Archaeology in the Community: Stepping up and Reaching out

This week’s #SHA2016 blog post highlights Archaeology in the Community, a nonprofit, archaeological outreach program serving the D.C., Maryland, and Virginia area!  Read below to learn more about AITC, and please visit their website, Facebook, and Twitter pages!

We are Archaeology in the Community, and we LIVE to bring archaeology to the public!

In 2006, AITC founder Dr. Alexandra Jones noticed that many of the young students in her Washington, D.C. neighborhood had never heard of archaeology, let alone met an archaeologist. As a trained archaeologist and educator, Dr. Jones was inspired to engage young people within her community and teach them the importance of archaeology. The program she created, Archaeology in the Community (AITC), allowed students in her community the unique opportunity to learn about their families’ histories and their community’s past from an archaeologist who lived around the block.

Dr. Jones began creating several customizable educational programs to teach archaeology in alignment with school curricula. These programs gained momentum across D.C., Maryland, and Virginia and, in 2009, AITC became a chartered 501(c)3 nonprofit that promotes and facilitates the study and public understanding of archaeological heritage.

AITC ‘s overall goal has been for “us”—the students, teachers, archaeologists, field techs, community members, curators, artists, and activists—to step up and participate in the archaeological conversation. Our voices are crucial to the health of the field. As Jennifer McKinnon writes in her own SHA blog post, “It Takes A Village to Build a Trail”:

“…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…No matter how well-funded, presented or shiny an idea is, if a community isn’t behind it, it has no worth.”

By consistently reminding our friends, our families, our community, that every artifact and site can help connect us to a particular day in history, a specific person, a local movement, a policy, and/or the global stage, we achieve our goal. Since 2009, AITC has helped increase community awareness of the benefits of archaeology and history through public events, enrichment programs, as well as provided professional development to college students interested in pursuing careers in archaeology.  At AITC, we create truly unique programs where the larger community and we can join into the conversation about archaeology through various mediums; art, food, music, written word and traditional archaeology.  All artifacts, no matter how seemingly trite, embody economic, social, political and spiritual stories. AITC has partnered with educational institutions, cultural establishments, and community organizations to bring this to fruition, and has since expanded our social media presence to reach the general public.

Students write questions for archaeologists.

Students learn the basics of excavation.

Day of Archaeology Festival 2014

Please visit our website and our Facebook and Twitter pages for more information and a look into some of our public events!

And, if you are in town July 18th, come join us for Day of Archaeology Festival, at Dumbarton Oaks!

Meet a Member: Michelle Pigott

Here’s the latest in our series of entertaining interviews with a diverse array of your fellow SHA members. Meet a member for the first time or learn something about a colleague that you never knew before. This blog series also offers current members an opportunity to share their thoughts on why SHA membership is important (Camaraderie? Professional service? Exchange of ideas in conference rooms and beyond? You tell us!). If you would like to be an interviewee, please email the Membership Committee Social Media Liaisons Eleanor Breen ( or Kim Pyszka (

Michelle Pigott is a graduate student at the University of West Florida. Her master’s thesis discusses culture change in two Apalachee Indian communities during the 18th century using detailed ceramic analyses.

What’s the most interesting artifact you’ve ever found?

This summer the field school I was running as a graduate student field director discovered a partially complete miniature Apalachee brushed ceramic jar, nestled in the backfill of a historic post hole. This fall UWF’s Virtebra Lab run by Dr. Kristina Killgrove and fellow grad student Mariana Zechini, was able to 3D scan and print it:

What is the first site you worked on? What is the last one (or current one)?

The first site I worked on was a month-long field school through California State University, Dominguez Hills, at a late historic Chumash Indian village in the Los Padres National Forest in 2009. The most recent site I’ve worked on (field work ended in August, lab work is ongoing) is a mid-18th century Apalachee Indian Mission, San Joseph de Escambe, located north of Pensacola. It has been the main source of my material for my master’s thesis research and also has a great blog run by our PI, Dr. John Worth:

What are you currently reading?

Well my “for fun” book right now is Cibola Burn by James A. Corey, the fourth of a series of excellent hard sci-fi novels. Archaeologically speaking, I am reading The Native American World Beyond Apalachee: West Florida and the Chattahoochee Valley (John H. Hann, 2006) and French Colonial Archaeology in the Southeast and Caribbean (Kenneth G. Kelly and Meredith D. Hardy, editors, 2011), both of which are providing excellent background information for my master’s thesis research.

What did you want to be when you grew up? 

In my elementary school years I was fairly certain I would grow up to be a paleontologist, however, discovering a cache of old Egyptology coffee table books at eight years old left me obsessed with archaeology (I had pyramids painted on my bedrooms walls well into high school), and while my interests have shifted continents and time periods, I’ve never looked back!

Why are you a member of SHA?

As a graduate student, being in SHA opens up so many opportunities to be in tune with current international research, as well as great networking. Plus it’s an awesome excuse to go and visit new cities for the annual meetings!

At what point in your career did you first join SHA?

When I was in my second year of graduate school.

How many years have you been a member (approximately)?

Two years (and planning on many more!)

Which article from Historical Archaeology has been the most influential to you?

Well right now, as part of my thesis work, I’ve been reading up a lot on the theory of “creolization” and how it’s best used to discuss culture change in North American Native Indian communities. I’ve found three articles, “From Colonist to Creole: Archaeological Patterns of Spanish Colonization in the New World” by Charles Ewan (2000, 34(3):36-45), “The Intersections of Colonial Policy and Colonial Practice: Creolization on the Eighteenth-Century Louisiana/Texas Frontier” by Diana DiPaolo Loren (2000, 34(3):85-98), and “Creolization in Southwest Florida: Cuban Fishermen and “Spanish Indians,” ca. 1766-1841” by John Worth (2012, 46(1):142-160), to be especially helpful on this diverse topic.

Which benefit of belonging to SHA do you find the most beneficial?

It’s definitely a tie between access to all the journal articles (online!) and being able to attend the annual meetings. A conference full of presentations just on historical archaeology? Yes please!



SHA at the National Council for the Social Studies Conference

Last November the SHA’s Public Education and Interpretation Committee (PEIC) participated in the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) conference.  This large, well-attended annual conference was held in Boston this year at the Hynes Convention Center.  The target audience is composed of teachers, superintendents, principals, and curriculum developers.  Like previous years, the SHA has participated as a collaborative effort as part of the Archaeology Education Clearinghouse (AEC).  This year, the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) joined the SHA at the exhibitor booth, and the Society for American Archaeology (SAA) sent support materials.  The SHA sent local Boston members to participate in the conference, and we provided support through our local group, the Massachusetts Archaeology Education Consortium (MAECON).

The NCSS supports many facets of social studies, and specifically includes archaeology as part of their mission, seen in this image of their branding materials in the exhibitor hall.

Large sign promoting archaeology as a facet of social studies at NCSS 2014.

As part of SHA’s PEIC, we should be thinking of ways to support the mission of national groups like NCSS who are trying to facilitate the teaching of archaeology to educators.  This top down approach of teaching teachers to teach archaeology is an economical use of our time.  Yet, despite a warm welcome, archaeology was only subtly sprinkled throughout this conference.

Our AEC booth had pamphlets about our various organizations (SHA, SAA, AIA, and MAECON).  We had targeted information for teachers in the form of handouts with resources they could check out on their own time.  We also had CDs with curriculum plan ideas.  Finally, since a majority of the participants were local to New England, we had handouts explaining local Massachusetts resources.

At the SHA annual conference in Seattle we discussed ways to improve our NCSS exhibitor booth.  We are specifically working to improve our own branding to send a clearer, more coherent message to educators at this conference.  Sometimes our message, “Teach with Archaeology,” gets lost.  Though the idea of improving branding and marketing seems abstract and complex, it can easily be tweaked with a few modest changes.  Some that we discussed include the production of AEC business cards, an updated website, and clearer, unified signage.

Where we seemed to really hit the mark at NCSS is having an emphasis on hand outs and deliverables that teachers can reference later.  It is important to make incorporating archaeology into teaching as easy as possible, suggesting strategies that can immediately be implemented into classes. Prompts such as “things you can do tomorrow…” or “things you can do next semester…” will help turn our “teach with archaeology” message into clear action items for teachers.

This approach goes hand in hand with the importance of demonstrating an understanding of the standards that are in place for curriculum development in schools.  To be relevant to educators, we must demonstrate how archaeology supports Core Curriculum; how it can be integrated into classrooms to support requirements teachers already have to meet.  It is especially helpful for us to suggest ways to teach WITH archaeology, not suggesting that it be taught as a separate unit.

While the AEC booth was the only group explicitly presenting archaeology at the exhibitor hall, a few other groups were interpreting history that we know was influenced by archaeological discoveries, but did not necessarily connect the dots back to archaeology itself. Colonial Williamsburg, for example sold kits for artifact interpretation.  A group called Art in History sold paintable ceramics with associated lesson plans.  And other historical sites such as Mount Vernon, and Plimoth Plantation presented history but did not directly tie it back to the supporting archaeology.

Besides the booths at the exhibit hall, the conference also had one and two hour long workshops.  Only a small handful of workshops this year included archaeology, and some of these were cancelled.  Topics included the archaeology of China, the archaeology of Boston, teaching with objects, and starting your own dig.  I anticipate that additional workshops on archaeology would be well received at this conference.  The workshop I presented had roughly 50 engaged participants, many of whom were interested in finding more information about archaeology to bring back to their classes.

Moving forward, I think one way for archaeologists to engage with teachers and curriculum directors more thoroughly is to try to speak their “language.”  Staying up to date on new ideas and trends in teaching philosophies will help us gain this access.  For example, concepts like inquiry, problem-based learning, and teaching with objects, are great ways for archaeologists to tap into what is going on in teachers’ worlds and begin to access classrooms.