Archaeology Education Clearinghouse and the National Council for the Social Studies Conference, Seattle, WA

Under the collaborative umbrella of the Archaeology Education Clearinghouse (AEC), representatives from the Society for Historical Archaeology (SHA), Society for American Archaeology (SAA), and Archaeological Institute of America (AIA), came together at the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) conference to share archaeology education resources with social studies educators from around the nation. NCSS is a national organization for all sorts of educators concerned with social studies, including classroom teachers, administrators, college and university educators, and those who specialize in curriculum and policy.

Christy Pritchard and Meredith Langlitz prepare the Archaeology Education Clearinghouse booth. Image courtesy of Christy Pritchard.

Over the course of two November days in Seattle, over 300 people stopped by the AEC vendor booth. Over half of the folks who stopped by the AEC booth engaged in conversations with Meredith Langlitz, Christy Pritchard, or Mary Petrich-Guy. These archaeologists spoke with educators, shared information, and, demonstrated the engaging utility of archaeology as a tool for meeting curriculum requirements. In addition to the vendor booth, Pritchard, assisted by Langlitz, led a session for 35 classroom teachers, “Archaeology and Social Studies: Making the past come alive in your classroom!”

The range of archaeology lesson plans available through AEC impressed conference attendees. Many Washington teachers were familiar with the state organizations listed on a state resource flyer, such as the Burke Museum, but were unacquainted with the abundance of teaching resources accessible through the AEC. Even educators weighed down by the barrage of promotional materials enthusiastically picked up the “ultralight” AEC flyer to take home and access the web of archaeology teaching materials.

The AEC booth was handily located near the NCSS information and rest area in the vendor’s hall. Image courtesy of Christy Pritchard.

Educators can then use the materials from the SHA, SAA, and AIA in classrooms and interpretive settings to meet national and state curriculum standards. In its fifth year, the AEC provides a point of access to all three organizations’ K-12 education materials ranging in focus from what is archaeology, prehistoric, historic, and classical archaeology, to careers in archaeology. A range of lesson plans compiled by the three organizations cover the ten themes of social studies in national curriculum:

1. Culture
2. Time, continuity, and change
3. People, places, and environments
4. Individual development and identity
5. Individuals, groups, and institutions
6. Power, authority, and governance
7. Production, distribution, and consumption
8. Science, technology, and society
9. Global Connections
10. Civic ideals and practices

Meredith Langlitz shares a sticker with an archaeology educator. Image courtesy of Christy Pritchard.

Though the utility of archaeology as a social studies teaching tool may be clear to archaeologists, and some teachers are big fans, many conference attendees asked questions like, “I teach U.S. History, how does that relate to archaeology?” Luckily, representatives from each society were able to connect with teachers across the broad spectrum of social studies topics and had example lesson plans on hand. To reinforce the idea that social studies teachers already use archaeological information in the classroom, AEC representatives passed out “I Teach Archaeology” stickers. Designed for conference nametags, these handy visuals are also potential conversation-starters beyond the vendor’s booth.

Overall, the attendance of the AEC at the NCSS conference was a success. Archaeologists engaged in hundreds of conversations with educators and armed them with great a great point of contact to access hundreds of educational resources. It was a pleasure to connect with so many fabulous educators. Next year’s NCSS conference is in St. Louis and attendance is expected to be even greater!


National Council for Social Studies
2012     National Curriculum Standards for Social Studies: Chapter 2 – The Themes of Social Studies. National Council for Social Studies, Silver Spring, MD. <> Accessed 10 December.

Nordic TAG 2012: Archaeologies in Northern Europe

I recently returned from a week in Oulu, Finland, where I attended the Nordic Theoretical Archaeology Group (TAG) conference.  A UK version of TAG originated in 1979 and has met yearly afterward (for more on the conference’s roots, Colin Renfrew details the origins of TAG, and a 2008 TAG session details its lineage), with Nordic TAG conferences held beginning in 2001 and American TAG meetings since 2008.  TAG conferences have encouraged discussions on broadly defined “theoretical archaeology,” an expansive umbrella term that encourages novel uses of philosophy and theory that creatively frame materiality, scholarship, and archaeology itself.

Like its British and American counterparts, the Nordic version of TAG is broadly conceived, including a host of straightforward archaeological case studies as well as more abstract theory-driven deconstructions of materiality.  In that sense it is not really all that much different from the British and American versions of TAG, and a vast range of the papers would be perfectly at home in an SHA conference as well.  Most of the Nordic TAG attendees were Scandinavians working with northern European data, and the case studies reached from distant prehistory to contemporary materiality.  Much of the conference would be familiar to archaeologists outside the Nordic world, but some modest distinctions about northern European archaeologies were underscored at Nordic TAG.

Seventeenth-century ceramics from Tornio (courtesy Risto Nurmi)

Historical archaeology is defined myriad ways in northern Europe (when the discipline is even recognized at all), and it encompasses truly interdisciplinary methods and questions and a breadth of theoretical frameworks.  Some of its distinction revolves around the material data featured in Nordic archaeologies, which routinely focus on architecture, space, and idiosyncratic things.  Tiina Aikkas, for instance, gave a paper on sieidi stones, sacrificial sites at which indigenous Sami left offerings of animals, metal, or alcohol to ensure hunt success (for more details, see her co-authored paper in Norwegian Archaeological Review).  Aikkas outlined complex material, spatial, and ritual analysis to ambitiously examine the full breadth of sounds, actions, odors, and material practices associated with these sacred stone sites that date as early as the 11th century AD, with use well through the historic period if not the present.  The paper included zooarchaeological, ethnographic, and GIS data that would be familiar in any archaeological study, casting these rituals as evidence of the inseparable relationships between Sami ritual, religion, materiality, and subsistence.  Lots of Nordic TAG papers examined a comparably broad range of data and defined materiality in its broadest senses, and this is increasingly what archaeology looks like in many places.

Some of the distinction in northern European archaeology revolves around its theoretical ambitions.  For instance, Bjornar Olsen’s session “What About the Things Themselves?” advanced the absurdly clever proposition that material culture studies are not compelled to include humans as a compulsory dimension of the analysis; that is, instead of focusing on the relationship between humans and things, can archaeologists understand things unto themselves?  Olsen punctuated his ontologically novel contribution to the session with a stream of oddly aesthetic images of discarded things and vacant places (for similar work, compare the thoughtful Ruin Memories project).  Northern European archaeologists tend to read theory very broadly and borrow from a vast range of challenging and often-creative philosophical foundations when they focus on theory, so TAG always expands my bibliography.  Still, much of northern European archaeology is firmly rooted in material description, highly focused research questions, and dense scientific methodology that does not devote much if any of its energy to explicit theorizing.

In the foreground, the Keminmaa Old St. Michael’s Church was built between 1519-21. Besides being a fascinating medieval building, it holds one of the most interesting spectacles in northern Finland: when Lutheran priest Nikolaus Rungius died in 1629 he was buried under the church and is on display in the church floor today. The church in the background, the new Saint Michael’s, was built in 1827.

The handful of northern Europeans who call themselves historic archaeologists sometimes struggle to define the discipline’s essential questions.  That struggle may be familiar to many North American historical archaeologists as well:  do we study a chronological period (since 1492, for instance)?; is our focus the transition to modernity?; is historical archaeology properly an archaeology of capitalism?; and so on.  Some of the battle is simply establishing the scholarly value of the “recent” past, which in Europe includes much of the period from 1700 onward.  For instance, with my Finnish colleagues Titta Kallio-Seppa and Timo Ylimaunu, I presented work on an 1822 creamware assemblage in Oulu, and such 18th and 19th-century ceramic papers would be absolutely commonplace in Atlantic World historical archaeology conferences.  However, Nordics often lump the period into 500 undifferentiated years of modernity; in some cases archaeologists have not devoted much if any time to artifacts from the last half-millennium; and relatively few northern European archaeologists have studied the 19th and 20th centuries (despite a rather rich contemporary archaeology scholarship).  Many of the mass-produced goods found on northern European sites after the early 19th century are more familiar to North American archaeologists than they are to northern European scholars, but marketing, trade embargoes, and cultural distinctions shaped northern European consumption significantly, so the assemblages still have some concrete differences from the well-studied Anglo world.  The same material things in the Nordic world may not always mean the same thing they meant in places like North America, and some of our conventional questions on things like cost status or consumer display are not especially useful in the distant reaches of Finland.

This police officer lords over the Oulu Marketplace.

The most interesting and common question I was asked at this conference was some variation on “Why are you doing this archaeology here?”  That question is asked persistently, curiously, and without much self-consciousness by colleagues who rarely understand that they sit atop astoundingly rich post-1500 sites (and often curated collections) that can be woven into their existing medieval analyses of emergent globalization in exceptionally powerful ways.  Most European colleagues are open to the possibilities and keen to share their data and local sites, though, and in many places very creative scholars have built a strong foundation for historical archaeology that they are happy to share.

CRM archaeologists and academics alike recognize that much of our contemporary practice revolves around efforts to fund our research, and our Nordic colleagues share many of those same challenges.  There are precious few European academics who might be called historical archaeologists, and most Nordic countries have only a few archaeology departments and a handful of positions covering any period, so academic historical archaeology jobs are especially rare.  Salvage projects in northern Europe overwhelmingly focus on sites dating earlier than the 18th century depending on specific national preservation codes, so there is not much compliance archaeology on “late” historic sites at all.  A vast range of Nordic scholars based in museums and state agencies work alongside post-doctoral researchers on a persistent enterprising search for extended funding, and Nordic TAG included continual hallway conversations about research partnerships, collaborations, and joint grant applications.  Despite the bleak North American job market, the shrinking opportunities for contract firms, and the demoralizing cuts to agencies like Parks Canada, there is still a well-established historical archaeology community in North America and a relatively firm footing in the academy and preservation law.  The UK likewise has an exceptionally productive historical archaeology community, and while they face many of the same challenges we deal with in the US the discipline has a strong foundation.

Nordic historical archaeology is in an early growth moment much like Atlantic World historical archaeology witnessed a half-century ago, and northern European historical archaeologists are actively building the discipline’s regional and national foundations.  This has included cementing international research partnerships, so there are some truly exciting possibilities for North Americans who want to expand their work to very new places.  Many of us in North America cannot contemplate European projects for concrete financial reasons, but increasingly more North American universities are supportive of faculty and students conducting international research and have modest but consequential “seed” grant funds for scholars beginning such projects; in my case, for instance, there was financial support for my travel to the Nordic world that I could never secure for work in my own hometown.  Those seed grants actually did produce more research opportunities for me and my students, so do not be too rapidly intimidated by the challenges of international historical archaeology research.  As Nordic TAG confirmed for me, there is a lot of interesting work beyond our narrow North American circles and lots of possibilities to borrow from it or even make a contribution to the discipline’s scholarly growth.

This statement came before I had arrived.

Establishing the Society of Black Archaeologists

The field of African American historical archaeology witnessed a boom in social and political consciousness from Black scholars during the 1990s. In 1994 Theresa Singleton and Elizabeth Scott broke new ground with the founding of the Society of Historical Archaeology‘s Gender and Minority Affairs Committee. Several years later, African American archaeologist, Maria Franklin (1997a;1997b) published on the lack of racial diversity in the field and archaeology’s affect on the African Diaspora. The 90s also represented a critical time in African American historical archaeology, in particular, with the excavation and later commemoration of both the Freedman’s Cemetery in Dallas, Texas and the African Burial Ground in Manhattan, New York. Cheryl La Roche and Michael L. Blakey’s (1997) article “Seizing Intellectual Power: The Dialogue at the New York African Burial Ground,” stressed the importance of community collaboration, while Theresa Singleton’s (1999) book, I, too, am America: Archaeological Studies of African American Life, addressed issues of African American representation, and the need for alternative methodological and pedagogical practices within the field.

In years prior, scholars and students alike have historically discussed the need to create an organization (or institute) to identify and address these social and political concerns as well as foster additional dialogue. However, the low numbers of Blacks in the field thwarted previous attempts to solidify an organization until now. More than four decades after the establishment of the Association of Black Anthropologists and a decade after these publications, the Society of Black Archaeologists (SBA) was established.

The groundwork for SBA was laid in 2011 by a few students at the University of Florida who saw the potential to address some concerns within the field of archaeology. At this year’s annual SHA conference in Baltimore, Maryland a group of Black archaeologists came together to discuss their experiences as racial minorities in the field. The meeting brought together veteran and amateur archaeologists, reaffirming the organizations commitment to promote the development of five goals:

  1. To lobby on behalf and ensure the proper treatment of African and African Diaspora material culture.
  2. To promote archaeological research and recruit more blacks to enter the field of archaeology.
  3. To raise and address contemporary concerns relating to African peoples worldwide.
  4. To highlight the past and present achievements and contributions that blacks have made in the field of archaeology.
  5. To ensure that the communities affected by archaeological work are not simply viewed as objects of study or informants. Rather, they should be treated as active makers and/or participants in the unearthing and interpretation of their history.

As of right now SBA currently operates as a listserv as opposed to a formal organization; however, it is currently engaged in two new projects. The first project is interested in exploring the history of blacks in archaeology. SBA is working to collect oral histories from individuals throughout the African Diaspora who have had exposure to archaeology. The Oral History Project was created to collect and archive oral history interviews of Blacks in the field to gain a better understanding of the roles and experiences Blacks have had in the past and present. The first interview was with Whitney Battle-Baptiste, an associate professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and can be heard online at the SBA website. Listeners can hear Dr. Battle-Baptiste discuss how her worldview influenced her research, and her humble beginnings in the field of archaeology.

In addition to the Oral History project, SBA members have been working to increase the presence of archaeology in the field of African Diaspora Studies and organized a panel presentation entitled, “Our Things Remembered: Unearthing relations between Archaeology and Black Studies,” at the National Council for Black Studies 2012 annual conference in Atlanta, Georgia. SBA has also been invited to organize an additional panel for the 2012 Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) convention to be held in Philadelphia this September.

If you have an interest in archaeology and would like to join our listserv please e-mail The organization is still in its foundational stage and we are currently looking for relevant information to post on the website including job openings, internships, field schools, and articles for the blog attached to the website. We are always open to comments and suggestions.

Please check out the SBA website often for updates at or find us on Facebook at


  • Franklin, Maria
    • 1997a “Power to the People”: Sociopolitics and the Archaeology of Black Americans. Historical Archaeology 31(3):36-50.
    • 1997b Why are there so few black American archaeologists? Antiquity: an international journal of expert archaeology 71(274).
  • La Roche, Cheryl and Michael Blakey
    • 1997 Seizing Intellectual Power: The Dialogue at the New York African Burial Ground. Historical Archaeology 31(3):84-106.
  • Singleton, Theresa (editor)
    • 1999 “I, Too, Am America”: Archaeological Studies of African-American Life. University Press of Virginia, Charlottesville