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?

 

Connecting with the connectionless, or: How I stopped worrying and came to terms with the Snowbirds

I happen to be a public archaeologist in a place many might envy (especially after this winter):  southwest Florida.  I have worked at the Florida Public Archaeology Network for several years and have done public archaeology and public history in a number of states across the U.S. East Coast. I was excited to take this job and apply what I’ve learned to a part of the world wholly new to me.

One of the biggest parts of public interpretation is knowing your audience and I quickly learned that that was going to be more difficult than anticipated.  Southwest Florida’s population history is inconsistent at best.  Without any real roads or rail lines, the area remained as wild as any of the west until the 1920s and 1930s. Today there are very few “native” communities.  In one of the counties in my region, the local historical advisory council reported that fifty percent of the population moves out of the county every eight years (Charlotte County Historical Advisory Council 2012).  The rest of the area residents are migrant families and snowbirds. “Snowbirds” (for those not in the know) are retirees who come south for The Season (the period between Thanksgiving and Easter) before returning to the Northeast U.S., Midwest U.S., or eastern Canada.

The question became: how do you connect people to a landscape and an archaeological past with which they had no personal connection?  A connection to one’s own community, backyard, and family history is the first and easiest way to bring together archaeology and the wider public (like these wonderful public archaeology projects: The Maritime Archaeology Trust, Ontario’s Fugitive Slave Chapel, and the WWII Maritime Heritage Trail, Battle of Saipan).

When the local population is not at all local (or permanent) and when archaeological interest stops at resources from “back home,” some public archaeology techniques just will not work. I needed a new game plan that avoided an assumption of prior common connection or knowledge.  I also needed to redefine what meaningful and successful public archaeology meant in this case.  If you ever find yourself in a similar situation, here are some things I’ve learned:

Sometimes Flashy is OK

As a discipline we’ve moved far past the days of the Big Men worship. There are so many more fascinating personal and wider cultural connections found in a modern archaeologist’s research. We know so much more now that it’s almost a pity to get stuck on the George Washingtons. But to an unconnected seasonal visitor these singular individuals can act as a gateway to a much more complex discussion of archaeology.

For example, last year Florida began a state-wide initiative called Viva Florida 500 which commemorates the 500th anniversary of Ponce de León’s arrival to Florida shores.

Dr. Annette Snapp, Florida State Park staff, and visitors on Mound Key

Including the Southwest Florida leg of León’s 1513 expedition helped me broach the topics of proto-historic and historic native populations (primarily the Calusa) and their cultural adaptations in the face of the Spanish, the Calusas’ ties to Cuba, Spanish ships and shipwrecks in Florida waters, and the archaeological evidence of Florida’s role as a northern borderland to their New World colonies through lectures and children’s programming.  I not only placed an emphasis on broader archaeological principles and the preservation thereof, but directed them to actual physical sites and museums where they could learn more.  We even offered kayak paddles to Mound Key Archaeological State Park which was the Calusa capital at the time of contact and the site visited by León. Participants could connect the Big Man to the very people and environment he visited 500 years ago in a very tangible way.

Additionally, unusual and personal topics find niche audiences. I’ve spoken about the Florida archaeology of pets, beauty and hygiene, tourism, gambling, and toys.  By far, my most popular and oft requested talk for the snowbirds is the archaeology of bootlegging and rumrunning in Southwest Florida. You might be surprised what goes over well.

Sometimes Digital and Social Media Sources are Not Always Your Friends

It is almost hard to keep up with all of the innovative ways archaeologists are using social media and digital resources to share their work with the public (for example, IUP’s Archaeology Island and VCU’s Virtual Curation Laboratory, to name a few).  Unfortunately, in an area with residents (and even historical organizations) that have absolutely no online presence, all the Facebook posts, Twitter announcements, Reddit threads, and digital collections will go unrecognized and unutilized.  I have had to balance my accustomed social media presence with other traditional methods like good old fashion newsprint, TV, and radio, printed and posted flyers, and a great deal of pavement pounding. In my case, old standbys have been vital.

Find the Interpretive Gaps

There seems to be a great deal of focus on a very narrow range of historical and archaeological topics in southwest Florida: the Calusa, the Seminole, and snowbirds Thomas Edison and Henry Ford.  Since those were heavily represented topics, I sought out new pastures.

Fort Myers is named after a Seminole War and Civil War fort that once stood on the site.  Surprisingly, this era is of little focus in the town’s historic interpretation and preservation endeavors, leaving the door wide open for new efforts. I was genuinely surprised to learn how many people didn’t know Fort Myers was named after a fort, and an unusual fort at that. Interestingly, most of the Union troops stationed there during the Civil War were from the 2nd Regiment U.S. Colored Troops.

Attendees listen to local history professor, Dr. Irvin Winsboro, talk about the Battle of Fort Myers

Together with the Lee County Black History Society, FPAN initiated a community celebration commemorating the USCT in the historically African American neighborhood of Dunbar.  Reenactors, community organizations, historians, archaeologists, and two American Legion posts participated in the inaugural event in which more than 150 visitors attended.  2015 marks the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Fort Myers and we plan to host an even bigger celebration to engage this underserved population.

Patience is Everything

My only companion was the comforting sound of crickets.

This was (and is) the hardest lesson I’ve learned in such an attendance numbers-focused field.  Constant pressure has been the key to success.  My first year in Southwest Florida, well-advertised, community-requested events went completely unattended.  No one.  Not a seat filled.

Year two, my usual audience had two to 12 people.  I have never been more elated to see two people in my whole pubarch life. At last, progress!  My “success meter” has mentally shifted from attendance counts to number of programming invitations.  I began to receive more speaking programming invitations to unusual locations like yacht clubs, Sugar Festivals, Swamp Heritage days, and DAR meetings.  In these early stages, unsolicited invitations are markers of an accepted message and spread of legitimacy.

Year three has brought audiences of 12 to 150+ people.  Seasonally rotating populations mean timing and scheduling are key.  Adapting my pace to “Florida time” and re-imagining what successful public archaeology looks like in southwest Florida has given me a whole new outlook and direction for my future work. Hopefully they day will soon come when the snowbirds and other temporary and connectionless residents of southwest Florida will feel a little more connected to their home-away- from-home thanks in part to FPAN’s work.

So tell me, how do you engage connectionless populations? How have you been able to successfully connect with tourists?

Works Cited

Charlotte County Historical Advisory Committee
2012    Introductory notes. Historical Connections Conference, Port Charlotte, Florida.

Top 10 Public Archaeology opportunities at SHA 2014

Interested in Public Education and Interpretation?  The 2014 conference is chock-full of opportunities to learn, share, and experience Public Archaeology firsthand.  Here’s my top 10 recommendations for sessions to join or meetings to catch.

1.  Attend JOIN SHA’s Public Education and Interpretation Committee!

Committee meetings are scheduled for Friday morning at 8 am.  The PEIC will be meeting in the Courville Room at the Hilton Quebec.  On the agenda: introductions and what projects SHA members initiated over the past year, recap of SHA’s participation in the Archaeology Education Clearinghouse and attendance at National Council of Social Studies in St. Louis, and an update on the Public Archaeology Toolbox.

If you can’t make it for the meeting, join the conversation on Twitter @FPANlive that morning or email me at semiller@flagler.edu for future committee updates.

2.  Municipal Archaeology (Thursday 8:30 Room 301B)

All municipal archaeology programs owe their existence to public engagement.  The session includes overview of several municipal programs from the US (St. Augustine, Phoenix, New York City) and multiple cities in Quebec and Ontario.  Tours, exhibits, heritage tourism, and public excavation are just some of the many public benefits of these programs.

3. PechaKucha!  (Friday 1:30 Room 207)

One of the things I’m most excited to see is “My Research in a Nutshell.” PechaKucha is a presentation style where the speaker selects 20 slides and must confine comment to only 20 per slide.  PechaKucha Nights have popped up all over the country as a fun, informal way to communicate ideas, projects, or creative works.  I’m curious to see the different ways the students are successful in interpreting their findings for the conference but will keep my potential public audiences in mind.  Come observe, then challenge yourself to sign up for your local group.  For example, St. Augustine just started a PechaKucha Night series last year (check out their webpage) and I’m looking to get on the 2014 roster.

PechaKecha in action!

4.  Community Archaeology for the 21st C (Friday 3:30 Room 205B)

Joe Hoyt of NOAA organized this session to highlight collaboration between professional archaeologists and avocational divers to study WWI and WWII shipwrecks off North Carolina’s coast. The session culminates with a roundtable discussion between Hoyt, John Bright of the National Park Service, Fred Engle of Battle of the Atlantic Research and Expedition Group, and Brandi Carries of Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.  I’ll be listening especially to the outreach products that resulted from the survey, particularly creation of a documentary and integration of cultural resources into scuba training as mentioned in the abstracts.

5.  Public Archaeology Panel (Saturday 1:30 Room 207)

Public archaeology issues are best expressed by deliberation.  An international panel organized by grad students Nicole Bucchino (FPAN-UWF), Jennifer Jones (ECU) and Jenna Copin (CUNY) brings together PubArch veterans to discuss their experiences for grad students.  Lively debate is ensured with the participation of incoming SHA President Charles Ewen (ECU) on the panel, as well as representatives from Thunder Bay (NOAA), NPS, Cayman Islands, and consulting firms.

6.  Posters! (Friday 12:20 Room 200)

Poster abstracts recently became available and I can see several public archaeology offerings in the hall.

  •  “Sharing the Sweet Life: Public Archaeology in Practice at a historic Louisiana sugar mill” poster by Matt McGraw, Rebecca McLain and Veberal Clement of LSU promises to highlight Facebook page, student blog, site tours, displays and media coverage.
  • “Black Experiences within the Field of Archaeology” by Ayana Flewellen (UT at Austin) and Justin Dunnavant (UF), will highlight progress from the Society of Black Archaeologists Oral History Project and touch on themes that arose through the interview process.  What a great resource to consult for upcoming talks, including but not limited to those requested during Black History Month.
  • Blackwater Maritime Heritage Trail poster by Benhamin Wells (UWF) will focus on a heritage tourism approach to interpretation.  Focus on maritime resources and how to overcome the challenge of sharing these sites with the public.

7.  New Acadia Project (Friday 4:15 Room  302B)

Mark Rees’ paper on Public Archaeology and Mythistory caught my eye.  The role of the archaeologist in exploring mythistory of Cajuns intrigues me, as well as use of crowdsourcing to fund the project.  This paper is part of a larger session on Archaeologies of Acadia: From Homeland to Diaspora.

8. Archaeologies of Memory and Identity (Friday 1:15 Room 206A)

Cross-cultural meanings of place and places of meaning will be presented with the intention of challenging us to use ethnographic approach in our work.   Patty Jeppson and Jed Levin are two of my PubArch favorites who always bend my brain to think in new ways.  Outside the US and Canada, this session will include papers from Australia, England, Portugal, Japan and the Canary Islands.

9. Community Education and Public Engagement (Saturday 3:30 Room 206A)

After you’ve had a chance to experience #10 (don’t peek!) come over to Room 206A and hear a variety of papers representing multiple approaches to public archaeology: social media, success of swag, hands-on excavation, avocational programs and archaeology months.  I’m particularly excited to hear from Archaeo-Quebec, an organization that looks similar to my own network.  Reading their abstract led me to looking up their website to learn more.    

10.  Last but not least….PUBLIC DAY!!!  Pleins Feux sur l’archaeology!!

Come see archaeology interpreted for the public Quebec style!  Each SHA public day is truly unique and I never lack for ideas to share (okay steal) after perusing the exhibit hall.  For a flavor of public day you can check out my blog last year from Leicester.  Full description of events available on the conference website.

Event Flier

Didn’t see your paper or poster?  Add it in the comments below!  And don’t forget to follow conference happenings on Twitter using the #SHA2014 and #PubArch hashtags.

Unless stated, all events take place in the Convention Center.  Refer to program for end times and full session descriptions.  While I took French for 9 years (yes, 9!) I’m obviously limited in my review of the abstracts submitted en francais.

Mes excuses à nos colleages francophones!  Si vous donnez un document de l’archéologie publique et je manqué, s’il vous plaît envoyer ci-dessous et je vais vous acheter une bière!