Public Archaeology

Mortimer Wheeler said, ‘It is the duty of the archaeologist, as of the scientist, to reach and impress the public, and to mould his words in the common clay of its forthright understanding’. I completely agree with this! What is the point of investigating the past if we do not somehow report our findings to others? My opinion here definitely doesn’t agree with the readings, I really don’t like the complication of adding a new label for everything we do! I believe that the term public archaeology is any archaeological pursuit which identifies the public at large as its primary consumer- irrelevant of the source of funding or political context in which it operates. If I am being completely honest, I would say that this means that ALL archaeology is inherently public archaeology. Even privately funded CRM salvage excavations which do not publish their findings immediately, can and do periodically publish summaries or compilations of their excavations in a region. The process of systematically collecting and maintaining excavation records and artifact repositories allows for a future use of such data for dissemination to the public. The primary intent of an archaeological excavation may not be to immediately create a public presentation of some sort, but if the data exists it has the potential to be repackaged into a publicly consumed product in the future. The act of recording an excavation, doing some sort of an analysis, and maintaining these records belies the understanding that this data is meant for others. And in my opinion, “others” and “the public at large” are the same thing. Therefore, I think it’s a superfluous label, we are quibbling over divisions on a spectrum again. Having said that, I very much appreciate the need for archaeologists to focus on the public as its primary consumer; I truly wish ALL archaeologists would agree that this is fundamental to archaeology. There is no point to what we do if we don’t share it with others.


Our project aligns with the goals of public archaeology in a very clear way, we have specifically stated that the intent of this project is to share our findings with as many people as we possibly can. We have created online databases so that people can see the data we collect, and we are compiling this data into formats which highlight interesting or informative aspects. We aren’t simply cataloging information and making pretty pictures, we want to provide context and identity to a forgotten piece of our local history and then tell as many people as we can what we learned! I am most interested in providing stories to attach to the graves, I truly feel that more than anything we learn about social trends or discriminations, personal stories will be the most impactful thing that we can provide to the relatives and the community. We already know this area was rife with inequality, it still is. I think the relatives of the people we are studying will appreciate their stories being told, more than anything else. I do think we can find those stories by investigating trends, so we need to do big picture as well as individual focuses. One of the things I’m also interested in is looking through the newspapers to find big stories of social unrest or other movements in the area, and trying to find some of the key players involved. Maybe I can focus on a decade and see if I can find any names we have recorded so far mentioned in a newspaper? I like the idea of being a forensic investigator!

0 thoughts on “Public Archaeology

  1. Indeed, all archaeological findings should be made available to the public. However, what do you suggest changes about the current systems in place that prohibit some of these findings from being published or shared? And what of the information that is destroyed or lost? You added that “all archaeology is inherently public”, regardless of the “source of funding or political context in which it operates”– but is that really the reality? I understand your point, and I couldn’t agree with you more that archaeological data and the past [should] belong to the people and the public. Sadly, the fact is that data relevant to the people’s’ history is often ignored or destroyed by many governments and political entities, especially those in wars whose origins and catalysts can be told by archaeological findings. What do we make of the availability of the data then? How do we fix the country’s disposition to ignore the findings? Or how would liberating these findings fix the state of the country’s political affairs?

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