Category: Archaeology in the News

Blasket Islands

Blasket islands

2015 Archaeology and Cultural Heritage Field School, Great Blasket Island, Ireland
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, May 25 to July 3, 2015
6 weeks, 6 credits

This field school in archaeology, history, heritage, and landscape studies will examine the lifeways of residents of Great Blasket Island (Blascaod Mor) off the southwest coast of the Dingle Peninsula (Corca Dhuibhne) of the Republic of Ireland. Great Blasket and its surrounding islands have been traversed by cultures leaving traces from fort sites thousands of years in age, to monastic dwellings and Viking incursions in the medieval period one thousand years ago, and a settled village from at least the 17th century onward. The lifeways of the residents on Great Blasket were the focus of nationalist pride by proponents of the new Republic of Ireland in the early 1900s. Those lifeways, supported by maritime, pastoral, and agrarian subsistence, were hailed by nationalist advocates as representing an authentic Irish cultural identity uncorrupted by the impacts of British colonialism, racism, modernity, or new consumer markets. Great Blasket’s population decreased as emigration to America or to the mainland towns of the Republic drew families away in the 1900s. This field school will contribute to research examining the cultural landscapes across time and the archaeological record of resident lifeways. Additional information and an application form are available online at

This field school is presented through a collaboration with Micheal De Mordha, director of the Great Blasket Cultural Center in Dunquin, Ireland, and Frank Coyne, co-director and principal archaeologist of Aegis Archaeology, in Limerick. Many thanks to the University of Illinois for hosting this field school, and to the University of Chicago for funding support.

Best wishes,

Christopher C. Fennell, PhD, JD, RPA
Assoc. Prof. of Anthropology and University Scholar
Department of Anthropology, University of Illinois
Visiting Professor of Law, University of Chicago

Jamie Arjona accepts 2014 award from SHA President Paul Mullins.

Jamie Arjona accepts 2014 award from SHA President Paul Mullins.

Congratulations to Anthropology department alumna Annelise Morris in receiving the first-place award for the Society for Historical Archaeology‘s Diversity Field School Award, and to graduate students Jamie Arjona and Tatiana Niculescu for the second-place award. These awards recognized their excellent work as collaborative archaeology project managers and their successes through research designs and public participation in enhancing the diversity of our field of science. The SHA congratulates them for excellence in “making the field of historical archaeology more inclusive of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, abilities, and socio-economic background” and showing “a commitment to increasing diversity in the field.” Annelise’s field school focused on her dissertation site at Lawrenceville, Illinois, and Jamie and Tatiana’s contribution focused on the 2013 field school at the Pottersville site in Edgefield, South Carolina.

A Dragon Kiln in Carolina

By K. Kris Hirst, Guide

excavation photoChinese Pottery Technology in the Antebellum American South

As modern humans, we tend to think of international trade, commercial innovation and mass production as strictly modern inventions, no more than a century or so old and certainly never dreamed of by our great-grandfathers. I know what you’re thinking–didn’t Henry Ford invent that stuff? But as archaeology teaches us over and over again, modern industrial revolutions are in fact based on centuries and even millennia of collaboration, innovation and espionage.

A Dragon Kiln in Carolina is the story of the origins of mass production of an innovative and revolutionary type of ceramic stoneware, pottery made beginning in the southern United States about 1815, with clay body and glaze recipes and equipment technologies borrowed in part from 6th century Chinese manufacturing. It is a tale of the import of an idea for an enormous, fiery pottery-making monster, aptly named a dragon kiln for its heat, length and high-maintenance characteristics, and it is one of technological transmission from China to South Carolina that the excavators have yet to completely understand.

The archaeological identification of a dragon kiln in the historic South Carolina pottery workshops called the Edgefield District was made by Christopher Fennell (U. Illinois), George Calfas (U. Illinois), Carl Steen (Diachronic Research Foundation), and Sean Taylor (S.C. Department of Natural Resources) during the summer of 2011, and I thank them sincerely for bringing the story to me, as well as providing photos and information to take the story to you.

Read full article and photo essay online


Jamie Arjona and Steve Szynal of UIUC excavate at Pottersville

Jamie Arjona and Steve Szynal of UIUC excavate at Pottersville

Unearthing the Past: Edgefield Pottery Excavations Reveal New, Surprising Information

June 30, 2012, by DeDe Biles, Aiken Standard News

Archaeological excavations are uncovering new and surprising information about the potteries that thrived in Aiken and Edgefield counties in the first half of the 1800s.

“There is a sparse documentary record of this area that is maddening, and what we’ve found has been a complete revelation,” said Dr. Christopher Fennell, an associate professor and the associate head of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Fennell and a team of graduate and undergraduate students, along with some volunteers, have been working at Pottersville, a site not far from downtown Edgefield, since just after Memorial Day. They are scheduled to wrap up this year’s efforts on Friday. Their focus in 2013 has been to add to the knowledge gained during a series of digs at the same location in 2011.

Before then, much of what was known about local potteries in the past suggested that a groundhog kiln about 25 to 30 feet in length and 9 to 10 feet wide would be found at Pottersville. Instead, the researchers discovered a kiln that was more than 105 feet long and had a sloping floor similar to the dragon kilns used in China.

“It gave us quite a new view of Edgefield,” Fennell said. “There had been a working historical theory before then that this had started out as smaller scale crafts industry. But what was found was a much bigger industrial-scale pottery.”

Read the full article online.

Prof. Stanley AmbroseCongratulations to Prof. Stanley Ambrose who has accepted an invitation to present the Annual Distinguished Lecture in African Archaeology at the Center for African Studies, University of Florida, Gainseville, on Monday, Feb. 11, 2013. The title of his talk is The Archaeology of Modern Human Origins in Africa: The Gift is Mightier than the Spear.

“Lessons From the Ancient Maya” by Lisa Lucero

Co-sponsored by IPRH and the Chicago Humanities Festival

Date: November 11, 2012; Time: 3:00 p.m.

Location: First United Methodist Church at the Chicago Temple, 77 West Washington Street, Chicago

University of Illinois archeologist Lisa Lucero has been digging up the secrets of the ancient Maya for more than 20 years. Her most far-reaching discovery, though, is a recent one and carries implications for our own era. At the height of Maya Classic culture, around the year 800, several multiyear droughts may have hastened the end of the civilization’s ruling kings. Lucero’s research centers on the resilience and water management practices of the commoners, helping us understand the importance of rituals, strategy, and conservation to their ingenuity and perseverance. Hear her talk about the ideas Maya history may offer for present-day sustainability.

For program details and ticket information, visit the Chicago Humanities Festival website

Read a related CHF blog post about this program by intern Tara McGovern, who is a student of Lisa Lucero’s.

UIUC ANTH major, Tara McGovern, worked as an intern for the Chicago Humanities Festival this past summer (’12), an the CHF has just published a post she wrote about the summer she spent doing an archaeological field school in Belize with Prof. Lisa Lucero.  The post was written to publicize Prof. Lucero’s upcoming event in Chicago for the CHF.  

The Department of Anthropology is delighted to welcome Dr. Andrew Bauer (PhD, University of Chicago), as a new faculty member.  Andrew is an archaeologist whose work focuses on the complexities of human-environment interactions.  His research and teaching interests interweave historical ecology, geoarchaeology, and the anthropology of spaces, places, and landscapes.  Andrew has conducted fieldwork in Turkey, Iran, and the United States, but his primary research is based in South India, where he co-directs an archaeological project investigating the relationships between landscape history and the creation and maintenance of social inequalities during the region’s Iron Age and Early Historic periods.  In addition to his numerous scholarly publications, Andrew’s work in India has also been featured in popular media coverage such as Archaeology magazine.

Ceramic Fragments Point to Artistry in the Ice Age

By Alana Mitchell, New York Times

Published online, September 10, 2012

We know them best for their stone tools and intrepid mammoth hunting. But new discoveries in Croatia suggest that ice age humans made evocative ceramic art far more regularly than once believed.

Thirty-six fragments of fired clay, excavated in the Vela Spila cave on an island off the Adriatic coast, make up the second-largest collection found so far of the earliest human experiments with ceramic art. They are 15,000 to 17,500 years old — the first European evidence of ceramic art after the ice sheets stopped spreading.

The oldest and largest collection, made about 30,000 years ago and found in the Czech Republic, includes a famously corpulent nude figurine known as the Venus of Dolni Vestonice. Apart from that, little fired ceramic art remains from the time before the explosion of ceramic pot-making 10,000 years ago, after the ice sheets retreated and early humans settled down to farm.

That led paleontologists to believe that ceramic art was uncommon among the highly mobile people of the ice age. But Rebecca Farbstein, the University of Cambridge archaeologist who described the Croatian collection in a recent paper in the journal PLoS One, said the work was not so unusual after all.

“The history of ceramic technology is longer and more diverse than we originally thought,” she said.

The most lifelike piece found at Vela Spila (the term is Croatian for big cave) is the tiny dark brown torso and foreleg of an animal, possibly a horse or deer, complete with a smooth, anatomically correct hole in its rear. But when the piece was uncovered in 2001, the team stuffed it into a bag without identification.

“It was overlooked because no one expected to find ceramics in the Paleolithic,” Dr. Farbstein said.

Five years later, someone looked in the bag and realized what the figure was. When scientists went back to the cave that year to excavate further, they found the other 35 ceramic art pieces.

Olga Soffer, an emerita professor of anthropology at the University of Illinois who has worked on the Czech ceramics, said the find reinforced the idea that ceramic work — a major, complex technological breakthrough in human history — was invented for art rather than utility.

In turn, that helps flesh out the modern understanding of how early human minds worked: more metaphor, less blood.

“Life was lived by more than stone spear point,” Dr. Soffer said. “It gets us away from the Hemingway, mega-macho male stuff.”

Dr. Farbstein said her analysis of the Vela Spila findings suggested that the inhabitants of the cave independently developed their own form of ceramic art more than 10,000 years after the Czech invention.

Read the full New York Times article here.

We are delighted to announce the Department of Anthropology’s Colloquium on Applied Anthropology and Careers Outside the Academy for the Fall 2012 semester. Through this colloquium series, we seek to enhance our students’ education, training, and preparation for seeking, obtaining, and working in non-academic positions in anthropology — an increasing focus in today’s intellectual landscape. Previous events in this series included talks in Spring 2012 by Ripan Malhi and Robert Myers.

This series includes four visiting experts in the Fall 2012 semester. Each expert will present a keynote talk at 3pm on a Thursday. We have also arranged for five graduate students to meet with each speaker over a lunch gathering and another group of five graduate students to meet with each speaker over dinner. These smaller, informal gatherings are intended to enhance our students’ opportunities for more in-depth conversations with these leading scholars in the fields of applied anthropology.

Dr. Jonathan Haas
Field Museum of Natural History

Thursday, September 20, 3 p.m.
Davenport Hall, Room 109A
Anthropologists and Archaeologists in Museums

Dr. Jeffrey Lee Adams
Global Heritage Fund

Thursday, October 18, 3 p.m.
Davenport Hall, Room 109A
NGOs and Archaeological Heritage Management

Dr. Shirley Fiske
University of Maryland

Thursday, October 25, 3 p.m.
Davenport Hall, Room 109A
Applied Anthropology in Governmental, Public Policy, and Sustainability Initiatives


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