An invitation to participate in Military Archaeological Resources Stewardship

Whenever I meet someone for the first time, inevitably the question of what I do for a living comes up. When I tell them that I work for the U.S. Army as a Federal Archaeologist I am usually asked the question “why would the U.S. Army need an archaeologist?” My mischievous side usually comes out at this point and I respond with an outlandish tale about how the government is embarking upon a daring new counterinsurgency program where they are trying to acquire the lost Ark of the Covenant before our enemies find it and use it against us. After a puzzled look, the eventual recognition of the reworked plot line and, finally, the overwhelming realization that I’m being facetious, I explain to them what section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act is and that the Department of Defense (DoD) has a very robust cultural resources program, managing over 111,000 archaeological sites on 25 million acres. While it’s not as romantic or adventurous as the Indiana Jonesesque tale, most find what I do interesting and can tell that I absolutely love my job.

The DoD cultural resources program seems to be one of those well kept secrets that the CIA could take a lesson from, as I am often surprised to find that there are archaeologists that do not know that we exist. Archaeology students and professors, alike, are often times shocked to discover that many military installations have artifact curation facilities, with collections representing sites from numerous types of contexts ranging from Paleo-Indian to 20th century historic occupations. And they are even more surprised to find that installation archaeologists are more than willing to open those collections to other archaeologists for study and, on some occasions, provide funding to help facilitate the research. If you just so happen to be a student looking for a topic for your master’s thesis or doctoral dissertation, contacting the cultural resources manager at your nearest military installation may be worth considering.

My job can be multifaceted and I am even surprised by the range of opportunities that I have available to me. For instance, the U.S. Army provided me the opportunity to attend the Leicester meeting in January, along with my colleague, Chris McDaid (Cultural Resources Manager with joint base Langley/Fort Eustis, VA) to conduct a workshop entitled “An Introduction to Cultural Property Protection of Historical and Post-Medieval Archaeological Sites during Military Operations” highlighting the U.S. Military’s own heritage management programs, the international framework for cultural property protection, how archaeologists can communicate information to military planners effectively, and reviews of several case studies involving military operations and cultural property protection. This is a topic that has become near and dear to me. The issue began long before I entered employment with the U.S. Army and encompasses much more than the section 106 process.

During the first year of the Iraq War it became apparent that the U.S. Military was unaware of the archaeological sensitivity of the environment in which they were operating. After several set backs on the military’s part, many concerned DoD archaeologists stepped up, led by my colleague here at Fort Drum, Dr. Laurie Rush, to provide guidance on protecting cultural property while conducting military operations overseas. The turning point came in March of 2009 when the United States Government deposited the instruments of ratification for the 1954 Hague Convention on the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict with the U.N. beginning a new chapter in the Department of Defense’s cultural heritage protection. This new mandate, however, has yet to be fully implemented since the military hierarchy is still trying to determine the best way to proceed. Unfortunately, the wheels of government turn slowly. Regardless, there has been a small grass root like effort, on the part of those same concerned DoD archaeologists, to organize a group to take the lead on issues and initiatives that will, in the long run, assist in implementing the Convention. This group is known as the Combatant Command Cultural Heritage Action Group (CCHAG), of which I am a proud participant. To find more information on the CCHAG please visit the website at

The protection of cultural property during military operations presents a particular challenge. Unlike the Department of Defense’s domestic cultural resources management program, the military cannot survey every place overseas where such operations take place. There simply is neither enough time nor resources to do so. For example, when the earth quake struck Haiti on January 12, 2010, the U.S. military deployed units in the humanitarian effort that followed. The response was quick and effective. While there was no damage to Haitian cultural property by U.S. Military forces, the fact remains there was no time for a section 106 like process to proceed before humanitarian relief efforts, debris removal, and reconstruction could begin. So what is to be done to prevent inadvertent damage from occurring in the future?

There is a solution. First, our fighting men and women need to be made aware of this issue. Training at every level is needed. Currently, several training modules are being introduced at the Training and Doctrination Command (TRADOC) to teach enlisted soldiers about cultural property. However, the upper echelon needs to be indoctrinated into these concerns as well. Currently, curricula for Commanding General Staff College and the War College have been developed and implementation will begin soon. However, Cultural Property Protection during military operations, like all legal and ethical obligations, should be inculcated in our military leadership from the very beginning of their careers. For this we need YOUR help.

You read this correctly, I am asking for your help. The CCHAG is calling for experts with research experience from all over the world to teach ROTC cadets and midshipmen about the importance of Cultural Property Protection (CPP) in conflict areas and during disaster response missions. The goal of the course is to incorporate CPP into university-based ROTC programs, demonstrating its intrinsic value and its relevance in a military context. We are asking archaeologists and related professionals to volunteer their time for students in a local ROTC program, to present a pre-packaged lecture supplemented by personal expertise, experiences, and anecdotes. You may request this material by sending me an email at and you will receive, via mail, a flash drive with the lecture materials stored on it.

The second part of the solution involves getting site location information into the hands of military planners. The CCHAG has been working on this problem and are aware of the challenges. However, the solution calls for subject matter experts (SME) willing to share their knowledge with us. This became abundantly clear just prior to the U.S. led NATO air strikes in Libya in early 2011. When it became apparent that these strikes were to take place, the U.S. Committee on the Blue Shield contacted specialists in Libyan archaeology concerned with the potential destruction of archaeological sites. Within 36 hours of President Obama’s announcement of U.S. involvement, the Defense Intelligence Agency had a list of archaeologically sensitive locations, which was then shared with U.S. and NATO targeteers as a “No Strike” list. These locations were spared during the NATO bombardment that followed. This success would not have been possible without the help of the various committees on the Blue Shield, the U.S. State Department, and most importantly, academic archaeologist willing to share this information. Please see

The CCHAG recognizes that this is a successful model that can be duplicated in the future. However this requires that we coordinate with SMEs. The CCHAG believes the best way to identify these individuals is through the various professional archaeological societies. Therefore, we have approached the Archaeological Institute of America and they have responded by forming the Cultural Heritage by AIA Military Panel or CHAMP, which is dedicated to improving awareness among deploying military personnel regarding the culture and history of local communities in host countries and war zones. Furthermore, the Society for American Archaeology has responded with the formation of the Military Archaeological Resources Stewardship interest group or MARS, of which I now serve as the chairperson. This group’s goals are simple: to create and facilitate a dialogue between DoD archaeologists and the academy. Being an historic archaeologist I felt that it was natural for this group to reach out to the Society for Historical Archaeology. My goal is for MARS to sponsor symposia, forums, field trips and workshops with the SAA and I hope to do the same with the SHA.

I invite you to participate in this important endeavor. Contact me! Or at the very least, look for me, MARS, and the CCHAG at the next SHA meeting in Quebec. Hopefully, Chris McDaid and I will be there conducting a similar workshop and, perhaps, a sponsored symposia with a few of our colleagues. If you see me, stop me and ask; I would love to talk with you … archaeologist to archaeologist.

Missed Opportunities: Engaging Adults at Public Archaeology Days

Last week, Melissa Timo’s excellent blog discussed how the second annual celebration of National Archaeology Day is taking place at a time when public education and outreach in archaeology is more important than ever before. In the current fiscal climate, budget cuts have dealt harsh blows to historic preservation agencies, including the well-publicized recent closing of the Georgia State Archives and cuts to Parks Canada. At the same time, there has been a great deal of discussion within the archaeological community regarding the appropriate response(s) to several artifacts-for-profit themed television shows (on the SHA Blog, it has been discussed many times). Now more than ever, it is important to think critically about how we are engaging the public and to what end.

Archaeology days, in all their various permutations, have been a main point-of-contact between archaeologists and the general public. As an archaeologist/educator/mom, I have taken my family to several archaeology-themed public events; and—as a mom—I am totally thrilled when I see my girls really excited and interested in hands-on educational activities. As an educator and archaeologist, I tend to look a little more critically at the exhibits presented and the objectives of the activities. This, in addition to my husband’s stated impression that many presenters often seem more focused on informing other archaeologists about their work, has recently led me to consider the overall objective of public archaeology events.

In discussing this blog with my husband—my ‘representative sample’ of the general public—he said it was his impression that, although archaeologists clearly are passionate about their work and are trying to communicate their discoveries, they often leave out portions that would make it accessible to the public. I think it’s likely that my husband’s impressions from a variety of public archaeology day events represent the message unintentionally being sent to the majority of the general public. This is something we should seriously consider, especially since many of these public education events take place at major tourist sites or museum facilities. What terrific venues and terrific opportunities to inform a large audience about the importance of context, the precision of the work we do, the science of archaeology!

It seems, with the prevalence of television shows glorifying the more lucrative aspects of antiquities and artifacts, we should be trying to communicate some important messages to the general public, including an emphasis on the importance of preserving context through the use of appropriate scientific methodology and the knowledge that can be gained from everyday “garbage”—the kinds of artifacts, like ceramic sherds or faunal remains, that most for-profit shows would disregard completely. At every public archaeology event I’ve attended, there have been lots of hands-on activities meant to engage kids and excite them about archaeology—but are we engaging and educating the adults in equal fashion? I’m not sure we as professionals give a great deal of thought to the outcomes of our programs, especially in regards to what key ‘take away’ points are being communicated to adults. Perhaps the main questions we should be asking are: what should the overall message of a public archaeology day be? What do we want the public to learn? It is easy to engage kids in excavation activities, but how are we engaging the adult participants?

As an Educator for the Museum of the Grand Prairie here in Mahomet, Illinois, I had an opportunity recently to implement some of these ideas. I was asked to coordinate archaeology activities for our annual Prairie Stories fall event, which in this case meant tying the activities to the Museum’s mission of interpreting the natural and cultural history of Champaign County and East Central Illinois.

With Susan Kooiman’s guidance, children were encouraged to sort their “finds” into categories and record the artifacts by counting and drawing them on sheets of paper.


We used archaeology activities in part to discuss with our audience how we use archaeology to learn about people who have lived in our region in the past. Some colleagues from the Illinois State Archaeological Survey (ISAS) kindly leant their assistance, as well, and with their help we were able to present quite a comprehensive picture of archaeological methodology.

With Susan Kooiman’s guidance, children were encouraged to sort their “finds” into categories and record the artifacts by counting and drawing them on sheets of paper.

We included several hands-on activities aimed at a young audience, including an excavation activity where children could record their “finds” and a hugely popular “washing artifacts” activity.

My younger daughter assists at the “washing artifacts” activity. (Having spent hours in the lab washing artifacts, I never would have thought it an interesting job, but at my daughters’ suggestion I included it. Of course, it was one of the hits of the day!)

However, many of the posters and displays at other stations were meant to engage and inform adults, as well. A seed-sorting activity which included corn, pumpkin, bean, and sunflower seeds with accompanying displays gave adults an opportunity to read and learn about archaeobotany while their children identified and categorized seeds that might have been used by local indigenous peoples. Flintknapping and faunal stations displaying how indigenous groups in the region used natural resources provoked discussion about experimental archaeology, while an activity allowing the general public to try an atlatl (spear-throwing tool) allowed adults as well as older kids an opportunity for some hands-on learning.

Steve Keuhn teaches my daughter how to use an atlatl to throw a replica spear.

A mending activity also engaged both adults and children, while offering an opportunity to discuss the importance of context and the value of commonplace artifacts in learning about their past owners’ everyday lives, while an excellent display from ISAS used stacking trays to illustrate stratigraphy, showing various occupation levels from the Archaic Period through the present day.

We sanded the edges of modern ceramics for a mending activity that appealed to both adults and children.

Eve Hargrave, Public Engagement Coordinator for ISAS, explains stratigraphy to a family group.

Overall, I think we worked hard to engage both adults and children about what we do as archaeologists, and why our work is important. I think most people enjoyed themselves; it is my hope that they also left thinking about the science of archaeology and the careful precision with which we do our work. In planning the archaeological portion of the event, I wish I’d started with more specific outcomes in mind. I would have liked to provide information for the public on how they can get involved in archaeology locally and how to report a find. To this end, I think next year’s event should include representatives from the Illinois Association for the Advancement of Archaeology, an association of both professional and avocational archaeologists, to spread the word about how interested citizen-scientists can learn about and participate in local archaeological activities.

Reflecting on this activity has also allowed me to identify some goals in working towards future public archaeology events. These overall goals include clearly stated objectives like: 1) explaining how participants can get involved in local archaeology, 2) identifying steps private landowners should take if artifacts are found, and 3) educating participants about the scientific methodology archaeologists use to preserve information and context. A holistic presentation meant to tie together the individual displays might help to give context to individual hands-on activities and presentations, as well.

What are your thoughts? How has your organization approached public education and outreach events? Do you think it’s important to identify learning objectives for the general public? Please let me know your ideas in the comments below!

“I Remember, I Believe”: A Documentary

“I Remember, I Believe” is a video documentary that tells the story of the Avondale Burial Place. This unmarked burial ground was discovered by the Georgia Department of Transportation during planning for the Sardis Church Road extension project and was recovered, analyzed, and relocated by New South Associates. The cemetery contained the remains of 101 African Americans, most of who were buried in the late 19th century during the era of tenant agriculture. Analysis of the skeletal remains and grave goods testify to the harsh conditions experienced by African American tenant farmers, conditions that led to the Great Migration and African Americans departure from the South for jobs in the industrialized cities of the Northeast, Midwest, and West. Through archival and genealogical research, the project team was able to identify descendants of the burial community, who were consulted during the project, interacted with the archaeological team, and commemorated the relocated cemetery. DNA testing has confirmed the connections between these families and the burial community. The video documentary chronicles this process, in addition to telling the story of those who were buried at the Avondale Burial Place.

Information on the project, as well as copies of the technical reports (found under the Reports tab on the News page) may be obtained from the project website –