Uncovering the Past: How Archaeology in Harris County Has Contributed to Our Understanding of Human Behavior and Culture

Archaeology is a powerful tool for uncovering the past and gaining insight into human behavior and culture. By understanding the goals of archaeological research, students can learn how their actions can influence the future and impact both the environment and society. Careful and contextualized interpretation of archaeological evidence, such as bone remains, is essential for developing hypotheses and drawing conclusions about past human beings, including population dynamics, human experience, and the diverse adaptability of past societies. There are many archaeological approaches to studying paleodiets, such as analyzing plant and animal remains from archaeological sites, microgarments related to the processing of food into tools, analyzing coprolites (fossilized feces), or examining the waste of ceramics and ground stones.

Bioarchaeologists use microscopy and histology technologies, chemical analyses such as isotopes, GIS applications, and the integration of multidisciplinary methods beyond anthropology to understand life in the past. Stubblefield herself is a descendant of victims of the Tulsa massacre and her work has opened a stage for very public debates among bioarchaeologists about the history of racism in the field, the methods used by biological anthropologists to estimate ancestry, and the disproportionate use of people of color and marginalized bodies in the skeletal collections used for research. Depending on the type of analysis being carried out or the experience of the bioarchaeologist, his laboratory has long tables with padding to place a skeleton in an anatomical position (the bones are placed as they are in the living body), equipment such as clamps and other tools for measuring bones, scales for weighing samples, poufs or cork rings to hold the skulls in place, specialized lighting and a foldable camera studio. In this sense, historical and archaeological gaps in knowledge about the history and migrations of indigenous peoples are not considered sufficiently strong evidence against an assertion of cultural affiliation.

Despite his criticism, Harris left an important legacy by successfully creating an anthropological theory and disseminating it to students and the public. This allostatic load, if sufficiently severe and prolonged, can affect the cellular functions of bones and teeth, resulting in pathologies that can be observed by trained bioarchaeologists. His research interests have focused on the histological microstructures of dental and skeletal tissues, diseases, growth and childhood in ancient North America, the forensic and archaeological taphonomy of teeth, and the individualization of skeletal features. Gender roles and expectations can change throughout a person's life, so “seeing gender in the archaeological record can be a complex interpretive task”.

Therefore, Harris shows how, using empirical methods, an ethical perspective is essential to understand cultural change in a comprehensive way. Researchers are even studying the DNA of oral bacteria in dental stones to understand the impact of disease and coevolution with changes in diet and living practices. In 1968, Harris wrote The Rise of Anthropological Theory, in which he expounds the foundations of cultural materialism (CM) and critically considers other important anthropological theories; this work aroused significant criticism from defenders of other points of view. In 1989, the World Archaeological Congress adopted the provisions relating to the science and treatment of human remains established in the Vermilion Agreement, prepared jointly by archaeologists and indigenous peoples.

When investigating burial sites, bioarchaeologists and mortuary archaeologists examine the context in which the individual was buried and attempt to reconstruct social structure and individual identity by interpreting funeral goods (objects included in burial such as jewelry, weapons, ceramics etc.). Amy Michael is a biological anthropologist who specializes in researching microstructure of human teeth (and bones) in an effort to answer questions about past and modern bodies. The study of archaeology in Harris County has been instrumental in our understanding of human behavior and culture. By examining evidence from archaeological sites through careful interpretation we can gain insight into population dynamics, human experience, adaptability of past societies, paleodiets, gender roles & expectations throughout life cycles as well as diseases & their impacts on cellular functions.

Through this research we can also gain insight into racism & its effects on marginalized bodies & indigenous peoples.