It Takes a Village to Build a Trail

by Jennifer McKinnon

When I think back on the experience of building a maritime heritage trail, probably much like others who have worked on public or community projects, I get nostalgic about all of the friends and colleagues I met during the process. The old adage about it taking a village to raise a child also rings true for community projects such as heritage trails – it really does “take a village to build a trail.”

Community projects by their very nature are incredibly complicated, but can be infinitely rewarding. In a community as diverse as the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), any project leader must understand that there are multiple voices to be heard and incorporated. This can be learned the hard way or the hard way. What I mean by the hard way is that no amount of research can prepare one for the diversity in meaning and importance of heritage to a community; one member has a completely different understanding of a shared bit of heritage from the next member. And it is important to incorporate as many of those voices as possible.

First training in underwater archaeology held in the CNMI.

This is the task that I set about doing six years ago when I stood in front of a crowd in a smoky little restaurant that consisted of both divers (there to see my presentation on heritage trails) and an angry group of fishers (there to see a second presentation about a national monument which was set to restrict their access to fishing and thus their livelihood). What I found that night was a community so passionate about their right/heritage of fishing and opposed to more official colonial platitudes and restrictions. What I learned that night was two things: first, that no matter how well-funded, presented or shiny an idea is, if a community isn’t behind it, it has no worth; and second, the CNMI community was one with a long history of struggling with outsiders and outside ideas, and if progress was to be made, the idea should be locally generated. To this day these two lessons have held true to form and earned friendships and collegial relationships that will last a lifetime, not to mention some great research projects.

The idea for developing a heritage trail was conceived by staff at the Historic Preservation Office (HPO) and shared with me when I first visited the island in 2007.  Though originally aiming to build a Spanish colonial research agenda, I was quickly taken by the incredibly diverse and intact heritage related to the WWII Battle of Saipan. With a little friendly persuasion from the HPO, I found myself in conversations about mapping, preserving and interpreting submerged WWII sites which included planes, tanks, shipwrecks and assault vehicles of both Japanese and US forces. The idea to apply for a National Park Service Battlefield Protection Grant launched a one year grant awarded to Ships of Exploration and Discovery Research, which eventually turned into a four year project (and has now moved inland). After holding several public meetings and discussing the trail with various stakeholders (dive shops, boat operators, government agencies, humanities groups, visitor’s authority, etc.) the trail began to take shape. Sites were chosen based on stakeholder and public interest, the history and archaeology was researched with an inclusive approach (including Chamorro, Carolinian, US, Japanese, and Korean groups) and products were carefully researched so as to reach the widest audience possible (all ages and divers and non-divers alike). In addition, since a focus on sustainability was key, the project included both heritage awareness trainings for end users and a conservation survey and management plan (funded by a second Battlefield Grant) that collected baseline data for the HPO.

The interpretive products that make up the trail include nine waterproof dive guides and four double-sided posters in both English and Japanese; a 2D and 3D interpretive film for the National Parks on Guam and Saipan (produced in conjunction with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Advanced Imaging and Visualization Lab, National Park Service’s Submerged Resources Center, and Windward Media); and a website which includes information about the Battle and submerged heritage sites.

Poster from the WWII Battle of Saipan Maritime Heritage Trail.

But let me come back to the idea of it taking a village…the entire project from concept to completion would not have been possible if it were not for the interest of the local community. At every step of the way agencies and volunteers were not just included, but critical to the work. HPO conceived of the idea and several staff members assisted with recording the sites and conducting historical research; they also participated in training, first as trainees (Underwater Archaeology Training) and then trainers (Heritage Awareness Diving Seminar). Coastal Resources Management (CRM) provided in-kind support through the use of boats, fuel and the assistance of staff (i.e. captains, enforcement officers and biologists), as well as participating in and providing instruction during the training sessions. In fact, one CRM employee was so devoted to the project, he took vacation days so that he could participate in the field work! CRM also initiated a program to place moorings on the trail sites in order to minimize impact by visitors. Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) provided in-kind support by offering boats, captains and expertise. CNMI Council for the Humanities promoted the project to the public by sponsoring public lectures and radio programs. NPS American Memorial Park hosted events such as public lectures, trainings and film viewings. Marianas Visitors Authority provided useful visitor and diving statistics in the planning process. In addition to the government agencies, private individuals hosted barbeques, provided in-kind support for hiring vessels, volunteered to conduct field work and historical research, provided translation services, gave local tours, set up interviews with family members, lent vehicles, and generally treated us as family.

CRM employee David Benavente working underwater.

From 2007 to the present I’ve had the privilege (and I do mean privilege) of working with the community/village of Saipan to record and research their maritime history from their colonization of the island some 3500 years ago to the more recent and tragic conflict of WWII. But I suspect there will be many, many years to come because like a snowball rolling down hill, interest builds momentum and once a village gets excited, who knows what may come of it…

So what are your experiences with creating trails or working with a village (community)? In what ways was the success of your project the immediate result of community input and assistance? Do you think the rewards of working with a community outweigh the complexity of the process?

Engaging the Community in Local Archaeology through a Friends Group

Since 1997 I have been a member of the Friends of the Office of State Archaeology (FOSA) in Connecticut. I actually found out about the group on a flyer posted in an elementary school where my mom worked. I was in high school at the time. I knew I would be an archaeologist since I was a kid, and through high school and college I was a member of my local archaeological groups, including FOSA.  Upon entering graduate school and having worked in cultural resource management for a few years I took to heart the growing movement of the need for more public involvement and outreach in archaeology. I dove head first into working with FOSA, and am currently the Vice President, Volunteer Coordinator, and I serve on the Newsletter and Archaeology Awareness Month Committees. I have found that a Friends group can be a great public benefit and can make substantive contributions to archaeological research.

The Connecticut Office of State Archaeology (OSA) has only one position, the State Archaeologist, who has no additional staff. In Connecticut the State Archaeologist is a position within the Connecticut State Museum of Natural History/Connecticut Archaeology Center at the University of Connecticut. State legislation in 1987 charged the State Archaeologist with identifying, managing, and preserving Connecticut’s archaeological resources. This is a position outside the state and federal compliance responsibilities of the State Historic Preservation Office. The State Archaeologist reviews municipal and privately funded development projects and makes recommendations that encourage the preservation of archaeological resources. The State Archaeologist is the public face of Connecticut archaeology. Talks are given throughout the state on a variety of topics to a diversity of audiences.

FOSA was established to support and assist the work of the Office of State Archaeology. Connecticut may be a small state, but it’s hard for the State Archaeologist to cover the entire state when there are projects going on and public outreach to do. The group was founded by individuals who had championed the establishment of the OSA, and who realized the OSA would still benefit from their support.

When preservation of an archaeological site is not an option in the face of development the State Archaeologist must rely on volunteer labor to complete archaeological investigations on private and town lands (with permission from the land owners). FOSA has a committee of experienced volunteers, some of them professional archaeologists by trade or training, who organize the dig, set up the grid, and maintain the site paperwork. The Volunteer Coordinator sends excavation announcements to the dig volunteers who then work on the site as available. There are several digs a year, and this season there has been at least one day of fieldwork per week.

Nick Bellantoni and FOSA Volunteers at the Strong-Howard House excavation in Windsor, 2013
Photo by FOSA

When a site excavation is complete artifacts and paperwork are returned to the OSA Lab where volunteers spend the fall through spring washing, identifying, and cataloging artifacts. This past year the lab was often at capacity, and a great deal of work was completed.

FOSA not only assists the State Archaeologist with excavation and laboratory work, but also has a very active Outreach Committee that attends fairs, festivals, farmers markets, and talks. Displays on the latest OSA work share new information about local archaeology and history with the public. Artifacts are displayed for the public to handle. Knowledgeable volunteers are on-hand to answer questions and tell people where to find more information and even how to join in the fun! FOSA has sponsored and co-sponsored public events, the largest of which is the Archaeology Fair in October (CT Archaeology Awareness Month). FOSA has an Annual Meeting that is consistently well attended by the public and has brought speakers such as James Adovasio, Douglas Owsley, and Stephen Houston to Connecticut.

FOSA Outreach Booth at the Westbrook Historical Society, 2013
Photo by Westbrook Historical Society

Currently FOSA has over 200 members who pay annual dues to support the OSA and FOSA. FOSA has most recently donated funds to the University of Connecticut for the hire of a temporary assistant for the State Archaeologist to manage and organize the state’s archaeological site files with the goal of digitizing them and making them more accessible to researchers and professionals. FOSA also pays for the State Archaeologist’s mobile phone, as work often takes place outside the office.

FOSA provides opportunities for the public to be involved in archaeology in many different capacities even if they’re unable to dig themselves. Volunteers maintain the OSA library, and FOSA has a semiannual newsletter with member contributed articles which is edited by a Newsletter Committee. FOSA has volunteers who maintain our group’s general housekeeping like membership, nominations, and the website. Members can choose their level of activity in the group, and in the last two years we have noticed a great increase in our volunteer hours. FOSA volunteers are recognized for their hard work and have been requested on excavations for other organizations including the Joshua’s Trust, the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center, and Wesleyan University.
FOSA provides not only the support for the work of the State Archaeologist and a way to raise awareness of archaeology, but it also provides its members with a community for like-minded people. The social benefits of working together for a cause are immeasurable, and personally I have built strong friendships with many fellow volunteers. FOSA also provides a forum for professionals, students, retirees, and other members of the public to share their passion for archaeology.

FOSA Volunteers at the Connecticut Gravestone Network Symposium, 2013
Photo by Bonnie Beatrice

It has been my experience that with a group of devoted and enthusiastic people we can raise awareness of archaeology to more people with a stronger voice. The public is looking for ways to be involved in archaeology. What I would like you all to consider is how can you organize interested members in the public to support an archaeology cause? Could a Friends group help you preserve, protect, or explore an archaeological resource that’s important to you and your community?

The Future of the Past: Using 3D Replicas for Public Archaeology

For over a year now I have been working in the Virtual Curation Laboratory at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), and for over a year I have been consistently amazed by the rapidly growing interest in and use of three-dimensional technology in the field of archaeology.  The Virtual Curation Laboratory (VCL), founded in 2011 and led by Dr. Bernard K. Means, began as a partner of the Department of Defense’s Legacy Program, with the goal of creating a virtual database of archaeological materials by recording them with a 3D scanner.  The project has since grown, and we now have a large and diverse collection of digital models that have been created by Dr. Means and the many undergraduate student interns and volunteers who have participated and contributed to the project.

NextEngine 3D Scanner scans an Acheulean Handaxe from South Africa. Courtesy of the Virtual Curation Laboratory.

I began my involvement as an intern last summer, and very quickly began to appreciate the significance of the technology I was becoming familiar with.  VCL employs a NextEngine 3D Desktop Scanner, which uses laser technology to create three-dimensional models of objects.  The user can then process the model and finalize it in STL or OBJ formats, which can be shared via the internet or on a number of electronic devices such as smart phones and tablets.  We also have a MakerBot Replicator 3D Printer, which can print plastic copies of the models we have created.  There are countless ways that this technology could benefit archaeology, but as a student who was still fairly new to the field, I saw its greatest potential in education and public outreach.

My research last fall consisted of creating lesson plans that employed digital models and plastic replicas of artifacts to supplement the material that was being taught.  We then took those lessons to a local high school and presented them to a group of history students there, taking note of how well or poorly they responded to our use of the models.  We also presented a few different lessons to Dr. Means’ archaeological methods class at VCU, including one on basic lithic analysis using plastic replicas of projectile points that we have scanned.  What we found was that the high school students responded especially well to the plastic replicas, as they offered a visible and tangible connection to the topic they were learning about.  On the other hand, the VCU students unanimously agreed that they preferred the accuracy of the digital models.  Those who participated in the lithic analysis lesson, however, were able to correctly identify the types of each point they were given based on the plastic replicas they studied, lending some credibility to the printed models as research tools.  In March of this year I presented this research at my first conference, and it will soon be published in the upcoming issue of the Journal of Middle Atlantic Archaeology!

In addition to being a great tool for students who long for an interactive and readily available form of research material, we have found that 3D scanning and printing of archaeological materials is an incredibly effective tool in public archaeology.  Not only do three-dimensional models and plastic replicas of artifacts help us to promote a better appreciation for archaeology and the materials we recover, but they offer the public a unique and tangible connection with the past that they may otherwise never experience.  VCL does a great deal of public outreach through events and lectures, but my best examples of the value of these models are from this summer, when I was working as a field intern at Ferry Farm, George Washington’s Boyhood Home in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

I pass around plastic artifact replicas and discuss the archaeology being done at Ferry Farm with a group of children. Courtesy of the Virtual Curation Laboratory.

Public Archaeology is a top priority at Ferry Farm, and as such we spend a lot of time discussing the site and its history with the many visitors who travel there.  VCL has scanned and printed a great deal of artifacts from Ferry Farm’s collections, and a series of plastic replicas have been given to the archaeology staff to use for public program in the field.  As I spoke to visitors during my time there, I found it incredibly helpful to use those replicas as examples of the types of artifacts we find at the site, and the visitors (especially the young ones) appreciated the fact that they could touch, feel, hold, and examine the replicas, as they would not have that opportunity with the real object.

The great diversity of artifacts that VCL has in its digital collection makes our efforts in public outreach and education even more effective.  The Virtual Curation Laboratory staff has scanned lithic materials ranging from a one million year old Acheulean Handaxe from South Africa, to projectile points and other stone tools that have been loaned to us from collections across Virginia and Pennsylvania.  We have scanned small finds from the homes of our nation’s greatest historical figures, including George Washington’s Mount Vernon, Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest, and James Madison’s Montpelier.  We have also been working on creating a database of faunal remains to help students, archaeologists, and other researchers identify and understand the skeletal framework of various animals.

VCU student and VCL intern Mariana Zechini discusses 3D printing with a group of VAST members. Courtesy of the Virtual Archaeology Scanning Team.

More and more students have gotten involved with the Virtual Curation Laboratory over the past couple of years, and as a result we have created a student organization at VCU that focuses on the use of 3D technology in archaeology, and allows a greater number of students to pursue research relating to our project.  The Virtual Archaeology Scanning Team (VAST) is now entering its second year as a student organization, and interest and participation have more than doubled since we began last August.

When I first became an intern in the lab last summer, few students – including myself – had any experience or knowledge about 3D technology, nor did we know if it would be an applicable skill in the future.  Now, students from all backgrounds are entering our organization with specific research goals in mind, excited to have the opportunity to learn about and utilize our 3D scanner and printer.  What has led to this sudden boom in interest, and how will this affect the next generation of archaeologists?  Is virtual curation the future of the past?