Public Archaeology Education/Outreach

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Throughout graduate school, my committee chair would constantly ask me, ‘so what? why does this matter?’ about my thesis, which can be pretty overwhelming when you just want to finish your masters. But I can see what he was trying to do. What’s the point of doing tons of research and writing about some archaeological topic if it has absolutely no greater relevance beyond the fact you felt like writing about, oh say, microwear analysis of scrapers. It’s easier to explain the importance of some random topic in archaeology to other archaeologists–we’re a rather nerdy group afterall–but, so what? What relevance does archaeology have outside of our profession? Why should anyone care? That’s where public archaeology education comes in, which tries to provide an answer to the question of archaeology’s relevance in today’s society.

The world is filled with fascinating archaeological sites and past cultures. There is archaeology everywhere! If there were people, then there’s likely some trace left of their existence. A lot of people don’t realize how much history surrounds them and that is why public outreach and education is so important. Looting and vandalism of an archaeological or historic site includes both intentional and inadvertent damage, such as writing over rock art, collecting artifacts, walking on pueblo walls, and pot hunting. Unfortunately, not everyone has the opportunity to visit archaeological sites in person, making it difficult to relate the vulnerability of the ancient and historic structures and artifacts. Furthermore, TV shows and movies, from Ancient Aliens to Indiana Jones, are good indicators that people are interested in the past, which is great, but those types of shows and movies are a bit misleading. Aliens didn’t build the pyramids and Indiana Jones is hardly the epitome of a good archaeologist. But at least they provide a place to start.

The National Historic Preservation Act, one of the major cultural resource management laws in archaeology,   states in Section 1(b)(2), “the historical and cultural foundations of the Nation should be preserved as a living part of our community life and development in order to give a sense of orientation to the American people” (United States Congress 1966:1). It continues with “the preservation of this irreplaceable heritage is in the public interest so that its vital legacy will be maintained and enriched for future generations of Americans.” It is in the interest of everyone, not just historians or archaeologists to preserve the past.

By sharing information about the unique prehistory and/or history of a place, people may gain a better appreciation for what we archaeologists do and why it’s so important to record, preserve and protect traces of the past. It’s not only the job of educators but of all archaeologists to provide insight into our profession and into the subjects we study. We have a responsibility to share our experience and passion about the past to anyone and everyone who is willing to listen. And we can do that through different kinds of public archaeology education outreach. Public archaeology education and outreach can take many forms. Something so simple as volunteering at an Archaeology Day program or going into a classroom to teach kids can have a huge impact. Then there are online resources, teaching materials, podcasts, and blogs galore. There are also numerous organizations, private, non-profit, state-run, federal, and so on that provide unique opportunities for adults and kids, from site steward programs to summer camps.

Examples of Public Education at Work

  • The Society of American Archaeology and the Archaeological Institute of America works with museums, educators, archaeologists to create resources and programs.
  • The Public Education Committee for the Society for American Archaeology created the Network of State and Provincial Archaeology Education Coordinators, to ensure every state has someone who can provide answers to any inquiry about archaeology.
  • Crow Canyon Archaeological Center in Cortez, CO: provides field schools and day programs for kids and adults.
  • The Florida Public Archaeology Network: promote and facilitate the conservation, study and public understanding of Florida’s archaeological heritage.
  • Living History Museums like Colonial Williamsburg, Plimoth Plantation, Jamestowne, and St. Mary’s City that bring the past to life through reconstructions of buildings and activities based on the archaeological record .
  • The National Park Service provides interpert rangers that educate the public at interpretive sites, like Mesa Verde and Pecos National Historic Park.
  • There are programs run by government agencies, like the Forest Service Passport in Time program. This program educates volunteers on the practice of archaeology and then sets the volunteers to work on recording archaeological sites, stabilizing ruins, and sorting information on historic properties.

There are many wonderful programs endeavoring to teach the public the importance of learning, preserving, and protecting the past, but there’s always more that can be done. I think it is every individual archaeologist’s duty to do some kind of outreach.

Check out the ARCH365 Podcast episode I made on this subject:

Arch365 2017

 

Remembrance of Things Past

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Remembrance of Things Past

A glint of gold caught my eye while walking along the busy streets of Freiburg, Germany. Two small bricks situated in the sidewalk, just in front of a store, displayed names, dates, and place of death. These are known as the Stolperstein or ‘stumbling stones.’ Each stone commemorates the victims of the Nazi regime by placing their names in front of their former homes.   It is a form of keeping the memory of these people alive even though every physical trace of that individual is lost.

As archaeologists, we attempt to learn about the past by what is left behind. But what if those traces of life were systematically destroyed? How then can we learn about and from our past? When there is little to see above ground, reminders such as the stumbling stones are needed so that such atrocities are not repeated. Archaeologists can be called upon to find and provide evidence for terrible atrocities that happened in the past—no matter how hard a regime tried to erase the people and claim nothing was done, there is usually something to find below ground.

Archaeological excavations and lidar surveys at Nazi concentration camps, such as Treblinka, have revealed mass graves and gas chambers. As they uncovered the brick foundations of the gas chambers, the archaeologists noticed that the bricks had been stamped with the star of david. The Nazis had tried to disguise the gas chambers as Jewish bath houses, which is truly chilling subterfuge. The Nazis razed the camp to the ground, trying to erase the fact they murdered 900,000 Jews. But the excavations proved, without a doubt, what happened.

According to one of the archaeologists who excavated at Treblinka, uncovering the gas chambers was like ‘a window into the hell of what happened there.’ During the study of the Sobibor death camp in Poland, archaeologists used a combination of techniques, using low-altitude photography with a weather balloon to find the borders of mass graves and other features. And they found the gas chambers and personal items, showing how archaeology can provide an important part of history.

Archaeological techniques have been employed to excavate contemporary mass graves for the United Nationals International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and International Criminal Tribunal for Rawanda, to provide documentation—proof—of the acts of genocide that took place at each location. Work has also been conducted to assess human rights abuses throughout South America, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Archaeology can be a tool for the victims and a means to prosecute the leaders.

No matter how hard a group may claim that they did not commit any crime or how hard another group may say it was all a hoax, as archaeologists, we can find the evidence. Hopefully it is a way to provide closure to the families who lost loved ones. And, It is a small way of saying to the victims, ‘I see you. You matter. And I won’t forget.’

*Listen to the ARCH365 Podcast of this blog post.

*For more information:

http://www.npr.org/2012/05/31/153943491/stumbling-upon-miniature-memorials-to-nazi-victims

http://www.livescience.com/44443-treblinka-archaeological-excavation.html

Gnats Galore

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Tales of archaeological adventures tend to focus on the amazing artifacts observed or death-defying situations with bears or gun-toting individuals. Rarely do they wax poetically about bugs. But all kinds of creepy crawlies can be found on a survey or excavation, from ticks to biting gnats. It’s not the heat or a fear of rattlesnakes that make me nervous before a field season—it’s bugs. You can’t escape them! And, already, my ears are itchy. No, that isn’t some euphemism for eavesdropping. My ears are literally itchy. It’s that time again: bug time.

I thought I’d have time before I’m eaten alive by gnats, but they’re a bit early this year and that makes me worry for this upcoming season, since they’ll likely get worse. It may be a pessimistic view, but I’d rather be prepared than not. There’s nothing quite like the gnats in the southwest; not only are they tiny, they bite and they love biting ears. Not even a mosquito net can keep them at bay. Imagine if you will, trying to record an archaeological site—which can take hours—and trying to focus on writing up summaries while hundreds of tiny gnats swarm about your head, wriggle their way through the head net, and then bite every inch of exposed skin. It’s so bad that you can’t even stand still long enough to eat lunch—you just have to keep moving, occasionally shoving food under your head net. And, the bugs are already out.

Time to prepare . . .

*Note: there really isn’t much you can do to combat biting gnats, other than completely covering up and using a gnat net (which works ~60% of the time).  Bug spray doesn’t really deter those little jerks, either.  Just walk as fast as you can and hope for a super windy day!

Adventures in Rock Art: Picture Canyon, Flagstaff, AZ

Picture Canyon is just a short drive away from the heart of Flagstaff. It is a beautiful little state park that has been recently cleaned up to preserve the archaeological, geological, and wildlife resources of the canyon. Obviously, the archaeology was high on my list of things to check out. Unfortunately, the visible ruins of pit houses, cave dwellings, and artifacts have been vandalized over the years; the sites were still fun to explore, but the archaeologist in me was annoyed. At least the rock art is good shape! There are over 150 petroglyphs of animals, geometric designs, and archers. The petroglyphs were created by the Northern Sinagua, who lived and farmed the area between 1000 and 1200 AD. If you’re ever in Flagstaff, I highly recommend hiking through the canyon!

Find out more:

http://www.flagstaff.az.gov/index.aspx?NID=2881

*Please note: rock art is incredibly fragile. Do not touch rock art, spray-paint it, or vandalize it in any way. Not only is it ethically wrong, it is illegal.

Punk Archaeology in North Dakota

I read this fascinating article about recording the lifestyle/lifeway of those living in temporary housing while working on the pipeline and I highly recommend giving this article a perusal. According to the article, the archaeologists are studying how the workers are creating camps and if there is any correlation to historic temporary military camps. They are documenting how people are creating all-season homes, lawns, etc. I agree that this study is important, but it quite a break from what I would consider a typical archaeological study. I’m so used to the notion that something has to be at least 50 years old to be considered ‘archaeological’ and worth recording. Consequently, this seems more of a cultural anthropological study (yes, I know archaeology falls under the heading of anthropology) as it is a study of current people and their present manipulation of the environment. Perhaps I’m just too rigid in my definitions. What do you think?

I had never heard of the term ‘punk archaeology’ before and had to do a little bit of googling to figure out what it means to be a ‘punk archaeologist.’ According to the Punk Archaeology website, there isn’t an exact definition, although it fits in with punk culture (see at: http://punkarchaeology.com/2009/07/28/toward-a-definition-of-punk-archaeology/). Punk archaeologists—and I’m largely paraphrasing from the website– are spontaneous, embrace destruction (i.e. excavation) as a creative process, have a deep commitment to place, follow the punk aesthetic, and punk archaeology is a way of organizing experience (a lens, so to speak).

Link to the article:

Why ‘Punk Archeologists’ Are Heading to North Dakota

WRITTEN BY KATHLEEN CAULDERWOOD

http://motherboard.vice.com/read/why-punk-archeologists-are-heading-to-north-dakota

Favorites in Archaeology, Part 1: Keet Seel

From Mesa Verde to Chaco Canyon, the American Southwest holds unique archaeological ruins of massive pueblos and cliff dwellings dotting the landscape. How ancient peoples managed to survive and thrive in such challenging conditions (i.e. minimal rainfall, etc.) is truly impressive. One of my favorite cliff dwellings is Keet Seel (or Kiet Siel), which is located at Navajo National Monument in Arizona. Keet Seel, one of the best-preserved cliff dwellings in the United States, is truly an archaeological smorgasbord. There are thousands of artifacts scatter around the site, well preserved rooms to peek into, and beautifully painted rock art. This cliff dwelling is not the easiest place to get to and it is closed to visitors much of the year. When I was asked to help monitor impact of water and wind erosion at Keel Seel, I jumped at the opportunity. The hike to Keet Seel winds through steep canyons and has visitors sloshing through muddy streams most of the way, but the site is worth every uncomfortable moment.

Like other cliff dwellings in the region, Keet Seel is situated in a niche oriented toward the southeast, providing shade during the hottest months and deriving heat from the winter sun. Construction at Keet Seel began around 1250 AD, when considerable numbers of people were amassing at larger sites throughout the southwest. Construction peaked between 1272 and 1275 AD, but halted around 1286 AD. Approximately 150 people lived at Keet Seel during the height of construction. The site itself was abandoned during the early 1300s.

This site is incredibly fragile and is not accessible to visitors without a permit. Although in an isolated location, Keet Seel is under threat of looting and general off-season visitation. People are constantly getting “lost” by going off trail and trying to find the trail to Keet Seel, even though the site is a long 8 mile trek from the Visitors Center; maybe they think the rangers are lying about the distance—they’re not. True, this site is incredible and worth the trek to visit. However, how can we—as cultural resource managers—balance the importance of public education with preservation? Through a whole lot of educational outreach and preservation work!

 

Zen and the Art of Archaeology

There is something wonderfully Zen about archaeology. One could argue that the magnitude of cultural remains proves there’s some permanence in this life, but that is not entirely true. Any study of the past shows the rise and fall of many kinds of people throughout time. There is change and no change. We uncover and study the hope of continuity, that nothing will change, but the only true continuity is the presence of humanity on this earth.