Anna Porter, State University of New York at Buffalo
The first thing that comes to mind when you think about archaeology is not usually involvement in modern society. Archaeologists study things that happened thousands of years ago—how could this be relevant to today? What I learned at this field school, however, is that community is one of the most important aspects of archaeology. If we study archaeology in order to find connections to people of the past, shouldn’t we share it with people of today, as well?
Before coming to this field school, I had no idea how ingrained archaeology could be in the local community. I live in upstate New York, where archaeological sites aren’t as accessible, and thus it is easy to forget how important that connection to modern society is. Here, archaeology seems to be everywhere you look. Within the short span of my time in the Southwest, I have seen more archaeological sites than I have seen in my whole life. It’s not just the quantity of the sites that amazes me, but also how connected these sites are to the people and the communities of the areas where they are found.
This past weekend, our cohort of field school students created projects to show at an archaeology outreach fair at the Cliff library, in the community where we are working. We had projects ranging from throwing atlatls to making tortillas on a comal and researching cultural coalescence. I did my project on figurative representations on Mimbres bowls and how they were distributed across the Mimbres region. I also set up a station for kids to draw their own Mimbres-style bowls on paper plates. In actuality, most of the “bowls” were drawn by adults and fellow students. It turns out adults like to act like kids sometimes, too.
Each person had a different take on the outreach project, and going around to the different tables to hear what each student had to say showed that having a community within the archaeology field is just as important as a connection to the outside society. Different people bring different perspectives to a conversation, and we can learn from those around us.
Although the turnout at the fair was modest this year, those who came showed an immense interest in what we had to say. There was one kid in particular whose excitement was the highlight of the day. He had been to another outreach workshop with our experimental archaeology instructor Allen Denoyer the day before and just couldn’t stay away. As he ran over to throw the atlatls, the students and staff opened up and validated his interest in the field. Allen even gave him a practice atlatl to take home. Even though we didn’t have crowds in attendance, the importance of reaching out to the community was not lost. In order to make people care about what archaeologists do, we have to make the past relevant to today and connect the things we study to the people around us.