When I signed up for this Pubic Archaeology class I asked myself, what exactly does “Public Archaeology” mean? With our syllabus in hand, I read over the purpose of this class. The first purpose listed, “..Link students to the broader community by giving them the opportunity to provide service and learn at the same time”, supporting my theory that we would be involved with the community. Hints “Public” but I still lacked the knowledge of what Public Archaeology truly meant. Thankfully our first reading assignment was ” Do you even know what public archaeology is? Treads, theory, practice, ethics” by Lorna-Jane Richardson & Jamie Almansa-Sanchez.
What is Archaeology? According to Richardson & Almansa-Sanchez, Archaeology is “influenced by emerging trends, especially with regard to theoretical approaches to interpretation”. Now, how does placing “Public” in front of “Archaeology” change their definition? The theoretical factor of the term remains accurate, but the definition remains open. We find yourself still searching for the correct terms to label this fairly new approach to Archaeology. By adding “Public” we also granted new and multiple perspectives and opportunities to enter, in doing so Richardson & Almansa-Sanchez suggested we must “situate our work socially, politically and economically”.
Public Archaeology is defined as both a disciplinary practice and a theoretical position by Richardson & Almansa-Sanchez. With communication and involvement with the public, Public Archaeology becomes a sub-discipline. With fifteen contrasting contexts listed by Richardson & Almansa-Sanchez they point out there is not a definitive answer to the question what does a public archaeologist do? The World Archaeological Congress in 1986 had an early manifestation established to promote “the exchange of results from archaeological research; professional training and public education for disadvantaged nations, groups and communities; the empowerment and support of Indigenous groups and First Nations peoples; and the conservation of archaeological sites”.
On our first day of class this data was evident, our institution will be assisting our local county in a project at a long-forgotten Cemetery in hopes of recovering part of the native history. The Hidalgo County Pauper Cemetery was founded in 1913 and was operational until approximately 1990. Being a Pauper Cemetery majorly of the individuals who were laid to rest there were indigent, and a fraction were unidentified individuals. Sadly, the documents belonging to the cemetery are no longer available, this is where our class springs in to action. As a class, we will be providing information of the individuals who were laid to rest here. Through the help with modern technology we will be proving names, date of births, date of deaths, descriptive details of each individual’s headstone’s, details of grave offerings provide by loved ones, imagery of the graves, as while as a GPS location of each grave. By using our handheld devices to do the majorly of the data collection we will providing this information with minimal distress to the graves.
As a percipient in this project, I am hopeful to learn about how these individuals lived and died. As a native to this area, it is a pleasure to find out how life was in the area I call home. My thoughts on public archaeology are full of wonder and pride. The wonder if our community as well as the archaeological community will embrace our work or disregard it do to the title we find ourselves under. And the pride of helping a community, which I am a member of. Through the discipline of archaeology, we will remain professional and complete our goals throughout the semester.