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Co-Creation and Public Archaeology

September 28, 2015

AAP coverIn August of this year my colleague Elizabeth Bollwerk and I published a special thematic issue of the Society for American Archaeology’s  Advances in Archaeological Practice titled Co-Creation and Public Archaeology.  The practice of co-creation has proven a guiding force in my professional practice over the past few years.  I initially came across the concept in Nina Simon’s synthesis and elaboration of an ongoing discussion in the museum community over the past couple of decades.  Since that time I have developed my own understanding of the co-creative practice that prioritizes addressing the community’s expressed needs.  In 2012, along with Natalye Tate, Elizabeth and I co-edited a volume of Museums and Social Issues on the co-creative theme.  As someone who has worked as an archaeologist for the better part of my professional career, I am very pleased with the publication of this new peer-reviewed volume on the subject of co-creation by a leading organization of professional archaeologists in the United States.  I believe an application of the co-creative practice will be key to the future of the discipline.

Below is the abstract to the Introduction Elizabeth and I co-authored with a true leader in the field of public archaeology, Carol McDavid.

This paper serves a dual purpose. First it is an introduction that aims to frame a set of papers that describe and discuss the process of co-creation in a variety of archaeological projects. We discuss the challenge of community engagement in public archaeology and offer co-creative practice as a method for improving our relationships with descendant communities and the general public. We begin by providing a definition of public archaeology and a brief overview of its evolution over the last few decades. Second, we discuss co-creation’s origins and utilization in the museum and business sectors, where the process is applied to address challenges similar to those archaeologists face. We then demonstrate how co-creation fits into the public/applied archaeological framework. We argue that co-creation must be both co (that is, share power in some way) and creative (that is, not just do the same things better, but do something new). Within this framework, we discuss how co-creation aligns with and informs current trends in public archaeology practice drawing from the case studies included in this issue. We conclude that co-creation has an important place on the collaborative continuum and can help our discipline become more responsive to the needs of our many publics.

And here is the table of contents for the volume that includes studies from throughout the Americas.  I hope that you will find these articles helpful as you go about your professional practice.

  • Co-Creation as a Twenty-First Century Archaeology Museum Practice
    pp. 188-197.  Robert Connolly.
  • Survivance Stories, Co-Creation, and a Participatory Model at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center pp. 198-207.  Kimberly Kasper and Russell G. Handsman.
  • Making the Past Relevant Co-Creative Approaches to Heritage Preservation and Community Development at Hualcayán, Ancash, Peru pp. 208-222. Rebecca E. Bria and Elizabeth K. Cruzado Carranza.
  • Co-Creation’s Role in Digital Public Archaeology pp. 223-234.  Elizabeth Bollwerk.
  • Promoting a More Interactive Public Archaeology Archaeological Visualization and Reflexivity through Virtual Artifact Curation  pp. 235-248. Bernard K. Means.
  • Co-Creation of Knowledge by the Hopi Tribe and Archaeologists pp. 249-262.  T. J. Ferguson, Stewart B. Koyiyumptewa, and Maren P. Hopkins.
  • Sleeping with the “Enemy” Metal Detecting Hobbyists and Archaeologists  pp. 263-274.  Matthew Reeves.
  • Cemeteries as Participatory Museums: The Cemetery Resource Protection Training Program across Florida pp. 275-290.  Sarah E. Miller.
  • Building Capacity for Co-Created Digital Moviemaking through Youth Programs pp. 291-300. Teresa S. Moyer.
  • Turning Privies into Class Projects pp. 301-312. Kimberley Popetz

Survey on Archaeology Blogs

August 27, 2015

fleurFleur Shinning from Leiden University in the Netherlands is conducting graduate research focused on the use of blogs and social media and how they contribute to the accessibility of archaeology.  Her intended result of the project is to make archaeology more accessible to a wider public.  She is soliciting input for her research in the form of a survey from readers of several blogs in the UK and USA.   The survey is well-organized, reasonably painless, and can be completed in less than 10 minutes.  I encourage you to click on this link and complete the survey, with the possible payoff of winning a subscription to Archaeology magazine and knowing that you are contributing to a project that focuses on expanding public access to archaeology.



A Co-created Independence Day Celebration in Hualcayán, Peru

August 3, 2015

For a Spanish language version of this post, click here

July 28th is Independence Day in Peru – and the day we presented the community copies of La Historia de Hualcayán: Contada Por Sus Pobladores the volume written by Elizabeth Cruzado Carranza based on oral histories collected by Hualcayán high school students in late 2014. I have blogged before about the project origins. In preparation for the event, Elizabeth and I thoroughly cleaned the courtyard area of the archaeology research complex and set out a long row of tables and chairs. The night before we peeled 72 kilos of potatoes and Sheyla Nuñuvero and her assistants prepared 15 chickens, salad and quite a few gallons of chicha morado.

foodThe event was a success. Eli and I were particularly happy that Leodan Abanto Alejo Valerio, who was responsible for launching the project, was able to attend and preside over the celebration. Consistent with being an outstanding educator, Leodan spoke eloquently and passionately about why such projects are important. He particularly focused on the educational role for the student oral historians in developing a sense of identity and pride in their community in both the Spanish and Quechua languages.


Leodan Abanto Alejo Valerio (center) with Hualcayán students

I spoke about the co-creative process. I noted that although Elizabeth and I had performed the technical publishing tasks and secured donations to fund the project, the essence of the volume was locally produced. That is, without the history verbally passed down over the years from community members, and passing that along to the student interviewers, the book would not have been possible. I also noted the uniqueness of the project – there is no other book of which we were aware in the Ancash region that tells a community’s history “contada por sus poladores.” The Hualcayán project is already viewed as model in one U.S. and two other Peruvian communities.

Elizabeth discussed her experience writing the book and presented a copy to every family in attendance. She noted that most of the copies would be placed in the school library consistent with Leodan’s expressed need for a classroom educational resource for students on their community history.


Elizabeth Cruzado and Robert Connolly with two of the oral history project interviewees

Several community residents spoke and expressed their thanks to the Hualcayán students who created the project and to Leodan for the original concept. Elizabeth and Rebecca Bria’s (Co-Directors of PIARA) friendship and long-term commitment to the community was also recognized by all of the residents who spoke. For example, even though pressed for time as she gathers data for her M.S. Thesis on a set of Hualcayán excavations, Elizabeth welcomes community children into the research complex every afternoon from 3:00 – 5:00 PM to watch videos on a laptop, draw, or other activities. She has spent many days, weeks and months over the past several years working in Hualcayán on archaeological and community based projects.

Here are some of my takeaways from the oral history book experience:

  • The process worked. In a rural agricultural community like Hualcayán, where everyone works 7 days per week to sustain their existence (including on Independence Day) the oral history project is a small, but important contribution. “Importante” was the word most commonly used by the residents who spoke at the Independence Day event. They followed that statement up with examples on why knowing a community history is of value.
  • We had a great discussion with Professor Abanto after the event and confirmed plans and responsibilities for completing another volume by next summer for the community where he is now assigned to teach – Huallanco. Leodan is one of several Ancash residents we encountered in the last year who collect oral histories – in some cases for many years. We view the Hualcayán volume not as a completed project, but as an example of the ongoing logistical support we can provide if a community has that expressed need. We have informally discussed with cultural heritage professionals and educators in the region the possibility of establishing something like an Ancash Region Oral History Program. That may happen one day, but the impetus for moving on the project will come from the Ancash communities.
  • Oral history is something we are prepared to support at the museums Elizabeth and I visited in both Nivín and Caraz this summer. However, an expressed need in both of these museums was for Spanish language documents on collections management – not part of our initial plan. Within 48 hours we were able to use our resources and networks to acquire an abundance of these materials.
  • As cultural heritage professionals, in this way we can create value in a co-created relationship. At the museum and site at Nivín, Professor Valencia’s interest is less in our organizing field crews to excavate the Nivín site and find cool stuff for the museum. Rather the need Professor Valencia clearly stated was to train the Nivín students in the proper methods for curating materials and preserving a site that is of little apparent interest to the professional archaeological community but is being impacted by both agricultural and looting activities.

The above lead me to my “go to” snippets for what I mean by co-creation and applied archaeology:

Learn what aid the community needs: fit the museum to those needs. John Cotton Dana, The New Museum, 1917  

 . . . the act of engagement with others who are trying to make decisions related to particular heritage resources. Erve Chambers 2004:194

 Working together or diversifying audiences is not enough. What is needed are reciprocal, co-created relationships that connect the assets and purposes of organizations. Elizabeth Hirzy 2002

 To give voice and be responsive to the needs and interests of local community members; to provide a place for community engagement and dialogue; and to help participants develop skills that will support their own individual and community goals. – Nina Simon 2010:187


To this end, our field season this year in Peru is going quite well.



An Archaeological Surprise at Nivin, Peru

July 27, 2015

Nivin-sign(For a Spanish language version of this post, click here.)


This past week, my colleague Elizabeth Cruzado Carranza and I visited Nivín Arqueologia about 25 km from Casma, on the north central coast of Peru.  We were not really certain what to expect.  We had corresponded via the PIARA and Nivín Facebook pages with Gustavo Valencia Tello a professor in the Nivín k-12 school of 50 students.  We knew that Professor Valencia established a museum connected to the school.  We also knew that Nivín is located in an archaeologically rich part of Peru’s north coast.  We knew that over the past five years Professor Valencia had convinced many area residents to donate their “looted” collections to the school’s museum.  Finally, Professor Valencia had noted that there was little interest from the professional archaeological community in the sites at Nivín.  That is pretty much what we knew about Nivín when we arrived in Casma this past Sunday.


Nivín Archaeology: Searching for our identity

On Sunday evening Professor Valencia invited us to his home for dinner and conversation.  We agreed on a schedule of going to Nivín on Monday morning to tour the museum and school and returning on Tuesday to visit the nearby archaeological sites and meet with the other Nivín teachers.

On Monday morning we headed toward the outskirts of Casma and turned onto an unpaved road for the 25 km bouncing ride to Nivín.  I have to admit that I began to wonder what Eli and I had gotten ourselves into.  Except for the town of San Rafael about half-way in, the landscape was dotted with the occasional cane thatch house, agricultural fields, scattered grazing livestock and not much else.  I wondered what kind of museum could be at the end of this road?


Exhibits in the Nivín Museum

After a one hour ride, we came to a sign that read “NIVIN” with nothing else in sight.  We then continued around the bend in the road and came upon what I can best describe as an oasis in a dusty desert.  The Nivín school is a manicured space that stands out from the landscape.  Here is what we saw:

  • the museum that Professor Valencia painstakingly put together over a five-year period.  The materials are donated by area residents who looted/collected the materials over the years, often from their own agricultural lands.  Professor Valencia uses these materials in his classes to explain everything from ceramic production techniques, cultural identity, osteology, culture change and more.  Eli and I had gone to Nivín to discuss how we might assist Professor Valencia in his project.   We quickly realized that we were the students that learned much from him during our brief visit.  The school in Nivín better incorporates archaeological methods into teaching natural and social sciences than any k-12 school I have experienced in the U.S.
  • Mango

    Young mango tree in the school garden.

    a suite of gardens maintained by the students, teachers, and the community members.  The gardens grow subsistence crops of mangoes, corn, passion fruit, chilies, alfalfa sprouts and more and are completely organic.  There are also smaller vegetable and medicinal plant gardens.  Besides providing food for the Nivín community, the gardens are meant as an instructional tool for the students, the next generation of agriculturalists in the area.  Other schools in the region are studying the Nivín model.

  • sparsely supplied but impeccably clean and well-maintained classrooms and a basketball court/soccer field.  We also saw large banners that reported the awards the school had received from the Ministry of Education.

A small portion of the archaeological site at Nivín.

On Tuesday morning we were back in Nivín with Professor Valencia for our tour of the nearby archaeological site.  Over the next 3.5 hours we hiked, walked through agricultural fields, waded across a river (this gringo was not able to negotiate the single log bridge), and traversed a rocky landscape similar to what one might expect of a lunar surface.  Here is what we saw:

  • a multi-sector and massive archaeological site that spanned the Formative through the Late Intermediate periods.  The site is not registered as an official archaeological site.
  • The site is slowly being encroached on by agricultural expansion along with huaqueros or looters.  The cemetery areas of the site contain many looter pits with broken ceramic vessels and scattered human bone.
  •  The architectural forms include domestic rooms, cemeteries, 30 m high mounds, and my favorite a boulder some 3.5 m in diameter fashioned into a metate, with multiple grinding depressions and one mano laying nearby.  Christian, a Nivín high school student, whose house is on the archaeological site recalls as a youth that there were eight manos laying on/around the metate boulder.

Elizabeth Cruzado Carranza examines broken ceramics and human bone from a looters pit.

After visiting the site we returned to the school and met with several of the teachers to discuss possible collaborations.  We gave the school a laptop computer (from Rhodes College in Memphis) and a flip camera (from the WriteMemphis literacy program) to help launch an oral history program in the village and school.  The program will complement other oral history projects we have worked on such as those carried out in both Hualcayán, Peru, and Memphis, Tennessee, US.

After discussing with the teachers possible collaborative/co-creative efforts and mutual needs, on Tuesday evening Eli and I met again with Professor Valencia and agreed to pursue the following projects over the next year:

  • Partnering the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa in Memphis, TN and the Municipal Museum in Caraz, Peru, with the Nivín Museum around oral history projects.  The three institutions are at different stages in their oral history processes and can learn from each other.  We will seek additional funding to support this work.  (An Engaged Scholarship Research Grant from the University of Memphis funded a portion of our oral history work in Caraz and Hualcayán, Peru this summer.)
  • Gustavo

    Professor Gustavo Valencia Tello with some of his teaching materials.

    Elizabeth Cruzado and Gustavo Valencia will co-author a book chapter for a recently contracted volume on museum/community collaboration efforts to be published in the Summer of 2016 by Rowman and Littlefield Press.

  • We will discuss forming an expanded range for the type of collaborative projects now carried out by PIARA.  This will ideally allow for greater collaboration among Ancash cultural heritage projects and expand access to resources.
  • We will investigate returning to Nivín in July or August of 2016 to provide instruction to students in the best practice cataloguing and curation of the collections in the Nivín Museum. (Any museum studies students fluent in Spanish interested in an internship?)

Elizabeth and I have commented several times that we certainly covered a lot of ground and lined up several co-creative projects in just a couple of days!  We are excited both about learning from and working with Professor Valencia, his colleagues, students, and the Nivín community in this model program.

Why Co-Creation in Archaeology Works

July 20, 2015

At the modern cemetery in Hualcayán, Peru, food and drink offerings are made to the deceased as in the prehistoric period at the site.

As a blue-collar kid, I grew up a trade union activist, believing that I had the vision for what the workers of the world needed. However, I was told more than once that all of my book-learning and vision might be great for speeches, but there was also the need for the real world bettering of lives, today – perhaps one of the reasons I ended up an applied anthropologist.

In 1990 I quit my industrial job and became a non-traditional higher education student, ultimately earning a doctorate in anthropology, then working as an archaeologist, college professor, and museum professional. I am pleased at how lessons I learned early in life transferred well to my postgraduate career.

In the same way I got my comeuppance as a trade union activist in the 1970s and 80s, I vividly recall as the Director of the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa in Southwest Memphis, US, attending a neighborhood meeting in 2008 and being told “Don’t tell me what your university is going to do for my community. The last time you were here for two years doing your research and all we got was a map on the wall.” Through my earlier life experiences, I came to appreciate that community outreach at Chucalissa could not be based on what I believed the community needed, but must start from the listening to the expressed needs and interests of the community. Nina Simon popularized this understanding of co-creation in the Participatory Museum. My colleague Carol McDavid traced this co-creation concept back to marketing strategies in the 1980s.

This August, Co-Creation and the Archaeological Record, co-edited by Elizabeth Bollwerk and I, will be published as a thematic issue of the Society for American Archaeology’s Advances in Archaeological Practice. The issue contains a dozen papers, including one by Carol, that explores the background and presents archaeological case studies of co-creation. The volume includes my article that discusses how a co-creative approach transformed Chucalissa’s relationship with the surrounding community. A highlight of the transformation was the creation of an African-American Cultural Heritage exhibit based on a community expressed need. The 2010 exhibit was co-created with nine area high school students. This summer students from Freedom Prep Charter School, just down the road from the Museum are updating the exhibit created by their peers five years ago.

In the same issue of Advances in Archaeological Practice my colleagues Rebecca Bria and Elizabeth Cruzado Carranza report on their multi-year move toward greater co-creation in the activities of the organization they co-direct Proyecto de Investigación Arqueológico Regional Ancash (PIARA) in Hualcayán, Peru. For the past three years I have worked with Rebecca and Elizabeth on these co-creative projects. (In fact, I write this post at 10,000 ft in the 400 person village of Hualcayán.) An example of this co-creation will occur on July 28, Independence Day in Peru, when the community will receive 100 copies of the La Historia de Hualcayán: Contada Por Sus Pobladores. The 50-page book by Elizabeth is based on a co-created oral history project launched last summer. I have posted before about the origins of that oral history project.

Eli and I met with Leodan Abando Alejo Valerio this past week to deliver advance copies of the book. As discussed in that earlier post, Leodan is ultimately responsible for the project. He was very pleased with the book and had a half-dozen projects in mind he wanted to work on in other small villages of the Huaylas Province. First, he wants to repeat the oral history book project in Huallanca the nearby small village where he is now assigned to teach. We agreed to play the same role as we did for the Hualcayán volume.

In Hualcayán, there is quite a buzz about the July 28th event. This past Thursday evening, Eli and I met with the Hualcayán President, Angel Hueza, who outlined the agenda for the Independence Day activities. The book presentation will occur after the singing of the Peruvian National Anthem but before speeches by the President and other community members. At the suggestion of the President, all the students who participated in the project will receive a diploma for their work. (I will post the details of this event in the near future.)

What does all of this co-creation have to do with archaeology at sites like Chucalissa and Hualcayán? I am completely convinced that all folks value knowing their past. For example, the boom in and genealogical research in general support this statement. In Southwest Memphis, at the annual Veterans Day events we host at Chucalissa, current and deceased area residents dating back to World War II are prominently featured on banner exhibits honoring their military service. This is a big deal as I have posted about before. As well, when I showed a Southwest Memphis community leader the mock-up of the Hualcayán oral history volume and noted that the students at Freedom Prep summer camps could launch a similar project, he enthusiastically approved – as did the Freedom Prep students and school administrators. In the same way, both Leodan and President Hueza see the oral history book as a central piece of a July 28th Independence Day celebration and a reclamation of Hualcayán history.

Such projects, based in an applied anthropology/archaeology provide a ready link for demonstrating the true cultural value of the archaeological record, and counter the PBS Antique Roadshow formula of “Is it real, how old is it, and how much is it worth.” In Southwest Memphis, the link extends to the remnants of a 1930s African-American Civilian Conservation Corps camp responsible for discovering the Chucalissa in the modern era.  The remnants are located at the adjacent T.O. Fuller State Park.  The link is also made in the current drive to reclaim abandoned historic cemeteries in the Southwest Memphis community. In Hualcayán, a link is formed from the modern community’s cultural heritage to the archaeological site with 4000 years of human occupation.

When we met with the Hualcayán President he noted that it was good the oral history book was not linked directly to archaeological research that can be contentious because of land access and preservation concerns. While seemingly at odds with archaeological research interests, I believe the President’s comments actually provide an opening for dialogue about the link between the modern and prehistoric periods. PIARA excels in this approach, sponsoring pop-up museums, site tours, a library, and opening a community museum. All of these projects continue to take on an increased co-creative component.

Co-creation allows for projects that truly meet the needs and interests of all participants and show the value of cultural heritage. There is room for growth and attitude adjustments from both the archaeologists and the neighborhood communities. The perspective of the student who commented “Hualcayán was so great in prehistory, but look at it today” is as problematic as the looter who reduces the archaeological record to an economic resource whether in the highlands of Peru or the US.

At my very first field school in 1986, my former mentor the late Dr. Patricia Essenpreis threw out the challenge that if we could not explain to the public why their tax dollars should support the archaeological research we were conducting we might as well go home. That is, did our work have value on the public land where we excavated or to the taxpayer who funded the research? At both Chucalissa and Hualcayán, I can answer Pat’s mandate with a strong yes. For me the genesis of that yes, began as a trade union activist when I learned to appreciate the value of listening and learning from the people in whose interest I wished to serve. That affirmation is found in working with the community and not for the community, a cornerstone of co-creative projects.

Why the AASLH Annual Meeting is My Favorite Museum Event

July 19, 2015

AASLHThis years annual meeting of the American Association of State and Local History (AASLH) will take place from September 16 – 19 in Louisville, Kentucky. I attended my first AASLH Conference in 2010 in Oklahoma City when I received a Small Museum Scholarship. I have only missed one annual conference since then.  The AASLH meeting has become my favorite meeting related to my role as a museum professional.  Here is why:

  • In 2010 I was a reasonable newbie in the museum business.  In fact, when I was hired as the Director of the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa in 2007 I had never formally worked in a museum.  Instead I had operated on the periphery of museums in my career as an archaeologist and academic.  The 2010 AASLH meeting proved an ideal venue to get my feet wet in learning about available resources, best practices, and networking with other museum professionals.
  • Over the past 30 years I have attended many professional meetings ranging from city-wide to international in scope.  While not dismissing the importance of any association, as a small museum professional, I find that AASLH conference is a perfect fit for my needs.  Conferences such as the American Alliance of Museums (AAM), while certainly of value, tend to focus on the needs of the medium to large museums. City and state conferences, while wonderful networking and experience sharing opportunities, cannot marshal the resources of a national organization like the AASLH.  Although sessions often cover the same topics as both larger and smaller professional meetings, the AASLH application is more inclusive of small museum contexts.  Of critical importance is understanding that the AASLH application is not lesser than, but rather more inclusive and relevant to my needs as a small museum professional.
  • The program for the Louisville meeting is particularly relevant to my interests.  I am particularly looking forward to hearing Wendell Berry one of my favorite writers/philosophers speak.  Check out the preliminary program to see what sessions might suit your interests and needs.  In a quick review of the program, sessions such as Kids Count, Too! Writing History through Community Collaboration; The Courage to Co-Create: Practicing Engagement with Your Audience; Marketing Educational Programming in Tough Times; and The Power of Possibility: Developing Partnerships through Project-Based Learning immediately caught my attention.  I am pleased that multiple “pop-up” sessions will take place at this year’s conference to provide more spontaneous discussions on a range of issues.
  • I am intrigued by the theme of this year’s conference – The Power of Possibility.  In a time when many cultural institutions are just now recovering from the recent economic downturns, focusing on what is possible in our new realities is an exciting step in the right direction.

If you have not been to an AASLH conference before, I encourage you to check out the event.  If you have attended in the past, the program for this year’s meeting looks fantastic.  Hope to see you there!


Pop-Up Archaeology Museums!

July 15, 2015


Very cool and relevant form of public archaeology from the UK!!

Originally posted on Middle Savagery:


Florence Laino, one of our recent University of York Digital Heritage MSc graduates, has joined forced with L-P Archaeology in creating a Pop-Up Museum for the 100 Minories site near the tower of London. You may remember that Dan & I were involved in early testing at the site. L-P Archaeology had a previous pop-up museum, HIPUM on Hayling Island.


We had a chance to check out the Pop-Up Museum a couple of weeks ago, and they’ve done an impressive job with temporary displays with finds from the site. The site was in the London city ditch, so all manner of artifacts came out of it. At the Pop-Up Museum, you can open up the displays and have a chat with the archaeologists who worked on site.


The displays were impressive, and in a great location–right next to a standing part of the old city wall! The excavation was very close by…

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