What’s the Most Interesting Thing You Found? Thinking about How Archaeologists Communicate with the Public
by M. Jay StottmanIt is the oldest and most basic form of public archaeology, but…
Developing new avenues of public archaeology is not always easy. Last year I highlighted my difficulties trying to connect a temporary or transplanted population to the archaeology of southwest Florida. By (tourist) season, I’ve made headway through persistence. Thanks to some amazing partnerships with regional museums, public library systems, and National and Florida State Parks, Florida Public Archaeology Network (FPAN) and I have been able to reach a growing variety of people through lectures, children’s programming, tours, and heritage events. It’s supremely satisfying to chat with attendees who, even after 20 or more winters spent in the area, “didn’t even know ___.”
However, my elation grinds to a halt when they pose their inevitable follow up question: “Where can I help at a dig?” I am forced to admit that there aren’t any. We aren’t so lucky down here as wonderful St. Augustine where visitors might “stumble upon” an active, professional dig site. In fact, the number of field projects that have happened in my region’s five southwest Florida counties in the last four years couldn’t even fill up one hand. There are no regularly accessible labs either. A visitor might have to drive two or more hours to find a lab to visit or help out. How do I connect the people who’ve seen the lecture, read the panel, taken the tour, or visited the museum with an active, responsible way to do fieldwork nearby when no such opportunities exist locally? Fortunately, I don’t have to reinvent the wheel. FPAN already has two popular workshops that empower the engaged public with vital aspects of archaeological work that require no excavation or artifact removal.
The Cemetery Resource Protection Training (CRPT) workshop, recently awarded the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation’s 2015 Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Preservation Education/Media, teaches participants how to manage, maintain, and record human burials and historic cemeteries. The Submerged Sites Education and Archaeological Stewardship (SSEAS) workshop teaches sport divers about submerged resources and how to monitor and record them scientifically. In both cases attendees are furthered charged with the task with going out into the world and recording and reporting additional cemetery or submerged resources to the Florida Master Site File (FMSF). Using these successful workshops as models might be my ticket to investing the more eager members of the public to our local resources and the field of archaeology in new and unexpected ways.
I think involving the public in the discourse of archaeology through a direct connection to the resources in the places they have been found is key. Public interest and hands-on participation create a bond that can lead to steps professionals don’t always get to: extensive advocacy, fundraising, the creation of watchdog groups, and lobbying. Plus, I’m not entirely sure the uninitiated public would be prepared for the difficulties of excavation under the hot south Florida sun anyway.
I am in the process of developing such a new workshop, but I need your help! So far, I’d like to discuss archaeological resource types and processes and highlight the laws that govern them. I’d like to teach participants basic pedestrian survey-style techniques as a way of identifying sites and recording archaeological remains for the FMSF. That way, under the supervision of archaeologists or resource managers, participants can help with the vital work of monitoring known (and sometimes infrequently visited) sites or add to/update the general knowledge of Florida’s resources without having to touch a shovel. Ideally, educated volunteers keeping a constant wary eye out for our resources by may relieve overtaxed resource managers of some of their burdens. I’d also like to include specific “modules” geared towards special interest groups. One idea is to perhaps model a lesson after the cautiously and eloquently designed Archaeological Partnership Program intended to educate avocational metal detectorists. My goal test audience will be park or museum volunteers- those already operating under the supervision of senior staff –and the first workshop will occur late this fall.
As is a concern with all training workshops, I do not want this to become “How to Pot Hunt 101.” Do you think I’m on the right track for my no-digs predicament? What other hands-on, no-dig/ no-lab ways have you done active archaeology with the public? Do you have any suggestions for additional modules? Let me know! If not, you’ll likely hear how I fared on my own next January in D.C.