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Daniel Sayers Associate Professor and Department Chair, Anthropology Department of Anthropology

Send email to Daniel Sayers
(202) 885-1833 (Office)
(202) 885-1837 (Fax)
CAS - Anthropology
Hamilton - 101
Spring 2020 Teaching: Tuesday 5:30-8 pm Student Office Hours: Wednesday 2-4 pm
PhD, Historical Archaeology (Anthropology), College of William & Mary MA, Anthropology, Western Michigan University BA, Philosophy and Anthropology, Western Michigan University

Book Currently Reading
Drift: Illicit Mobility and Uncertain Knowledge, by Ferrell
Trained in philosophy, anthropology, history, and archaeology, Dr. Sayers is a Historical Archaeologist who works in the United States. Currently, his Great Dismal Swamp Landscape Study is exploring the social and economic history and world of resistance communities that thrived in the swamp interior from 1607 up through the Civil War. The project includes several scholars from around the U.S. Dr. Sayers is also principal investigator in and co-developer of the Great Depression Undocumented Labor Project, an archaeological program centered on transient laborers and hobos in 1920-1950 America--it particularly explores issues surrounding landscape, resistance, environment/ecology, and class consciousness. Additionally, Dr. Sayers has proposed and developed an animal emancipation perspective and agenda for historical archaeology, he is elaborating original marronage theories and perspectives, he is engaged in the politics of the "Underground Railroad", he continues his work the 19th century transition to agrarian capitalism in the Midwest and beyond, and, he has developed new anthropological perspectives on the archaeology of the homeless and the home. Dr. Sayers works with many undergraduate and graduate students in all of these research areas.
See Also
Anthropology Department
For the Media
To request an interview for a news story, call AU Communications at 202-885-5950 or submit a request.

Partnerships & Affiliations

  • Society for Historical Archaeology

  • US Fish and Wildlife Service
    In Partnership

  • Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture
    In Partnership

Scholarly, Creative & Professional Activities

Research Interests

My primary interests, in no particular order, include: political economy; landscapes; alienation; Diasporae and exile; marronage, Maroon communities, and the Underground Railroad; labor and commodities; defiance and resistance; animal emancipation/rights and archaeology; Marxian-existentialist perspectives; community systems and structure; hobos, the Great Depression, and labor transience; politics of archaeological resource stewardship; capitalist transformations/transitions; archaeological research modeling and some methods areas (e.g., excavation, survey, and modes of data recordation); home and homelessness; race/racism/racialization; and, historical archaeology as social justice and world-transformational praxis.

Honors, Awards, and Fellowships

2013, Distinguished Alumnus, Department of Anthropology, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, Michigan.

2012, Keynote Speaker and Co-Ribbon Cutter, US Fish and Wildlife Service Public Historical Interpretation Pavilion Official Opening, February 24, Suffolk, VA. 

2008, College of William and Mary Distinguished Dissertation in the Social Sciences Award.      


*See our Great Dismal Swamp Landscape Study Facebook




Escape to the Great Dismal Swamp

Smithsonian Channel

Andreas Gutzeit, Producer and Director, Story House Productions


City of Lost Slaves

Andreas Gutzeit, Director, Story House Productions 


Landscape of Power: Freedom and Slavery in the Great Dismal Swamp. 

Nina Shapiro-Perl, Director with Co-Producer Beth Geglia

Selected Publications

     Recent Public Work

Sayers, Daniel O. 2018, A Modest Firearms Proposal, The Doctor T.J Eckleburg Review

Sayers, Daniel O., 2017, Guest Columnist, "The Shepard House Has Alot to Teach Us".

Sayers, Daniel O., 2016, The Mail, Underground Railroad. New Yorker

     Recent Books

Sayers, Daniel O. (2014). A Desolate Place for a Defiant People: The Archeology of Maroons, Indigenous Americans, and Enslaved Laborers in the Great Dismal Swamp. University Press of Florida, Gainesville. (Second, paperback edition, 2016).

     Recent Articles and Book Chapters

Sayers, Daniel O. (2019). The Radical Antebellum Great Dismal Swamp of North Carolina and Virginia, USA: Maroons, Indigenous Americans, and the Power of Underdeveloped Landscapes. Revue d’histoire du XIXe siècle 58:125-146.

Sayers, Daniel O., and Justin Uehlein (2018). Animal Emancipation and Historical Archaeology: A Pairing Long Overdue. In, Critical Animal Studies: Towards Trans-species Social Justice, Atsuko Matsuoka and John Sorenson, eds., pp.117-142, Rowman & Littlefield International, London, UK. 

Sayers, Daniel O. (2015) Alienation, Praxis and Significant Social Transformations through Historical Archaeology. Chapter in, Historical Archaeologies of Capitalism, 2nd Edition, Mark P. Leone and Jocelyn Knaupf, eds. Springer.

Sayers, Daniel O. (2015) Maroon and Leftist Praxis. In, Current Perspectives on the Archaeology of Slavery in Latin America. Pedro P. Funari and Charles E. Orser, Jr., eds. Springer. 

Sayers, Daniel O. (2014). Scission Communities and Social Defiance: Marronage in the Diasporic Great Dismal Swamp, 1600-1860. In, The Limits of Tyranny: Archaeological Perspectives on the Struggle against New World Slavery, James Delle, ed., University of Tennessee Press.

Sayers, Daniel O. (2014). The Most Wretched of Beings in the Cage of Capitalism. International Journal of Historical Archaeology 18(3): 529-554.

Sayers, Daniel O. (2012). Marronage Perspective for Historical Archaeology in the United States. Historical Archaeology 46(4):135-161.    

Short Fiction

Daniel Owen Sayers, 2018, The Omphalos of Pritchard McCovey, Poor Yorick Journal


Grants and Sponsored Research

    2010-2013, NEH, "We the People" Collaborative Grant (RZ-51219-10), Great Dismal Swamp Landscape Study (Project Director with collaborators: Sue Taylor, Kathryn Benjamin, Will Moore, Nina Shapiro-Perl, Chuck Goode, Carolyn Finney, Dan Lynch, and Brent Morris).

    2004-2007, Canon National Parks Science Scholars Doctoral Dissertation Grant.        

Media Appearances

Recent Appearances

August 2017

    99% Invisible podcast, Dismal Swamp

    Our State (North Carolina) podcast, Dismal Swamp

July 2017

    NPR Morning Edition, Delta PA Hobo Jungle Work

May 2017

   Archaeological Conservancy, Dismal Swamp Article

December 2016

   Mysteries of the Museum, Travel Channel, Dismal Swamp segment

September 2016

   Smithsonian Magazine, Dismal Swamp Article


Professional Services

Courses Taught

  • Masters/Dissertation Seminar
  • Craft of Anthropology I 
  • Craft of Anthropology II
  • Contemporary Theory: Culture, Power, and Place
  • Foundations of Archaeology
  • Foundations of Archeology: Theory Since 2000
  • Foundations of Archaeology: Marxism, Material Culture, and Space
  • Foundations of Archaeology: Grasping Social Worlds
  • Contemporary Theory: Culture, Power, History
  • Archaeology, Alienation, and the Existential Condition
  • Leftist Anthropological Archaeology
  • Great Depression Undocumented Laborer Project/Delta, PA Archaeological Field School (AU, co-taught
  • Great Dismal Swamp Archaeological Field School
  • Historical Archaeology of Labor and Resistance 
  • Archaeology of Diasporas
  • Archaeology and Politics
  • Archaeology of the Undocumented
  • Archaeologies of Labor, Defiance and Resistance
  • Human Origins
  • Introduction to Archaeology
  • Early America: The Buried Past
  • Archaeology of the Modern World
  • Archaeology of the Homeless and the Home
  • Radical Archaeologies

AU News & Achievements

AU students excavating a probable eighteenth or nineteenth century maroon cabin footprint

Research ·

Great Dismal Swamp Hid a Secret Human World

Professor Dan Sayers’ research shows swamp was a refuge for Indigenous Americans, runaway slaves, and others.
Full Story