Wikipedia & Archaeology

The Society for American Archaeology‘s journal Advances in Archaeological Practice has just published Public Archaeology’s Mammoth in the Room: Engaging Wikipedia as a Tool for Teaching and Outreach by Katherine M. Grillo and Daniel A. Contreras.  The article is a must read for anyone interested in engaging with and disseminating to the public current research in the discipline.  The abstract for the article states:

Although archaeology has become increasingly concerned with engaging diverse publics, and has embraced the internet as a means of facilitating such engagement, attitudes towards Wikipedia have—understandably—been more ambivalent. Nevertheless, we argue here, Wikipedia’s popularity and reach mean that archaeologists should actively engage with the website by adding and improving archaeological content. One way to do this is in the classroom: this paper provides a detailed how-to for instructors interested in having students create new Wikipedia content. We provide a case study in Wikipedia engagement from an advanced undergraduate course on African Archaeology, assess a program (Wiki Education) designed to help, and suggest further avenues for future outreach. We conclude that Wikipedia’s utopian mission aligns with many of the goals of public archaeology, and argue that archaeology has much to gain by engaging with—rather than ignoring or even shunning—Wikipedia.

As long-time readers of this blog are aware, I am a big fan of Wikipedia for classroom instruction, as a scholarly resource, and for general information.  In my retirement, I am active with the Wikipedia Guild of Copy Editors in editing existing articles for grammar, style, and clarity.

Of more direct relevance to archaeology, I recently updated the Poverty Point site Wikipedia page to add references, current research, and perform a substantive rewrite.  (To view the pre-edited page click on the “View History” and click on the version for July of 2018.)  I was initially somewhat concerned at being perceived as the “expert” who rewrote the efforts of an amateur or avocational archaeologist who had passion for the site, wanted to see Poverty Point represented on Wikipedia, but did not have access to current research.  I am pleased there has been no negative reaction to my extensive edits.

The edits to the Poverty Point site page got me to thinking about expanding the project.  For example, the Indian Mounds of Northeast Louisiana: A Driving Trail Guide lists 40 archaeological sites in public view with commemorative historic markers.  The Trail Guide contains a map, and a 100-word basic description of each site.  Wikipedia is an ideal resource to expand this information.  Most of the sites listed in the Trail Guide do not have Wikipedia pages.  Adding those site pages, and editing existing site pages will be an ideal complement to the Trail Guide.

I anticipate starting the project this coming fall, working with archaeology classes at higher education institutions in Louisiana and beyond.  Interested in participating?  Contact me at and let’s talk!