Building Massachusetts Archaeology Month

Massachusetts Archaeology Month (MAM) is a popular public program in New England.  Recently I have heard of an alarming trend – the suspension, downsizing, or proposed cancellations of similar Archaeology Month celebrations in other states.  I am interested in what aspects of our program have kept it appealing to Massachusetts residents for more than 20 years, and ways that we can engage other states to participate in their own way.

Massachusetts Archaeology Month began in 1992 as Archaeology Week.  Hosted by the Massachusetts Historical Commission, this initial celebration had 47 public archaeology events across the state. Calendars of events as well as posters were mailed to institutions, educators, and individuals throughout New England.  Initially hosted in June, Archaeology Week was moved to October in 1995.  Due to an overwhelming amount of participation in the first few years, we expanded the program in 2004 to be a full month of events, solidifying the pattern of monthly celebrations that we continue today.   This first extended Massachusetts Archaeology Month saw over 100 events.  Subsequent years have maintained this high-level of participation with an average of 90-100 events in 40-50 cities and towns across Massachusetts.

Despite having hosted over a thousand Archaeology Month events, the quality of programs that are offered continues to remain high.  Events are hosted by local partners, not individually coordinated by the Massachusetts SHPO.  Partners who host events include universities, museums (from small, house museums to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts), local historical societies, government agencies (at local, state, and federal levels), CRM firms, libraries, archaeological groups, and more.  Each of these partners submits their event information to be listed in the state-wide calendar of events.  Events appeal to a wide audience, including those from different age groups, educational backgrounds, previous knowledge of archaeology, learning styles, geographical locations, and interests.  These special, targeted events have included walking tours of archaeological landscapes, site visits, lab tours, museum trips, lectures, hands-on learning for children, archaeological fairs, bike tours, canoe tours, demonstrations, discussions, and so much more!

We solicit for events early — often before the ground has even thawed in the spring.  We have found that keeping an updated mailing list of potential event holders and asking them early in the planning stages helps people dream up, plan, and develop high quality, well thought events in time for October.  That said, we are definitely on the early side, and many people still prefer to be listed in our website only, having missed the deadline for the printed calendar.

So after all of these years, how do we maintain the large number of events scheduled for Massachusetts Archaeology Month?  Why do venues want to list their events with us?  What are we offering in return?  A combination of benefits encourages groups to host events.  The most obvious benefit for an event holder is the advertising that we offer for their event (and subsequently for their organization).  Each year we send out thousands of calendar of event booklets, posters, and postcards.  We produce a press release to media outlets large and small across the region.  The opportunity to list an event as part of the larger MAM celebration often nudges organizations to host events that they might not have otherwise scheduled, so they can participate in this larger program.  Often the association with their event and Massachusetts Archaeology Month allows them to gain support from other local partners.  We receive participation from several local CRM companies because the timing (post-field season) makes it easy to schedule public presentations (sometimes required through mitigation). Finally we offer limited “matching” services to help coordinate venues looking for speakers and vice versa.

Looking ahead, there are always ways to improve.  The world is moving toward a more web-based future and so should we.  It is infinitely easier to update the calendar of events (to be more accurate and more inclusive) if we start to emphasize the website and start to phase-out printed calendars.  A notable exception here is that printed calendars work very well as references for institutional use (libraries, schools, museums).

Social media (such as Facebook or Twitter) is another useful tool for the future.  These forums make it easier for people to coordinate events with friends and colleagues, to share information about their plans, to post up to the minute event information, and to share photos from events.

I hope that the success and enthusiasm for Massachusetts Archaeology Month has sparked interest and hope in states that are losing their Archaeology Month program, or perhaps that have never had one.  Other states might choose the coordinating institution to be something other than the SHPO.  A historical society, state archaeological society, or university might spearhead the effort instead.  Additionally, moving archaeology month to a web-based calendar with social media advertising (still coupled with traditional press releases) is a cost effective option for states or groups hoping to re-invigorate their programs with little to no funding.

The effort to organize such a state-wide celebration will be rewarded.  State Archaeology Month programs can be sustainable through local participation, engaging and educational for the public, cost effective, and a great asset.

Do you have an Archaeology Month program in your state?  Have you recently eliminated it from your arsenal of educational tools?  What does Archaeology Month mean to you?

Public Service Announcements and Archaeology: Protecting WWII-Caves in Saipan

By: Jennifer McKinnon

East Carolina University and Ships of Exploration and Discovery Research

The words public service announcements (PSAs) and archaeology are rarely uttered together. In fact, a quick search finds very few examples of archaeology or cultural heritage PSAs. Yet PSAs can be an effective way of reaching out to a very large audience to promote protection and preservation of heritage. A recent project that explored community consensus building for the protection of WWII-related caves on the island of Saipan in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands utilized radio and television PSAs for the purpose of sharing a message of protection and preservation of caves with the local island community.

In recent years, with more visitors, more development and more spelunking and exploration, natural and human-made caves that hold remnants of both ancient Chamorro culture and WWII history are being more heavily impacted. This activity was brought to the attention of the local community and archaeologists when videos and photographs of cave exploration, artifacts and rock art began appearing on blogs, Flicker and YouTube. This concerned local community members and as a result, a project was created to assess community interest in protecting these resources. Funded by an American Battlefield Protection Program grant, the project consisted of community meetings, landowner consultation and interviews, archaeological survey of caves on private and public lands, development of radio and television PSAs and ultimately the creation of a preservation plan with input from the community.

Why PSAs? The idea of a public service announcement came to me while I was on the island for another project and got a catchy little jingle in my head – “Don’t give snakes a break.” I don’t know the first time I heard it on the radio, but it certainly impacted my subconscious because there I was singing it as I was driving down the road. Had I seen a snake, I probably wouldn’t have given it a “brake.” Brown Tree Snakes are an invasive snake that wiped out indigenous bird populations on Guam, and Saipan has worked hard to prevent and eradicate its presence. In fact, a PSA project raising awareness about brown tree snakes had remarkable results in eradicating them from the island. Bumper stickers, radio jingles, TV commercials, and special events were all part of the plan to raise awareness.

Sooo….when thinking of how we could get the message out to local landowners about how important the caves were to their history as well as that of the wider world, PSAs seemed the best option. Print options like brochures or mailings are limited in that they are generally viewed once and when they are distributed or out of print, they no longer exist. PSAs on the other hand can be aired and thus viewed over and over again, reinforcing the content’s message. When aired during peak time slots such as the evening news, they can become even more effective. For a Pacific island that relies on television primarily for its news, PSAs serve to reach the widest possible audience. In addition, radio PSAs can reinforce and even reach a younger generation of stakeholders.

The creation of PSAs were only one part of the larger cave heritage project but their development built upon all aspects. Landowners who came to the meetings to voice their opinions were invited to participate in the PSAs. They also opened their properties to the archaeological team who visited various caves to get a picture of what types of caves exist, what history they may hold and what is impacting them. Finally, many community members participated in interviews during which they related their and their family’s stories about caves use during WWII. Ultimately the message, “Our History, Our Stories” was chosen as the tagline for the PSAs to reflect the multiplicity of connections the community had to caves. Caves on the island of Saipan provided shelter to the ancient culture when they arrived thousands of years ago, they were the canvas on which the ancient peoples communicated  through rock art and served as their burial grounds. During the war, families used the caves for shelter from bombs and bullets and today they still serve special purposes such as places of commemoration and memorialization. As community member Fred Camacho relates, “This has become part of our family album, and we have the obligation to protect it.”

View all of the PSAs at Ships of Discovery’s YouTube Page.

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?