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.

Why Archaeology Matters: A Petition

Gov Affairs

Over the past month, the Society for Historical Archaeology and the archaeological community have been actively engaged in voicing our concern for the recent op-ed published by US Representatives Eric Cantor and Lamar Smith in the USA Today. SHA President Paul Mullins drafted a letter to Cantor and Smith, and our push to encourage people to share their thoughts about #WhyArchMatters was a surprising success. We’ve also asked for your stories and experience with NSF funding, a process that has yielded a number of responses that will aid in our efforts to further engage the federal government regarding why archaeology matters, and how public funding supports archaeological research.

We’ve also been working behind the scenes to establish a way for you and the people you serve to be even more engaged in communicating your opinion about the importance of publicly funded archaeological research. Today, we’re announcing the beginning of our first SHA Change.org petition.

By visiting the petition and adding your name, you will join us in telling Representatives Cantor and Smith that we believe archaeological research matters and should be funded by the US Government. But we need you to do more than just sign this petition: in order for this effort to be successful, we need you to take this petition into your own communities. Share it with the people who visit your museums, who you engage with through your research, or who volunteer at your labs. Post it on Facebook and Twitter and send it out through email, and let the communities you work with know how publicly funded research supports the work that you do, and how that work, in turn, benefits them.

We also want to draw your attention to a similar petition drive being led by our colleagues at the National Humanities Alliance. The National Endowment for the Humanities is also facing proposed budget cuts of 49 percent, and the National Humanities Alliance has begun a campaign to petition Congressional leaders. We encourage you to support their cause, since NEH funding has been a critical source of funding for historical archaeology projects, as well.

Your support is important to archaeology and to SHA. Thank you!

Sign the SHA Petition to encourage Eric Cantor and Lamar Smith to continue Supporting publicly funded Archaeological research