Tag: prehistory

Participatory Archaeology – More Than a Hands-On Gig

Top Down Authority Interpretive Model. Adapted from Parker Palmer, The Courage to Teach, p. 100, Fig. 4.1, 1998.

Okay – this is a real get up on my soapbox and preach posting – kind of a continuation of last week, so here goes.  In every college level course I teach, the first day of class I go over some ground rules.  One is that I understand there are two different types of learning.  The first is the one shown here, as adapted from Parker Palmer’s book The Courage to Teach.  This top down approach is where the instructor is the intermediary between the great thing being studied and the student.  The student only gets access to the great thing through the professor.  In this way, the professor plays a role like a traditional shaman or Roman Catholic priest intervening with the spirit world.  I let students know I don’t approach education in this way.  I let them know they will all have speaking parts in the class, like it or not.

The second model of learning I pose, is also adapted from Palmer (illustrated in last week’s post).  In this model everyone has equal access to the great thing.  The instructor’s job is to facilitate that access.

So how do these two learning models come back to Archaeology, Museums and Outreach?  Let me pose an example – headless figurines of the Poverty Point culture.  Conventional wisdom has it that these 3500 year old artifacts may represent female fertility symbols and that they are all female.  But for a whole bunch of reasons, that dog won’t hunt.  During show and tell classroom visits, I often posed the question to grade school students – What do you think these figurines are all about?  The answer I got from a 5th grade girl in Lafayette Louisiana best accommodates the archaeological data.  Our exchange went something like this:

Archaeologist – So what do you think these headless figurines are all about?

5th Grader – They didn’t have camera’s back then did they?

Archaeologist – No they did not.

5th Grader – Well maybe instead of having a picture on the mantle of their grandma or grandpa who lived far away, they kept this statue and when the person died they broke the head off because they were dead.

Archaeologist – Hmmm . . . that sounds like a pretty good idea.  I like it.  Has anybody else got any other ideas?

. . . and the fact is, the 5th graders response better accounts for the actual presence of the figurines in the archaeological record than the conventional wisdom passed along by archaeologists.

In the top down teaching method, if the question is even asked, the teacher would not validate the 5th grade girl’s response but would steer the discussion back to conventional wisdom.  The integrative approach allows, invites, relies on, and mandates the 5th grader to engage.

I find in archaeology that we struggle with how to make that engagement truly reciprocal and integrate the visitor into the experience.  How do we move from a simple hands-on experience that is often just a gimmick to get more people to visit our institutions to a true participatory experience where the 5th grader becomes a stakeholder in the cultural heritage of the built environment where they live?  How do we validate and engage the 5th graders response to the question?

The memory stations where visitors leave their impressions has become a popular means to create at least the illusion of participation.  However, what do we do with all of those post-it notes when the boards start to fill up?  On those boards, how do we distinguish between the 5th grade girls response that I perceive as of value, and an interpretation that I do not consider of value?

For the Poverty Point site, Debbie Buco a TAG (talented and gifted teacher) from the Baton Rouge Louisiana school system composed a fabulous classroom activity volume, Poverty Point Expeditions,  that uses the archaeology of the site to teach a range of subjects in the K-12 system.  In those activities students create stories, artifacts, conduct ethnoarchaeology experiments and more.  Over the years, the results of several student projects from this volume produce results that rival the conventional wisdom of professional archaeologists, like my 5th grade example above.  Where does all this stuff end up?

Here is one solution I saw of late – The University of Memphis Art Museum  recently installed a temporary exhibit of the well-known architect Paul R. Williams.  In one adjoining gallery a Department of Architecture Masters degree project presentation was hung.  In a second adjacent gallery, the architecture projects from the Coro Lake Elementary school in Southwest Memphis were on display.  Three exhibits that show the architectural skills from the elementary school to the professional.  A very cool idea.

I am struck that our true challenge is to take the folks we do outreach with from individuals with a passing interest with whom we occasionally engage in archaeology day or hands-on activities and move them to becoming true stakeholders in the cultural heritage of their built environments.

Off of soapbox.

Your thoughts?

Community Outreach with the Bamburgh Research Project

This week’s post features an interview with Rachael Barnwell of the Bamburgh Research Project.  A village of about 500 in Northumberland, Bamburgh is on the northeast coast of England.  In addition to a website, the Project hosts a blog and Facebook page along with an online video presence.  The Project has a strong public outreach orientation to the Bamburgh community.  This perspective was emphasized to me when Rachael corrected my initial reference to the Bamburgh Castle Research Project noting that the Project extended beyond the Castle to the entire community.  When you read Ms. Barnewell’s comments below you will quickly understand why her clarification is wholly appropriate and necessary.  The Bamburgh Research Project provides an exemplary example of engaging a community in archaeological research.

Tell us a bit about your own background and your overall responsibilities at the Bamburgh Research Project (BRP)?

I first came into contact with the BRP as a student in 2004, when I spent two weeks learning about archaeology prior to beginning my undergraduate degree at the University of Wales. I returned in 2007 while working on my undergrad dissertation about narrative in archaeology. Since June 2009 I’ve worked as the Project Administrator. During the excavation season I manage the day-to-day operation of the site, as well as the online presence of the BRP. Out of season I work alongside our Directors and other staff to develop the outreach of the project.

What do you consider your most successful recent effort to take the BRP’s work out to the surrounding community?

There are two strands we have been developing. The first is closer links with schools. In particular we have been lucky enough to collaborate with Brian Cosgrove of Hirst Park School in Ashington, Northumberland, who runs a video production club led by pupils aged ten and over. The pupils from Hirst Park have come to site to make a video about the project which will be distributed to schools within the region as a DVD, and also online. The aim is to encourage participation and increase awareness of the variety of educational opportunities enabled by our archaeological research.

The idea is that this DVD will quickly allow pupils and staff from other schools in the region to understand what we do and how they can get involved.  We are also involved with Caroline Park of Bede Academy School in Blyth, Northumberland. She has taken reports and resources we have supplied from our archives to create curriculum focused coursework based on the Anglo Saxon cemetery in the Bowl Hole (note human remains visible on this link). These lesson plans, which take a CSI-style format, will soon be available for anyone to download. Both schools are now collaborating, and we aim to build further on the classroom and video work with some site visits and practical work in the following year.  This model will bring benefits to all of the other schools in the region. The thinking behind it was that our outreach was designed to enable schools to generate their own content based on resources and guidance that we provide. They can tailor our information to suit the educational needs they have.

The second strand of successful outreach has been to contact individuals and organisations locally, in the region and nationally to invite collaborations on a variety of topics. We have had PhD students conducting a survey of public opinion about the excavation, care, and display of human remains, and we have been working with David Ross, a highly experienced metal detectorist who has been working closely with archaeologists for many years. In terms of larger organisations we have made efforts to increase awareness of our project amongst museums, English Heritage, and professional archaeological bodies, inviting them to visit the excavations and to offer us advice.  Being seen to be inclusive at this level increases professional links and often results in further collaboration. As an independent project it is essential that we engage the archaeological community in the widest sense. This has also included writing articles for popular archaeology magazines and online magazines.

What do you consider your most successful recent effort to bring the surrounding community to the site?

This summer, we’ve organized a series of free public lectures designed to keep local people up to date with the work we’ve been doing throughout the Bamburgh landscape. As well as the ongoing excavations in the West Ward of Bamburgh Castle, we’ve been involved in a pilot scheme in the Bradford Kaimes, a wetland area in the hinterland of the castle. We also wanted to speak about the most recent findings of Dr Sarah Groves, who is due to publish her recent work on the Bowl Hole cemetery.

These events were well attended and generated a lot of very positive feedback from the community. They also helped make the project more accessible to people who want to approach us about our work. Members of local history groups were able to speak to us directly about how they might get more involved with the project. We were also approached by a member of the Parish Council after one lecture, who has since invited us to become part of a broader community participation programme that is currently under development in the area.

How has your public outreach approach evolved over time at the BRP?

Our first efforts were community participation projects involving field walking and digging test pits in people’s gardens in the village. This was funded by a small grant from the HLF Local Heritage Initiative.  Our website also has evolved form a text heavy site that was rarely updated, to a functional, clear site with local links and also a link to our daily blog.

The blog itself was an experiment for us this year. We also started a regularly updated Facebook group and Twitter feeds for different elements of the project. Accessing and using these social media has certainly raised the online profile of the project; we’ve had some very positive and also very constructive feedback about our posts and entries that we are using to further develop and tweak our outreach approaches.

What has been your experience in being inclusive of descendent voices in Bamburgh? Is this at all a contested issue in British archaeology?

Firstly, descendant voices are not as central an issue in British archaeology as in other parts of the world especially when compared to places like the US and Canada. However, this is not to say that the issue is non-existent. Recent archaeologies of minority communities and groups within the UK have had to engage with descendant voices. In addition, the museums into which archaeological collections enter are for the most part very conscious of the collections’ source / originating communities, both in antiquity and in the present day and must navigate the complexities of representation in negotiation with these groups.

Having said that, with regards to the Bamburgh area in particular, we’ve had no issues at all to date. The site and the associated human remains from the Bowl Hole have not been at all controversial in terms of descendant voices.

What has been your biggest disaster to date, that you want to talk about in your Public Outreach work at the BRP?

Bamburgh Castle and the BRP are very attractive to television programs: the location and the work are both enthralling. Just this season we’ve had the BBC’s Digging for Britain team and Channel 4’s Time Team film with us. In our experience, the resultant programs are either very, very good – as with BBC 2’s Meet the Ancestors, broadcast in the UK in 2001 – or very, very bad.

The Discovery Channel’s Bone Detectives episode about Bamburgh is an unfortunate example of the latter. The narrative of the episode took a lot of liberties with the information the BRP provided to the crew! In addition, staff interviews were very heavily edited so that comments we made fit with the program’s story. They often reflected negatively on the project’s staff and their work.

We certainly learned from that experience, though, and are a lot savvier about how we handle film crews now! We were happy to host the film crews who visited us this year, and are looking forward to seeing the finished programs over the next few months.

How do you currently use Social Media at the BRP?

This year is the first year that social media has been used at the BRP. During the season we wanted to blog the archaeology ‘as it happened’ so that people following us could keep up to date with our discoveries. Our plan is to continue with this in the post-excavation season, so that readers can follow the archaeological process all the way through. This is an ongoing experiment for us, and we’re looking forward to seeing how it works.

We also have a Facebook group and a Twitter feed that people can use to keep track of us. At the moment, our usage of these media is admittedly not particularly well developed; we use them mostly as signposts to the blog. However, I have found that we reach two entirely different groups of people through Facebook and Twitter that a website or blog alone would not reach. With further investigation, and with a bit of research, I’m hoping that we can start to use these media more innovatively and effectively.

Finally, we have a Flickr account. I hope to start uploading and labeling some of the photographs we’ve taken this season to the account in the next few weeks – there are rather a lot of them, so I expect it will take some time! As well as making the activities of the project more accessible, we’re hoping that the Flickr pages will encourage discussions of the archaeology among users.

What do you anticipate to be your next steps in continuing public outreach for the project?

In the short to mid-term, we hope to build on the outreach successes of this season by becoming more involved in and connected with the Bamburgh community. We also hope to continue with our public lectures out of season. The blog will continue out of season, and, I hope, will continue to grow and adapt.

Looking more long-term, we’d really like to get a virtual / eco-museum up and running. This is, as ever, quite dependant on funding!

What do you anticipate to be the future role of social media at the project?

We’re hoping to develop our use of social media to be more innovative and more effective; we really want our social media to work well both for us and the people we’re trying to reach.

One of the ways we hope to do this is to develop a virtual museum project, using the eco-museum concept as a guideline for development. This would involve creating an accessible archive of the project’s work to date. From this, we want to create a searchable database for people to use to find out more about what we do. As we currently lack a physical exhibition space of our own, we would then like to use Open Source software and systems to develop a virtual exhibit of some of our work.

However, we don’t want consider ‘social media’ to be an exclusively technological, Internet-based concept. We’d like social media to be about the media we work with in social settings; baring in mind that the local community has an aging demographic, we’d like arts, crafts and other more ‘hands on’ activities for form a large part of what we do. Furthermore, we hope these activities will really get people together, and generate a real heritage community.

Any wise words of wisdom on how you promote the Bamburgh Research Project that other museums or archaeologists might find helpful?

For me it always comes back to one thing – talk to and listen to the people you want to engage and don’t be afraid to try new things, or think in new ways.

You should also bear in mind that while we live in a digital age, there are still ways to connect with people that don’t involve cables!

Public Outreach in North Carolina Archaelogy

The Research Laboratories of Archaeology lives within the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  A pretty highfalutin sounding title and not necessarily a place one might immediately go looking for public outreach or teacher resources in archaeology.  Regardless, the site has a lot to offer. The Who We Are page lists the most recent accomplishments of the RLA and all deal with production or publication of educational materials geared at the K-12 level.

One of the most compelling resources is the Intrigue of the Past lesson plans geared to the 4th – 8th grade levels.  The five sections include Fundamental Concepts, The Process of Archaeology, North Carolina’s First People, Shadows of People, and Issues in Archaeology.  Chapters within the sections range from the culture history of Native Peoples, ethics, rock art, artifact analysis, archaeology as a career, to name a few.  The set of lesson plans are comprehensive and for the most part hands-on or participatory in nature to engage student involvement.  The total package of lesson plans is a useful guide for similar projects in other institutions or regions.

Other unique offerings on the site include a 2009 on-line course for teachers, Archaeology and North Carolina’s First Peoples taught by Theresa McReynolds through the Continuing Education Program at the University of North Carolina.  As described on the link “This online course explores the science of archaeology and 12,000 years of North Carolina’s human past. Participants will be introduced to inquiry-based activities that can be adapted to meet their own teaching objectives.”  The course runs 8 weeks and requires 5-7 hour per week commitment.  The course sounds like an excellent model to equip public school teachers with archaeology basics for classroom instruction.   Hopefully, this course will be ongoing.

The RLA site also has locally produced videos that explore different archaeological concepts such as stratigraphy.

Perhaps the most engaging part of the site is the electronic excavation of the 18th Century Native American Occaneechi site.  Though somewhat static and without the bells and whistles often associated with on-line edutainment today, the scope, detail, and value of the excercise are impressive.

The site has a set of links to other resources, a slide show on the 2009 Archaeology Day, links also to academic course offerings, field schools and recent research projects in the state, although this latter link is somewhat dated.

Of note, the Collections Page contains a series of pdf files of catalogs for artifacts curated by the RLA along with associated records such as black and white photos and color slides – something many state facilities are moving toward, but few have accomplished.

The site can be a bit confusing to navigate.  For example, with the link to the on-line course noted above, I am not certain how I got there the first time but the only way I refound the page was by going back through my browser history.  It seems that there are multiple links leading to the same thing – not a huge issue but a bit confusing.  There are no links or discussion of descendant voices save a few several year old articles on Cherokee Potters.

The RLA page is an impressive resource for North Carolina and a model of creative ideas for the rest of us.

Society for Georgia Archaeology, Public Outreach

A few weeks ago I posted about the Louisiana Division of Archaeology website and the wealth of online information they offer.  Louisiana is not unique in their breadth of offerings.  I find that in most states, their respective archaeological organizations provide an increasing amount of on-line information to the public.  Most state sites offer schedules of upcoming events, brochures and information about major sites and museums in the area, along with a listing of the programs and services available through the agency.  Also, these state archaeological agencies usually each contribute some unique online resource to the public.  In Louisiana, the unique offerings included their excellent mound trail driving brochure and teacher guides.

The Society for Georgia Archaeology website follows a similar trend.  In addition to including many of the offerings common to archaeological  agencies in other states, Georgia also provides several unique offerings.  One of the most unique is information about the their archaeobus that takes archaeology to the public throughout Georgia.  Rita Elliott, Curator of Exhibits and Archaeology at the Coastal Heritage Society in Georgia gave an excellent presentation on the archaeobus at the 2009 Southeastern Archaeological Conference in Mobile, Alabama.  The archaeobus is a transformed Bookmobile retired from a county regional library.  The archaeobus web link documents the transformation process, including the expense involved, and evaluates the initial phase of the project.

The SGA website also has detailed lesson plans for download and use in the classroom.  Topics include the Mississippian mound complex at Etowah and the Removal of Native Americans from Georgia to Oklahoma in the 1800s.  The SGA website also provides links to other institution’s lesson plans such as at Springfield, the Free African-American Community founded around the time of the Revolutionary War.

The SGA website also contains the 128 page Archaeology in the Classroom: For Teachers by Teachers available free for download.

My favorite unique contribution on the SGA website is the Weekly Ponder column.  Now in its second year, the column provides updates on archaeological site excavations, preservation issues, discusses the veracity of historic documents, and current trends in archaeology, to name but a few of the topics covered.

The SGA site has links to volunteer opportunities, guides for preserving historic cemeteries, book reviews, summaries of the prehistoric periods in Georgia, Science Fair information, links for kids, along with the typical information found on most state archaeology websites.

The Society for Georgia Archaeology website is well-maintained and regularly updated – I found no broken links or pages that were months out of date.  The SGA website is an excellent “one-stop-shopping” site for bringing archaeology to the public in Georgia.  The website would benefit from inclusion, or at least linking to, descendent voices, principally of the Native American communities.

Do you have a favorite website that brings archaeology and museums to the public?

SunWatch Indian Village & Public Outreach

In today’s post we have a Q & A with Andy Sawyer, Site Manager of the SunWatch Indian Village and Archaeological Park, near Dayton, Ohio.  I have long been impressed that SunWatch runs an effective outreach program and now leads the way in the inclusion of descendent voices in the programming of the site.  I asked Andy to share a bit about himself and the SunWatch program.

Tell us a bit about your own background and your overall responsibilities at SunWatch.

I am an Anthropologist who specializes in Archaeology.  I have a BA in Anthropology from Miami University and an MA from the University of Denver. In my career as a student and practicing archaeologist I have had the opportunity to work in many parts of the US.  Prior to coming to SunWatch I worked for several years in Cultural Resource Management throughout the western US.  At SunWatch I am responsible for the day to day operation of a partially reconstructed 800 year old American Indian village and museum that covers the lives of the American Indians who occupied this region almost 300 years before Columbus reached the shores of the “New World.”

What do you consider your most successful recent effort to bring the surrounding community to SunWatch?

One of the things about a small museum such as ours is that we do not have the space or the funding to bring in many traveling exhibits.  Thanks to the support of local donors, however, since 2007 we have offered an annual presentation series that covers topics of local and national interest on archaeology and issues important to the American Indian community.  Our first series in 2007 averaged 42 people per presentation and in 2009 we averaged 92 people per presentation.  We just started our fourth presentation series a few weeks ago and the attendance was 94.  These series have given us a chance to offer something new to the visitors.

That’s a pretty impressive increase in attendance. How do you account for the success?

We have focused on unique topics and have been lucky to have supportive donors that have allowed us to keep new subject matter on the table.  We also have “word of mouth” promoting as we have numerous regulars to the series over the last few years that share with folks they know and bring new people out. Also, I really think targeting the groups that have an interest in specific presentations or topics is a good strategy.  And of course, offering these programs free of charge doesn’t hurt either.

What has been your experience in being inclusive of descendent voices at the SunWatch Village?

Our experience over the last several years has been incredibly positive.  As you are likely aware, archaeologists and American Indians have not always had a good relationship, in fact in some cases it has been just outright confrontational.  When I first suggested to our organization that I wanted to contact the most visible American Indian group in the Dayton area about collaborating on events they were a bit skeptical.  In the past this American Indian organization had been critical of activities at SunWatch on multiple occasions. Part of the issues, I think, in the past was a lack of communication.  I contacted them, invited them in for a talk, and we are going on our 4th year of hosting their Pow Wow and collaborating on other events including a clothing and school supplies drive for various reservations.  So from my perspective it has been an entirely positive experience.

How do you currently use Social Media at SunWatch Village?

About a year ago we started a Facebook page for SunWatch which was our first, and still only venture into using social media outlets.  So far it seems to be a good way to get information about SunWatch and our upcoming events out to our “Fans” who have signed up.  It also seems to be a good way for our “Fans” to spread the word.  Many of our fans share our updates with their Friends helping to spread the word even further.  Some of the organizations that help us organize events, such as the Miami Valley Council for Native Americans and the Miami Valley Flute Circle, both American Indian based groups, also have their own Facebook or MySpace pages. So when these groups post info about events on Facebook they are also helping expose more people to SunWatch.

What do you anticipate will be the future role of social media at SunWatch Village?

Since we are still relatively new to this, and social media is relatively new itself, we are not sure exactly what role this will play for us in the future.  For now though it seems to be a promising way for us to reach those who are already aware of us and perhaps many more that are not… yet.

Any wise words of wisdom on how you promote SunWatch Village that other museums or archaeologists might find helpful?

Identify your audience(s).  As a non-profit we have a limited budget especially when it comes to promotions.  Part of what we have tried to do is identify people who we already know will have an interest in our events and finding ways to let them know what is going on.  The groups that we have identified include local historical societies, archaeological interest groups, Native interest groups, and others.  These organizations typically have newsletters and/or e-mail lists through which they can let their membership know about upcoming events of interest so they can help us promote our events to their members.  Last year our presentation series was on Archaeoastronomy so we contacted local astronomy organizations to let them know about the presentations and we had a great response.  This year our first presentation was on shipwreck archaeology in the Great Lakes, so we contacted a local Scuba group, and we started off with a bang again.  While we still use more traditional advertising/marketing strategies, targeting our efforts in this way helps us make sure we get the word out to people who we know are interested.

You can email Andy or visit SunWatch village on-line at www.sunwatch.org or on Facebook.  Be certain to check out SunWatch Village when you are traveling through Southwest Ohio.  In fact, Southwest Ohio has a bounty of Native American cultural resources from the prehistoric era including the Fort Ancient site and Miami Fort – both open to the public.

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