Erin Powers is a staff archaeologist at Ball State’s Applied Anthropology Laboratories with a wide array of research interests.
They include dental anthropology, Roman period diet and subsistence, bioarchaeology, and ghost archaeology.
Yes, you read that correctly. Ghost archaeology.
With Halloween approaching and the supernatural on most of our minds, Erin took the time to explain what ghost archaeology is, and, just as importantly, what it isn’t.
What is Ghost Archaeology?
Ghost archaeology is the study of places and/or objects that are associated with ghost stories, legends, and urban myths.
We’re not talking about real ghosts because archaeology does not try to locate ghosts. We’re more interested in the manmade objects, or artifacts, and structures associated with legends and myths, and what they can tell us about human activity.
What are misconceptions about Ghost Archaeology?
The biggest misconception about ghost archaeology is that archaeologists are ghost hunters. It’s just not true. We don’t wear infrared goggles. We don’t wait until night to record ghost sightings. And we definitely don’t use Ouija boards in the field.
Archaeology focuses on man-made artifacts and in this particular instance, archaeologists focus on artifacts associated with ghost stories. The objects range from supposedly haunted objects to beer cans left behind by young adults visiting a space that is believed to be haunted. Archaeologists use these objects to tell a story and explain patterns of human behavior happening in an area.
Ghost archaeologists use a standard scientific method and substantiated field methods and techniques to answer a research question.
What does Ghost Archaeology add to the field that wasn’t there before?
Ghost archaeology presents a full narrative of what happened in a particular place associated with legends and myths.
You can think of it as the last five minutes of any scary movie where the mask comes off or the scary monster is revealed and it’s no longer scary, it just makes sense. This is what archaeologists do. We use historical documents and artifacts we discover in the field to understand what was going on.
A great example is the House of Blue Lights legend in Indianapolis. Supposedly a man named Skiles Test killed his wife, enshrined her in a glass coffin, and strung blue lights around for all to see. Another variation, was that Test placed the glass coffin at the bottom of his pool. None of this is true. Both of Test’s wives outlived him. This did not stop local teens and young adults from trespassing and checking out the house and pool.
Ghost archaeology can corroborate that Test most likely did not have a glass coffin in his home. It definitely was not his wife, and local youths did trespass onto his property to see if the legend was true.
How did you get into Ghost Archaeology?
It really fell into my lap. When I was a graduate student at University of Indianapolis, I helped survey the Skiles Test Nature Park in Indianapolis.
The research I have done on Test’s life and his property has been fascinating. The history and legend surrounding Test’s life is a piece of fascinating Indianapolis history that has been lost. It deserves to be brought into the spotlight, with a focus this time on the truth about his life.
Honestly, the truth has been more interesting than the fiction.
Finally, do you believe in ghosts?
Of course I do. I lived in a house in New Orleans a few years back and we had at least one ghost living in our house that would mess with my roommate’s dog. The ghost was friendly otherwise.