• Name: Paul McLerran
  • Locations:Virginia, United States
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Sunday, February 26, 2006

Toward a More Public Archaeology

A Paleo-Indian Village

In a booming suburban area adjacent to a large city in Washington State, an earth-mover wastes no time removing large volumes of soil and stone from a location slated for construction of a new public school. The vehicle operator has no clue that she is also digging into a site which, undisturbed for thousands of years, is the location of a Paleo-Indian village.

A Mound in Guatemala

Deep within a Guatemalan forest a poor modern Mayan villager, looking about himself to ensure that no one is watching, digs feverishly with pick and shovel into an earthen mound that has been shrouded by centuries of jungle growth. He knows that the ancient artifacts he finds, perhaps a beautifully decorated ceramic bowl or a meticulously carved figurine, will command a good price on the antiquities market and fetch him good money for his wife and children.

The Excavation Report

Within the walls of a well-known and highly respected university, a distinguished scholar puts the finishing touches on a final technical report that details the results of a major archaeological excavation that was in operation for 20 years. The report was written for other professionals and students to read and analyze. The excavation site will soon be re-filled with loose soil and, outside of the scholarly community, few will know what was discovered there and what it means to the local community and the world in general. If the finds were significant enough to capture the popular imagination, some of the discoveries and their implications will be published in popular journals such as Archaeology or National Geographic. Otherwise, the project will go unnoticed by the population.

A Mound in Africa

Near a river in a central African nation lies a mysterious mound that has been the focus of stories and speculation for generations of nearby villagers. For lack of funds, there has never been an organized, scientific investigation to discover the significance of the mound. It will remain a mystery and grist for tales for generations to come.

Archaeology for the Public

The stories above are fictitious, but they are based on true circumstances and events. They each say something about why archaeology, and more particularly field archaeology, like the subjects of its inquiry, could become a thing of the past in more ways than one. What could be done to arrest this possibility?

We may find that the answer lies more with the general public than with the scholarly or scientific community, or the officials of government. We may find that the answer lies in raising the awareness of the public through programs designed to generate the participation and interest of people in the preservation of their heritage. Archaeological digs do not have to be the sole proprietorship of a select group of scholars and students. If they are promoted effectively to the general public with programs designed to include everyone, even whole families and children, they can become a very powerful tool for managing our cultural resources and in turn may generate additional funds and the will and interest to sustain or even expand archaeological inquiry and historical conservation. Some programs and countries have been successful with this approach, turning an academic pursuit out of reach to the general public into a popular pastime or recreational activity that, under proper supervision, becomes a solution rather than a problem. Some examples are the
Crow Canyon archaeological digs programs in Colorado, certain archaeology programs in Virginia, and the massive efforts in Israel which have turned involvement in archaeological digs into a national sport. There are many, including older children (especially children, as they may be more inclined to get dirty with the prospect of finding a very old coin) who may want to experience the opportunity to be part of a dig adventure.

The mad pace of development and the continuing squeeze on public funds and priorities will make all of this a challenge, to say the least. This makes it all the more imperative that, until more of us recognize that archaeology can become a popular pastime worth investing some of our own resources and time, there may never be the volume of public support needed to ensure the preservation of much (let alone all) of our human heritage.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Dig Spotlight: Paleo-archaeology in South Africa

This excavation experience offers a rare educational opportunity to explore and make a contribution to the field of early human evolution in South Africa, one of the birthplaces of humankind. Click here (not below) to enter the site.

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Friday, February 17, 2006

Dig Spotlight: Dig Hazor

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And Joshua at that time turned back, and took Hazor, and smote the king thereof with the sword: for Hazor beforetime was the head of all those kingdoms.-- Joshua 11:10

As an excavation site in Israel, Hazor ranks among the largest. Spanning 200 acres, the population of this city in the second millennium B.C. was approximately 20,000, which, for its time, made it the largest and most significant city in what was then known as ancient Canaan. Strategically located along the route connecting Babylon and Egypt, it figured prominently in ancient texts of both Mesopotamia and Egypt. Joshua's conquest of Hazor led the way for settlement of the Israelites in Canaan, and the city was rebuilt and fortified by King Solomon and prospered until its destruction by the Assyrians in 732 BCE. Evidence of the violent destruction was discovered in various excavation areas of the site. If you are after sheer magnitude, few sites can match the experience. Under the direction of Professor Amnon Ben-Tor of the Hebrew University, an international team of scholars, students and volunteers will continue investigating this site's monumental structures this summer. According to scholars, a lost archive of cuneiform tablets may exist at the site, awaiting recovery. Dig participants will be staying in the air conditioned ETAP Hotel (a hotel!), and opportunities to visit other significant archaeological sites in Israel will be available. If you are interested in additional information, go to the Hazor excavations website, where you will also find application instructions.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Dig Spotlight: Dig Megiddo

This summer, Directors Israel Finkelstein and Dr. David Ussishkin of Tel Aviv University, along with Eric Cline of the George Washington University, will again be leading excavations of perhaps the most famous archaeological site in Israel: Tel Megiddo. Set astride one of the most important highways of the ancient world, the Via Maris, this ancient city controlled a strategic point along the connecting route between the great ancient civilizations of Egypt and Mesopotamia, and was the site of a number of famous battles. Known biblically as Armageddon, it is also the only site of the Levant that is noted in all of the most notable records of the ancient near eastern civilizations. It was the inspiration for James Michener's best-selling novel, The Source. In addition to a first class site, this summer's excavations will offer first class accommodations and a first class educational program for volunteers and students.

For more information about this opportunity, see the website.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Online Archaeology Research Resources

Looking for archaeology-related information to write a research paper, essay or just background information about a topic that you are curious about? A good online source to start with might be here. Bookmark it or keep it as a favorite on your browser.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Dig Spotlight: The Pompeii Archaeological Research Project

From the AIA online fieldschool opportunities listing, an outstanding archaeological field school experience may await you this summer:

The ‘Pompeii Archaeological Research Project: Porta Stabia’ (PARP:PS) has recently begun a new archaeological excavation, structural assessment, and geophysical survey of the shops, workshops, inns, and houses at VIII.7.1-15, Pompeii. This neighbourhood was selected for intensive investigation because of its unique potential to reveal the developing relationship between public and private space in the Roman city: each of the private buildings were connected to the so-called ‘entertainment district’ – an area comprising two theatres, a large public colonnaded courtyard, three temples, and a forum. The buildings for excavation line one of the major thoroughfares of Pompeii, just inside one of the city gates (the Porta Stabia); here was the social and cultural hub of Pompeii. Even so, our first season in 2005 represented the first time that stratigraphic excavations have ever taken place since the first clearance of volcanic debris just over a century ago. PARP:PS offers the rare opportunity to begin new and exciting research into a forgotten corner of Pompeii (not even the tourists enter here), where modern archaeological investigation and penetrating inquiry can shed light on this fascinating pocket of urban life.

PARP:PS forms a close collaboration between the University of Michigan (Dr Steven Ellis) and Stanford University (Dr Gary Devore). The project directors have combined 20 years of experience excavating Pompeii.

PARP:PS will continue its successful field school in 2006. The field school will include students from around the world, each of whom will bring their own cultural experiences, approaches, and questions. We believe in the benefits of working and thinking alongside other international students. Our ratio of students to staff members is particularly strong: we will accept 20 students to work in close consultation with experienced archaeologists, historians and scholars. The structure of the field school allows for students with all levels of experience.

Read more about this opportunity at the Pompeii Archaeological Research Project website.