Public Outreach: anytime, anywhere

There are particular challenges and opportunities involved with public archaeology when the archaeology is under water or on the muddy foreshore. The very nature of such sites limits public access and visibility. Nevertheless, and perhaps because of this, there is an inherent public fascination with underwater heritage, from shipwrecks and crashed aircraft, to submerged historic and pre-historic settlements. For more than 20 years, the Maritime Archaeology Trust, based in Southampton, UK has been overcoming the challenges and realising the opportunities, to bring maritime heritage into the public’s consciousness.

The most recent addition to our toolbox for this work, is a purpose-built maritime archaeology outreach vehicle. For the past three years we have had the benefit of this unique tool to help us reach remote audiences. To our knowledge, this is the only such vehicle in existence. It has been possible due to generous support from the UK’s Heritage Lottery Fund under a project called ‘Engaging New Audiences’ but does being mobile, necessarily mean you’ll reach more people and more diverse audiences?

The Maritime Bus on the road

Many years of delivering public talks, internal and external school workshops, public events and outreach activities from the back of cars helped identify the need for a mobile outreach unit. On the road the vehicle is an eye-catching Luton-style lorry. But within 30 minutes of arrival, it transforms into an interactive discovery centre, with artefacts (real and replica), models, a digital microscope, HD DVDs, posters and audio. Of course the outreach staff are still the lynchpin to engaging and enthusing the public but this bespoke mobile resource makes the task much easier. We call it the Maritime Bus and visitors are invited on board to make the most of a strict ‘Look AND Touch’ policy.

The Maritime Bus in ‘exhibition mode’ set up on site.

Content for a typical public outreach event might include Palaeolithic hand axes and a mammoth tooth, parts of a Second World War crashed military aircraft, artefacts from a First World War shipwreck, assorted faunal remains, models and underwater video footage from wreck sites or prehistoric landscapes and examples of materials with different states of preservation. The public are often amazed to hear that all this material has come from underwater sites.

Associated hands-on activities include trying on SCUBA equipment, excavating with a miniature air-lift, exploring with a miniature Remotely Operated Vehicle or viewing super-magnified microscopic environmental evidence with 3D glasses.

The mobile nature of the Maritime Bus enables us to address potential barriers to access. Taking this exhibition come research laboratory into the heart of communities, overcomes not only travel and transportation issues but also anxieties about visiting more traditional heritage venues. As a recent visitor to the Bus said:

Stepping into this van is like stepping into a museum. I didn’t realise the Solent hides so much history beneath the waves. It’s quite unique to have this kind of information out here for the public and I think it is really cool that we get to see it and hear about it without going into a museum. 

visitors ‘playing’ with the Bus’s contents

The entire content of the Bus can be very easily changed to suit a particular theme or to create a site-specific exhibit. By choosing an appropriate geographical ‘pitch’, it can therefore help highlight and explain the existence of nearby sites not otherwise visible to the public.

As well as public events, the Maritime Bus is popular with schools where pupils and teachers particularly value its ability to offer practical, hands-on sessions, creating a stimulating, unfamiliar venue without having to leave the school grounds. Schools and communities geographically located inland, value the Bus’s ability to bring the coast and underwater environment to their doorstep.

School students trying to identify a mystery shipwreck.

The reach of the Maritime Bus is not confined to UK’s shores. In 2009 the Maritime Archaeology Trust took the Maritime Bus on a mainland European Road trip. Working with partners in France and Belgium, the Bus visited schools and public events in France, Belgium and the Netherlands where it was well received by an international audience.

A mobile until like the Maritime Bus enables us to reach more people, not least because of the efficiencies achieved by having everything ready to go (no more loading and unloading cars). It also enables us to take resources to more remote places, where local access to cultural heritage is limited. The fact that it constitutes an exhibition and activity space all rolled into one, means we can reach more people at a time and offer them a variety of formats and media. This helps with engaging more diverse audiences. The Bus enables us to offer visitors a variety of media to choose from, including video, audio, models, books, posters, equipment, artefacts, games and computers. Everybody usually finds something that piques their interest and suits their abilities. Recent visits to schools for young people with Special Educational Needs have been particularly successful as the Bus provides a new aesthetically attractive and safe venue on the school site and both teachers and pupils have found the ‘Look AND Touch’ approach particularly beneficial. When the environment allows, we will have brightly coloured bean bag seats outside the front of the Bus with a variety of relevant books. The informal nature of this approach is very popular, particularly with young families, but also with teenage visitors who have been heard to say: “This is the first time I’ve read a book out for school for years!”.

So this is our experience with a mobile public outreach unit. We’re more than happy to share our experiences further, so if you have an interest in this area, please do get in touch. We’d be particularly interested to hear about any other experiences with mobile units. What other mobile outreach projects are out there? Do you have similar or contrary experiences?

Student Volunteers at SHA Québec 2014

Student volunteers are essential to the smooth operation of an SHA Conference. By assisting with a variety of duties – from registration and Book Room set-up to special events and the sessions themselves– volunteers are a key component of the Conference’s smooth operation.

The SHA is looking for student volunteers to give minimally 8 hours of their time during the SHA Conference in exchange for free conference registration. If you are a student and would like to volunteer your time in exchange for the opportunity to attend the SHA 2014 Conference at no charge, complete the information and the volunteer schedule hosted at and return both to Conferium (the address is on the form). You will be reimbursed for the amount of your basic registration rate IF you are accepted as a volunteer. Please note you must pre-register for the conference at the appropriate student rate and also register for any workshops, tours, Roundtable luncheons, the reception at the Musée de l’Amérique francophone or the Awards Banquet wish to attend.

Applications will be accepted according to organizational needs on a first-come/first-served basis until December 6, 2013. Although priority will be given to bilingual speakers (English and French), all are welcome.

Les étudiants bénévoles sont essentiels au bon déroulement des colloques de la SHA. En participant à une variété de tâches – de l’enregistrement des congressistes à la mise en place du « Book Room », en passant par le suivi des sessions elles-mêmes – les bénévoles participent au bon déroulement de toutes les activités organisées dans le cadre du colloque.

Le comité organisateur de la SHA est à la recherche d’étudiants prêts à donner bénévolement un minimum de 8 heures de leur temps durant le colloque en échange de leur inscription gratuite. Si vous êtes un étudiant et que cela vous intéresse, vous n’avez qu’à compléter le formulaire, ainsi que l’horaire figurant au verso, que vous trouverez à l’adresse et à retourner le tout à Conférium à l’adresse indiquée sur le formulaire. Nous vous rembourserons du montant des frais d’inscription de base si votre candidature est retenue. Vous devez vous inscrire au colloque et à toute autre activité –atelier, visite guidée, dîner table-ronde, la réception au Musée de l’Amérique francophone, le banquet d’honneur, etc. – si vous souhaitez y participer.

Les candidatures seront retenues selon les besoins organisationnels et selon le principe du « premier arrivé, premier servi » jusqu’au 6 décembre 2013. Même si tous sont les bienvenus, la priorité sera accordée aux personnes bilingues (français et anglais).

Understanding Cemeteries through Technical Applications: An example from Fort Drum, NY

A few times each year, the SHA Technology Committee hosts Tech Week, an entire week devoted to certain technologies used in historical archaeology. This week, archaeologist Duane Quates was asked to gather blog posts about the use of technology in mortuary analysis.

Fort Drum, New York has a surprisingly rich history and the 13 historic cemeteries of Fort Drum are a profound reminder of the communities that existed prior to the Army’s acquisition of the now 107,000 acre military reservation in 1941. Current technologies such as LiDAR, GIS, database management software, and geophysical technologies, such as ground penetrating radar, magnetometry, and electrical soil resistivity are providing the base archaeologists with innovative tools to understand and mange these resources responsibly.

Figure 1: The grave of William Anderson and his wife Elizabeth

One of the many aspects of the cemeteries that I found interesting is that there are only two known African American gravestones out of 1802 known burials. One grave is that of William Anderson and his wife Elizabeth located in the Gates Cemetery near Historic Sterlingville. The second is that of Rachel, a former slave of James Leray, in the Sheepfold Cemetery. The graves in both of these cemeteries are very similar in that they are alone in the back of the cemetery, segregated from the rest of the burials.

Unfortunately the archaeological record of the base is very similar in its representation of the African American community. To date, the Cultural Resources Program at Fort Drum has identified 962 sites on the 107,000 acre military reservation. Over 65% of the recorded sites are historic. However, only two known sites are considered to have an African American component; the LeRay Mansion Slave Quarters and the Whitney Farmstead. The first is associated with James LeRay de Chaumont, a French capitalist and land speculator, whose family fortune was acquired largely from the transatlantic slave trade. The second is associated with a 19th century farmstead that, unfortunately, is poorly understood. This assemblage includes trade beads from Gambia, West Africa, as well as Lamoka points from the late Archaic Period.

The Fort Drum Cultural Resources Program manages and maintains the cemeteries of the post. Rachel’s marker is one that has given us the most concern. It is made of a poor quality marble that has frost fractured several times. Each time the Fort Drum Cultural Resources Program has repaired it with epoxy but unfortunately time and weather has taken its toll on the stone. The epitaph is no longer fully legible.

Figure 2: The grave of Rachel

In April 2010 at the Society for American Archaeology meeting in Sacramento, CA, while perusing the book room, I met Bill Mongon of Accurex, Inc. in the technology section of the book room. He was demonstrating a multi-lens camera that was capable of building a 3D model of almost any object. What I found fascinating was the system’s capability of finding minute details on objects that were not detectable by the naked eye. I asked if there were any field applications for the device. Bill suggested that he travel to Fort Drum and provide a demonstration by scanning Rachel’s grave stone. The demonstration at Rachel’s grave site went beautifully. The system performed perfectly in spite of a continual rain that drenched us. Fortunately, scanning Rachel’s grave stone took only 2 hours.

Figure 3: 3D scan of Rachel’s grave stone

In figure 3 the epitaph is very clear, which reads: “Rachel A good & faithful nurse. Died Jan. 10 1834.” The lower epitaph reads “This monument was placed in her memory by her loving children Vincent & Alexander LeRay de Chaumont & Therese de Gouvello.” Ironically, one year after this scan was done, while giving a tour of the cemetery I found the grave stone broken into several pieces by a large oak tree that had come down in a wind storm. Fortunately, we have the 3D scan of the stone allowing us to replicate it.

In 2010, the Cultural Resources Program at Fort Drum embarked on a new project to answer several pressing concerns about the cemeteries. First, we suspected that there were unmarked graves surrounding the two known African American grave markers. Military training had the potential to encroach upon the boundaries of the Sheepfold Cemetery where Rachel lies, with the new development and expansion of nearby training course. It was necessary to know, with absolute certainty, whether the boundary of the cemetery was accurate or if there were burials outside of the fence. Second, we also wanted to make a concerted effort to find whether there were other African American graves in the other cemeteries on the base.

To answer these questions, an inventory of our cemeteries was necessary and then the attributes could be compared. Once that was completed and the African American graves identified, geophysical surveys would be conducted in the vivinity. Unfortunately, the staff did not have the expertise or training needed to perform the geophysical surveys. Fortunately, I was able to acquire funding to hire an intern, Mike Sprowles, through the Oak Ridge Institute of Science and Education (ORISE) to complete the project.

Mike started the project by creating a database and developing the attributes that he intended to record. The database became something more than what was originally intended. His database can compare attributes of all 1802 burials and search for similarities. It also has the capability of tracking the conditions of each stone and is a perfect tool to manage the cemeteries. Finally, it is searchable by name and can be used by any member of the public for genealogical research. He finished the inventory in just 10 months and we publicly launched the database as a genealogy tool in October of 2012. He has surveyed both the Gates cemetery and the Sheepfold cemetery and found several anomalies consistent with unmarked burials near Rachel’s grave stone.

But I digress. I will let Mike explain this project in his own words in his blog post. Also, the Tech Week Blog will feature Dr. Michael Heilen of Statistical Research Inc., discussing the Alameda-Stone Cemetery in Tucson, AZ, as well as Katy Meyers, PhD. Candidate at Michigan State University, with her post on the spatial analysis of the Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Livingston County, New York. These posts have several things in common. All discuss the use of GIS and databases in their analyses. However, each is unique in how they demonstrate the advantages of these technologies in cemetery studies. The thing that excites me about archaeology’s use of technology is the surprising results one gets when applying various techniques to a particular problem. Technology has a way of finding answers to questions that you never intended to ask.

Read the First Post in this week’s Tech Week: “Examining Space of a Resting Place: GIS of a New York Cemetery” by Katy Meyers.