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Universal Human Rights Month

December 10 marks the 65th anniversary of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights’ endorsement of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The declaration’s scope and mission was foundational and unprecedented because it asserted human-kind’s innate political, economic, and social rights.

Civically engaged archeology can play a unique role in this declaration’s enactment—from providing the means to resolve historical discrepancies, to facilitating reflection and healing. Archeology conducted at both Manzanar and Minidoka—two Japanese internment camps during WWII—has served multiple purposes. It has provided a mode of healing for former internees and their families, while also allowing them to participate in the interpretation of the resources. Learn about the archeology conducted at the camps.

The discovery of the African Burial Ground has been heralded as one of “the most important archeological finds of our time.” This site, in the middle of New York City, was the resting place for more than 15,000 free and enslaved African-Americans between the late 17th and late 18th centuries. The discovery and ensuing controversies spurred the engagement of descendant communities and scholars interested in the African Diaspora. This example brought forth the profound impact that black Americans have had historically within the nation, and has served to challenge biased histories.

Colorado’s Sand Creek Massacre has been marked with controversy since it occurred in 1864. This site, where 160 Arapaho and Cheyenne were killed by nearly 600 troops, became visually unrecognizable a few decades after the attack occurred. While the site had generally lacked presence within American popular history, the massacre’s legacy was still strong among Arapaho and Cheyenne. In this project archeology was controversial because its findings differed from tribal oral histories, yet it was still integral to establishing the site’s boundaries in preparation for the area’s acquisition. Therefore, it was able to help create a sacred space where the attack can be memorialized. Learn more about the role of archeology in the development of Sand Creek National Historic Site.

Archeological projects, like those featured above, increasingly involve both local and descendant communities as archeologists recognize their ethical responsibilities to involve multiple stakeholders. Our technical brief provides explanations of civic engagement and social capital as well as case studies and suggestions for ways that archeologists can participate and contribute to the creation of social capital.

  • (NPS photo) Former internees and their decendants excavate at Manzanar.
  • (NPS Photo) Examining a map of the African Burial Ground.
  • Monument memorializes the dead at Sand Creek.
  • Eleanor Roosevelt holds a copy of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

TSM/MJB