Public Archaeology and Education

Both Moe and Jeppson stress the importance of having archaeology taught in schools. Moe describes Project Archaeology, which is an education program aimed at providing educators with the materials they need in order to teach archaeology in their schools. Moe’s strategies for incorporating archaeology into youth education were ideal and apparently successful. Jeppson, on the other hand, seemed rather cynical and instead attacked the issue of “culture wars”, which directly affects what gets taught in schools, including archaeology. She claims that the political right makes teaching social studies (which archaeology and anthropology are classified under) difficult, if not impossible. She takes it a step further, however, by arguing that archaeologists do nothing to stop this. According to her, archaeologists should take more active roles as “culture warriors”. I think while Moe’s Project Archaeology is good for schools, Jeppson is also right in arguing that we need to perhaps be more aware and active in our current political climate for archaeology to even have a future. Hopefully while remaining politically vigilant, we can continue to have projects to teach children archaeology. It is incredibly important to have a younger generation interested and engaged in archaeological pursuits because without them, archaeology will likely fade from existence. I think initiatives such as the CHAPS program from our own university do an excellent job in providing archaeological and historical information to school children, as well as adults. Having an annual archaeology fair has also helped to make more children (and again, adults) more aware of archaeology in general. Initiatives such as these are vital to the development of archaeology in our local community, and starting with children is a sure way to ensure its survival. Hopefully these programs will pave the way for more archaeological conceptions in the education realm. I believe that our local students will not only benefit from such conceptions, but also become truly interested in archaeology not as a subject, but as a possible career.

Final Reflection

I have been with this course/project since it’s conception last semester and I hope to continue with it into the future. As an aspiring archaeologist, this course caught my eye immediately. It was the first course that I saw with a hands-on initiative in archaeology, and the only course I’ve seen since. Surely the success of this course will pave the way for future courses in archaeology. I have learned an immeasurable amount from it and I’m sure there are still more things I can learn from it further down the line. This course/project is immensely important not only to the community, but to us as students, which is why I hope to continue to be a part of it. Our work helps inform and engage the community, and as students, we are able to acquire hands-on experience in community archaeology.There have been ups and downs, as with all endeavors, but the change that this has brought and could continue to bring the community is what makes it all worth it.

Because I was already familiar with the data collecting strategies of the previous semester, getting back into the groove of things was relatively simple. I was better prepared to face the weather (although, thankfully, the days were not as hot as last semester’s) and I remembered to keep my cellphone on battery saving mode so that I could actually use it to collect data for the duration of our class time. Unfortunately, one of the problems I encountered this semester was that my phone did not want to upload several of my data entries. I then had to redo several of my previous entries with a classmate who had a better functioning cellphone (or better internet connection, I’m still not sure what the problem was). Aside from the weather and dysfunctional devices, there were no setbacks or obstacles which led to a very successful semester.

This semester, we were able to continue our data collection and very nearly completed data entries on all the marked graves! When we first flagged the more than 1,000 graves last semester, it seemed like it would take an eternity to complete. I wondered if I would even be able to participate in the completion of the project because the finish line just seemed so far away. However, with the popularity of the class last semester, we ended up with more helping hands this semester and we were able to accelerate our work. It seems this trend may continue. I am very excited for the next step in the project, which will hopefully be the use of GPR (ground penetrating radar) to locate more unmarked graves. In the previous semester, cadaver dogs were brought from California to sniff out unmarked graves but because of the close proximity of so many cadavers, the dogs became a little overwhelmed. Even so, they found around 20 unmarked graves but there are likely many more that we may discover next semester. Hopefully we will then have a better idea of just how many people are buried at the Hidalgo County Public Cemetery.

One of the best moments of this semester was being able to witness a family become reunited with a loved one whose grave had been unmarked and lost for many years. Through old records and the data entries of the graves surrounding it, Dr. Rowe was able to locate the lost grave. Moments like those are why this project is so important. Finding more unmarked graves may help us connect more families with deceased loved ones that they may not have been able to properly mourn or visit in years. This, of course, is one of the main and most important objectives of our work. We also aim to create a more welcoming environment for those who still visit these nearly forgotten graves and to provide them with any information we can. Personally, I was able to converse more with visitors at the cemetery last semester. This semester I did not come across many visitors with questions or comments, but I believe this was due to the fact that they were already familiar with our presence there. With that being said, I hope that we are able to engage more with the community in the future. I know that there are plans to have a community event for Dia de Los Muertos, which is an excellent way to engage with the community. Events like these could prove to be beneficial to all of us.

As a student, this course has had tremendous value. First of all, I have gained first hand experience with community-based archaeology. Having spoken to community members that this project affects has been very educational and insightful. I have also gained a lot of hands on experience with data entry and equipment usage that will undoubtedly help me in my future as an archaeologist. Working on a project that benefits the community has also made me want to participate in more community-based projects. I hope in the future I will be able to do so and apply the skills and experience that I have gained through this course/project.

Communicating Archaeology

The “hidden audience” that Allen describes is both similar and different from the audience of our cemetery project. Firstly, those engaged with the cemetery are generally families of very real and impoverished individuals, not abstract individuals with a hobby. However, it could be argued that both audiences must hold a certain passion to remain engaged with the subject. Allen claims that the hidden audience is not only organized and numerous, but also relatively rich. In regard to the hidden audience of archaeology, I do not believe that being rich is a substantial indicator of its enthusiasts. While it is admittedly beneficial, and often times even necessary, to pander to those with thicker wallets, including other “hidden audiences” in our addresses can also be beneficial. By other hidden audiences I mean those that are not as described by Allen, namely those without money. For example, there are likely poor individuals out there, or even very young ones, that access their archaeological readings through free internet content. Of course, this has likely only been possible in more recent years. Regardless, addressing all those who share a passion in archaeology can only help to solidify and strengthen its future.

I definitely do not usually see all of Allen’s 10 rules for addressing the hidden audience, especially not in articles I have read for other classes. Many articles or readings, while definitively educational, are not truly written for the casual or unfamiliar reader. For students, I believe this might be a little unavoidable. However, even writings that are a little too convoluted for those with a casual interest in archaeology could benefit from being more personal and to a certain degree, embellished. That isn’t to say that for a reading to be interesting it should be exaggerated and fantastical, but everyone enjoys an honest story. In most cases, it would make articles easier to read and easier to relate to. As a student who has now spent several years reading academic articles, I can attest to the fact that storytelling in writing is truly more engaging.

I think the best way to really engage the community is by telling the stories of interesting graves and grave offerings we find. Considering that most of us in the Rio Grande Valley are familiar with local occult practices, telling stories of the more spiritual offerings we have found could prove to catch the community’s interest. I think the best format in which to engage the community would be through social media. We live in an undeniably technological era so it only makes sense that we make the most of our environment. With that being said, I think it would also be beneficial to reach through newspapers so that we can also engage older generations that are still attached to traditional media. Specifically, getting our stories on the university’s Facebook page, or even creating our own Facebook page, could gather a good deal of attention. This may especially prove useful in the future, such as for the Dia de Los Muertos event that we hope to organize.

Reflection Essay

In the Fall 2017 semester, I participated in the Hidalgo County Public Cemetery Project through a Public Archaeology course taught by Dr. Rowe at UTRGV. Through this project, our goal was not only to collect information for a comprehensive database, but to restore dignity to a pauper cemetery that has only recently been detangled from the grasps of nature. Through these measures, we aimed to establish a connection with the community. Our hope was that the community would become interested and involved with the project.

We began the course by reading about public archaeology and its parameters as a practice. We learned about the purpose of public archaeology, which is to engage the community and to work on a project that will benefit them. There are different levels of community engagement, from data being presented by archaeologists to community members actively participating in projects themselves. Of course, there are disagreements on the degree of involvement that should be enacted by community members, with some deeming them too inexperienced to properly participate in an archaeological project. I am of the belief that so long as the community wishes to actively participate, they should be allowed to do so. Working on a project that can affect, or is part of a community’s life should include the community. Often, community members can offer insight that would otherwise be unattainable by archaeologists unless they themselves are from the same community.

After doing some preliminary reading, as well as learning how to use the totally station, and everything was properly set up with the county, we were able to finally begin work onsite. We began by numbering a modest amount of flags (about 200), which we quickly realized were not nearly enough to mark all the graves of the pauper cemetery. Nonetheless, a few of us began placing them while the rest of the class dove into data collection. The county provided us with a porch, a table, water and a fully functional restroom, which genuinely facilitated our work. The biggest obstacle had to be the weather, especially since we were at the cemetery during the hottest period of the day. Having an area to take breaks from the sun (as the cemetery does not have a lot of shade) was of great assistance. Other obstacles included a general lack of knowledge in regards to gravestone materials, a lack of consensus on the units of measurement and a lack of a stable internet connection, which often caused the loss of input data. The first can be easily corrected through a brief lesson on the different materials used for gravestones. The second was an inconsistency on our part as students, which we can easily rectify in the continuation of this project. The third, however, is a problem that rests out of our hands. An issue that developed once all the flags had been placed (more than one thousand), was that they were not placed in a very cohesive pattern which resulted in a lot of confusion when searching for specific grave numbers to recollect lost data.

During the time that we were working at the cemetery, a few community members did contact us in search of information on lost relatives that had been buried at the pauper cemetery years ago. What is interesting to note about the Hidalgo County Pauper Cemetery is that while most pauper cemeteries fell out of use in the mid-1900s, the Hidalgo County Pauper Cemetery was in use almost into the 21st century. For this reason, the cemetery still receives many visitors which is all the more sad when considering the state of ruin it has fallen into. Unfortunately, due to the significant amount of graves still left to work on, we were unable to help most of the people who reached out to us. However, other community members did communicate with us in person while we were at the cemetery. Many were curious as to our objective, and when we explained the purpose of our project, they seemed pleased. A few even offered more in depth conversation.

At the cemetery, there were many graves that were damaged or illegible which allowed us very little opportunity for data collection. In worse situations, there were hints of a grave but no marker, or completely destroyed gravestones that could simply be overlooked as rubble. Since the county already had a suspicion that bodies had been buried without markers, two cadaver dogs and their trainers were flown in from California to inspect. I expected them to find a couple of bodies, but they found upwards of 20 unmarked graves. However, the implications of these findings are minimal, since it is nearly impossible to figure out who is buried in these unmarked graves.

As a beginning, the Fall 2017 Public Archaeology course has been immensely successful in achieving its goals. We not only collected large amounts of data and set up flags for next semester, but we were also able to establish a connection with the community. Since this has barely been the beginning of an ongoing project, the connection with the community is understandably minimal, but it provides the groundwork for a larger collaboration in the future. Fortunately, the Hidalgo County Public Cemetery Project has been much loved by many of us and most of us intend to continue working on this project in the semesters to come. There has already been talk about plans for next semester, including a Dia de los Muertos event at the cemetery where we could communicate with a larger part of the community. Events are a great way to garner community attention, and a Dia de los Muertos event would fit perfectly with what we are trying to achieve through this project, which is to establish a place that the community can be proud of when visiting and their loved ones. Hopefully in the future, all of our goals will be realized and the community will be able to hold on to something that was nearly lost to them.

Public Archaeology

Public archaeology should be something that not only includes the community, but also benefits it. Ideally, the community should be interested and actively engaged. Public archaeology is important because it allows people to take an active role in preserving, and in many cases, discovering their history. It can also serve to strengthen the bond of community.

Our project on the Hidalgo County Pauper Cemetery will allow us to recover lost history that is very important to the community. We will hopefully be able to pinpoint lost or forgotten graves and create a comprehensive map that the community can access. Although the community is not really physically engaged with the project, the work that we accomplish will benefit them. Our project will not only give us hands on experience, but it will also give us the opportunity to contribute to the community, which is what Public Archaeology is all about.