Gender and Historic Cemeteries

Historic cemeteries can be a huge source of information if you do enough of an analysis of them. One of the most surprising aspects of analyzing gravestones in the Calvary Cemetery in Seattle, WA was the fact that even in death, gender seemed to be represented in various forms. Everything from shapes, designs, and materials used on gravestones seemed to have a correlation with gender . Although not all of these aspects were gender exclusive there were definite patterns.

First of all, throughout the entire cemetery it appeared as though the block shape was by far the most dominant shape of gravestone in-scripted with the names of males. Many females also had block shaped gravestones although not as frequently as the males seemed to have. Contrarily, females tended to have more monument shaped gravestones than compared with males.

The designs used on the gravestones may also have been representative of gender. It seemed as though many females seemed to have flowers, angels, trees and other more feminine features on their gravestones. Males on the other hand seemed to have more items such as ships, plants, mountains, military service symbols, and more masculine features on their gravestones. Common features that were shared nearly equally on the gravestones of males and females were religious symbols such as crosses and bibles. This was not as surprising considering that many of these people most likely shared similar religious beliefs.

An analysis of the material used on the gravestones was also potentially indicative of gender. This was more difficult to interpret with accuracy because other aspects such as material availability at specific times, popularity, and cost may have been equal if not greater factors than gender when it came to deciding on the material. However, it seemed more common throughout the cemetery that males had more granite material used in their gravestones than compared with females. Females seemed to use more stone and cement in their gravestones than compared with males.

Overall, this analysis of shape, design, and material definitely seemed to correlate with gender to an extent although not every aspect was gender exclusive. Many other factors such as time period, age, religious beliefs, and popularity could potentially be reasons why certain shapes, designs, and materials were used. So in a way it is difficult to come to a fully accurate conclusion when examining gender in a cemetery setting.

The Thinker (female version)



Meet the Professor: Sara Gonzalez


Prof. Gonzalez, archaeologist.

As an archaeologist who works at the intersection of tribal historic preservation, colonial studies, and public history, my work brings together anthropological, historical, feminist, and indigenous methods in the study and representation of Native American heritage. My research specifically examines how community-based participatory research can improve the empirical and interpretive quality of archaeological narratives, while also situating archaeology within a more respectful and engaged practice. As a core feature of this work  I am exploring the diverse applications of digital media as tools for contributing to the capacity of tribal communities to manage their historic and environmental resources. In conjunction with these projects I have developed multiple classroom, lab, and field training programs that provide undergraduate and graduate students with the opportunity to participate directly in research with tribal communities and to develop student-directed research that contributes to the capacity of these communities to study, manage, and represent their heritage.

This work centers on my ongoing collaboration with the Kashia Band of Pomo Indians at Fort Ross State Historic Park, a former Russian-American Company mercantile settlement (1812-1841) in northern California. The goal of this partnership involved the development of the Kashaya Pomo Interpretive Trail, a walkable cultural heritage trail and companion website that features the history and heritage of the Kashia within their ancestral homeland. Within the context of this work, community-based participatory research with both the tribal community and the California Department of Parks and Recreation provided the basis for itnegrating Kashaya cultural protocols and values into the study, management, and representation of their heritage within Fort Ross and their ancestral homeland, Metini.

Since coming to the University of Washington in 2013, I have initiated a new, multi-year community-based partnership with the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde Community of Oregon (CTGR) and their Tribal Historic Preservation Office (THPO). The goal of this collaboration is twofold: first, to conduct an archaeological study of 19th and early 20th century sites associated with the community’s settlement onto the Grand Ronde reservation, which was created by executive order in 1855, and second, contribute to the capacity of the CTGR THPO to manage tribal cultural resources on its reservation lands. This summer our project will host a 7-week field school, Field Methods in Indigenous Archaeology, where undergraduate and students will work alongside tribal students and  the Grand Ronde THPO to study the history and development of the 19th century reservation landscape.

Prior to coming to UW, I received my doctorate from the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley Depart­ment of Anthro­pol­ogy (2011) (Go Bears!) and was a Scholar-in-Residence fel­low in the Depart­ment of Soci­ol­ogy & Anthro­pol­ogy at Car­leton Col­lege and a Chris­t­ian A. John­son Fel­low in the Depart­ment of Anthro­pol­ogy at Vas­sar Col­lege.

When not in the field or the classroom I am often found road tripping across the U.S. to find interesting, old things, trying not to kill the plants in my kitchen garden, or baking cupcakes and pies for lucky students.

Winner of the Golden Spatula Award, 2014: Prof. Gonzalez's Rhubarb Strawberry Pie with Cinnamon Scented whip

Winner of the Golden Spatula Award, 2014: Prof. Gonzalez’s Rhubarb Strawberry Pie with Cinnamon Scented whip


The Possibilites of Waste and Wasted Opportunities

Over the past few weeks, I find that, in some way or another, I have been continually brought back to the idea of the single story. While explaining the ways in which development is measured by authoritative agencies, my geography professor explained that, all too often, the effects and outcomes of a project intended to stimulate economic growth are expected to be properly represented by a single statistic; never mind the myriad of other factors inadequately addressed by this percentage. Though a point made in the context of a different discipline, this hearkens back to the admonition made in the earliest weeks of ARCHY 472: beware the single story.

Despite that (or perhaps because) both admonitions had come to me in succession, I still felt caution when analyzing the data sheet I had been given for the garbology lab. Faced with an assortment of the items that had made their way into someone else’s trash bin over the course of a week, I found myself hesitant to come to any conclusions. Was I giving too much weight to the prevalence of plastic packaging as a reflection of diet? Was I not placing enough emphasis on the reusable water bottle, a possible indicator of a busy schedule? I found myself asking so many questions that now I wonder if I truly devised any answers. Even after completing the assignment and condemning it to the finality of the turn-in box, I wondered: Have I told the right story?

Or, at the very least, have I avoided telling the wrong one? The difficulty for me lies in differentiating between what this refuse means to me, bundled up with all my biases, and what it meant to the depositor, and finding the balance between the significance attributed to it by each of us. (Funny that the one(s) who deposited this particular sample likely did so with the intent to divest themselves of it, whereas my goal was to get better acquainted with it.)

Perhaps I haven’t yet managed to extract the right story. But I can say that at least mine was a reasonable one—one of the many interpretations that could be made by any other individual confronting the same data. While archaeologists (and geographers, for that matter) can’t hope to represent the nuances of human experience in a single story or statistic, neither can they afford to let caution stall them indefinitely. If nothing else, that singular factor is a start. It can provide a point from which to further examine the refuse record, and further develop the narrative(s) inspired by it.

Oscar the Grouch and Me

I’ve always felt a special connection to Oscar the Grouch– and not just for his misanthropic nature and hoarding of seemingly useless items (although certainly that is part of it). Primarily, my love stemmed from our mutual interest in trash. Growing up, the cemetery behind my house had a big, beautiful pile of junk hunkered down in a far corner where my brother and I would spend our days exploring for snakes and lizards, which we would try to catch with our bare hands. While in retrospect it’s incredible that neither of us ever fell on a hypodermic needle, I enjoyed every minute I spent in that trash pile; because, even if the snakes were all hiding, I could always find some cool, gross thing tucked among the grass and woodscraps. Although (at my dad’s reasonable request) I never really rummaged through the different piles, I loved to just examine them and make up stories about where they came from, who deposited them, and why.

Learning about garbology allowed me to take my childhood past time to the next level. Working on the lab this last week, I was transported back to that cemetery garbage pile, where once again I was crouched next to a mound of junk, working to figure out what it meant.

Garbage piles are funny in that they don’t give any context to the deposition. Who was dumping this? Where did it come from? What made a person (or group of people) think, “Ah yes, this open corner of a cemetery is the best place for me to leave my old couch!?” Context has to be inferred from the material itself– and that’s archaeology. Thinking about archaeology as basically your neighbor’s garbage is a useful way to conceptualize the process and understand the biases and processes that work into the archaeological record.

The garbage I examined really made me think about this. One of the hardest aspects of analysing the “assemblage,” if you will, was thinking about how many people contributed to the deposit and deciding the purpose of the deposit (besides the obvious ” to get rid of trash” purpose). These factors would greatly influence the narrative I created. If it was kitchen trash versus personal trash, if it was one persons’ refuse or two– the garbage itself didn’t come with an instruction book. However, I soon realized that I was thinking too much about the garbage as a whole, and not listening to what the pieces of paper and apple cores were really trying to tell me. Once I changed the way I conceptualized the trash, it all began to fit together.

In all, I believe that garbology is a great way to practice archaeological techniques in a modern setting that helps you contextualize and conceptualize processes and human behavior behind disposal. I fully encourage everyone to take a little time out of their day to peer into someone else’s trash. There is no limit to what you can learn about your friends, enemies, neighbors and ancestors by spending a little time with your inner Oscar.

Garbology and Mental/ Emotional States

Sifting through someone’s garbage may not seem like the most glamorous  thing to do. However, you can tell a lot about a person just by examining the types of objects they discard in the trash. You gain insight into various aspects of their lives including daily activities such as eating and drinking. Garbology can also be used to see other aspects of a person’s life like socio-economic status, family size, gender, etc.. However, garbology can be used to to dig deeper (no pun intended) into the bigger the picture. It can be used to gain insight into how people think and feel about themselves and the world going on around them.

While examining an assemblage of garbage from an anonymous donor it was clear that this person was fairly health conscious. Many of the objects in their trash included organic or simple foods that had little to no processing such as apples. crackers, and rice. Even the beverages they consumed were healthy. From this, it could be inferred that this person cares about body image. Here in the United States, a fit person is often perceived as being beautiful and attractive. This would suggest that this person cares about how other people perceive them. Perhaps in their mind, if they eat healthy then they will be perceived as health conscious and be seen as beautiful and attractive. This indeed plays a huge role in a person’s mental as well as emotional perception of themselves.

It should also be noted that here in the United States it often said that if you eat healthy and engage in healthy activities you will feel better. This person also did not have recorded instances of drinking alcohol, smoking, excessive eating of bad foods in one sitting, or engaging in any form of self destructive behavior. Again, this gives clues into this person’s emotional and mental state because often times (not always) people will use these items as a form of escape from something that would cause unhappiness. Perhaps it might be a bit of a stretch to 100% accurately conclude these things based on one sample, but it surely does give some indication of how this person thinks and feels.

Garbology is not a study of a rock band

I’ve always been a nosey person, while working at a department store I happen to like finding people’s shopping lists.  It is a different sort of gratification that can be gotten from looking at the recorded contents of someone’s garbage can.

The list we were given to analyze is from a narrow frame in time, an arbitrarily selected week.  I know that my list was not a typical assortment of garbage for my household so it stands to reason that any of my fellow student’s garbage could be anomalous to their standard garbage.  Looking at old garbage (“real archaeology” if you will), it’s easy to forget the human agency behind the garbage.  A certain layer of refuse could reflect an accurate portrayal of a household’s garbage- alternately it could represent having houseguests over for several days.  It is also helpful to remember that what we remember we have disposed of, what we tell people we have disposed of, and what we have really disposed of are often in conflict with one another.  Garbology is evidence why simply having a written record of an event is not enough to believe that is the truth.  Reasons why historical archaeology is necessary.

So, addressing my sample more specifically.  All the recorded refuse seems to be food-related, although it can’t be said that some of these items had alternate uses elsewhere in the house.  There was not a lot of actual food-waste, most of the garbage was actually packaging.  I feel a bit concerned for the eating habits of my garbage donor; only in the initial opening bit of their week did they deposit any fresh produce remains, the rest of the food containers were dominated by processed and prepackaged foods.  Anonymous garbage-donor, don’t you know those are really high in sodium?!

I do feel much better now about the number of instant coffees and string cheeses on my garbage record.

This is not Garbology

This is not Garbology

Blog Review: Ancient Bodies, Ancient Lives

Ancient Bodies” is basically everything I’ve ever wanted in an archaeology blog. Their articles are intelligent, well researched and thought provoking, as well as important for the general understanding of sex and gender in past societies. The author, a professor of Anthropology at UC Berkeley, is appropriately colloquial in her writing while maintaining an academic dialogue- a combination that makes for an easy to read and highly informative, professional blog. I love that the concepts breached in this work are conveyed in such a way that they remain accessible to the “general public” without seeming “dumbed down.” I also appreciate the regional scope of the blog- often blogs that center of issues of sex and gender (that I have found, at least), seem to have a specialized area that they cover ( i.e. archaeological sex and gender in ancient Greece and Rome, etc). Additionally, the format of the blog makes it very readable and easy to navigate- this, I feel, is one of the most important parts of any blog, and one that is often undervalued. I really like that, scrolling down the page, I get to see the title and beginning of each post, instead of just titles, or full entries. In all, I highly recommend this blog to every one, as it is a great source of information on the intricacies of sex and gender and this history through the archaeological record.
Favorite Quote: “How long does it take for us to not be surprised that powerful women exist?”

Blog Review: Bad Archaeology

The internet is a wild place. I am constantly amazed at how accessible so much knowledge is with the right key words and a click of a button. My personal wanderings through the vast catacombs of the world wide web have taught me, inspired me, and appalled me, often all at the same time. However, no matter how many cool facts and important ideas are disseminated online, it seems that what the internet loves most is spreading rumours, hoaxes, and lies. It’s just so easy! As such, I was very excited when I found the wordpress blog “Bad Archaeology.” In a discipline where hoaxes and shoddy pseudo-science plague the popular media representation, “Bad Archaeology” provides a healthy serving of hard facts and criticism of some of the more ridiculous archaeological fables. Although I love “evidence” of aliens and swamp monsters as much as, or perhaps more than, the next guy, it’s really great to find an archaeology blog that tackles these subjects and, in sourced detail, rips into them. In particular, I appreciate the authors’ focus not only on the most popular topics (Mayan prophecy!! Aliens built the pyramids!! Jesus was a lizard!!), but also on lesser known, but equally ridiculous artefacts and stories. Additionally, I appreciate the authors attention to detail and dedication to providing comprehensive background on the growth of controversy over all the archaeological sites/etc that are discussed. Overall, this blog provides and entertaining and informative glimpse of how the media and pop culture influence the image of archaeology in the modern world.

Blog Review: Ancient Southwest Texas Project

Finally, I’d like to present the Ancient Southwest Texas Project. Like the preceding blog, this one represents a collective effort. Authors publish detailed entries pertaining to their respective projects, many of which share a number of stylistic similarities. Posts contained details such as site dimensions, specifics of excavated material, and descriptions of features. These posts were also filled with pictures from each site investigation. A number of entries contained notes from the author’s field journal, an addition that lends further detail to the account. All these elements help to inform the reader’s understanding of the processes involved in excavation.

Blog Review: Then Dig

Described as a peer-reviewed blog, Then Dig showcases work by a variety of authors. A number of entries advocate for a particular approach to archaeological analysis, one which considers the sensory stimuli (e.g. colour, texture, scent, etc.) involved in the production of material culture. Each author presents their ideas using a different writing style. Some have an almost rhythmic quality that does not compromise the effectiveness of the work. Also notable is the authors’ tendency to build on one another’s observations; this is accompanied by the citation of academic sources, a feature that adds to the blog’s credibility.