Toward a Dynamic—and Virtual—Public Archaeology
In my mind, public archaeology involves reaching out and interacting with different audiences, ranging from…
For the last two years, I have been lucky enough to bring my family along on our cross-country trips to the SHAs. My husband and daughters get to visit with family and do some sight-seeing while Mom is off doing conference-y things, and we all meet up on Saturday to enjoy public archaeology day together. Each year at the SHA Conference, the conference committee organizes a day for the public, to offer local archaeologists an opportunity to interact with the public, and the public a chance to learn about the archaeology that happens in their communities. This year, it was held at the Fort McHenry National Monument.
Now, given the fact that I LOVE this kind of thing (education + archaeology = awesome), my husband and children have visited many, many public archaeology events. They have been to sites, helped wash artifacts, helped screen excavated dirt, and they have just about every “Archaeology for Kids” book in publication. The girls are, in essence, experts in engaging public archaeology exhibits.
There were several booths set up in a side room in the visitor’s center at Fort McHenry, and several more were located in a heated tent outside (which turned out to be completely unnecessary, as the weather was sunny and warm and absolutely perfect). Among those displays we were able to visit were The Lost Towns Project of Anne Arundel County, NPS American Battlefield Preservation Program, the Prince George’s County and the Montgomery County Departments of The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, Archaeology in the Community, The District of Columbia Historic Preservation Office, Monocacy National Battlefield, the Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum (representing both the State Museum of Archaeology and the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory), and the George Washington Foundation. Let me apologize in advance if I have missed any presenters, as I was there with my children and did not have much chance to linger and fully appreciate all the displays. Please drop your links below if you’re not represented in this list!
In going back through the many flyers and brochures I picked up from the presenters, I noticed a few different flyers discussing “How to Report an Archaeological Find” with contact information for state archaeologists in Maryland and additional information on teacher training and children’s archaeology programs. What a great venue in which to communicate such important information! There was also a free archaeology tour for SHA members, but I was unable to attend. If any readers participated in the tour and would like to comment below, I would love to hear more about it.
Almost every exhibit had a professional display describing their site and/or agency, and a few of the exhibitors had hands-on activities. For the most part, my girls went immediately to the tables with some sort of interactive display. The Lost Towns Project of Anne Arundel County and the Prince George’s County Department of Parks (part of The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission) had excellent artifact assemblages for the kids to handle, and the latter had both artifact photos and feature photos that had been turned into puzzles for the kids.
The girls also enjoyed the display by the DC Historic Preservation Office. The artifacts displayed were off-limits for handling, but the display incorporated questions on large cards that acted as a guessing game for the kids. Ellie told me later “I like guessing the artifacts!”
When I asked them afterwards what their favorite part of the day was they both gave me the same answer: “I liked being able to dig with a spoon and find artifacts in a can!” Montgomery County Department of Parks (part of The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission) had really wonderful interactive activities. Both girls LOVED their “Archaeology Site in a Can” activities, and their ‘excavations’ revealed fascinating artifacts including projectile points and historic-period ceramic sherds.
I was super-impressed when the girls figured out (on their own, with no help from Mom!) that their sherds from each can would cross-mend. Like I mentioned, these girls have become real experts at kid-friendly archaeological activities!
The other big hit of the day with my girls was a seed identification activity, also presented by the Montgomery County group. The girls had to sort through a mix of sand and seeds to find and identify six different types from the ten listed with examples on the display.
Now, as a mom, I am totally thrilled when I see my girls really excited and interested in such educational activities. As a member of the Public Education and Interpretation Committee, I would also be interested in hearing from other attendees about what they thought about the day. Did you attend the Fort McHenry Public Archaeology Day? What did you best enjoy? What would you like to see more of as a member of the public? As an archaeologist, what more can we do to make these days as accessible and educational as possible? Please leave your feedback, insights, and opinions in the comment space below!
Author note: See some more photos of our day at our flickr site.