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Archeology and You!

August 25 marks the birthday of the National Park Service. The NPS was created in 1916 when President Woodrow Wilson signed the National Park Service Organic Act. Simply known as the ‘Organic Act,’ its mission was to preserve natural and cultural resources to “provide for the enjoyment...by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.” Over the past decade parks and programs alike have been using a practice called civic engagement as a means to work towards this mission.

Civic engagement’ is a “continuous, dynamic conversation with the public on many levels” and is characterized by the systematic inclusion of the public. For archeologists, civic engagement can do anything from giving stakeholder communities ownership over research plans, to helping to communicate forgotten or misrepresented histories, to engaging the public in a dialogue about historical manifestations of race, class, and gender, and their transformation into the present.

For example, archeologists working in Ludlow, Colorado have been working closely with union members and local school teachers to bring the area’s labor history into the public consciousness. Ludlow experienced intense armed conflict (.pdf) in 1913-14 between striking miners and the Colorado militia, which escalated on April 20, 1914 and left 25 strikers dead. This incident—and those leading up to it—are considered to be largely responsible for the current 40-hour work week, yet it goes largely unknown among the American public. Archeologists hope that their collaborative work will begin to combat unfamiliarity of the importance of this event. Learn more about archeology in Ludlow.

When adverse affects of the Glen Canyon Dam threatened archeological resources at Grand Canyon NP, archeologists knew they would need to work closely with the park’s associated tribes to excavate affected resources. Through previous collaborative projects, archeologists were able to easily contact tribal representatives to review and develop research questions that would inform excavation. In addition, tribes were invited to participate in excavation, as well as provide artifact and site interpretations, which will be used in concluding reports.

The African Burial Ground has been heralded as one of “the most important archeological finds of our time.” The site lies in the middle of New York City and is the resting place for more than 15,000 free and enslaved African-Americans who died between the late 17th and late 18th centuries. The discovery and ensuing controversies spurred the engagement of descendant communities and scholars interested in the African Diaspora. This example brought the profound impact that black Americans have had historically within the nation, and has served to challenge biased histories.

  • Volunteers help archeologists dig up the past at Valley Forge NHP. [NPS photo]
  • Visitors look into the past through Colorado Coal Field War archaeology. [NPS photo]
  • Archeologist consults with Hopi tribal member about a grinding stone recovered at Grand Canyon National Park. [NPS photo]
  • Archeology at the African Burial Ground National Monument links the past to the future. [NPS photo]

TSM/MJB