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Archeology for Interpreters > 4. What Do Archeologists Do?

How do we preserve archeological resources?

Museums and exhibits

(photo) Glass exhibit case, displaying artifacts excavated from Petersburg National Battlefield.

Archeologists and park staff created an exhibit explaining Confederate picket line excavations at Petersburg National Battlefield. (Gail Brown, University of Maryland)

There are over 62,450,000 objects in NPS collections and over 30 million of these are archeological in nature. Archeologists recover, document, analyze, stabilize, and prepare archeological collections for storage as integral elements of archeological research. They also analyze and reanalyze existing collections. Archeologists, curators, archivists, and conservators consult on treatments for and consumptive uses of specific archeological objects, specimens, and records. Archeologists, curators, and ethnographers consult about the cultural affiliations of contemporary American Indian tribes, Native Alaskan groups, and Native Hawaiian organizations to materials in NPS museum collections. They also consult on culturally appropriate treatments for collections, the display of collections, and the repatriation of items under NAGPRA. Archeologists, curators, and exhibit planners and designers consult on the display of archeological objects in museum exhibits.

Exhibits are multimedia experiences. Because people learn in many ways, exhibits use diverse techniques to interpret park resources, teach concepts, and stimulate interest. They combine text, graphics, audio, video, models, mechanical devices, and lighting with natural, historical, and cultural objects to produce visitor experiences that involve all of the senses. Some parks and programs offer electronic exhibits on the WorldWide Web.

Exhibits have high visual appeal. They are a vital means of presenting parks' interpretive themes. Exhibits exploring archeological themes may address archeological methods in addition to highlighting how archeological investigations have broadened knowledge of the park's history and resources. Exhibits are an effective venue for emphasizing public stewardship of archeological resources and encouraging public interest in archeological interpretation.

Fun fact

Mesa Verde was the first and, still is the only, national park established “to protect the works of man.” The fight to protect Mesa Verde led to the passage of the Antiquities Act on June 6, 1906. Less than a month later, on June 29, 1906, Congress set apart Mesa Verde National Park as a “public reservation.” But What Makes a National Park a Museum?

For your information

NPS Museums and Collections
This web site features thematic virtual exhibits, among many other things, that showcase NPS collections at parks throughout the nation. Each thematic exhibit also includes an expanded image gallery that includes archeological specimens.


Protecting the Past from a Museum
This article by David S. Brose discusses how the public learns about archeology in museums and emphasizes archeologists' role in fostering public stewardship.

Try it yourself

Search for the term “archaeology exhibit” on your favorite Internet search engine to get an idea of the number of archeology exhibits on display around the world.

TSM/MJB