Public outreach is often an overlooked aspect of archaeology. The general public outside of the archaeological community plays an integral part in the work that we do, by giving us access to sites and helping to preserve them. It is also important for archaeologists to share their work with the public in order to explain the importance of context in archaeology and how looting damages the archaeological record forever.
Our work here in Mule Creek would be impossible without the support of the owners of the land upon which the Fornholt site is located. They are 100% behind our preservation work, and are as excited as we are about the excavations we are conducting. When sites are located on privately owned land, the landowners have the final say over the site; they are not obligated to preserve it or have archaeologists excavate it. This is why public outreach is so important. The more landowners value sites for their cultural value, the more likely they are to protect and preserve these sites for the future.
Different media devices can also aid in public outreach. A great example is Archaeology Southwest Magazine, which is published by Archaeology Southwest (formerly Center for Desert Archaeology). This full-color quarterly magazine is geared toward a more general audience and has articles that are interesting to read. Information is presented without too much professional jargon. Each magazine covers a general topic in the archaeology being done in the southwestern United States. Each article in the magazine focuses on a subject within that theme. This format helps the public gain a wider understanding of archaeology. Past topics include preservation archaeology in the San Pedro Valley, exploring Zuni origins, and threats to the past. Many of these topics involve ongoing preservation work.
Although reading about archaeology and looking at pictures of sites can help raise public interest and awareness, being able to go to these sites is an extremely effective and fun way to educate the public. Our recent visit to Chaco Canyon has shown me the impact that preservation of sites, as well as the opportunity for the public to enjoy them, can have on archaeology. Not only are they beautiful to visit and explore, but it also presents the importance of preservation in a first-hand way. People can easily realize that without the preservation of these sites they would not be able to enjoy them at all.
The job of public outreach relies first and foremost on us as archaeologists. We must talk to the public about the proper ways of dealing with archaeological sites and artifacts. It’s tempting for anyone to want to pick up a beautiful piece of pottery on the ground and display it in their home. Before I became an archaeologist, it may have been something I would have done. It was through my education about proper methods in archaeology that I realized that collecting artifacts is damaging the archaeological record. This is why it is important for the public to learn these ideals and pass them on to their community and future generations.
— Dan Weinberger, Binghamton University (B.A.)