A Personal Interpretation of Public Archaeology

As do many individuals, I consider public archaeology to be a very broad and debated topic. Prior to signing up for a course in the field, I had little to no knowledge of what exactly public archaeology entailed. Upon reading Lorna-Jane Richardson and Jaime Almansa-Sanchez’s “Do You Even Know What Public Archaeology Is?”  and Barbara J. Little’s Public Benefits of Public Archaeology, as well as learning from class lecture and notes, I have come to a more developed understanding.  I can only hope this will deepen upon completion of the semester. Based on the perspective of my minimal understanding, I would say public archaeology refers to the sub-field of archaeology which encompasses the growing need to educate, involve and inspire a community (the ‘public’) with the projects and findings of which said community may be involved, directly or indirectly.

Our ‘Hidalgo County Pauper Cemetery Project’ aligns with this on multiple levels. For one, in the process of mapping and identifying within the Hidalgo County Pauper Cemetery, we will not only be educating ourselves, but the public as well. While the cemetery itself may be known within Hidalgo County and surrounding areas, little is known about the extent of its inhabitants. Some graves are marked and many are not, creating an opportunity for exploration and data collection. This information may prove to be useful, if not meaningful, for many, including family and friends of the deceased. This brings me to community involvement. It is not difficult to see how archaeological knowledge has often been confined to professionals.  By use of a public blog, which is accessible to all, the participants involved on the exploration end will be able to openly share information and updates with anyone who is interested in being informed. If non-archaeology professionals or students within Hidalgo County become inspired by the project and techniques used within the anthropological process, this would only be beneficial to these individuals, UTRGV and the field  itself. In my humble opinion, the beauty of public archaeology lies in the opportunity to reach out to a community, without which public archeology would be impossible, and thus educate, involve and inspire. Richardson and Almansa-Sanchez’s article describes several theories/models behind public archaeology, though I will limit this particular post to the personal and early interpretation I have formed.

The lines of investigation I wish to pursue during this project include, but are not limited to: mapping, data collection, photography, archiving, communication within the media and community feedback. My educational background does not include mapping or archiving, so I am very excited to learn more about these techniques, as they may become essential to me one day. As an aspiring anthropologist, I am enthusiastic to learn the techniques behind specific data collection as well. As an aspiring author, I feel motivated to build a stronger social media presence and practice communication and feedback.  I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in this project, led by Dr. Rowe, and share the findings of myself and my classmates.

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