Classroom Resources in Archaeology

bikeThis past weekend I helped staff the exhibit table of the Archaeology Education Clearinghouse at the National Council for Social Studies conference in St. Louis.  Most attendees were middle through high school teachers.  Although light on the gadgets and wizardry often used at such events, our exhibit saw a consistent flow of interested teachers.  The “I Dig Archaeology” buttons, CD of lesson plans, topical and age-graded handouts of internet resources were well received by the participants.

Some of my most engaging conversations were with teachers who, independent of any contact with the professional archaeological community, were bringing the discipline into the classroom.  For example, drawing on field schools from their undergraduate days, two teachers talk about how they had gotten their respective principles to allow them to dig up part of the school yard and create mock excavations.  Contrary to the horror stories archaeologists often tell about such activities turning into treasure hunts to find cool stuff, the processes included the careful excavation, mapping, and interpretation of recovered cultural materials, like the experience posted about last year from Harding University.

With that in mind, I wanted to post links to some of my favorite online resources for bringing archaeology and cultural heritage into the k-12 classroom:

  • In 2013, one of the most vibrant and engaged public archaeological outreach programs belongs to the Florida Public Archaeology Network.  The resource page on their website is loaded with classroom based lesson plans and activities.  The 2011 Beyond Artifacts contains over 120 pages of classroom activities and lesson plans both on archaeology in general and specific to Florida.
  • The Society for American Archaeology hosts an Archaeology for the Public webpage with some 300 or so resource links.  One of my favorites is ArchaeologyLand that contains a set of activities that can be used as individual lessons in the classroom or as a suite of offerings in a fair-like setting.
  • The Archaeological Institute of America provides lesson plans that focus on the classical sites and archaeological methods.  These offerings are often quite in-depth and utilize video and other internet instructional resources.
  • Project Archaeology offers leadership training and a set of programs tied to curriculum standards.  For example, their Investigating Shelter volume ” . . . consists of nine comprehensive lessons guiding students through the archaeological study of shelter including a toolkit of archaeological and scientific concepts . . .”

The above resources are outstanding examples of bringing the discipline of archaeology into the classroom.

What are your favorite classroom resources?

New Opportunities with International Archaeology Day

Hualcayán, Peru

This year, the Archaeological Institute of America’s National Archaeology Day has become International Archaeology.  The event will occur this coming Saturday, October 19th.  This year’s 200 collaborating organizations are hosting an impressive array of activities ranging from special exhibitions and presentations at the Angkor Archaeological Park in Cambodia to Family Day Activities at the Bosque Museum in Clifton Texas.  At the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa we made an intentional decision this year to focus on what we do best for International Archaeology Day – our basic programming and activities.  If you are in the Memphis area, stop by on the 19th.

International Archaeology Day is also an opportunity to reflect on the state of the discipline in 2013.  Today, archaeologists often face an uphill battle to convince elected officials in the United States of the discipline’s worth.  Popular media such as Antiques RoadshowAmerican Digger, and American Pickers continue to focus on commodification of cultural heritage – how old is it? is it real? and how much is it worth?  In typical “What is Archaeology” classroom presentations, presenters often need to clarify that archaeologists do not dig up dinosaurs nor are the missions of Indiana Jones and Laura Croft typical job descriptions in our profession.  And, as I posted recently about the Louisiana Division of Archaeology, we see effective programs on the chopping block for public funding.

Are we winning or losing the battle for the presentation and preservation of cultural heritage?

Consider that two of the better known state archaeology programs that appear to be thriving, at least relatively speaking, are those of the Arkansas Archaeological Survey and the Florida Public Archaeology Network (FPAN).  One of the things that these two organizations do exceptionally well is public outreach.  The Survey in conjunction with the Arkansas Archeological Society  holds an annual certification program for avocational archaeologists, where the public have the opportunity to be trained in a range of field and other research methods by the professional community.  Although I am confident that many professionals will scoff at or be outright offended at such practices, a review of the program points to the very real contribution the certification has made in Arkansas.  In Florida, FPAN also offers several programs for the public such as the Cemetery Resource Protection Training (CRPT) that actively engage communities in the process of preservation.

These programs go beyond passive lectures or hands on activities to fully engage the public in an active learning and participatory process.  This trend of an active or participatory engagement is particularly strong in the museum   The Paul Hamlyn Foundation in the United Kingdom has developed excellent models for direct engagement in museums and working with collections.  The Connecting to Collections Online Community here in the United States  archives several webinars that explore involving the public in preservation tasks through direct collections work, oral history interviews and other methods.

A distinct difference in the above programs and what I have considered community outreach for much of my career is the direct engagement of the public in the process.  That is, instead of a lecture, the above programs engage in a dialogue where the public become a true part of a participatory process.  The participation is not simply for the sake of a hands-on experience, but one where the public become stakeholders in the process of presenting and preserving their cultural heritage.  In this way, museum exhibits and other cultural heritage presentations move from being about the community to being of the community.

Consider how such an engagement might work based on a recent article about a five-year process at the C.H. Nash Museum:

Finally, we consider the relevance of our cultural institution to the community of prime importance. We believe that if in 2007 we had asked the residents of Southwest Memphis what the C.H. Nash Museum meant to them, in all likelihood, their response would have focused on how some of “our children visit for school field trips and Chucalissa is where the Indian Mounds are located.”  If we ask that question today, we hope the response will include “Chucalissa is the place where there is an exhibit on the cultural heritage of our community; where there is a resource center on our community history; the place where we hold our Black History Month celebrations; where our traditional foods garden was planted last year; where the AmeriCorps Teams that work in our community live; and also where the Indian Mounds are located.”

I will add that all of those products were co-created by the Westwood Community and the C.H. Nash Museum.  We hope to use International Archaeology Day on October 19 to explore more possibilities for being relevant and engaging with the public to whom our museum serves.

Two years I posted about the opportunity of using National Archaeology Day as a response to shows like American Digger.  This year’s International Archaeology Day is again an excellent opportunity to actively engage with the public who will ultimately decide the fate of the world’s cultural heritage presentation and preservation.

And Now . . . International Archaeology Day, October 19


Last year’s National Archaeology Day was a fantastic outreach opportunity to educate and engage the public about the importance of cultural heritage resources in the U.S.  As I wrote then, National Archaeology Day also provided cultural heritage professionals with a platform to address the Indiana Jones/Lara Croft understanding of archaeology that is presented in the popular media.  As well, the coordinated national event provided a time for a concerted effort across the country to respond to the treasure hunt mentality put forward in the popular media by offerings such as American Digger and Antiques Roadshow, where the value of cultural materials is determined by “is it real, how old is it, and how much can I sell it for.”

In 2012, National Archaeology Day had over 125 supporting organizations, including many state agencies, museums, along with the National Park Service and its 400 locations across the United States.  This year the Archaeological Institute of American has rebranded the event as International Archaeology Day.  Collaborating agencies to date range from individual archaeological sites to the Federal Bureau of Land Management to the Bayon Center in Cambodia.

The shift from National Archaeology Day to International Archaeology Day is an important move that acknowledges the globalization that we witness in so many aspects of our daily lives.  I am impressed that in the MOOCs I have taken, of the thousands of participants who register for each class, the majority or at least a very substantial number are from outside the United States.  As well apps like Londinium, Pompeii from the British Museum, and Giza 3D, make the virtual world that much more accessible and relevant to those living in the United States.  The International focus is also seen in the Southeast as the Poverty Point site awaits action on its nomination as a World Heritage Center of UNESCO.

International Archaeology Day 2013 provides cultural heritage professionals with a global platform to show the relevance of our discipline in a time when government agencies cut funding to projects considered nonessential.  I often quote my first mentor in archaeology, Dr. Patricia Essenpreis who told her students  “If you cannot explain to the visitor why their tax dollars should go to support these excavations or keep the Fort Ancient site open, you might as well go home.”  International Archaeology Day can be the kick-off point for another year to actively engage with the public in the preservation of their cultural heritage.

Last year I posted ideas for Archaeology Day activities and suggestions for public outreach both before and after the event.

What are your plans for International Archaeology Day on October 19?

Education and Outreach at the Society for American Archaeology

This past week the Society for American Archaeology (SAA) held their Annual Conference here in Memphis, Tennessee.  The meeting provided a lot of great public education and community outreach discussions and resources.  Here are a few of those offerings:

On Wednesday, I attended the Project Archaeology Coordinators and Friends meeting.  Project Archaeology has created a series of curriculum guides that use archaeological inquiry to instruct on past and present cultures in social studies and science education.  A particularly intriguing discussion took place on Common Core Standards that are moving into the educational curriculum gap left by No Child Left Behind.  Project Archaeology curriculums are ideal for Common Core Standards that foster critical thinking skills.  The Project Archaeology webpage has information about training workshops for their curriculums.

On Saturday morning I attended the always enjoyable Archaeologyland hands-on activity.  The session consists of a series of both time-tested and new fun activities for youth that teach principles of archaeology research, preservation, and craft production.  The activities are easily transferred to the classroom or museum setting and require no prerequisite knowledge of archaeological methods.  The ArchaeologyLand link has pdf files for many of these innovative activities.

The Public Archaeology Interest Group (PAIG) of the SAA sponsored a symposium Public Archaeology in the Twenty-First Century.  In line with their goal to “serve all of those interested in public archaeology” the group intends to publish the session papers over the next several months in a blog form.  Given the success of this year’s symposium, at the PAIG meeting this past Saturday evening, members discussed for hosting an e-symposium/forum or possibly a poster session at next year’s SAA annual meeting.  Future session topics considered included the role of avocational archaeology and creating methods for evaluating the impact of public education programs.

The Public Education Committee (PEC) of the SAA also met and established several priorities for work in the coming year.  First, a subcommittee will begin working to update the Archaeology for the Public webpages.  Second, in a recent survey of the 50 state coordinators for public education in the SAA, respondents overwhelmingly expressed a desire to receive more regular communication on outreach and educational opportunities.  One tool the coordinators considered for disseminating such information was to revive the Archaeology and Public Education Newsletter.  Although popular, the Newsletter was discontinued several years ago because of increased production and mailing costs.  Today, newsletter distribution as pdf files is considered an economically feasible alternative.  The PEC also noted the need to review experiences with the 15-year old Boy Scout Archaeology Merit Badge and to consider recommending possible modifications to the Boy Scouts.

Finally, at the Annual Meeting the SAA formerly voted to support the Second Annual National Archaeology Day scheduled for October 20, 2012.  Initiated by the Archaeological Institute of America, and with five months to go before the actual event, the list of sponsoring organizations for 2012 is already double that of 2011.  Supporters include the National Park Service, thus allowing its 400 parks across the United States to feature special archaeology programs on October 20 through lectures, special exhibits, and other events.  National Archaeology Day is a perfect opportunity to highlight cultural heritage preservation issues.  You can register as a supporting organization and start planning to hold special activities.  The National Archaeology Day website has more information about the event.

Do you have an additional public education or outreach experience from the SAA meetings to share?