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Daniel Sayers Assoc Professor Department of Anthropology

Send email to Daniel Sayers
(202) 885-1833 (Office)
(202) 885-1837 (Fax)
CAS - Anthropology
Hamilton - 101
In the field and on research sabbatical till January 5, 2022
PhD, Historical Archaeology, College of William & Mary
MA, Anthropology, Western Michigan University
BA, Philosophy and Anthropology, Western Michigan University

Favorite Spot on Campus
Hamilton Building Benches
Book Currently Reading
Crossen, 1993, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography.
In over two decades working in the field of Historical Archaeology, Dr. Sayers has covered a wide range of people, places, and social issues in his research. Dr. Sayers builds from a Marx-indebted worldview in all of his research which, at heart, is always a critique of the alienation and fragmentation of humans in all aspects of the social and wider world along class, race, labor, species, gender, commodity-use, landspaces, and other salient fault lines. This holds true for his work on: the 1830-1860 transition to agrarian capitalism at the Shepard Farmstead in Battle Creek, Michigan; Black and Indigenous American resistance communities and society of the 1600-1863 Great Dismal Swamp of North Carolina and Virginia; the 1830-1863 Underground Railroad in the Midwest; Hobos and wandering workers of the 1880-1940 East Coast; the archaeology of the homeless and the home across the U.S.; and, human societal and economic abuse-ploitation of animal beings and species throughout U.S. history. Also, with no exceptions, Dr. Sayers has intentionally selected the aspects, peoples, and sites of the past that he thinks will help generate wider progressive political momentum and action. Dr. Sayers has published on issues within the profession surrounding praxis, developing actionable and transformative agendas, and, expanding upon while moving beyond common models of community engagement. Meanwhile, he has used various media (e.g., TV, newspapers, magazines, film, art, and podcasts) as tools to try to impact wider national and global consciousness and awareness about the centrality of alienation (in its many manifestations) in modern history as understood through the archaeological lens. Dr. Sayers is currently in the beginning stages of developing two archaeology and ethnographic research projects that build off of his already-established professional Animal Emancipation/Critical Animal Studies perspective and praxis.
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

  • Great Dismal Swamp Stakeholder Collaborative

Scholarly, Creative & Professional Activities

Research Interests

In no particular order, my central interests as seen in my publications, research writings, and media appearances include: political economy theory; landscapes; alienation (as a historical-material phenomenon and process); the capitalist mode of production (and Black Capitalism--importantly, via the work of Manning Marable); Diasporas and exile; marronage, Maroon communities, and the (so-called) 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 social transience; politics of archaeological resource stewardship; capitalist transformations/transitions; archaeological research modeling and some methods areas (e.g., excavation, survey, and certain modes of data recordation); home and homelessness; race/racism/racialization; the nature of the archaeological record; the archaeologist’s experience; and, historical archaeology as social justice and world-transformational praxis.

My main American University research Projects since 2009 include:

  • The Great Dismal Swamp Landscape Study (multiple archaeological sites focusing on ca. 1607-1863 Black Maroon and Indigenous American resistance communities that thrived across the huge Great Dismal Swamp of NC and VA).
  • The Great Depression Undocumented Labor Project (Archaeological work at the Wye Trestle site in Delta, PA with focus on the undocumented hobo community that was “settled” just past the edge of town in the 1890-1940 era)
  •  I am currently developing two new projects at AU that will center on animal beings from species other than our own, and, our less-than-admirable treatment of those beings. One is a book-focused research project called Roadkilling: Dispatches from the Animal Emancipation Front which will offer a critical anthropological exploration of inhumane road violence (Roadkill) against beings from species other than our own. The other project is called the Archaeology, Speciesism, and Human Entitlement Study (ASHES), a long-term umbrella study through which I focus on human and other animal social relations at typical and not-so-typical archaeological sites in the wider Baltimore-DC area.

I have been doing archaeology as a professional for over 25 years now, and I excavated my first soils as an archaeology student some 30+ years ago. I have worked at ancient precontact sites and historical (post-1600) sites across the U.S., including sites in Idaho, Montana, Utah, Tennessee, Colorado, and in Midwest and Mid-Atlantic states. My experiences as a participant in these many academic, Cultural Resource Management, and museum-based projects include various modes of archaeological survey, architectural and site recordation, all phases of excavation, laboratory analysis (with especial knowledge of ceramics and other artifact classes of the 1780-1940 era), archival and related documentary research, and public/community engagement in support of archaeological work and to the benefit those communities. So, I do not “just do theory”, “just the digging”,  or “just the artifacts”. Rather, I approach the work of this profession as a complex whole that must include theory, methods, and materials—-and thoughtful, effective social praxis and self-critique. I also know that money is required for doing archaeological work and to that end I have received over $275,000 in external grant support for my projects to date. I am also trained and published as a historian and as a creative writer (e.g., short-story fiction).

Honors, Awards, and Fellowships

WMU Distinguished Anthropology Alumnus; William and Mary Disctinguished Doctoral Dissertation in Social Sciences; Keynote at Great Dismal Swamp NPS Network To Freedom Ceremony      


*The Great Dismal Swamp collaboration effort is yielding good results:;!!IaT_gp1N!jXRfNkOZL00s36716WGMiALARDIuYF-yGYXg9RRP0ekSHVWyIkepa4fsfF-13dYa$

**See our Great Dismal Swamp Landscape Study Facebook



Escape to the Great Dismal Swamp, Smithsonian Channel

Selected Publications

     Recent Public Work

Sayers, Dan 2021, The Secret Society of the Great Dismal Swamp. TedEd short film

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".

     Recent Books

Sayers, Daniel O. (2023). The Archaeology of the Unhomed and the Homed. Archaeology of the American Experience, Michael S. Nassaney, series ed., University Press of Florida, Gainesville (scheduled for publication on February 28)

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. (projected, 2023). Some Thoughts on Landscape’s Political-Economic Fissures and Understanding Past Social Radicals. Thematic volume on “Cracks in Capitalism”, International Journal of Historical Archaeology.

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.

Short Fiction

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


Grants and Sponsored Research

NEH "We the People Collaborative Grant; Canon/National Park Service/American Academy of Arts and Sciences Grant        

Media Appearances

Recent Appearances

August 2022

American Landscapes w/ host Baratunde Thurston, PBS, Episode 4 on the Mid-Atlantic; appeared as archaeology expert and interviewee with host in the Dismal Swamp.

February 2022

    The Underground Railroad, episode 3 in 4-part series on Discovery Science Channel; appeared as archaeology expert in Dismal Swamp segment.

December 2020

    “The Great Dismal Swamp was a Refuge for Escaped Slaves. A Congressman Wants to Revive its Forgotten History”, The Virginian-Pilot.

November 2020

    Enslaved People on the Run: The Great Dismal Swamp. Constant Wonder, Brigham Young University Radio, Podcast interview.

October 2020

    What on Earth?, Discovery Science Channel, Dismal Swamp Archaeology segment (original air date 10/22/2020

Professional Services

Expert Consultant Activities: Jamestown Rediscovery Museum Revamp: Content, Tour Info, and Exhibits—USFWS Archaeological Excavation and Architectural Survey Consulting—USFWS and NPS Great Dismal Swamp Public History Interpretation Pavilion: Info, Text, and Images—Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (National Mall, Washington DC): Exhibit development and content, facilitation of artifact loans

Examples of Courses I've Developed and Taught:

Grad: Craft of Anthropology--Foundations of Archaeology: Marxism, Material Culture, and Space--Archaeology, Alienation, and the Existential Condition

Grad/Undergrad: Great Depression Undocumented Laborer Project/Delta, PA Archaeological Field School (AU, co-taught)--Archaeology of the Homeless and the Home--Radical Archaeologies

Undergrad: Human Origins--Introduction to Archaeology--Early America: The Buried Past