SHA and Springer

by Joe Joseph & Chris Matthews

As you already know, the SHA has entered an agreement with Springer to publish Historical Archaeology. This agreement builds on our already existing partnership with Springer, who co-publish two of the society’s book series: “When the Land Meets the Sea” and “Springer Briefs in Underwater Archaeology.” We, as the SHA President and Journal Editor, are extremely excited about this new relationship, as are the other SHA Editors and Board. Springer provides us with a number of resources and technologies that will advance Historical Archaeology as a leading publication in the field, as well as greater exposure and marketing which will increase and diversify the SHA’s membership.

Our agreement with Springer provides the SHA with following advantages:

1. Expanded journal content

The print journal will now include Technical Briefs articles and Book Reviews in addition to original articles, awards essays and memorials.

2. Online submission and review system

Springer’s Editorial Manger provides an on-line system for paper submittal, review, and publication portals. This will streamline and expedite the editorial process, a benefit to the editorial staff and authors alike.

3. Global marketing

Springer is a global publisher of scientific research with offices and outreach worldwide. They are well versed in promoting their publications to diverse communities, many of whom will be new to Historical Archaeology and the SHA. Springer will specifically market Historical Archaeology through the Springer website and at all of the archaeological, anthropological and historical conferences where they exhibit. Springer also provides secure electronic subscriptions to institutions and individuals, which has the potential of further reach for the journal, especially to international universities.

4. Revenue to SHA

The agreement includes annual payments to SHA to offset editorial costs as well as loss of revenue from institutional membership dues, who will now subscribe through Springer. Journal subscriptions will also be tied to SHA membership, increasing the member base of the society. In all, the agreement shifts the costs to the SHA of the producing the journal from being a net loss to a net gain.

5. Citations

Springer will assign each article in the HA catalog a Digital Object Identifier (DOI), which allow electronic documents such as our journal articles to be tracked and identified in other sources. Moreover, as a press that has an extremely high level of visibility, Springer provides greater exposure to our author’s work and enhance our journal’s place as one of the premier publications in the field.

6. “Online First” publications

Springer provides a program called “Online First” that electronically publishes articles as they are accepted and composed, speeding up the on-line publication of articles, which will no longer need to wait until the full journal issue is ready for press to be published.

7. Back Catalog Access

Springer will provide access to the full back catalog of journals for members, enhancing benefits to current and new members, while removing access to back issues for non-members, meaning that access to the journal will only be available to members as of 2017 as well as through JSTOR.

The SHA Subcommittee did an excellent job in negotiating the Springer contract, which also offers the SHA slight financial advantages over our in-house publication effort, so we feel that the SHA and its members are getting the best of all worlds, and we encourage you to join us in welcoming Springer as a partner to the SHA.

To get started you can visit the SHA page on Springer’s website: This page will be updated regularly as new content for the journal is produced, including the option to submit articles for publication, which goes “live” on Oct 31, 2016!

 Youth Archaeology Camps: More than a sandbox excavation

By Fred Sutherland

            Archaeology camps for children and young adults are a wonderful way to engage and educate the public about the practices of our discipline. Any opportunity to safely allow our youth to put the principles of archaeology into practice is one we should never pass up. The success of such a camp will depend on several key decisions made before the campers arrive.

 Setting the Camp Expectations.

            Every archaeology camp director should be aware of their audience and ask themselves what they expect every camper to learn. How old are the campers? What practices can we expect those youth to perform successfully? Every camp, whether they dig or not, should discuss the key factors of archaeology. Each camp I’ve seen has more than one youth expecting to find dinosaur bones when they arrive. Explaining key concepts such as “artifacts”, “context”, “Law of superposition” (older objects are often found below more recent ones), “some types of artifacts decay and are lost”, “excavation is destructive and cannot be undone” are vital. For example, at Historic Fort Snelling, campers learn about artifacts by opening a box with a mix of objects and sorting them into piles of “artifact”, “not artifact”, and “maybe?”. The “maybe” pile always inspires the most discussion. Context is central to understanding if some objects like a clam shell or animal bones are artifacts from human activity or are naturally deposited remains. Another important concept every camp should teach about archaeology is that it is more than digging up artifacts. Research before any excavation begins and reporting any findings afterward take as much if not more time than digging; this is especially so in historical archaeology. At Fort Snelling’s camp we study copies of historic maps, texts, and historic photographs that show how humans lived in the region for many centuries.

Real dig, simulated dig, or no dig at all?

            In order to decide what form an excavation will take, a camp manager has to know where and how any potential camp excavation can occur. Is the camp going to be on private or public property? If a real excavation is planned, where will finds be stored and interpreted? The answers to these questions will change based on the permissions and resources required. For example, a camp on public lands like the camp featured at Historic Fort Snelling, chose to have a simulated dig with historic artifacts from collections that lacked context. An important decision to be made with a simulated dig is whether or not to tell the campers the dig is artificial. A simulated dig ensures campers are likely to find artifacts, but balancing honesty and maintaining enthusiasm can be a challenge.

archy camp 1 a

            One alternative, a real excavation on private land, is also quite challenging. If a camp excavates on private land, with land-owner permission, and has a safe repository for any finds, then ensuring that the campers find something becomes the main issue. Do you compromise a known site? Do you risk not finding anything? Boredom is a key concern. Youth will become frustrated when no interesting developments happen after 10 to 20 minutes of digging. Having a several minutes of no discoveries is a “teachable-moment” about real archaeological digs, but very long stretches will lead to frustration and lack of engagement.

            How to excavate and how to record those finds matters. Teaching campers to stop and record a find before removing it may take several attempts. Having one camper be a recorder that must document each find can help monitor the other youths from taking things out too soon. What roles the campers perform will depend on their age. Ensuring that each youth takes frequent turns at every role of a dig including screening, plotting where artifacts were found, and writing paperwork about those finds prevents boredom from setting in. If a child has trouble performing the task, those running the camp should assist, but not do the entire role for them. It has always surprised me that during a dig I would hear “I don’t want to record! It is too hard!”, but later that same child would later tell us that recording was their favorite part of the camp.


            If no excavation is chosen then the camp director must decide how to meet the children’s expectations of digging in a constructive way. How will you portray excavation techniques? How will you have them document artifacts and features in a fieldwork setting? Each choice raises questions and each situation will fit a different approach more perfectly than others. The critical thing about how to dig, simulate a dig, or not to dig, is to ask the right questions and find satisfactory answers before the campers grab their trowels and buckets.

Labs: Where some camps stop.

            Archaeology campers at Historic Fort Snelling are very fortunate to access and use a real archaeology lab to clean and identify their artifacts. Even without a lab or equipment the skills of sorting and identifying types of artifacts is something essential that campers should have a chance to perform. Many students found historic buttons, ceramics, or glassware with obvious maker’s marks are exciting to identify. Putting information together about when, where, how the artifact was used, and by whom can be a very engaging exercise. Allowing the campers to do a short “show and tell” about their favorite artifact from the lab session helps to solidify the connections about why an artifact helps us understand about the people that left it behind. After the lab is cleaned-up, campers discuss what they learned from the artifacts. Who left these types of artifacts behind? Is there a place or room in a house where these objects might have come from? How long ago did the artifacts get left behind?


            One activity I have seen for the final segment of an archaeology camp is to have the children design an exhibit and select which artifacts best represent the peoples and events related to their excavation. This process takes extra time, perhaps a dedicated afternoon or extra day of camp. However, the process of selecting, creating display cards, and then presenting the findings to parents at the end of the day truly brought the entire camp to a rewarding conclusion. Regardless of the amount of time we have to conduct a camp we should ask ourselves: “How might we to conclude a camp in a way that allows the children to tell a story about the finds they studied by using the skills they acquired?”

Follow through: “That was fun, now what?”

            In every archaeology camp I have had the privilege to work in there is at least one child that is still craving more at the end. Often, this child explains to me that this is their dream career and he or she is eager for more opportunities to do archaeology. Having contact information of archaeologists willing to speak with campers afterward can be a rewarding parting gift to those campers. Better yet, if you know an archaeologist that can use some help in their lab then this can be an easy opportunity to send them eager lab assistants. The list can also include nearby schools and other archaeology programs in the area. Depending on the age of the campers it may also be useful to include a list of archaeological field schools in the area.


Image Citations:

2014    Minnesota Historical Society. Historic Fort Snelling Archaeology Camp photographic collection. St. Paul, Minnesota. Matt Cassady principal photographer.

What’s the Most Interesting Thing You Found? Thinking about How Archaeologists Communicate with the Public

by M. Jay Stottman

It is the oldest and most basic form of public archaeology, but we tend to pay little attention to how archaeologists speak to the public.   Whether it is giving a public presentation or telling someone about your dig, talking to the public is not something that we are trained for.  It is something that each archaeologist typically learns through experience and lots of trial and error.  When we do seek out training in the art of public speaking, we might take a workshop with professional interpreters.  While the techniques we learn help us more effectively communicate our message, we don’t often connect with the public.  Is it good enough to just tell people what we are doing, how we do it, and how important that it is?  Is there more than just answering the questions people ask and delivering our research and ethics messages?  We all have our spiel that we give and canned responses prepared for the inevitable questions we are asked.  Can we go beyond that and use them as opportunities to learn about our publics and as entry points to connect with them? 

            In order to connect with the public we have to do more than improve our strategies and techniques, we have to also think about our approach.  We have to move beyond just being information providers to being facilitators of conversations.  The key is to find points of entry or intersections in the information we present with the questions the public asks.   Learning what the public wants to know about and what they are interested in should help dictate what to talk about and how far the conversation can go.  Some may call them teachable moments, I call them teaching opportunities; either way, I am looking to make the people I talk to more invested in our interaction.  For example, I used a question in response to my spiel on outbuildings to learn that someone is interested in what happened to the buildings.  The conversation then can go from talking about how we know about the outbuildings to how changes in transportation changed the outbuilding landscape and how it affects change in the present.  Questions like, “what is the most important or valuable artifact you have found?” can lead to a conversation about how enslaved African Americans coped with slavery and actively created a community in the oppressive environment of slavery.  We can then inform and challenge our publics to connect such information to present day issues of social justice if we are seeking opportunities to do so. 

            We have to go beyond talking to the public and start communicating with the public in order to have a more meaningful interaction with them.  Rather than beating them over the head with our rhetoric, we should be facilitating conversations and connections with the public.  We have to think about our interactions with the public as a two-way street and seek those opportunities to share knowledge with each other.  Being a good communicator means we have to be able to listen as well as talk.  Certainly many of us have learned to do this and learned it the hard way, but communication goes beyond technique and strategies. It starts with how we conceptualize our relationship with the public.  Are we willing to give up some of our control as the expert to engage in more meaningful public interactions or should we even have to?



Lori talking with kids

Lori Stahlgren discusses ideas about an artifact with kids during a field trip at Riverside, The Farnsley-Moremen Landing.

Hot Summer Days: SHA Visits the Hill


SHA Member Sarah Miller visits Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL)


On June 24 and 25, the Society for Historical Archaeology visited several members of Congress and their staffers to urge them to support reauthorization of the Historic Preservation Fund. President Joe Joseph, President-Elect Mark Warner, and member Sarah Miller made approximately 10 visits to the House and Senate. They also met with the Bureau of Land Management to discuss new planning guidance, and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation and the National Park Service to discuss SHA’s development of an initiative to identify, preserve, and protect historic African-American burial grounds. These visits are critical to developing relationships and advancing SHA’s priorities in Washington.

Urban Public Archaeology, or, What to Expect When You’re Expecting a Million Visitors

By Sarah Johnson


Archaeology in a densely populated urban environment is an entirely different animal from doing some quiet shovel test pits in the woods. Throw in the element of working along a main tourist thoroughfare that attracts millions of visitors each year, and you’ve got yourself a real logistical challenge. How do we as archaeologists engage that volume of visitors while maintaining a safe, well-paced work environment? What follows are some of my thoughts on these issues, based on my experience on urban archaeology projects along Boston’s Freedom Trail, at the home of Malcolm X in Roxbury, Massachusetts, and on Burial Hill in Plymouth.

The first and most important rule of urban public archaeology, as with Boy Scouts, is to be prepared. Really think through your strategy beforehand and keep in mind that there will be challenges that you might not be used to facing.

  • Safety: If you are in a setting where visitors will be able to walk right up to your excavation units, how will you keep them (and your crew) safe? Some sort of barrier may be in order, but also keep in mind that anything that keeps people from being able to see what you’re doing will be a turn-off. In my experience, a row of traffic cones usually does the job. Also consider how you’ll protect the site at night. Sand bags filled with backdirt are a great asset to have – you can use them to hold down the plywood or whatever else you use to cover your units, and you can also use them to line the bottom of your units to deter anyone who manages to get your covering off.
  • Interpretation: If your crew is large enough, it helps to have people whose job it is to just interpret the site for visitors. This allows excavation to continue more or less unimpeded while also insuring that the public is engaged. In any crew, there will likely be a few people who really take to this role, saving those who are less outgoing from anything they find unpleasant. At the start of the project, lay out some talking points that you want the interpreters to be sure to hit and then let people find their own voice. You will find that you get the same few questions over and over again (“Have you found anything yet?” “What’s the coolest thing you’ve found so far?” “Found any gold?”), so it won’t be long before you start to hit your stride.  If possible, set up your screens in a space where the public can watch. That way, they can see the entirety of the fieldwork process at once. You can even take it one step further by setting up a public lab space. This is obviously not feasible for many projects, but it can be a really great way to highlight the scientific nature of archaeology and give visitors a sense of the true scope of our work, not just the digging. For the project I worked on in Plymouth, we set up a lab in the visitors’ center at Plimoth Plantation where members of the crew could wash and sort artifacts from the field and talk with visitors. Even just a small washing station on site can go a long way to expanding people’s ideas of what archaeology is.
  • Follow-up: How will you continue to engage your visitors after they leave the site? The turnaround on urban public digs can be very fast, as people stop by for a few minutes as part of a tour or while they’re on the way to their next planned stop. It’s important to make a connection in the few moments you have and give them a way to continue to follow your work. Signage is a big part of this, so you should create some bright, eye-catching signs to place around the site that give a brief idea of who you are and what you are doing. That way, even if the visitor doesn’t get a chance to talk with anyone, they still have an idea of what they’re looking at. Going back to Joe Bagley’s blog post earlier this month, social media is a great way to engage people beyond the site itself. Prominently display your Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/etc. links on your signs, and include any hashtags that you’ve come up with for your project. The hashtag encourages people to not only follow along but also post about their experiences at the site in a way that others can find. Make sure that you post about your progress often so that there is some encouragement to keep following.

Above all, be flexible and maintain a sense of humor. Public archaeology on this scale can be overwhelming and exhausting, but it is also incredibly rewarding. You have the opportunity to bring your work to literally millions of people, and with just a little effort and planning on your part, you can leave them with an unforgettable experience. What message do you want to tell the world about archaeology? This is your chance to share it. Good luck and have fun!

Why I care about 50 for 50 (the current SHA fundraising initiative) and why you should too.

By Linda Stone, SHA Board Liaison to the Development Committee

SHA is asking at least 50% of our regular members (students and others are welcome to join if they can) to donate at least $50 in celebration of the Society’s 50th anniversary this year. The funds raised will be divided between two programs that are not funded as part of the regular budget. These are the Diversity Initiative and the Student Endowment. 

The Diversity Initiative is an exciting new set of endeavors to be more inclusive and proactive around a myriad of issues related to diversity. The efforts will be focused on specific activities and the times we live in. The Diversity Initiative provides access to our conferences via the Harriet Tubman Student Travel Award. Additionally, the Initiative has begun an effort to ensure identification and preservation of abandoned cemetery sites, prompted by several high profile African American historic cemetery excavations in the recent past.

One other current aspect of the Diversity Initiative is the anti-racism workshops that have been offered at the last two annual conferences. The committee has successfully raised funds to cover the costs of the past workshops which have used a paid outside facilitator. But wouldn’t it be better if the SHA could fund future workshops from an endowed pool of money and not require the committee to take on the additional task of fund raising on an annual basis? I think so. One could argue that imposing that additional requirement on the committee organizing the workshops is in of itself is an exertion of power over them and one of the institutional expressions of racism that the workshops strive to open our eyes to. I attended the workshop at Washington, DC conference last January and found it had a lasting impact. In the months since, when I observe institutional racism, as we all do, I try to imagine concrete steps that could be taken to overcome it. In cases where I have the opportunity to make suggestions, I feel it’s my responsibility to do so. Now, did I need the SHA anti-racism workshop be able to do these things? Perhaps not, but I certainly feel the workshop created a level of comfort I didn’t always have with the language and dialogues that are necessary to break down racism’s barriers.

The Student Endowment Fund was created in 2007 to fund the Ed and Judy Jelks Student Travel Award, the Quebec City Award/Bourse de Québec, the Dissertation Prize, and the Student Paper Prize. To date, the Endowment has approximately $33,000. The 50 for 50 campaign will help the Endowment to maintain its viability and ensure these awards and prizes will be available in the years to come to help our next generation of archaeologists advance their careers.

I was compelled to write this blog to encourage you to think about what a difference one small $50 donation can make if half of our close to 1000 regular members contributed. It would certainly help to create a pool of money that can be used to address diversity issues, increase diversity within our Society and perpetuate our profession via the Student Endowment Fund. Our strength is in the numbers. Finally, in addition to the satisfaction you’ll have knowing that you participated in 50 for 50, SHA is creating a commemorative pin for donors that can proudly be worn at the Fort Worth conference, or anytime you want to express your participation in this important fund raising effort.

Please click here or go to to contribute.

Social Media Best Practices

By Joe Bagley, Boston City Archaeologist

If you have heard of the City Archaeology Program, chances are it is through our Facebook page.

SHA facebook

While the Program I lead has been around since 1983, it has only become widely known and visible due to a commitment to social media.

As a government bureaucrat, I’m part of a team of City of Boston employees who manage social media pages, and I actively track (read: compete with) their pages to see who is most successful in building audiences and increasing interactions with users. Our growth, currently at just under 1% a week, far surpasses all other Boston city social media pages. We shouldn’t be surprised as archaeology is interesting, engaging, and fun, but not every archaeology page succeeds. I can personally account for our success for one reason: We are original content producers.

sha chart

Original content producer means that nearly 100% of my posts are content that I have created and are available nowhere else on the internet. That means, people who follow our pages will be the exclusive real-time consumers of new data, and that is my, and all other archaeologists, primary draw.

Without further ado, here are my overall tips, tricks, and guidance to Social Media and you, my dear fellow archaeologists.

What platform is best for me? Well, all are actually, but we’ll get to that. Here are my pros and cons for the most popular:

Facebook: “Look at what WE did.”

Facebook pages are great for groups, programs, projects, and more-than-one-person pages. They don’t work as well for individuals if your goal is public archaeology as your friends are the only ones who see them. I could have done a Facebook page for me as Joe Bagley, public figure and City Archaeologist, but the third-person Program-title allows for less ego, and also helps if I get hit by a bus and someone else has to take over without re-titling everything. Also, Facebook is friendly to longer posts that allow you to explain who, what, when, where, and why about the topic you are sharing. You also can post events, link easily to other things, etc. It’s my favorite platform.

Biggest con: You can’t post too frequently or your posts will be punished and not shown to as many people.

Twitter: “Look at what I did.”

This can work for programs and individuals, but I find the fast-pace of Twitter quickly buries new content. Great for individuals looking to actively communicate first-person with others, but a bit less effective for programs. The platform is ideal for live-broadcasts and rapid-fire posting, especially as a page as these things are punished in Facebook.

Instagram: “Look at this pretty thing.”

This is great for all types of photos and video, but ONLY photos and video. It also interfaces perfectly with Facebook (who owns Instagram), so you can post to Instagram and have it automatically post to Facebook without weird formatting issues. Instagram is not good if you have nothing to show.

Snapchat: “Look at this short video of someone with a cat face superimposed digging a hole before it auto-deletes.”

Super popular and fun, but as all posts get auto-deleted, I can’t be bothered.

Tumblr: “I’ve got something to say.”

For me Tumblr and Facebook have many of the same qualities that I like, but Tumblr really succeeds in the long-format blog-type posts that really let you dive down deep into a topic. I’m a big fan of the podcast “Stuff You Missed in History Class.” Their Tumblr page, which combines info, images, their radio content, and links, is a perfect model for what a successful archaeology Tumblr page could be with little modification. If I had more time, this would be how I would like to increase our social media presence the most.

Pinterest: “Look at this pretty thing and save it.”

Pinterest is very visual as their user interface shows little text and the wow-factor of your images are really what drives any growth.

Okay, now that you picked your favorite, time for…


  1. 80% (or more) original content. I don’t need to see your shares of every single archaeology magazine post. I just want to see what you are doing.
  2. 95% of your content should be photos or video. Everything else is punished with new algorithms being implemented by Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram that only allow your content to “go out” to your followers if it is engaging. I have over 8,000 Facebook followers. If I post a text-only post to my page, Facebook punishes me by only letting 100-200 people see it, max. In other words, don’t live-Facebook the 2017 SHAs.
  3. Brand yourself. Come up with a short hashtag for all of your posts. Ours is #DigBOS, and we create a new one for each of our new projects. Malcolm X’s house: #DigX. Old North Church: #DigNORTH, etc. Please use/steal the #Dig___ tag idea.
  4. Make it personal and human. I saw a dramatic increase when I started including my hand holding artifacts in shots instead of stark backgrounds with a scale. Most of our audience is not archaeologists, and other archaeologists will forgive us if we show dirty fingernails. It may require you to avoid using the images you took for publication in your posts, though.
  5. Don’t cross-post content between pages. Facebook links in cut-off Twitter posts look terrible and nobody clicks them. Your images, especially with Twitter, must be “native,” meaning posted from the app/website in order for them to not appear as links. See below.
  6. Use the IFTTT app. I love this app. I hate posting the same damn thing multiple times to a laundry list of apps on my phone. This fixes it and is free. It connects your various platforms, but makes your content “native” so that it appears to have been posted directly from the program/app making images always appear in full. I have it setup so that I post to Instagram and IFTTT automatically posts to my Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Pinterest pages. It has massively increased my interactions and followers on Twitter as I post mostly to Facebook, but now I can easily post to everything at once. Total game-changer for me. Bonus: If you aren’t interested in babysitting a ton of social media platforms, get IFTTT, create pages for all of the above platforms, and use it to auto-populate posts and updates and increase the social visibility of your program, project, school, etc.
  7. It really doesn’t take that long to post, 1-2 minutes per post, max. If I can posts 5+ times a day while managing a field crew of 10+ volunteers, many with no experience, all while providing impromptu interpretive tours to hundreds of visitors a day, you can too.
  8. Don’t give up! I’ve been at this for four years, but it took me almost two years for my first 1,000 followers.

Happy to follow up with any questions you may have and good luck!


Georgia Exempts State-Funded Road Projects from GEPA

by Eden Burgess

A bill that exempts Georgia Department of Transportation projects that cost up to $100 million from the Georgia Environmental Policy Act (GEPA), has been signed into law, despite strong opposition from archaeologists and tribal interests. Governor Nathan Deal signed the bill into law on April 26; it goes into effect on July 1, 2016 (SB 346; Act 339). Georgia’s archaeological community, led by the Georgia Council of Professional Archaeologists and the Society for Georgia Archaeology, however, were successful in amending the bill to remove cultural resources from the exemption.

In 2015, the Georgia Legislature passed a 10-year, $10 billion transportation funding bill. This new bill allows the state to fund major construction initiatives strictly with state funding, removing the need for federal support. State funded projects must comply with GEPA, which insures that state agencies take environmental effects into account during government undertakings. In order to lessen the environmental review on state funded projects, the Legislature passed SB347 exempting projects costing less than $100 million from the GEPA process. The Georgia archaeological community’s ability to amend the final bill to exclude cultural resources from the GEPA exemption is a great accomplishment that the SHA supported. But, the lessening of state environmental review is a concern, as is the movement to shift new transportation construction to state funding while using federal funds for maintenance and other non-ground disturbing work.

SHA is concerned that the Georgia bill may be the start of a national trend. Several states have increased transportation funding by raising local gas taxes and registration fees, and through other funding mechanisms. Consequently, states may be able to advance stalled transportation projects by using state-only funds, thus avoiding compliance with federal requirements in most cases. Instead, the legal protections for historic and archaeological sites affected by state-funded projects will be limited to state laws, such as Georgia’s GEPA and state versions of the National Historic Preservation Act. As the Georgia situation demonstrates, legislators that have passed gas tax and fee increases are anxious to see construction underway, and are willing to bypass state-level environmental and historic preservation reviews to make that happen.

The SHA Governmental Affairs Committee will be monitoring states considering the passage of laws similar to Georgia’s, and urges SHA members to notify Terry Klein or Marion Werkheiser with any information on these types of efforts in their states.

Your First Drone: Basic Considerations and Best Practices for Drone Use in Public Outreach

Kevin Gidusko, Florida Public Archaeology Network

Boas 1

Image 1 The FPAN drone, Boas I, gets ready for flight. Photo credit: Kevin Gidusko

At some point in the near future you or someone you know is going to want to get a drone and use it somehow, someway in whatever research or outreach you are conducting. Perhaps this thought has already crossed your mind. For the most part I think this is an amazing idea, but not without its own set of serious issues to consider first. Drones, more properly referred to as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), are rapidly changing the ways in which we collect data at archaeological sites, and offer us fantastic new ways to visualize that data. Those visualizations, those flashy aerials and three-dimensional models that drones help us to produce, are what inevitably intrigues the public; not to mention the hint of science fiction futurism that still clings to drones. Those of us working in public outreach are keen to take advantage of these shifts in public interest and so it is inevitable that some of us will want to procure a drone to use in outreach efforts. However, drones have also been a hot-button issue these last several years. Issues of privacy and public safety intermittently make the global media circuit, often doing a better job of spreading how best not to use a drone rather than discussing how they are being put to use by a bevy of well-meaning enthusiasts and scientists. It is imperative we demonstrate best practices to the public so that we can assist in bolstering the positive public image of these powerful tools. The first, best thing you can do when using a drone is to stay informed about the topic!

It should be noted that this post has a definite shelf-life. I give it a year tops. The drone industry and laws surrounding drone use in the U.S. and abroad are constantly changing as the technology advances and agencies charged with regulating their use play catch-up. Please be aware that any discussion below of applicable laws or rules to consider when using a drone are only good for the time being. These laws can, and probably will, change often in the next few years. This post is designed to lay out the bare-bones basic overview of purchasing a drone and using it safely around the public. I will cover a few key points, but this should not be considered an exhaustive discussion of utilizing drones in public outreach or research. The goal for this post is to create a quick, easy outline of important issues, resources, and best practices for drone use.

Who Governs the Skies?

One of the first things to consider before purchasing or using a drone is to find out who manages the airspace in your country. Many of these agencies are actively attempting to engage drone users, so finding them online should not be a problem. These are the best places to find out what kind of regulations are in place for drone use. In the U.S., the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) manages the nation’s airspace. For drone use in the U.S. some things to remember are to:

  • Register a drone with the FAA and mark it with the registration number.
  • Keep drones below 400 feet and within your line of site.
  • Have a basic knowledge of where drones can and cannot be used. For example, the National Park System airspace, airports, sporting events, and most airspace around military installations are no drone zones.

Every country has their own set of regulations, always be sure to find out what those may be before attempting to fly a drone. Always remember that in the U.S. drones should not be flown within 5 miles of an airport without first contacting the control tower. Many of the drones currently on the market are nearly impossible to spot by airplanes descending for a landing; it is the responsibility of the drone operator to ensure that no mishaps occur.

Boas Logo

Image 2 Registration ID for the Boas I. Design Credit: Nicole Grinnan

What Kind of Drone?

The drone industry has an ever-increasing selection of multi-purpose or task-specific drones to choose from. How best to find the right one for you? For the most part two major considerations come into play when choosing a drone: Cost and purpose. Both of these should be carefully weighed before purchasing a drone and all of the assorted equipment inevitably needed to keep it running.

Cost: Drones range anywhere from a few hundred dollars to thousands of dollars. Naturally, cost may be the largest constraint you encounter; you only have so much to spend. More expensive drones tend to be larger, have better camera and video equipment, and can remain airborne longer. Remember also that the cost of the drone itself is only one aspect of the total cost. Extra batteries, carrying cases, replacement rotors, and standard repairs to the drone potentially add hundreds of dollars to the cost. Deciding how much to spend on a drone also has a great deal to do with its intended purpose.

Purpose: Generally speaking, more expensive drones allow for higher quality data collection and offer greater variation in use. Many less expensive drones still have great cameras, though they are not usually able to be switched out. If your goal is to use a drone to do demonstrations, take a few neat pics, and possibly collect data for 3D modeling, then one of the lower end drones on the market now (< $1000) should definitely meet your needs. If a primary purpose of the drone to be purchased is research, investing in better equipment pays off exponentially. This is especially true when you factor in the increased airtime these drones offer and the ability to, for example, switch out cameras, attach thermal imaging cameras, attach LiDAR sensors, etc.

There are several types of drones on the market that are increasingly being manufactured to suit specific needs. There is no point in purchasing a drone that is rigged for cinematography or large-scale mapping, for example, when what is needed is a small demonstration drone to be used intermittently. Think about how a drone will be used before purchasing it and decide if all the features you may want are really necessary.

How to Ensure Safety?

Drones, like many other tools we regularly use, can be dangerous. The rotors on drones spin fast and hard enough to cause serious wounds to a person. When using a drone around the public it is important to consider a few safety measures:

  • Never fly the drone at or directly above a person or group. Drones can, and have, fallen from the sky or have just flown off. While not an everyday occurrence, it is nevertheless important that when operating a drone you take every precaution to ensure the safety of those around you.
  • If the drone loses contact with the remote control and flies off then immediately alert nearby air traffic control towers.
  • Keep a log of each flight. Record airtime, conditions, purpose, location, and note if you had to request permission to fly the drone as well as who granted it. Note every issue that occurs with the drone.
  • Do not lose sight of the drone and consider flying with a spotter when using it around the public. The spotter’s job should be to make sure that the drone is within sight and not a danger to anything. This is especially helpful if the drone operator is busy speaking to a group and paying attention to live-streaming feeds from the drone.
  • Consider purchasing propeller guards. These help ensure the safety of others as well as the drone itself should it bump into an object.


Spotting Boas

Image 3 Teaching a volunteer how drones operate. The author is acting as the drone spotter. Photo credit: Kevin Gidusko

Get Creative!

The future of archaeology is sure to see the inclusion of the drone as a standard addition to the archaeologist’s toolkit. Their use in archaeology has already captured the imagination of the public; including drones in public outreach and better educating the public about their potential applications is an easy sell. Drones can be used in teaching about aerial survey techniques, 3D photogrammetry of sites or structures, making informational videos, or even just taking pictures that offer a unique perspective.

Boas Survey

Image 4 There are plenty of software options available for use with drones. Here, a 3D model has been created with the use of Agisoft Photoscan, a 3D photogrammetry software package. Photo credit: Kevin Gidusko

The sections above have covered, incredibly briefly, a few of the issues to consider before purchasing or using a drone for your public outreach or research. The most important things to remember are to stay informed about current regulations concerning drones and to always ensure the safety of others while flying a drone. The basic points in the sections above should help guide your initial foray into the world of drones. However, a quick search online will quickly convey the depth and breadth of this topic thus far. There is a massive amount of information to wade through and even more coming around the corner. We’ve only just begun.

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