Incidental Archaeotourism: Lessons from “Stumbling Upon” in St. Augustine

by Sarah Bennett

The Archaeology

Under the direction of Kathy Deagan and Gifford Waters from the University of Florida, a crew of seven archaeologists returned to St. Augustine this spring to excavate at the Fountain of Youth (FOY) and Mission Nombre de Dios. 2014 excavations at FOY focused on locating and, with archaeological providence, delineating a series of wall trenches potentially related to the 1565 Pedro Menéndez de Avilés encampment. Previous field seasons yielded wall trenches running primarily east-west; however, a portion of the wall appeared to turn northward and we moved to an area of FOY not yet studied by Dr. Deagan.

First day of the 2014 FOY field season

In 2011, Gifford Waters and a crew from UF unearthed coquina and tabby foundations at Mission Nombre de Dios. The architectural remains, paired with historical documentation, suggested that they found the Mission church built in 1677. Returning three years later, we worked toward exposing the architectural features—the wall foundations, partition walls, and a tabby floor—before excavating areas within or outside of the possible church.

First day orientation at the Mission with Gifford

The Places and the Public

The 2014 crew left to right, back to front: Janet Jordan (in the orange), Alysia Leon, Greg Smith, Tommy Abood, Sarah Bennett (me!), Kathy Deagan, Linda Chandler, David Underwood, and (invisible) Gifford Waters

Although no overt public archaeology component existed during field work, the crew anticipated and encouraged public interaction. Diverse in backgrounds, each crew member possessed formal training or experience in public archaeology (thanks, NAI Certified Interpretive Guide program and the Florida Public Archaeology Network NERC!) or informal, yet sustaining, forms of public education and interpretation. These experiences proved invaluable as work at both sites inevitably led to constant (and utterly wonderful) interaction with the public.

FOY, where boat building

St. Augustine draws about 2 million visitors annually. What are two tourist destinations in the city? FOY and the Mission! FOY, a living history park, celebrates the legacy of Juan Ponce de Leon as well as the Pedro Menéndez Spanish encampment and features a variety of exhibits and points of interest throughout the 15 waterfront acres. Included amidst the Planetarium, peacocks, atlatl practices, reenactments, and other historical experiences is the archaeology of the park. Tourist interest in visiting the Fountain of Youth due to its archaeological heritage is debatable; however, it is certain that FOY incorporates archaeological excavations and interpretation at the site, particularly in the form of interpretive signage and those announcing archaeology in action!, in addition to outlines in an open field. These outlines represent the walls of various structures associated with the 1565 Menéndez encampment. Although one of many historical and educational components at FOY, archaeology fuels the tourist experience.

and peacocks abound

Mission Nombre de Dios commemorates the first Mass and introduction of Christianity in Florida as well as the Franciscan mission of Nombre de Dios (1587-1763) — the first and longest-lived Spanish mission. Visitors to the grounds include locals and tourists. Like FOY, the Mission rests next to the water, encouraging serene reflections and contemplations amidst the Great Cross, the Rustic Altar, the Our Lady of La Leche Shrine and Chapel, and other points of interest. Among the statues and crosses, churches, chapels, and gravestones is information about missions in La Florida and signs interpreting previous archaeological work conducted by UF. Though acknowledged on signs, visitors to the site rarely realize the magnitude of what lies beneath their soles. The archaeologists’ presence, along with the culmination of five weeks of excavating trenches, drew considerable attention.

Lunchtime serenity

The Lessons

Public archaeology served as a critical component of the 2014 field season because of the places we worked and the nature of St. Augustine. Interacting with tourists and the general public has always served as a central component of archaeology in the city. During the era of UF field schools at these sites, being “public” was a rotating, assigned task. Similarly, public archaeology (often incidental!) comprises a significant, and enduring, portion of the City of St. Augustine Archaeology Program.

Tourists did not expect to encounter archaeology during our 2014 field season. Perhaps signage at FOY and the Mission increased curiosity and prompted questions. Four months of public interaction, however, provided me with many (mental) notes about public archaeology in tourism settings. More specifically, I noticed ways that archaeologists can prepare for those people “stumbling upon” archaeology (and us).

Generally, people seem innately curios about archaeology, though these same people aren’t necessarily certain that we are archaeologists. Curiosity abounds, but often shyness prevails! Greet onlookers, ask them if they have questions, and start the conversation.

Contact is essential! Archaeologists are the bridge, the link, the connection between concepts of what archaeology is, how it works, and who we are and a tangible experience. Without us, the public possesses a grossly reduced relationship to the past. Chatting with people enables them to connect with the past (and/in the present), to develop their own experiences and understandings, and to imbue the site, the artifacts, the current interpretation with their own thoughts and words. As an added bonus for archaeologists: its’ entirely probable that we will learn something about the site, the artifacts, interpretation, or our audiences in conversation.

One of the five is not an archaeologist, but she looks equally enthralled!

Other people, volunteers, teachers, tour guides, should absolutely be part of an archaeologists’ tool kit. There is danger in evading public archaeology as avoidance permits the perpetuation of misinformation or no information. Numerous times during the season, tour guides checked in with the crew to ask what we were doing and what we were finding. In turn, the guides shared the information with their groups. Without these conversations, the field season would likely have been filled with more assumptions rather than learning.

No tool kit is complete without volunteers. Balancing excavation and interaction with the public is not easy. Answering questions and offering explanations is essential. Digging is too! Toni Wallace and Marsha Chance served as ambassadors to the public regularly. The public’s reaction was always noticeable. Chats with the crew were often short and with small groups. When Toni and Marsha could talk, the crowds amassed to listen, see, and ask questions.

Toni talks to a growing crowd as the crew works

While working at FOY, my constant unit partner, David Underwood, and I compiled a list of the Top 5 Questions people asked. Similar variations also occurred at the Mission. These questions included (most frequent listed first):

  1. Are you digging for graves?
  2. How did you decide to dig here?
  3. What are you finding?
  4. How deep do you dig?
  5. Are you students? Are you paid? What’s your affiliation?

Naturally, it can be frustrating to answer the same questions repeatedly. The nature of the question can also add to the frustration. Alternatively, public archaeologists can consider what these types of questions indicate about the public’s basic archaeological knowledge and what components of field work drive curiosity or confusion. Answering questions serves as the most rapid way to engage AND explicate archaeology, from the field, to the lab, to the office, to universities, to museums, to organizations, from large to small, from local to international.

Finally, encourage tourists to continue discover the archaeological heritage of the area by directing them to other interpreted sites. Many people also wondered about archaeology in their own city or state. Familiarity with public archaeology programs and volunteer organizations throughout the nation becomes invaluable knowledge as we provide tourists with avenues for archaeological exploration and involvement at home.

In your experience, what are effective means of engaging the public? What do your audiences hope to glean from conversation? Are incidental, “stumbling upon” interactions in archaeological settings different from those that occur intentionally?

 

An Interview with Connecticut’s (former) State Archaeologist

By Mandy Ranslow

State Archaeologist, Dr. Nicholas Bellantoni, has held his post watching over Connecticut’s archaeological resources for the past 27 years.  During his tenure he encountered sites ranging from Native American settlements to a World War II plane crash.  Throughout his career Dr. Nick has included the public in many ways, speaking regularly about his excavations at historical societies, libraries, and even to Audubon groups.  His fieldwork endeavors make use of a large volunteer group who supports his office, the Friends of the Office of State Archaeology (see SHA PEIC Blog November 4, 2013).  Part of his job is also teaching introductory archaeology classes at the University of Connecticut, where several students have been known to declare their major as anthropology after completing his class.  Even in my own experience the response I get from anyone who hears I’m an archaeologist is, “Do you know Nick Bellantoni?”  Dr. Nick is a celebrity in his own right here in Connecticut.  A lot of that has to do with his passion for exciting the public about archaeology and his constant outreach efforts.

I caught up with Dr. Nick while he was leading a public dig for teenagers for the Historical Society of Glastonbury.

I want to share his thoughts on the importance of public outreach and engagement in archaeology:

Dr. Nick was the first State Archaeologist after the Office was legislatively established.  Upon starting the job, how important did he think engaging the public would be?

  • Dr. Nick knew from the beginning that working with the public would be very important.  The public didn’t have any awareness of archaeology, and largely viewed collecting arrowheads as a pastime.  At the local level archaeology was seen as a hobby, and the general public didn’t think the archaeological sites in Connecticut were necessarily significant.  Dr. Nick realized quickly that public education would be the key to preservation.

FOSA Volunteer Assisting Excavation Participants

Dr. Nick’s schedule has been packed with speaking arrangements in the last several years.  Has this always been the case?

  • Yes, Dr. Nick has given talks in almost all the state’s historical societies, and the more talks he gives, the more he is asked to do.  As Dr. Nick became involved in more projects, he was also extended more invitations to talk about them.  The Horton Farm site in Glastonbury (the location of the Historical Society’s dig) was made known to Dr. Nick because Mr. Horton attended a local lecture.  Mr. Horton has opened his property to Dr. Nick many times for public excavations.  By creating contacts through speaking engagements Dr. Nick has excavated interesting sites throughout the state.

How did Dr. Nick’s relationship with the public evolve over the last 27 years?

  • Over Dr. Nick’s tenure he continues to reach new audiences with his message of preservation and archaeology.  Keeping local connections is very important.  Local officials on Planning and Zoning Boards are made aware of preservation issues through Dr. Nick’s talks.  Dr. Nick very much values the freedom the Office of State Archaeology has as an entity outside the State Historic Preservation Office to focus on local engagement outside the state and federal regulatory framework.

How does Dr. Nick maintain the energy and enthusiasm for working with the public?

  • Dr. Nick was quick to answer, he “works out.”  And his primary motivator is his sense of responsibility to the archaeological record, tribes, and the public.  He is also very cognizant of the expectations of the local archaeological community, for which Dr. Nick is the public face.  While Dr. Nick is a self-professed workaholic, he does feel privileged (and lucky) to be the State Archaeologist.  This drives him to excel at his job.

Many articles have been published in Connecticut lately about Dr. Nick’s celebrated role as State Archaeologist and his favorite excavations.  What excavation stands out as successfully including the public?  And what excavation is the public most fascinated in still to this day?

  • Dr. Nick says the Vampire Dig (highlighted in a 2012 article by the Smithsonian) is still the most asked about by the public even though it took place over twenty years ago.  Though a sensational story, Dr. Nick does use the opportunity to also talk about archaeology and forensics in general.  “Like a vampire, it never dies.”

What advice do you have for your successor in regards to working with the public?

  • Dr. Nick stresses the importance of outreach, and that, “You can never do enough.”  The State Archaeologist’s ability to protect sites depends on the public’s interest and excitement in archaeology.  This is paramount in doing work at the local level, especially when there is “shaky legislative ground.”  The next State Archaeologist (Dr. Brian Jones) will need to establish his own working relationships and “do things his way.”  Dr. Brian will also have the continued support of the Friends group.  “Public outreach is the key to everything else we do (as archaeologists); it all connects.”

Does Dr. Nick see himself remaining involved in archaeology after his retirement?

  • After he “sleeps for the first three months,” yes.  Dr. Nick will continue to teach at the University of Connecticut, and he will help with fundraising at the Connecticut State Museum of Natural History.  Dr. Nick will also fit in some time for research and finishing up projects.  He also hopes to do some writing.  Connecticut will continue to benefit from Dr. Nick’s energy and passion for archaeology for a long time to come.

As President of the Friends of the Office of State Archaeology, our volunteers, and all of Dr. Nick’s fans in Connecticut and beyond wish him a happy retirement.  Words cannot express the gratitude we have for Dr. Nick’s contributions to Connecticut archaeology.

Who inspires you in the world of public archaeology?  What can you do to continue the tradition of public engagement in archaeology in your own backyard?  Or what can you do to start a tradition of public outreach yourself?

Plastic for the People: Printing the Past and Engaging the Public

By Bernard K. Means, Director, Virtual Curation Laboratory at Virginia Commonwealth University

In the Virtual Curation Laboratory, we are continuing our work to create digital models of artifacts and ecofacts from historic and prehistoric sites for research, teaching, and, increasingly, outreach efforts by myself and the Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) undergraduate students who work, intern, and volunteer in my lab.  Many of the items that we scan either are on loan to us from established museums or heritage locations, such as George Washington’s Ferry Farm or the Virginia Museum of Natural History, and avocationals with a passion for archaeology, notably the Westmoreland (Pennsylvania) Archaeological Society.  We also take our portable setup to culture heritage locations, and have developed particularly close relationships with Historic Jamestowne (Preservation Virginia) and George Washington’s Ferry Farm.

Animation of 3D digital model of a mummified opossum. Image courtesy of the Virtual Curation Laboratory.

The digital models we create can capture the attention of scholars and lay people alike, particularly if animated in the full glory of their natural colors (virtualcurationmuseum.wordpress.com).  In my presentation in a co-creation session at the Society for American Archaeology annual meeting in Austin this past April, the strongest reaction I got from the audience was when I showed an animated mummified opossum (Figure 1). How we obtained a mummified opossum demonstrates itself the power of outreach efforts.  Basically, a young boy’s parents followed our main blog and approached us about touring the lab with their son—and asked for help identifying what type of animal the boy’s grandfather had sent him (it was found in its desiccated state in the back of the grandfather’s garage).  We were able to quickly identify this as a juvenile opossum using our reference collection, and offered to scan the mummy for him. Within a week, we were able to return to young Lowell Nugent a printed, plastic replica of his opossum mummy—something he could safely bring in for show-and-share, as opposed to the odiferous (slightly) and fragile actual item.

Butchered horse tibia being scanned in the Jamestown Rediscovery laboratory. Image courtesy of the Virtual Curation Laboratory.

Plastic replicas of actual artifacts have allowed us and our partners at culture heritage locations to engage the public in ways that would otherwise not be possible—or at least not prudent.  Particularly over the last few months, we have scanned a number of artifacts in the Jamestown Rediscovery laboratory and collections facility (Figure 2). These artifacts were selected not only for their research and educational value, but also for how the printed replicas could be incorporated into site tours and other public programs.  Among the items selected by Historic Jamestowne’s Merry Outlaw, Curator of Archaeology, and Jeff Aronowitz, Assistant Manager of Public and Educational Programs, were butchered animal bones from the Starving Time and an ivory compass used to tell time and determine direction. One of the animal bones is a butchered dog mandible, and painted replicas are regularly incorporated into site tours for members of the public to illustrate the perils faced by the fledgling colonists who established James Fort, particularly during the Starving Time of 1609-1610—when colonists ate everything on hand, including not only their dogs, but also their horses, and eventually resorted to cannibalism (Figure 3).  The ivory compass, manufactured in Germany, helps illustrate a tale told by Captain John Smith, where he used his own compass to astonish American Indians who had captured him and thus save his own life. The detailed painting of these plastic replicas by undergraduate students, notably Becki Bowman, Vivian Hite, and Mariana Zechini, and the 3d animations really bring these objects to life—as documented in this video produced by Historic Jamestowne’s Danny Schmidt (Figures 4).

Animation of 3D digital model of butchered dog mandible from Jamestown. Image courtesy of the Virtual Curation Laboratory.


Vivian Hite used printed plastic replicas while talking to a school group at Geroge Washington’s Ferry Farm. Image courtesy of Laura J. Galke.

Painted and unpainted plastic replicas figure regularly into Vivian Hite’s role this summer as the designated Public Archaeology Intern at George Washington’s Ferry Farm in Fredericksburg, Virginia (Figure 5).  Here, George Washington grew up, from the age of 6 to his early 20s, and archaeologists are laboring to uncover traces of the lives of George and his family, as well as those who came before (including an American Indian occupation dating back thousands of years) and those who came after (notably Union encampments during the Civil War).  The excavations at Ferry Farm attract visitors regularly throughout the day, as well as organized school groups and summer campers.  Vivian and others at Ferry Farm use the plastic replicas to tell the many layered stories infused into this historic landscape. People really enjoy touching an artifact from the past—even if it is twice removed from the actual thing, first as a digital model and then as a printed and (usually) painted replica.

One advantage of digital artifact models is that they allow pieces of the past to be re-contextualized and re-envisioned in forms that might be more familiar to those who are otherwise unfamiliar with archaeology. The simple addition of a digital disk to an artifact model can transform a “Frozen Charlotte” doll or butchered horse tibia into a chess piece, for example.

4th graders play chess with pieces inspired by archaeological items. Image courtesy of the Virtual Curation Laboratory.

In the Virtual Curation Laboratory, we have created a number of chess sets with pieces transformed from a wide range of artifacts recovered archaeologically at Jamestown, Poplar Forest, Ferry Farm, and Mount Vernon. A recent visit to a fourth-grade class at the Richmond Waldorf school demonstrated how the classes interest in chess could translate to an understanding of the historic past, as they uncovered the stories for each piece as revealed by archaeologists (Figure 6; Read more: http://ideastations.org/radio/news/vcu-lab-prints-3d-chess-pieces-historic-significance; https://www.richmondmagazine.com/articles/vcu-virtual-curation-lab.html).

The wide range of historic artifacts that we have scanned in the Virtual Curation Laboratory, dating from the founding of Jamestown in 1607 to pieces of the Space Shuttle Discovery, have allowed numerous opportunities for co-creation by my students.  They have presented papers or posters at research venues on campus or at regional conferences—and published papers in the Journal of Middle Atlantic Archaeology, Pennsylvania Archaeologist, and the Quarterly Bulletin of the Archeological Society of Virginia. Printed plastic models have featured prominently in many presentations, particularly as painted replicas adhered in a detachable fashion with Velcro to the most recent posters.  Lauren Volker’s poster on Jamestown 1607-1610, created for an on VCU campus undergraduate student research poster symposium, now hangs proudly in the Jamestown Rediscovery lab (Figure 7).

Vivian Hite returns an artifact to the Virtually Curated Jamestown, 1607-1610, now hanging in the Jamestown Rediscovery laboratory. Image courtesy of the Virtual Curation Laboratory.

In the coming months, I will be working with my students on a number of new endeavors designed to encourage more interactive public engagement.  VCU student Lauren Hogg, who has a strong interested in K-12 education, is working with me to create a “Make-Your-Own-Exhibit” activity using our plastic replicas—but more on that in a future post.