About Elizabeth


Place Names in the Arctic and the Role of Archaeology Today

Scan your eyes over a standard-issue map of North America, and you will find names of European political leaders, explorers, and places repeated across the Canadian Arctic: Victoria Island, Melville Peninsula, Cambridge Bay. These names offer little acknowledgement of Inuit presence, which extends for millennia across the land, ice, and water today known as the Canadian Arctic. For my final project in Historical Archaeology, I explored community-based research on Inuit place names and how that can help us understand memory, identity, colonialism, and interpretation in the Arctic. Interwoven with place names are the politics of colonialism, the sovereignty of language, and the creation of historical narratives through interpretation.

The most striking result of my research was how colonial legacies continue to influence narratives of history, identity, and indigeneity today. Archaeologists have the ability to use their work to deconstruct colonial systems put in place to disrupt the communication of traditional knowledge––known as Inuit qaujimajatuqangit––and to advance social justice in the Arctic. For academics used to controlling every aspect of research design and execution, sharing authority with communities can be an unsettling. But I would argue that for archaeology to remain relevant in today’s world, the field can no longer hold itself apart and above the people in it.

On the Water

Everytime I pass by a river or stream, I scan the water thinking about where the fish might be lurking. It’s a habit springing from years of fly fishing with my mom and dad in the Yellowstone region of Montana and Wyoming. Fly fishing has become an essential part of every summer for me––a time to enjoy beautiful places with people I love, while plying the water for unsuspecting fish.

Just in my lifetime, the past time of fly fishing has changed drastically: dozens more fishermen are on the water in Yellowstone and elsewhere in the West every year. It’s painful for me to see banks trampled down and tangles of discarded fly line in once-quiet fishing spots, but the increased interest in the sport means there’s also increased attention on the environment and natural resource protection. I’d like to think I am part of a generation of fishers who see the catastrophic threat of climate change to the waterways of the American West, and who help bring about meaningful policy and regulation to protect those waters and their environs.

This digital short tells my personal story of fly fishing –– an activity I love as much for the ritual as for the chance to be around the most important people in my life.

Unsurpassed when it comes to Constipation and Historical Insight

Dark olive green with a blob top and only remnants of a color paper label, this historic glass bottle was once a common household product in the US. The remains of the label and the boldly embossed base identify the bottle as a Hunyadi Janos brand Bitterquelle (aperient water), produced by the Andreas Saxlehner Mineral Spring Water Company out of Budapest, Hungary. Saxlehner used the name of the storied 15th century Hungarian general Hunyadi Janos to market his all-curing water, advertised as “unsurpassed” when it comes to “constipation, dyspepsia, biliousness, and headache arising from overloading the stomach.”

Base and Label details for Artifact 45K1765/P17-1 from Burke Museum’s collections.

Though this type of soda bottle also resembles what the Illinois Glass Company referred to as a druggist’s packing bottle, the trademarked Hunyadi Janos product was so popular that the bottle shape became synonymous with the brand. The Illinois Glass Company actually offered the “Hunyadi Janos” style bottle for sale in its catalog in 1906. Primarily imported from Hungary to the US from about the 1870s to 1920s, the Bitterquelle’s success inspired a variety of copycat products. At a time when copyright and intellectual property were flagrantly ignored, the Saxlehner Company took its trademark infringement lawsuits all the way to the US Supreme Court in 1900 and won.

Saxlehner’s Hunyadi Janos Bitterquelle advertisement
(image from Society for Historical Archaeology’s Historic Glass Bottle Guide)

Though ubiquitous in American homes at the turn of the century, Saxlehner’s Hunyadi Janos Bitterquelle faded from popular consumption by the time the the Great Depression took hold. Back in Hungary where the product had been manufactured, growing political unrest before WWII compelled the Saxlehner family to emigrate in 1938. Documentary evidence like advertisements, manufacturer catalogs, and legal records shed light on the historical contexts surrounding the material record.

More than just an old green bottle, this artifact reflects cultural, social, economic, and international political scenes of the early 1900s.

Read more:
Society for Historical Archaeology’s Guide to Bottle Typing

Death and Society in the Neighborhood


Beyond the names, dates, and epitaphs, grave markers contain coded social information in their material, shape, design motif, and location in the grounds. I analyzed the religious and secular design motifs noted in our class data collection––comparing crosses, rosaries, other Christian symbols against professional and military emblems, personal hobbies, and other non-religious imagery––and saw some trends appear. Religious motifs dominate in the 1920s to 1950s, but there is also a steady presence of secular motifs in that window which drops off after the 1950s. Thinking geographically, burials during that time window were primarily in the northeast and southeast areas of the cemetery. In contrast, burials before 1920 were almost exclusively in the southwest and center areas, and were evenly balanced with secular and religious design motifs. Though our data are only a fraction of the graves inside the cemetery, they do suggest patterns in how the cemetery grounds have been utilized and how the dead and their mourners decorated headstones across time.

Chart: Seriation of secular and religious design motifs in gravestones.

Fortunately for historical archaeologists, there are lines of evidence like historical texts and photographs to inform on the social and cultural contexts of graves, beyond just shape, design, and location of headstones.

Consider the charts below: could the increase of burials in the 1915-1920 window be connected to the Spanish Flu Pandemic? Is the rise in religious motifs during the height of the Depression years suggest people were turning more toward their religious communities and beliefs for strength? Does the decline in burials during the 1960s to 1980s reflect dissatisfaction among traditionalists after the controversial Second Vatican Council? Or did the Counterculture of the 1960s thin the church membership?

Chart: Number of burials per five year increment.

Chart: Geographic distribution of burials across time.

These questions about major social change may seem far removed from the placid stone markers in the cemetery, but historical archaeology can begin to trace the connections between the dead and their past worlds.

[Insert pun about garbage here]

Garbage is an ever present, unappealing part of today’s society. It burdens the mind with concerns over pollution and conservation. Just as easily, though, it can be swept out of mind by dropping it in the bin and leaving it for an early morning truck to disappear. In our own adaptation of Bill Rathje and Cullen Murphy’s Garbology project, we charted the deposition of trash, compost, and recycling in our own homes before analyzing the anonymous deposition of a classmate. While odd and sometimes gross, this project spotlights how archaeologists take the discards of the past and use them to describe the people who left them behind.

In the trash, compost, and recycling bins, the data were unsurprisingly in line with daily household activities — cooking meals was reflected in pasta boxes and frozen broccoli bags; cleaning up was seen in discarded paper towels and junk mail, and taking care of the oneself was reflected in a spent deodorant tube and Q-tips. What was surprising, however, was how easy it is to rely on thin evidence and assumptions to support broad conclusions about the person doing the discarding. The national brands of yellow pasta, marinara sauce, and broccoli suggest, because of my personal experience, a person who is new to cooking for themselves and hasn’t branched into more imaginative cooking. The national brands also suggest to me that the person isn’t exploring regional or local grocery stores and farmers’ markets. Maybe a newcomer to the area? Aside from relying on my subjective perspectives, all these interpretations are further made problematic by the short data collection period of one week. Imagine how a new job, school quarter, or travel plans might skew what you throw away and where.

For archaeologists tasked with interpreting the material record of past human life, recognizing the subjectivity we unavoidably bring with us is essential to any analysis. Our trash, ancient or modern, has a lot to say about us, the catch is in how we selectively give voice to these discarded objects.

About Me – Lizzy

Hello everyone! I go by Lizzy and I am a first year graduate student in the Archaeology program here at UW. I wandered around the national parks for about five years before grad school, working with curators, archivists, and archaeologists to make park collections more accessible to the public. Side note: almost every national park has a significant museum and archives collection –– go enjoy them!

At UW, I want to work with communities in the Alaskan and Canadian Arctic to explore cultural and natural resource management in the face of a rapidly changing environment. Guided by my UW mentors and the decolonizing methodologies of Amy Lonetree and Linda Tuhiwai Smith, I am here to learn ethical modes of academic research and professional practice before I wander back out and help decolonize curation in the national parks. Until then, hello! #findyourpark #resistcuration #decolonizeordie