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Elvis Presley

Ethnoarchaeology defined as the branch of archaeology that studies contemporary primitive cultures and technologies provides a way of comparing patterns of prehistoric cultures to the subject matter one is interested in. (Dictionary.com: 2003).  The use of ethnoarchaeology introduces both anthropologists and archaeologists to the diversified cultural meanings of artifacts, people, and places. Most compose ethnographies about other cultures by approaching these cultures with preconceived notions of “others.” However, through analysis this blog will attempt dissect the culture surrounding the death of one of the most famous American rock stars. This “King of Rock ‘n Roll,” known as Elvis Presley, left behind not only an array of the biggest musical hits in Hollywood history, but also a more physical legacy which stands to this day: Graceland, Tennessee.  Although ethnoarchaeology is generally centered around ancient cultures and societies, we could use this branch to help us identify and analyze more modern communities and the cultural upheaval surrounding his death.

Elvis Presley

Elvis Presley was found dead on his bathroom floor on August 16th, 1977, as a result of years of heavy drug use.  His funeral took place two days later on August 18th in his home of Memphis, Tennessee, and was attended by over 80,000 people who gathered to view his open casket.  For a monetary fee, a friend of Presley’s unethically authorized the National Enquirer magazine to photograph his body.  This controversial image then became the cover of the National Enquirer’s next issue, which soon became their best selling issue.  (View here: http://tinyurl.com/772fq2v). WHY is this important? How does this relate to articles we have discussed? He was buried alongside his mother and grandparents at the Meditation Garden.  A few days later, there was an attempted theft of his corpse. Naturally, his fan base was extensive, so in an extreme display of emotion, one of his fans may have wanted his body for unexplainable reasons.  

Graceland in Memphis Tennessee
    By analyzing Graceland through an ethnoarchaeological lens, we are able to draw conclusions regarding American popular culture in the 1950s. Graceland is one of the largest exhibits focused on one star located in Memphis, Tennesse.  Recently on this site has launched an additional exhibit which marks one of the largest on the property.  Elvis’ home, museums, and personal exhibits, all tell us not only about his life, but also about American culture of rock ‘n roll in his time. These exhibits feature artifacts such as the producer’s Golden Globe award, jewelry,  stage clothing worn, rarely-seen photos, videos and more. Emphasize how the items play a significant role in his burial site.   By using our imaginations and attempting to analyze Graceland as a “remain” of Elvis Presley, we may draw appropriate conclusions.  Though we cannot necessarily excavate artifacts, there are still many details of Presley’s life preserved in order to make conclusions about the lasting impact of Presley’s musical contributions to people all over the world, and consequently, American pop culture in the 70s.  We know that “it remains necessary to look to symbolic interpretations in order to understand the meaning of rituals.” (Metcalf 1981: 563).  
    Today, Graceland is a tourist destination accommodating hundreds of thousands of tourists every year.  The exhibit celebrates Elvis’ status as a music pioneer and icon that paved the way for many of today’s artists and celebrities.  Not only does he site contain sacred artifacts before his time of death but it also includes special items from artists that Elvis paved the way. For example there  are “ittems on display in this exhibit include Bono’s “MacPhisto” suit from U2’s Zooropa performances, Bob Dylan’s leather jacket that appears on the album cover “Real Live,” James Brown’s jumpsuit and vest worn in concert in the 1970s, along with artifacts from Elton John, Trisha Yearwood, Joan Jett, Wanda Jackson, Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, The Beatles, Katy Perry and many others” (Presely Enterprises). he place of his birth and death has become completely commercialized, as people are eager to learn about and experience elements of Presley’s life.  His burial site not only reflects his death, but also represents the years and moments of his life, in the home where he grew up.  There is much symbolic importance to take away from this.  Like Thomas Jefferson and his home in Monticello, Elvis Presley’s Graceland serves as a reminder of his contributions during his life as opposed to highlighting his death.  The decisions of his family members to turn Graceland into a tourist destination alludes to the idea that they wanted his good times to be honored and remembered, by giving tourists a chance to be a part of his life.  To this day, Graceland stands as an everlasting reminder of the great achievements of not only Presley’s life, but also how he chose to use the lively and buzzing Graceland as the place of his permanent departure from the world.  

Works Cited

Dictionary.com. (2003). Ethnoarchaeology. Retrieved April 10, 2012, from Dictionary.com’s 21st Century Lexicon: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/ethnoarchaeology
Metcalf, P. (1981). Meaning and Materialism: The Ritual Economy of Death. Man, New Series, Vol. 16 , 563-578.

Presley, Enterprises. “Icon: The Influence of Elvis Presley Exhibit Opens at Graceland in Memphis.” Business Wire (En


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