, such as George Gilmore, were responsible for their own subsistence. This juxtaposition of two time periods provides a comparison for pre- and post- emancipation food preference and consumption trends.


Map of Montpelier Site created by Heather

Modification of food was a very important way of continuing and reinforcing traditions. The application of African traditions to foodstuffs, food preparation, and food consumption due to the repetition of social actions (i.e. tradition), resulted in an identity linked to food. This Africanization, recognized as the modification of available resources, applied to foodways, and contributed to a phenomena that embodies much of the South, and is known as “Soul Food.” Focusing on Enslaved African and Black Freedman culture helps provide an outlet for African voices; individuals overlooked as creators of their own history and culture. Overall, foodways help conceptualize the story of perseverance and strength of pre- and post- emancipation families.

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Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show

As discussed in last week’s post, Janee Becker’s thesis is investigating The Wigwam, the former home of Major Israel McCreight and campsite for the Native American performers in the famous Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.  Along with his partner Dr. W.F. Carver, William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody, opened his Wild West show on May 19, 1883 in Omaha Nebraska.  His show included cowboys (and girls), Indians, military formations, mock battles and hunt, trick shooting and riding, and creative storylines connecting all performances.  Buffalo Bill’s and many other rival Wild West shows often depicted major events occurring in the mysterious wild west, all while promoting the idea of westward expansion.  Americans were not the only people fascinated by the West.  Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show opened in London on May 9, 1887 and traveled throughout Europe.

Native Americans played an extremely important role in the show. For the most part, they were treated and paid well, able to travel with their families, and able to retain their traditional ways of life.  Despite these positive aspects of the show, they were still viewed as warlike savages preventing the expansion of civilization into the West.  The Native American victory at Little Big Horn was even used to show audiences why westward expansion is needed.  In the 1890s Buffalo Bill’s employed hundreds of Native Americans, vastly outnumbering the number of cowboys and cowgirls.

Women were also included in the Wild West Shows.  Some had spotlighting roles as sharpshooters like Annie Oakley and Princess Wenona, the Indian Girl Shot (Lillian Smith) while others portrayed rancheras and Indian captives.  Lucille Muhall even made a name for herself as a roper and Rough Rider.  According to records from Buffalo Bill’s women performers were paid the same as men.  African Americans also participated in Wild West shows, although in minor roles.  They often portrayed cowboys, were members of the all-black 9th and 10th US Cavalry units, or as part of the band.

These live shows declined in the early 1900s with the introduction of television and movies and the increasing popularity of sports.  World War I also created problems for the shows.  The Miller Brothers 101 Ranch Real Wild West show had all of their horses taken for the war effort performing in Great Britain in August 1914.  The Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show went bankrupt in July 1913 and in 1917 both the industry and Buffalo Bill Cody had passed.


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Janee Becker Thesis Project: Archaeological Investigation at the Wigwam

Written by Janee Becker

My thesis research focuses on archaeological investigations at The Wigwam in Dubois, PA. The Wigwam Project investigates the historic context and potential significance of 20th-century Native American performer campsites in western Pennsylvania. The Wigwam is the former home of Major Israel McCreight, a prominent historical figure in local Dubois history. The property was built in 1906 and has historically been documented as a camp for Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, a haven for visiting Native Americans, and the location of a Six Nations Mowhawk tribe council house. Aside from Buffalo Bill Cody, Major Israel McCreight often hosted chiefs Flying Hawk and Iron Tail and was considered a life-long friend and defender of Native Americans.

No previous cultural resource investigations have been conducted within the vicinity of the Wigwam property. Therefore, this project attempts to locate features related to historic Native American performer campsites using metal detector and geophysical survey in the form of magnetic gradiometer survey. Archaeological investigations of these deposits excavated approximately four and a half square meters. These investigations recovered approximately 870 artifacts including charcoal, lithic debitage, and a piece of worked glass potentially associated with historic Native American short-term use of the site.

Classical research into the historic assimilation of Native Americans often focuses on the dichotomy of change and continuity from precontact cultural practices to European colonialism (Silliman 2009). Therefore, it often obscures the use of Euro-American materials by Native Americans to represent their own cultural heritage; creating a narrative of Native American authenticity (Cipolla 2013b). This belief in authenticity implies that to be a true Native American, the cultural lifeways and materials must reflect precontact cultural practices. Silliman (2009:212) rightly questions the appropriateness of using these “precontact cultural practices as the baseline” in archaeological research.

Photo by Jamie Kouba

Data collected through these investigations attempt to address the adaption and resiliency of Native American’s during the period of 1906 through 1913. Research questions will explore the pressures of this time-period on Native American lifeways and how these pressures influenced Native American performer identity. These investigations are a study of archaeological materials associated with the with these changing identities.


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Zaakiyah Cua Thesis Defense: Loyalhanna Creek Geophysical Analysis

Today January 24, 2020 one of our graduate students defended her thesis.  Zaakiyah Cua graduated from her undergrad at Youngtown State University with degrees in Anthropology and Geography and a GIS Certificate in 2015.  In 2018 she received the Paul Goldberg Award at the SAA conference for her work using Earth Science methods in archaeology.  Zaakiyah’s thesis is entitled Loyalhanna Creek: A Geoarchaeological Approach to Understanding the Archaeological Potential of Floodplains.  Loyalhanna Creek is a point bar of upstream of a dam in Westmoreland County, PA.  Her research used ground penetrating radar, gradiometry, and auger sampling to find anomalies and investigate soil horizons.  As in all IUP graduate theses, Zaakiyah’s research was directed by three research questions. They are:

-Are there Buried Landscapes that have the potential to yield pre-contact archaeological sites within the selected floodplain along the Loyalhanna Creek?

-If there are buried landscapes what are the extent of these landscapes, how do they relate to one another, and what was the landscape before sediment deposition?

-What is the Archaeological potential of existing buried landscapes on the selected floodplain?

Zaakiyah first surveyed her area using GPR and gradiometry in order to answer questions one and locate possible buried landscapes.  After analyzing her data and comparing both geophysical methods to each other and topographic maps, she located 6 potential large landscapes.  She augured select points along these landscapes to compare the landscape horizons.  The soil samples were first analyzed in the field using visual characteristics and then in the lab using particle size analysis.  Using these methods, she was able to identify several soil trends including stacked B horizons, buried A horizons, and restricting features within a landscape.  One landscape had enough charcoal deposits to conduct radiocarbon dating providing her with a date of roughly 5000 BP for that horizon.  From all of this data, Zaakiyah was able to show that there is archaeological potential for that area and recommends more research and sampling.

She gave an amazing and very professional presentation to her research committee and around 8 current graduate students.  One professor commented that her research is one of the most impressive to come out of the program in many years.  She spent a total of four years surveying, analyzing, and writing her thesis.  Everyone was very impressed with the amount of work she was able to accomplish in that short time.  The department is very proud of her and wishes her the best in her future careers.

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Thanksgiving Feast

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

As we all begin preparing for the family feast, let’s return to the first Thanksgiving which happened in 1621.  What would this feast look like?  What food would they have? And how does that differ from what we have now? Many of you are probably aware that the traditional turkey and cranberries are species native to America, and even more specifically the New England area where the first feast took place.  For this comparison, I will look at what ingredients are native to America, however, not specifically to New England.  Many of the food we love to have for Thanksgiving are actually native to South America.

I will begin with one of my favorite side dishes, green bean casserole.  Green or String beans have been cultivated in Mexico for over 7,000 years.  They actually originated in Peru and migrated North overtime.  The Spanish explorers introduced green beans to Europe in the 16th century.  In New England “Three Sisters” Corn, Beans, and Squash were present. Although they might not have been green beans. But for you Corn Casserole lovers, corn was definitely present.  And squashes that would be used for pumpkin pies, although the spices would have been different.  Other than the green beans, a major component of green bean casserole is the cream of mushroom soup.  Mushrooms would be available for gathering but the cream is not native to America.  Cattle were brought to the Americas with the European colonists.  Bison are similar to cattle but were never domesticated and they do not have the large utters for milk producing seen in the domesticated cows and thus cannot be milked.

Moving on to arguably the best part about Thanksgiving, the stuffing (or dressing)!  Stuffing is made with bread.  Bread as we know if (Loaf) is from the Old War.  Egypt, Rome, India, Persia, and many other counties have been making variations of bread from wheats and like grains for many thousands of years.  In the Americas, corn was ground and made into meals and tortillas.  Mexico is still famous for tortillas, a bread-like flat baked dough that they have been making since 100 BC.  There were forms of bread present, although I do not know if tortillas would work in stuffing.

The final side I will be talking about is the potato.  Whether you use them for mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, or part of your stuffing, they remain a family favorite side dish, especially with gravy.  Most people associate the potato with Ireland and the Potato Famine.  However, the Inca grew potatoes since 8,000-5,000 BC.  The potato plant produced a rather pretty purple star shaped flower that the French aristocracy, Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVI, wore it in their clothing.  Not only can you have your mashed potatoes, but you can also make a nice centerpiece with the flowers.Thank you for reading this blog and enjoy your New and Old World food with all your family and friends.

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It is no secret that since the colonization of America, that the government has not treated First Nation tribes with the respect and fairness due to them.  Early settlers forcibly took land from the tribes already living here.  As time progressed, the government became involved in the disruption of First Nations People.  One of the most devastating government acts was the Indian Removal Act of 1830, which led to the Trail of Tears as Native Americans were forced from their homes in the eastern US to Oklahoma.

Although US-Tribal relations have improved since the 1830s, Tribes today still struggle to fight against discrimination, voter suppression, poverty, and lack of respect, all a legacy of colonization and western expansion.  For example, federal recognition is a major milestone in tribes gaining sovereignty as a nation but can be very difficult to obtain.  The tribe must prove that its members are direct descendants from one or more tribes throughout history and that they maintain their own governance of their members.  The tribe must provide documentation of membership and their government such as a constitution.  One of the more complicated criteria is that the tribe must be able to prove that they have maintained their identity as “American Indian” or “Aboriginal” from their beginning to the present.  This might appear to be simple but the Brothertown Tribe is finding this to be very complicated.

The Brothertown Tribe was created by member of many different tribes of the Northeast known as the praying tribes.  They are currently trying to become a recognized tribe but are having difficulties due to their previous adoption of European materials and ways of life.  An archaeological survey, conducted by Craig Cipolla of the University of Pennsylvania, of Brothertown sites sought to aid in connecting the current tribe to their ancestral identity.   However, according to the Office of Indian Affairs in 2009, the archaeological investigation proved that the tribe showed little evidence of maintaining an identity as Native American.  While the tribe did adopt Christianity, built a Methodist church, and lived on farms similar to those of European settlers, this does not mean that they do not identify as Native American.  In 1839 the members of the Brothertown tribe were given US citizenship and land.  By signing this citizenship act, the members were no longer tribe members in the eyes of the government and therefore did not need protection.  They lost their tribal recognition. Although, they lost recognition and their identity in a legal sense, they did not lose their personal identities as Brothertown Tribe members.


Brothertown Members still practice traditional crafts including beading

Archaeologists must recognize that their excavations, publications, and work can impact the public and the group they are researching.  In the case of the Brothertown Tribe, the negative and incomplete research was misinterpreted to deny a tribe recognition.  As well, what exactly makes up an identity needs to be considered.  While the government may say that the Brothertown Tribe does not identify as a Native American tribe because of their settlement style and material culture, the members of the tribe to identify as Brothertown.  They are still working on becoming recognized today.



For more information about the Brothertown Tribe see:  and PBS

The requirements for Federal Recognition can be read here.


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What’s in a Name?

Names are very important to a person’s identity.  Anyone who has a unique name or spelling understands the feeling that comes when your name is pronounced for spelled wrong.  It doesn’t feel like your name.  It isn’t you.  This is a very common problem among the Native American people.  Throughout history their tribal names have been created more by outsiders than by the people themselves.  Many of the tribal names we know of today are names that were given to these people and not their true names or identities.  For example, the name Anasazi commonly associated with the people of Mesa Verde in Colorado is derived from a Navajo term which is often translated to “enemy ancestors”.  This was likely not the intention of those naming the now dubbed Ancestral Pueblo, it has a very negative meaning.  The term Ancestral Pueblo, while accepted as a better name, does not adequately communicate the ancestral history of the Pueblo people or the far-reaching influence of the Ancestral Puebloans.


Along with tribal names a major discussion is in the terminology used to describe the Native American People as a whole.  These names are also impressed upon them and often used in discrimination and oppression of identity.  The first name given to the inhabitants of this land was Indian or American Indian.  This was due to Christopher Columbus’ error in thinking he had reached the Indies.  The term is widely accepted and used because of its age.  But is an incorrect description of the people it refers to.  In the 1960s political correctness came into vogue as well as a unifying sense of having one American identity.  During this time there was a trend of hyphenating original identities with “American”.  Thus, you get African-American, Irish-American, and Native-American.  Again, although widely accepted and used this term is problematic because it forces the original population into a foreign and colonized identity.  As well, “Native” has two distinct and opposing meanings.  The first is that is refers to the original inhabitants which is correct.  However, European use of the word changed it to represent a primitive or ignorant culture which in and of itself is ignorant.

So, what should we call the original inhabitants of the United States?  We should call them what they want to be called. In the 1970s inhabitants of Canada decided to start using the term First Nation but this has gained little traction and has no legal standing yet.  In general, when referring to Native Americans/First Nation People, you should use their tribal affiliation over the generalized term.  However, as stated earlier, many of these names were given by outsiders or enemy tribes.  Sioux and Apache are corruptions of words meaning “enemy”.  With such complicated nomenclature, it is also better and respectful to ask what name a person would prefer.

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In 1986, President Ronald Reagan issued a proclamation making November 23-30, 1986, American Indian Week.  Since then, each president has proclaimed the entire month of November to be Native American Heritage Month.  It is important to understand and respect Native American heritage and cultural traditions, especially has an archaeologist.  Archaeologists have extremely close interactions with Native American culture through their work.  We excavate their villages, identify their material culture, and try our best to preserve their heritage and work with First Nation communities in our work.

Archaeology in the past has not treated Native Americans very well.  The first American Archaeologist Thomas Jefferson destroyed sacred mounds that were thought to have been build by more civilized and advanced people.  The abuse was not isolated to the destruction of their sacred sites but also their ways of life.  In 1838, the Cherokee were forcibly removed from their traditional homes to an Indian Territory through a marched known as the trail of tears.  During this time many treaties between the tribes and government were signed a broken resulting in many conflicts.  Like other marginalized groups, Native American were given the right to vote late in US history.  However, when states began to require voter ID card with permanent street addresses, many Native American, who had PO box addresses, were again not able to vote and express their rights as citizens of the US.

Painting depiction of the Trail of Tears

 Bison geoglyph found in Iowa

The best way for archaeologists to help is to consult with the tribes before and throughout the life of a project.  Section 106 of the National Preservation Act of 1966 requires archaeological survey and consultation with Native American Tribes.  However, these requirements should not be simple check marks on a form.  To have the most effect consultation needs to be done throughout a project. A great example of how consulting throughout a project can make a difference is when the Iowa Department of Transportation discovered unique Native American geoglyphs while building a highway in 2013.  The Tribes were involved in every step and the highway was able to be redirected around the features.  For more about this project watch this video.

November may be Native American Heritage Month, but their heritage and traditions should be thought of throughout the year and during every project.  Years of prosecution and neglect has already limited the number of sites and strained trust between the tribes, government, and archaeologists.  We are working to preserve everything we can and regain that trust but it is a long and complicated road.




For more visit these sites:

Pueblo Voices

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Happy Samhein!

Happy Halloween! This candy and costume filled holiday has some very interesting roots.  The Halloween we celebrate today is a combination of Samhain (an old Celtic holiday), standard begging traditions, and teenage angst.  Samhain (traditionally held on November 1) was celebrated over 2000 years ago in modern day Ireland and marks the transition from summer into winter.  During this festival people would feast, light bonfires, take advantage of the supernatural activities present.  This period was not only a transition into winter but during Samhain and All Hallows Eve, the wall between the living and spirit worlds would thin and allow for communication with the dead.  There is very little archaeological evidence of the Samhain ritual so a majority of the information come from oral traditions or documentation.


Researchers believe that the Samhain (soon to be Halloween) tradition arrived in the US with the mass immigration of Irish people during the early 1900s.  Before the arrival of Samhain, the US practiced traditions that were very similar to trick or treating.  During Thanksgiving, children would go from house to house begging for food.  In other areas a tradition known as Mumming and Guising was popular during which people would dress up in costume and going around asking for food.  All Hallows Eve tricks were also present during the 1800s.  Children would tip over outhouses, egg houses, and release livestock as tricks.  As time moved on these tricks escalated into block parties and vandalism.  Around WWII parents started to encourage their children to go Trick-or-Treating as a way to stop most of the tricks.

The much beloved Jack-o-Lantern also originates from Ireland.  This custom is unrelated to Samhein and actually comes from an old legend about a man name Stingy Jack.  Jack invited the Devil to drink and tricked him into turning into a coin.  Rather than paying for the drinks with the Devil coin, Jack kept it next to a cross so the Devil could not return to his original form.  Jack eventually freed the Devil who agreed to leave Jack alone for a year and not claim his soul when he died.  The next year, Jack trapped the Devil in a tree only freeing him once he agreed to leave Jack along for ten years.  When Jack died neither heaven nor hell would take his soul, so the Devil gave him a burning coal to use for light as he roamed the Earth.  Jack put the coal into a carved turnip and thus Jack of the Lantern was born.  The Irish began carving turnips and potatoes to ward of Jack and when they arrived in the US found the native pumpkin to be an even better Jack’s Lantern.

Have a Happy and Spooky Halloween Everyone!

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