2008-2009 Altshuler Scholars
My honors project deals with the rates of fractures in New York's African Burial Ground, a cemetery used by colonial Africans for most of the 18th century. In the cemetery, there is a distinct spatial arrangement, with the graves falling on both sides of a fence line. There are several interesting patterns at work here; for instance, those buried to the north of the fence line are predominately male and predominately dated to the "Late" period (1776 - close of cemetery). These factors have led researchers to hypothesize that these individuals were possibly transients, refugees coming to the city during the turmoil of the Revolutionary War.
I'm interested in comparing the rates of healed and unhealed fractures among the two sexes and the various age groups, both above and below the fenceline. Unhealed fractures most likely occurred at the time of death, information which, taken with knowledge about the host population, can potentially speak to the presence of violence. It is my theory that those individuals buried during times of social upheaval will exhibit both more fractures overall (healed and unhealed), and more violent fractures in particular.
The Altshuler Award allowed me to work in Dr. Michael Blakey's lab this past summer, running exploratory data analysis on the individuals and pathologies found in the Burial Ground. Because the skeletons excavated during the initial project have long since been analysed and given a proper reburial, carefully recorded observations (which have themselves been painstakingly coded into a statistical database) are some of the only resources available to current and future researchers on this topic. I am now able to shift my focus to studying the historical and cultural background of this population, which will help me to give a broader context to the statistical results.
For my honors thesis I chose to study the dog burials of ancient Virginians. I came across the practice during an internship my sophomore year and decided that I wanted to look into it in more detail. I am focusing mainly on the dogs recovered from sites in the Chickahominy River Survey, a project carried out by former professor Norm Barka in the 1960s and 1970s.
I am working to see if I can determine the possible ritual significance of these dog burials in the different contexts in which they appear. Using ethnohistorical accounts and the archaeological data from several sites, I have been looking for patterns in the associations of dog burials with other features on the sites.
My research mostly consisted of gathering data from already published sources. I spent two months over the summer looking through site reports and old ethnographies and compiling information on dog burials. It was often difficult to get all the information I needed from the site reports but in the end I was successful in getting the information I needed.
This research examines the making and remaking of social space in New Town, Williamsburg. As a "new urban" or "mixed-use" community, a scheme in which houses and apartments mingle with restaurants, and offices among a network of sidewalks intended for regular foot traffic, New Town offers a rather unique built form to the anthropological literature on space and place. While New Town hosts many of suburbia's prototypic traits, it does so amongst a setting reminiscent of a shopping center. Given that people order social life in terms of its spatial existence, I consider the practices and understandings through which New Town emerges as an intelligible stage for the everyday.
To investigate spatiality in New Town firsthand, I spent three months this summer living in a New Town apartment, conducting participant observation in the local community. I attended Residential Association events, hung out at bars and coffee shops, and visited people's homes. Since many people involved with New Town work in an office during the day, I conducted more formal interviews with shop owners, developers, county administrators, architects, and other people who participate in New Town-as-project.
This research considers various theorizations of space by sociologists, anthropologists, philosophers, and geographers to answer the question, How does New Town become imagined, enacted, and reproduced as such? In answering this question, the resulting thesis will contest formulations of "non-place" as a depersonalizing outgrowth of (post-) modernity.
My honors thesis involves the study of surface decorations on ceramics produced by Virginia Indians from 300 BC to around 900 AD. The idea of studying native ceramics has intrigued me ever since I participated in a field school at Werowocomoco in 2007, so when the opportunity to write an honors thesis and direct my own research project came up, I knew I wanted to take the opportunity to learn more about them. With the help of my advisor, I eventually settled on a project designed to trace changes in ceramic surface decorations across transitional time periods.
Native pottery from the Middle Woodland period (300 BC - 900 AD) often has a cord-marked surface decoration, formed using textiles that were twisted and woven together to make a certain pattern and then impressed upon the pottery when the clay was still wet. The use of cordage decorations on Middle Woodland ceramic surfaces presents an opportunity for studying regional and temporal trends. Previous studies indicate that strong patterns exist in cordage twist directions linked to changes over time and differences across geographic space. The direction that a person twists textiles in preparation for decorating ceramics appears to be the result of specific learning networks and communities of practice. Twist direction is a motor skill which is most likely developed as a result of learned behavior, thus communities tend to employ the same twist directions since they belong to the same learning network. For this reason, differing twist directions among ceramics from one region may imply that the ceramics were manufactured by people from different communities.
Since cordage twist direction is linked to social histories, learning networks, and communities of practice, the study of surface treatments provides a point of departure for considering the social histories of hunter-gatherer communities across an area such as the Chickahominy River. Variations in ceramic twist directions in an assemblage from a single area at a single point in time may indicate the coexistence of different social groups from differing cultural traditions. Variations in an assemblage of a specific region across a span of time likely signal an influx of a new population. In this way, interactions between neighboring communities can be traced, and the history of the movement of specific peoples can be explored.
I dedicated this summer to the analysis of the surface treatments of ceramic sherds from various sites on the Chickahominy River (collection curated by the Department of Anthropology). Once I chose my collection of ceramics to study, I completed a basic ceramic classification on each of the sherds, which involves identifying the surface treatment, temper, thickness, curvature, and vessel portion. The next step involved creating latex-mold casts of the chosen ceramic sherds, which allowed me to more clearly see subtle variations in surface treatments. By studying these casts, I will determine whether the decoration on each sherd involves a final twist direction of S (fibers twisted down and to the right) or Z (fibers twisted down and to the left). The ceramic analysis will allow me to determine the nature of temporal and spatial patterning in surface treatments, information that is central to addressing questions concerning the social developments behind changes in ceramic style.