Human Origins at the Smithsonian

Last in our student series is the first to make me jealous. Saskia Lascarez Casanova was a Smithsonian intern this past summer. I’ve been behind the scenes at the Smithsonian twice, and I can attest to what an amazing opportunity this must have been! Saskia reviews her visit to the Human Origins exhibit at the National Museum of Natural Science.

Human Origins: the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural Science’s exhibit on the origins and evolution of our ancestors.

This past summer, I was privileged enough to intern at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, and with that internship came lots of perks! My favorite one was the unlimited access to museums. We had special “museum day” outings where all Smithsonian interns got to go to select museums around the National Mall before opening to the public and explore the exhibits, along with behind-the-scenes events and access to various lectures. My first museum day was at the National Museum of Natural Science (NMNH), and I quickly realized that just an hour would not be enough time to explore the vast 1.5 million square foot museum.

hall entrance

Entrance to the Human Origins Hall

The most impressive exhibit by far was the David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins, which holds skull reconstruction of what our ancestors would have looked like, spanning the last six million years, down to the purported height along with incredible detail, making them seem life-like.

Skull wall

Replica skulls showing the sweep of human evolution.

The Human Origins Hall opened to the public in March of 2010, marking the museum’s 100th anniversary and inaugurating the intensive work of over 100 researchers from as many as 60 different educational and research organizations around the globe. Having just finished my introduction to anthropology class, this was a great chance to test the knowledge I had just learned and further educate myself on the subject. The 15,000 square foot exhibit begins with Lucy— one of the earliest hominins ever found, and continues on to show the different aspects of life during those times, like the new tools produced, the adaptation to social life, the use of symbols and their meaning, and the different changes that brought about the extinction of the Neanderthals.


Reconstruction of a Neandertal (photo courtesy of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History website)

Throughout the exhibit, there are various interactive tables and screens, which allow users to further look into certain topics. Archaeological field site information and interactive snapshots let you explore the methods archaeologists used to process their finds, along with a small overview of how the site was found and who was credited with the find. There is also an interactive family tree and a camera, which takes a picture of you and shows you what you would have looked like as a different species. The “One Species Living Worldwide” theater plays a 5-minute video, which tells the story of our adaptation and survival and takes you through the entire history of Homo sapiens.

This exhibit took me an hour alone to explore, and that was one corner of one floor out of three. I visited the NMNH on two other occasions, and spent a total of about 12 hours in the museum walking the three floors and soaking up the different exhibits. If you ever get the opportunity to go to the National Mall, be sure to make the NMNH your first stop as this is the second most popular museum and fills up quickly! Mammal Hall, Butterfly Pavilion, and the Bones exhibits are others worthy of mention, although Butterfly Pavilion is usually sold out up to hours in advance. And you cannot leave without seeing the Hope Diamond along with the entire Geology, Gems, and Minerals section. There is even a section dedicated to Egypt and the mummification process. If you cannot make the trip up to D.C., do not worry! All of the permanent exhibits in the NMNH are accessible online through their virtual tour webpage, but be warned, you will spend hours looking through it all!

For further exploration:

Smithsonian National Museum of Natural Science’s Virtual exhibitions

Human Origins Exhibition information page

Human Origins: One Species, Living Worldwide Video

More information on Lucy


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Rock or Weapon?

Zachary Padilla is next in our student series. He discusses how to tell the difference between a natural rock and stone tools.

A Rock or a Weapon?

The development of stone tools were a remarkable milestone (ba-dum tss…get it?) in the evolution of man and really signified an increase in our brain capacity. Stone tools are a common find at archaeological sites. I knew a handful of children in my high school who managed to find projectile points, more commonly known as Native American arrowheads, whilst walking along their property lines. The ability to differentiate an actual artifact from a geofact is a skill I wish I had. I am getting a minor in anthropology, and plan to get a masters in Anthropology and Linguistics. Stone tools are never leaving me. If you’re like me and can’t tell a rock from a weapon, I have some tips that have gotten me through my share of archaeology and anthropology courses.


Stone tools and rocks at an Acheulean surface site near the Stillbay turnoff, South Africa. (Photo and caption courtesy of John Atherton)

Now look… I am not trying to say go hunting to do your own archaeology, better known as looting, but if you come across a funny looking rock or maybe you have an upcoming test in archaeology here are some tips I have used to help me tell the difference.

1. Stones are organic shapes!

Probably one of the most notable things are the shapes of rocks versus stone tools. Nature makes organic shapes, curves and smooth edges. A stone tool isn’t smooth, the edges are rough and angled. If the edges are predominant there’s a big chance it is a stone tool.

2. Flakes Nearby?

The way stone tools are made is through striking a stone with a hammer stone to break off edges to make a tool. The pieces that break off from the stone is called a flake, and they are sometimes found nearby the tool itself.

3. Look for Scars

A stone tool will have a series of marks from where the tool had been hit by the hammerstone, these marks are called scars. The scars will be along the edges and angles and often overlap.

4. Context of an Artifact?

If the site where the suspected stone is found, then there could be more of chance of determining its nature. If the grounds were once Native land, and it shares the characteristics stated earlier then there’s a really big chance it’s an artifact2

I hope these tips help you determine the difference between an artifact and a rock. Next time you come across a stone, examine the signs closely. If you’re determining the difference on an exam for your Intro to “Arch” or “Anthro”, look closely at the picture for scars and angle, and if that doesn’t help, go with “C”.  Good luck.


Early Stone Age Tools.” The Smithsonian Institution’s Human Origins Program, 8 Feb. 2016.

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Public Archaeology Day at Wormsloe

Next in our student series is Kirstyn Cardwell who attended Public Archaeology Day at Wormsloe Historic Site this past weekend.

Public Archaeology Day at Wormsloe Historic Site

Wormsloe State Historic Site hosted a Public Archaeology Day on April 14, 2018. The site was originally owned by Noble Jones who came to America as a colonist with James Oglethorpe. He leased about 500 acres of land on Isle of Hope where he built a house he named Wormslow, later renamed Wormsloe. What is left of the structure is now considered the Tabby Ruins. His family passed the property down through the years and still own a large amount of the area today. (Wormsloe Pamphlet)


Wormsloe’s tabby ruins

Archaeology Day is a public outreach program to get the community interested in the history of Wormsloe. They set up a small excavation site for the guest to take part in. The site has not been excavated since 1969, so in 2017 they set up a small dig next to the tabby ruins. The archaeologist found arrow heads, pottery, a glass bottle, tools, pipes and buttons.

2017 artifacts

Artifacts from the 2017 dig

For Archaeology Day this year, they wanted to excavate another small section with the community to see what else can be found near the tabby ruins. Three archaeologists from Atlanta were brought in to help with the dig. They dug a small shovel test pit and were allowing guests to help dry screen the dirt that was dug out.


Test unit excavation at Wormsloe’s Public Archaeology Day


Screening soil from the test unit

They found small chunks of brick and other building materials that they think indicates a structure. Because of the type of building materials found, they think it could have been a blacksmith shop or somewhere they were doing metal working. The other idea is that these pieces could have been tossed from the main building that still partially stands.

2018 artifacts

Artifacts found during the 2018 Public Archaeology day

They had two booths set up in the area. At one booth was Sarah Love, the archaeology outreach coordinator for the Historic Preservation Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, explaining what archaeology is and what kind of items are found in Georgia. She explained to guests that archaeology is not always ancient ruins from Rome. Artifacts can be found all over Georgia ranging from Native American times to about 50 years ago. She had a table of findings from around Georgia.

The other booth was set up to let people know that they can volunteer at Wormsloe. If you would like to just go out and visit, they are open Tuesday through Sunday from 9 am to 5 pm. The site has hiking trials, a museum, a gift shop and ruins for you to explore. Animals are allowed on the site as long as they are on a leash.


Georgia Department of Natural Resources Brochure. Wormsloe State Historic Site.

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Kiah House Experience

Nolan Swaim writes about her first archaeological fieldwork and the follow-up in the lab.

Kiah House Experience

The Kiah House is located in downtown Savannah at 505 W. 36th Street. First arriving at the house, you see an old, worn out, yet sturdy building shading the street. Around the side and back of the house were two test pits that students had already started to dig and sift through the dirt. I was very excited since this was my first time helping with an actual dig. In those few hours I was there, I got to use a lot of the information and tools we had talked about in class.

I got the chance to do all three tasks that day. When we started working, it was mostly just moving buckets of dirt from the hole to the sifter. After I got my workout in hauling buckets, I moved to the sifter. While sifting, we found nails, a lot of charcoal, glass, and even some painted dishware. Then I moved into the pit on the side of the house to dig. This was the part I was most looking forward to because I like to work with my hands to feel like I am actually doing work. The stratigraphy in this pit was very peculiar because we were not reaching the natural soil, but going deeper into very dark soil. We knew this by using a Munsell book to label what kind of soil it was.


Nolan, second from right, works the buckets at the Kiah House.

Everyone even got their fifteen minutes of fame when WTOC came to film and interview us. It was nice to know that Ms. Seifert could help shed some light on what we were doing and why it is important to preserve the historical community. I especially liked that the city would see Armstrong students working hard to help with this preservation project.

Later in class we were able to wash and study some of the artifacts we found. I personally got to wash a tooth, don’t worry it was not from a human, but probably from a pig or other animal for food. Another fun little artifact our group washed was a metal prong [rivet] that would go on a pair of jeans. We actually had no idea what it was because of the rust until Ms. Seifert identified it to our group.

My experience at the Kiah House was a great one. The environment was perfect, the ladies from the museum were funny and welcoming. I got a great first taste of what being an archaeologist was really like. I may have spent hours in the dirt, but it was a fabulous way to spend a Sunday morning.

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Conflict Archaeology

Next in our student series, Jasmine Lane travels to Statesboro on February 14 to attend a lecture on Conflict Archaeology at Georgia Southern’s Anthropology Week.

Georgia Southern Anthropology Week: Conflict Archaeology

Part of the five-day schedule for Georgia Southern’s Anthropology Week was a lecture entitled “Conflicted Pasts: An Introduction to Conflict Archaeology” by GSU professor Dr. Ryan McNutt, who discussed the origins of the discipline as well as the challenges it faces. As a separate field of study, conflict archaeology has only been around since the last half of the 20th century. Conflict archaeology seeks to use the material remains at battlegrounds and sites of conflict to understand why conflict happened, who was involved, and what were its effects. This is particularly challenging for prehistory, which has no written record and few remaining artifacts or skeletal remains. Not only that, within anthropology, there is persistent debate on whether there was conflict between prehistoric groups before the formation of nations and states that we typically associate with organized war campaigns. Whether the prehistoric artifacts were involved in conflict depends on those in the present interpreting them today, and while some use a Hobbesian lens of a violent past, in the competition for resources, others use the egalitarian view that Rousseau has for prehistory. What one person sees as ritual violence, another can see as the execution of captives after a battle, what someone sees as an axe for clearing trees, can easily be interpreted as a weapon as well. With very little physical evidence to contextualize the artifacts of prehistory, scholars create context within their world view, that is, they impose on to the past what they want to believe based on their preconceived notions that they held before ever encountering what they are currently studying. By analyzing conflict from a more literal position as opposed to symbolic, the lessons learned become more applicable to conflict archaeology and victim recovery from more recent wars.

Not all conflict archaeology is done for prehistoric sites, much of it is being used to understand or clarify our knowledge about battles in the more recent past. One such case is the Battle of Little Big Horn, previously known as Custer’s Last Stand, in which archaeology helped historians uncover the truth about what happened. One of the reasons previously cited for the American loss in this battle is that the Americans’ weapons jammed frequently, allowing the Native Americans to overcome what were thought to be insurmountable odds. Through archaeology, the real story is different; the American weapons weren’t malfunctioning, as evidenced by the lack of American cartridges that have evidence of being forcibly removed. Instead of a “last stand” the battle played out more like a chaotic massacre, with little evidence of the regimented firing lines that western militaries used during this time. In addition to correcting the historical record, battlefield archaeology can be used to find evidence of missing structures for which documentation has been lost or find and identify soldiers and civilian casualties. In the latter case, one of the biggest challenges facing archaeology is looting of artifacts for sale in the black market. Not only do items such as dog tags and helmets make their way on to the black market, weapons do too, streaming unnoticed from one conflict to another leaving an almost untraceable trail. Beyond the stealing, the bodies left behind from these recent conflicts represent the close ancestors or relatives of people still living, and in the case of American soldiers, the descendants are entitled to benefits.

In summation, this lecture was very informative and shed a lot of light on a field in archaeology that is newer and thus underrepresented in archaeological course work. Anthropology Week at Georgia Southern is organized by the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences. For Anthropology Week 2017, all the events were held at the main Georgia Southern campus in Statesboro. For information regarding next year’s events keep an eye out on the news page of the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences in mid-February, which is also when anthropologists worldwide celebrate Anthropology Day on February 16.

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Robert I. Strozier Faculty Lecture Series

Lauren Barksdale reports on Laura Seifert’s March 23 Robert I. Strozier Faculty Lecture.

Digging Savannah at the Robert I. Strozier Faculty Lecture Series

Professor Seifert was recently featured in the Robert I. Strozier Faculty Lecture Series that covered a variety of topics. She began with a brief explanation of historical and public archaeology, then focused more locally with excavations in places all over Savannah such as the Benedictine Monastery and Freedmen School, the Sorrel Weed House, and the Kiah House. Most importantly, she covered how you, as a citizen, can make a difference in preserving history and covered this all within the time span of an hour. I personally did not realize how big of an issue preserving history in Savannah was. For most of us, I think we believe that “hey it’s underground, it’s not going anywhere anytime soon,” but with ever rising sea levels, we could lose priceless information about our past. Well, then it would become underwater archaeology, and if you’ve ever taken one of Ms. Seifert’s classes, you know how much she loves underwater archeology.

In an effort to make a change and address Savannah’s preservation problems, she along with retired Professor Bruno created Digging Savannah, a group dedicated to getting students and the public dedicated to archaeology. This group has done such amazing things like debunking centuries old urban legends to creating an app that can help you navigate Savannah’s archaeological sites. Call them the modern day Scooby-Doo gang but with actual science on their side.  In my opinion, the work that Ms. Seifert and her students have accomplished over the past half-decade have single handedly put an emphasis on the importance of archaeology in the process of preserving Savannah.

strozier lecture

Sorry you missed it!


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Cumberland Island National Seashore

Hayley Adkins tells us about her recent trip to Cumberland Island National Seashore and why she loves the natural beauty and cultural preservation.

Cumberland Island National Seashore

On February 16th, 2018, I visited Cumberland Island. The island is off Georgia’s southeast coast is the largest barrier island in Georgia. I first visited the island in 2014 and fell in love, so for my birthday I decided to return. When visiting through the National Park Service, you can take a guided tour of the north side of the island, camp for several nights, or hike and explore on your own. First, we had to catch the ferry and ride for 45 minutes to the island since there are no bridges or roadways to get you out there.

The ferry to Cumberland Island.

The ferry to Cumberland Island.

Once we arrived, we hiked around the south end of the island and saw many interesting and beautiful sights. We decided to hike down toward the Carnegie mansion ruins. Along the trails, there were signs reminding us right where we were walking thousands of years earlier Native Americans once walked the same land. We passed by wild horses, deer, and bobcats.


Wild horses are a big draw for island visitors.


Approaching the Carnegie mansion ruins.

Once we got to the ruins, we stayed and looked around for a while. In the 1880’s, Thomas Carnegie (the brother of Andrew Carnegie) built a 59-room Queen Anne style mansion. The reason it is referred to as “The Ruins” is because in 1959 the mansion lit up in flames allegedly due to arson. The National Park Service has preserved the remains of the mansion for visitors. Although it is nearly in crumbles, it is still beautiful and breathtaking. My friend and I discussed if the mansion should be rebuilt, she thought it should because it was so extravagant, and she would like to see how the inside was. I took the side of preserving the ruins to show the effects of arson.

the ruins

The Carnegie mansion, aka “The Ruins”

Once we were done being mesmerized by the ruins, we followed some horses around. Then we made the journey to the beach to have lunch. On the way to the beach, we walked through the forest by gravesites and atop the marshland on wooden pathways. After relaxing at the beach, we made the journey back to the dock. We passed by the campgrounds and more trails to complete our walking-filled day.


Cumberland Island beach

I plan to visit Cumberland annually and take as many people as I can to see Georgia’s natural beauty. The Park Service’s preservation efforts and some private organizations’ endeavors keep the uniqueness and originality of the island alive for many generations to come. Everyone should make the trip to Cumberland Island at least once.


Happy visitors! (All pictures courtesy of Hayley Adkins)

For more information on how to visit Cumberland Island:

For information on history, conservation efforts, and visitor information visit:

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Magic School Bus? Please, We Have An ArchaeoBus

Kelly Vislocky is next in our student series. She shares the ArchaeoBus’ most recent visit to our fair city.

Magic School Bus? Please, We Have An ArchaeoBus

After coming to school in a historic city like Savannah and walking around downtown Savannah, the feel of the city is amazing. The historical layout and city buildings are breathtaking. You can tell that history is important to the community, which is why archaeology is important as well. Reaching out to that community is important as well, and the Society for Georgia Archaeology’s philosophy is to start them young with the ArchaeoBus.

The Society for Georgia Archaeology is a non-profit organization that “promotes the identification, investigation, preservation and protection of archaeological sites and resources throughout the state of Georgia.” One of the ways they do this is through the ArchaeoBus. The ArchaeoBus is a mobile classroom that teaches kids all about archeology. The ArchaeoBus travels around Georgia and on occasion to other states in the Southeast bringing interactive enrichment programs to different schools and communities. The ArchaeoBus offers a variety of programs from school presentations, scout programs, teacher workshops, and library programs. The ArchaeoBus also offers informal programs without presentations where people can come and experience at their own pace. One example of this is the March 24 Forsyth Farmer’s Market in downtown Savannah, where the ArchaeoBus made a stop to bring archaeology to the Savannah community.


The ArchaeoBus was featured as the Forsyth Farmer’s Market Community Spotlight on March 24, 2018. (Photo credit: Dr. Virginia Estabrook)

Another feature of the ArchaeoBus, which I found incredible clever and adorable, is Abby’s Diary. The ArchaeoBus has a persona named Abby. On the Society for Georgia Archeology website Abby (the ArchaeoBus) keeps a diary of all her adventures. It is filled with pictures and updates on where Abby (the ArchaeoBus) has been and what she’s been up to. The diary is in a simple, narrative format that is easy to read and engaging for people and archeologist of all ages. The ArchaeoBus is an awesome form of public outreach to help educate and engage people, especially kids, about archeology and the rich history of Georgia.

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Digging the Kiah House

Next in our student series, Martha Flores shares her experience as a first-time archaeologist a the Kiah House.

My experience at the Kiah House

The Kiah House (505 W. 36th Street, Savannah) was the first archaeological project I worked on. Working at the Kiah House has benefited me in many ways. Because I am a kinesthetic learner, the hands-on aspect of archaeology has strengthened my classroom knowledge of archaeology. Learning about archaeology in class is different than actually doing it in person.  Physically doing the process of archaeology helped me reinforce the material, but it also made me engage with my community. My experience at the Kiah House has helped me understand and really appreciate archaeology.

When I first arrived at the Kiah House, I was amazed with all the work the previous volunteer students had done. There were two test pits: one on the side of the house and the other in the backyard. I was amazed with both test pits, because you could easily see all the layers of dirt. This had a major impact on me because I clearly remembered talking about stratigraphy in class and looking at previous archaeological photos. It was nice to see something we talked about in class and put it use. While we began to set up, I saw many familiar tools, and by the end of the day, I was really familiar with the tools.

Volunteers were responsible for recording data, digging, sifting, and more. Sifting was my favorite part of the archaeological process, because you never know what you can find. I was excited to find artifacts. There were two sifting stations and both stations found similar and different artifacts. Although sifting was fun, it was also tiring; my arms were sore for two days. I also helped collect data, but I did not do any digging, because I did not want to get stuck in the pit, and I was happy sifting.

Working at the Kiah House has helped me have a better understand of archaeology. Yes, it reinforced by class knowledge, but it also gave me a better understanding of why people do it and the hard work necessary. It was exciting to see what I could find, but the context and the history behind the artifacts and site was also exciting. I started at the Kiah House not knowing what we would find but we ended finding keys, bones, marbles, and more.

At the Kiah House, I met several people; some were there because of school, others because they cared about the Kiah House, and some who were both. I was ecstatic to see my classmates and myself on the news supporting something historical. I felt like we were giving something back to Savannah, a city I grew up in. I was happy and grateful WTOC came to film what we were doing at the Kiah House. We sent a positive message to our community.

Working at the Kiah House was an experience that has helped me understand archeology but also appreciate the history of Savannah. Doing hands-on work helped me strengthen my knowledge of archaeology, rather than just learning about it in class. I hope more people from my community come together to volunteer to learn about our history and maybe one day possibly save a historical location.


Martha screens artifacts with fellow Armstrong students at the Kiah House. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Deborah Johnson-Simon)

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Lessons Learned in the Field

Robert Masters tackles his final student blog post by reflecting on the past three semesters’ lessons learned.

Lessons Learned in the Field


This semester like the previous two semesters, I am taking an archaeology class with Professor Seifert. During all three semesters, the class has had the opportunity to perform fieldwork for both extra credit and to get fieldwork experience. While I enjoy receiving extra credit for helping out with the different digs, the reason why I continue to come back is because I enjoy learning about history, especially local history. I also enjoy spending time with my fellow classmates at the digs and helping new students with the proper excavation procedures. Another reason why I enjoyed participating in digs is my enjoyment of just digging holes. This is completely different from my childhood where I would dig randomly and not take any precautions. Now after digging with Professor Seifert, I can still dig holes but at a slower pace. The reason for our slower pace is because we are digging in a scientific manner and are interested at what the ground contains, while also looking at the different layers of soil known as stratigraphy. Stratigraphy can tell us different things from soil composition, to habitation layers, and sometimes within these layers, we can find features such as postholes, trash pits, or privies.

The most important thing that I learned this semester while performing digs is not to jump into a clean hole. The reason is that we take pictures at different depth levels to show the stratigraphy for each unit (hole) that we dig. By jumping into the hole, I messed up the floor of the test unit, meaning I had to re-clean* the floor that was already clean before I jumped into the hole. This is probably one of the big things that I will take away from my experiences performing digs with Professor Seifert. Since this is my last semester at Georgia Southern’s Armstrong campus, I will not be digging for extra credit, but I may still volunteer and help with digs in the future. I would like to thank Professor Seifert and all the other experts that I have met though my time performing digs while participating in the many archaeological digs over the past three semesters.

*Use a trowel to scrap back a thin layer of soil exposing differences in soil color and texture.

Robert cleans off an artifact he just found at the Kiah House this semester.

Robert cleans off an artifact he just found at the Kiah House this semester.

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