Trowels and Fair Trade


Explore the Archaeology of the Underground Railroad

What evidence did runaway slaves leave behind at an Underground Railroad station? What tools help an archaeologist uncover and identify that evidence?  Is slavery itself an historic artifact?

These are just a few of the questions posed to visitors in Trowels and Fair Trade: Revealing the Underground Railroad and Contemporary Slavery. 

This new exhibition at the NIU Anthropology Museum presents a fresh perspective on slavery as seen through the lens of anthropology. Based on the excavations of former NIU graduate student Lisa Brown, the exhibit highlights the archaeological study of the Underground Railroad and the injustice of slavery.  Curated by current NIU graduate students Kweku Williams and Ashlee Craig, this powerful exhibit demonstrates the many ways in which anthropology transforms lives.

Acknowledging the emotionally-charged theme of the exhibit, curators Williams and Craig emphasize the role anthropologists play in detecting economic and social injustices.  Trowels and Fair Trade: Revealing the Underground Railroad and Contemporary Slavery underscores the work of NIU Professor Mark Mehrer and graduate student Lisa Brown in using archaeological evidence to identify Underground Railroad stations.

Interactive stations throughout the exhibit provide visitors an opportunity to conduct archaeological field work, play the Trivia Challenge, and become a contemporary abolitionist. The exhibit is open 10:00 AM – 4:00 PM, Tuesdays through Fridays through October 12, 2013.  Admission is free.

The Anthropology Museum

Founded in 1964 by the Department of Anthropology in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Anthropology Museum houses a permanent collection of more than 12,000 ethnographic and archaeological objects.  Collections emphasize Southeast Asia, but include textiles, baskets, and ceramics from throughout the world.  With a dynamic schedule of exhibitions and programs in the newly renovated Cole Hall, the Anthropology Museum is a cultural destination for residents and visitors to DeKalb.  The Museum is open Tuesdays through Fridays from 10 AM to 4 PM and Saturdays 12 to 4 PM.  Admission is free and everyone is welcome.

Northern Illinois University is a comprehensive teaching and research institution enrolling 22,000 students on four campuses throughout the Chicago region.  NIU’s main campus is in DeKalb, Ill., a growing community of over 44,000 residents located about 65 miles west of Chicago.  To learn more about Northern Illinois University and the Anthropology Museum, visit and

For more information about the exhibition, contact Jennifer Kirker Priest at 815-753-2030 or via email at