The Society for American Archaeology’s paper of the month for May comes from Advances in Archaeological Practice and is entitled: ‘The Future of American Archaeology: Engage the Voting Public or Kiss Your Research Goodbye! Authors: Terry H. Klein, Lynne Goldstein, Deborah Gangloff, William B. Lees, Krysta Ryzewski, Bonnie W. Styles, and Alice P. Wright.

Publically-funded archaeological research, programs, and museums in the United States are under attack by the Administration, Congress, state legislatures, and local governments. We expect these attacks to continue and even increase in the future. In the past, a vigilant network of historic preservation and archaeological organizations has been able to thwart most of these attacks. The public, however, largely remains an untapped ally. As a discipline, we have not built a strong public support network. We have not demonstrated the value of archaeology to the public, beyond a scattering of educational and informational programs. In this article, a group of archaeologists whose projects and programs focus on public engagement provide a number of specific recommendations on how to build a strong public constituency for the preservation of our nation’s archaeological heritage. These projects and programs include:

• Michigan State University’s Campus Archaeology Program
• The Crow Canyon Archaeological Center in Cortez, Colorado
• The Florida Public Archaeology Network, a statewide program
• Wayne State University’s “Unearthing Detroit” Project
• The programs of the Illinois State Museum
• The Garden Creek Project in western North Carolina

These projects and programs showcase a range of actions and activities that can be used to build a strong public constituency, in addition to government support for archaeology. These include, for example:

• Informing and educating the public and government decision makers on the value and contributions of archaeology.
• Offering opportunities for children and adults to participate in archaeological field and laboratory programs, and collections research.
• Using archaeological collections as a tool for engaging the public about the value and contributions of archaeology.
• Educating our university students on the need to engage the public whenever possible.
• Embracing and using social media to get out our message.
• Building strong relationships with state and local legislators, and members of Congress.
• Working collaboratively with the broader historic preservation community, as well as with environmental groups.
• Educating state legislatures on the value of museums and other archaeological institutions.
• Promoting a shared sense of place with members of the public.

It is especially important to engage voters, as these are the individuals that our political decision makers listen to. We need to use every archaeological program, project, exhibit, and publically oriented publication as an opportunity to promote the value of what we do as archaeologists, using words and concepts that everyone can understand and appreciate. If we fail to do so, the laws and regulations that protect our country’s archaeological heritage will be greatly diminished or just disappear. The future of the past is in our hands.


The Society for American Archaeology’s paper of the month for May, ‘The Future of American Archaeology: Engage the Voting Public or Kiss Your Research Goodbye!  will be freely available until the end of May.

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *