Machine Learning the Visual Rhetoric of the Trade in Human Remains

Author(s): Shawn Graham; Damien Huffer

Year: 2018


There is a thriving online trade, and collector community, that seeks specimens of numerous categories of human remains. This commerce is facilitated by posts on new social media such as Instagram, Facebook, Etsy, and, until recently, eBay and operates within a complex ethical and legal landscape. This presentation will share key results of ongoing work to data mine these online markets on both new social media and multi-lingual e-commerce platforms. In particular, we are interested in the possibilities presented by machine learning and other ways to ‘train’ the machine to identify the illicit, the illegal, and the unethical. Can we design ethical archaeological machines? We will discuss the relevance of applying digital humanities tools, how to do so, key findings from previous research on the Instagram collecting community, and ongoing work expanding beyond Instagram. At the very least, we believe that machine learning does reveal important, otherwise hidden, aspects of the visual and textual rhetoric that underpins the sale, trade, auction (and sometimes forgery) of the dead.

Cite this Record

Machine Learning the Visual Rhetoric of the Trade in Human Remains. Shawn Graham, Damien Huffer. Presented at The 82nd Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Washington, DC. 2018 ( tDAR id: 442716)

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Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 20290