Special Episode: Caroline Schuster, Sarah Abel & Catherine Frieman on The Archaeology of F*****g

Before we dive into today’s episode we’d just like to add a content warning for this episode for mentions of slavery and sexual assault

This week, we’re bringing you an extra special interview/panel.

Familiar stranger Alex Zoomed in with Dr Caroline Schuster, Dr Sarah Abel and Dr Catherine Frieman to take a deeper dive into the dark side of genetic testing and what it means for people today that are trying to interact with the past. 

With research interests around race, genetic testing and ancient communities, it was a great conversation which “unearthed” some interesting resonances between our panel members. The panelists ask questions like “Who or what decides how you are in society?” and “What kind of power does data have?” What do you think? Reach out and let us know on our socials! 

Also, we’re organising a roundtable at this year’s Australian Anthropological Society Conference—”Anthropology Should be a Household Word” (RT02).

The roundtable is going to be a discussion about public anthropology. What are we doing to get anthropology out there? And what could/should we be doing?

Do you or anyone you know do anything in the public anthropology space? Make a submission! The deadline for proposals is the 16th of August.

Links and Citations 

Check out our panelists work here:

Dr Caroline Schuster 

Dr Sarah Abel: 

Read Sarah’s new book here:

Dr Catherine Frieman: 

Read some of Catherine’s recent work here:



Interview/Panel quotes 

“On one hand you have to have big conclusions to get into Nature but on the other, each of those individuals contain five generations of data” 

“One of the problems is that they’re being treated as if they are real things that emerged from the past, rather than things that archaeologists have invented, and then they’re being tied to specific genetic profiles” 

“Our data is broken and fragmented and piecemeal and patchy, and not representative, so any data is an advantage over no data or broken data” 

“I think that’s a really interesting use of the material, but also one that speaks to the public and speaks to that kind of public facing element of telling stories about the past that really connect with people in the present. 

“One of the mechanisms of slavery was to take away the identiy” 

“All of these things contributed to the erasure of identity” 

“When I was doing my field work  it was very common to hear people say things like “we’re all very mixed up in Brazil””  

“This idea of tracing by kind of bloodlines is really not there in the same kind of way in Brazil” 

‘It may not be the name it’ll be something like Scandinavian, and you click through and it says Viking”, which isn’t terribly informative but gives a sense of how people engage with the past and present of the data” 

“Settlement archaeology is what is it called, very rapidly turned into Nazi Aracheology” 

“I think a lot of the scientists involved really weren’t prepared for that, they didn’t have a sense that that was something that happened, they didn’t have a sense that that was something that their data was feeding into” 

“A big change in the past few years is that the archeologists and the ancient geneticists are extremely aware of who is reading their work and how they are reading their work” 

“When you add in genetics which also has its own ideas of lineage and connection and those kind of deep eugenic ideas, that who you were and what your blood is says something about who you are and how you are in society it starts getting very ugly, very fast” 

“How we talk about the appearance of prehistoric people and how we talk about that through lens of modern and particularly Eurocentric ideas of race is something that really isn’t well dealt with and it certainly isn’t grappled with very well”  

“You can’t simply capture an identity with a genetic category” 

 “The things that we’re looking at, whether they’re genetic code or  bits of rock or bits of pottery or whole landscapes, they only start giving us narratives when we start throwing ideas at them” 

“No class of data can tell a story by itself” 

“It’s another piece of pottery that we can tape to all the others and maybe in ten years we’ll have to take it apart and put it back together differently and I think that’s fine, I think that’s how knowledge grows” 

Feature Image: “Excavating beads during archaeological investigations at the old Champoeg townsite at Champoeg State Park (Oregon, USA), 1975” by John Atherton (c.1975)

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