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John H. Jameson, Jr.


Archaeology as Inspiration

In this book we have set out to introduce you to the exciting world of archaeology and what it contributes to the rich fabric of North American history. We have concentrated on the historical periods beginning with the early contacts between Europeans and Native Americans. We have taken you on a journey to important archaeological sites and projects from Canada to the Caribbean, from the early Viking voyages through World War II. We have told the stories of pioneering archaeologists working in rural and urban North America, on the land and under water, at forts, shipwrecks, missions, farms, city lots, and sites of industry. We have shown how historical archaeology is important. The contributors have shared their findings and encourage you to join in preserving and studying our common cultural heritage.

We have noted that “historical archaeology” differs from “prehistoric archaeology” in that it concentrates on periods of human history when written records are part of the physical remains of a culture. Some scholars see historical archaeology as a method of comparing archaeological, documentary, and oral data, which complement each other to reveal a more complete picture of the past. Taking a broad perspective, they distinguish historical archaeology as the archaeology of literate societies. By examining both the places people lived and the documents some left behind, historical archaeologists attempt to discover the fabric of everyday life in the past and seek a greater understanding of the historical development of societies. Thus, as James Deetz pointed out, historical archaeology can provide insights into historical processes that written records by themselves cannot. Historical archaeology deals with the unintended, the subconscious, the worldviews, and the mind-sets of individuals. An important contribution of historical archaeology, he contended, is to illuminate the undocumented details and context of cultural history beyond diluted and incomplete recordings of a minority of “deviant, wealthy, white males." To Deetz, the most important outcome of historical archaeology is to democratize history.

Archaeologists deal with three-dimensional artifacts that people can feel, smell, touch, dream about, and care about. We use archaeology to teach concepts of culture and to learn important things about ourselves, about who we have been, who we are, and where we are going. While archaeology makes important contributions to history and social studies, remember also its power to inspire people. We believe that historical archaeologists today perform much of the best and most recognized research in archaeology. Our colleagues in academia, museums, Cultural Resource Management (CRM), and government increasingly provide leadership in these endeavors by amplifying history and making it more meaningful to people.

Historical archaeology embraces the interests of a diverse group of scholars in anthropology, history, historical architecture, geography, and folklore. In the New World, historical archaeologists work on a broad range of sites preserved on land and underwater. These sites document early European settlement and its effects on Native American peoples as well as the subsequent spread of the frontier and later urbanization and industrialization. They also record the spread and influence of Asian and African cultures. Internationally, historical archaeologists turn their attention to issues such as colonization that have worldwide implications.

Preservation and Protection

Public concern about protecting archaeological sites has a long history in North America stemming from the conservation movement of the late nineteenth century and a tradition of public stewardship of resources. Since the 1930s in the United States, Congress has charged the U.S. National Park Service (NPS) with preserving and interpreting nationally significant historic sites. Parks Canada and other conservation agencies in Canada have played a similar role. Mounting concerns about wanton looting and destruction of sites led to a bevy of protection legislation in the 1960s and 1970s. In the United States, perhaps the most important of these was the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 that established the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) and State Historic Preservation Offices (SHPOs). Although not a perfect system, the NRHP has protected hundreds of thousands of historic and archaeological sites.

National Historic Landmarks are nationally significant historic places designated by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior because they possess exceptional value or quality in illustrating or interpreting the heritage of the United States. Less than three thousand historic places have been designated as National Historic Landmarks. Working with citizens throughout the nation, the National Historic Landmarks Program draws upon the expertise of National Park Service staff working to nominate new landmarks and provide assistance to existing landmarks.

In Canada, the federal government has recently launched the Historic Places Initiative (HPI) resulting in the establishment of the Canadian Register of Historic Places, Standards and Guidelines for the Conservation of Historic Places, and a Certification Process to promote private sector preservation. These programs intend to encourage and assist communities across Canada to conserve historic places. Similar to the U.S. National Register, the Canadian Register is Canada’s list of historic places of local, provincial, territorial, and national significance. It includes a searchable database, accessible on the Internet, and encompasses gardens, fortresses, archaeological sites, grain elevators, theatres, churches, and districts as well as many other historically significant places.
Emphasis on Public Outreach

Public interpretation at sites such as parks and museums succeeds when archaeologists carry out their research imaginatively with a strong public component. People have become activists on behalf of these significant archaeological sites they cherish because they have directly experienced them. Where communities value their cultural legacy, government authorities receive public support to deal with developments more sensitively, and tourism is booming in places that retain their distinct heritage values. Significant archaeological sites are preserved, attracting private and government funding for conservation and interpretation, along with thousands of local and international visitors each year.

Today, most professional archaeologists in North America recognize the importance of archaeology education, and are working with teachers, tour guides, museum educators, park rangers, artisans, members of the media, government officials, and community leaders to develop innovative programs.

A large number of private CRM firms expend considerable resources in promoting educational opportunities for volunteers and students. An example is the full-time public programs division at Statistical Research, Inc. (SRI) in Tucson, Arizona. SRI produces the U.S. Forest Service's "Passport in Time" (PIT) PIT Traveler publication that advertises nationwide programs and volunteer opportunities.

Through “Passport in Time”, volunteers work with professional archaeologists and historians on projects including archaeological excavation, rock art restoration, survey, archival research, historic structure restoration, gathering oral histories, and writing interpretive brochures. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s Heritage Education Program has also made important contributions to archaeology education at the Federal level. “Project Archaeology” has produced high quality educational materials and teacher workshops. For example, Intrigue of the Past: A Teacher's Activity Guide for Fourth through Seventh Grades contains twenty-eight classroom-tested lesson plans that use history and archaeology to teach science, math, history, social studies, art, language arts, and higher level thinking skills such as problem solving, synthesis, and evaluation.

Among federal government-sponsored programs, the NPS has been the traditional leader in promoting education by developing partnerships and initiatives both within and outside the government. The NPS publication Common Ground, for example, is a quarterly magazine distributed to more than twelve thousand members of the public as well as archaeologists, land managers, preservation officers, museum professionals, law enforcement agents, and educators. The NPS Southeast Archeological Center (SEAC) in Tallahassee, Florida, has helped to develop archaeology-related curricula, both in formal school settings and at more informal settings such as national parks and museums. SEAC has organized and coordinated many public-oriented publications, academic symposia, workshops, and training sessions.

NPS has also been a leader in developing performance standards for educational programming. The “Essential Competencies” for archaeologists require knowledge and understanding of interpretation philosophy and techniques. In 2000, NPS finalized the Effective Interpretation of Archaeological Resources “shared-competency” training module. An interagency, interdisciplinary work group developed the module over the course of three years. It outlines a unique course of study for cross-training employees in the three NPS career fields of archaeology, interpretation, and education. Specialists in these fields are trained together in the skills and abilities (shared competencies) needed to carry out a successful public interpretation program.

At the state level, the Arizona State Historic Preservation Office developed exemplary standards for public archaeology education in the 1980s and 1990s. Arizona Archaeology Month now features more than one hundred public events. Innovative volunteer programs such as the Arizona Site Steward Program and the State Archaeology Fair have opened new opportunities for learning and stewardship.

Our contributors have introduced you to many notable examples at the municipal level, including Charleston, South Carolina; Alexandria, Virginia; and Quebec. In these cases, local communities have taken the initiative in historic preservation, education, and archaeological protection. Professional organizations, especially the Society for Historical Archaeology (SHA), the Society for American Archaeology (SAA), and the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA), plus regional, state, and local groups, have also played important roles in emphasizing education in archaeology. The SHA has sponsored and co-published this book and accompanying web site.

In Canada, public education programs have been a priority of Parks Canada, where public education and involvement are important elements in historic site restoration efforts from coast to coast. The agency has established notable interpretive and living history centers at historic military sites such as the Fortress of Louisbourg. Early coordination and support by agency staff were critical to the successes of these public archaeology programs. Some programs dependent upon government funding and political goodwill have been less fortunate, such as the much-protested demise of the Archaeological Resource Centre, the Province of Ontario’s joint archaeology education venture with the Toronto schools. Another loss was the excellent educational program developed by the Archaeological Survey of Alberta. Both programs were victims of the mid-1990s cash crunch, despite demonstrated popularity amongst students, teachers, and the general public.

Combined professional and avocational groups in Canada such as the Ontario Archaeological Society have long operated public education programs in conjunction with excellent archaeological research using volunteers. The province-wide archaeological program and the provincial museum in Saskatchewan have thrived with the enthusiasm and backing of societies such as the Saskatchewan Archaeological Society. Likewise, the Canadian Archaeological Association (CAA), founded in 1968, has made public education a priority in recent years. Beginning in the 1980s, the CAA engaged in a series of discussions aimed at developing public and political support for national archaeological protection legislation. Other notable examples of education initiatives are Quebec's province-wide network "Réseau archéo-Québec," which promotes public access to information about Québec's multicultural and archaeological heritage. For more than fifteen years, the City of Québec has sponsored an impressive program of site recording and public education that has greatly illuminated the rich cultural history of the city. The Pointe-à-Callière Museum of Archaeology and History in Montréal is another leader in public outreach, offering a wide array of workshops, tours, and multimedia exhibits.

Reaching Out

Archaeologists are increasingly concerned with how the past is presented to, and consumed by, readers like you, and so we are looking into new ways of communicating about our finds through our national parks, museums, popular literature, film and television, music, and various multimedia formats. Many of us are not content to rely solely on traditional techniques. We want to venture beyond explanations of what things were and how they worked. Archaeological information and objects can inspire a wide variety of artistic expressions ranging from computer-generated reconstructions and traditional artists' conceptions to art forms such as poetry, playwriting, and opera.

Developments in Native American Archaeology

In the 1990s, a new era of Native American archaeology emerged in the U.S. with the passage of the Native American Graves and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) of 1990. NAGPRA addresses the rights of Native Americans, Indian tribes, and Native Hawaiian organizations to their ancestral human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, and related cultural items. It requires federal agencies and museums that receive federal funds to provide information about Native American cultural items. It also requires that these objects and remains, upon presentation of a valid request, be returned or repatriated. Accordingly, many archaeologists, historians, and cultural resource managers have been forced to rethink their assumptions about how to conduct research and interpret our findings. We have learned that we are no longer the sole proprietors and interpreters of the Native American past (nor should we be), whether in pre- or post-European contexts. In fact, the definition of "cultural resources" in the archaeological sense has broadened from a focus on objects, features, and architectural elements to less tangible items such as "place" and "traditional cultural property." This is due primarily to the effects of new federal mandates and policies that have made Native Americans integral players in cultural resource management, a redefinition of what constitutes "data," and who owns or controls the data.

Challenges for the Future

Successful efforts in archaeology education have overcome political and social obstacles to inform and involve the public. Isn’t public inspiration the ultimate goal of archaeology? [sidebar#21 here] Innovative approaches encourage dialogues, establish partnerships, and work toward more inclusive, participatory archaeology. We measure our success by how well we earn your trust as curators of the written as well as the unwritten record. Posterity will judge how effectively we have used archaeological finds for the education and enjoyment of present and future generations.

The Society for Historical Archaeology plays a key role in promoting these efforts. We hope that the “Unlocking the Past” project encourages historical archaeologists to share their findings and persuades readers like you and the public at large to join us in studying and preserving our common historical heritage.


John H. Jameson, Jr. is senior archaeologist and Interpretive Development Program (IDP) Certifier at the Southeast Archaeological Center, National Park Service.

Copyright © The Society for Historical Archaeology 2005.
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