Promoting archeological stewardship
Archeologists and interpreters talk with the public at Harpers Ferry National Historic Park. (Paul A. Shackel, University of Maryland)
Among interpreters' and archeologists' greatest professional and personal responsibilities is ensuring public support for the protection of irreplaceable archeological resources. Law enforcement and rangers should work with interpreters and archeologists to identify ways that interpretation might improve the protection of resources. Interpreters may foster resource protection by explaining to the public legislation—such as the Archeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 and Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, as amended—passed in the last century to protect archeological resources. Through interpretive and education programs archeologists and interpreters should develop strong public support and stewardship for increased protection of archeological resources nationwide. The goals of such public outreach in the parks are to:
- foster a feeling of ownership of and responsibility for our common heritage
- increase public understanding of archeology
- enhance public awareness of the current problem involving archeological resources such as looting
- increase understanding of how the public's actions affect archeological resources, and
- increase public involvement in legitimate archeological activities.
Several successful park programs exist to meet these goals, such as Glen Canyon National Recreation Area's brochure, House Rules for Visiting Archeological Sites, and their Cultural Site Steward Program. Arizona's award-winning Public Archaeology Program is an example of a successful effort to win the public's interest, support, and participation in preserving our archeological heritage at the state level.
Providing opportunities for appropriate public enjoyment is an important part of a park's mission. National Park Service Management Policies make it clear that the Service encourages visitor activities that can be sustained without causing unacceptable impacts to park resources or values. However, the NPS won't allow activities that impair those resources. In some cases, this may mean that some archeological sites, for example, may be placed off-limits to visitation in order to protect them. Such restrictions present an interpretative opportunity to explain reasons for the restrictions to visitors and to the public. The message of stewardship and long-term preservation of important places can be imparted where off-site interpretations are the only option. In such cases, classroom or virtual visits may provide excellent alternatives for communicating the value of endangered sites.
In some cases, the location, or other information, about archeological sites may be kept confidential and not shared with visitors or the public. There is legal support in both the National Historic Preservation Act and the Archaeological Resources Protection Act for restricting information about archeological sites if releasing that information would cause a significant invasion of privacy; risk harm to the resource; or impede the use of a traditional religious site by practitioners.
House Rules for Visiting Archeological Sites
Find Glen Canyon National Recreation Area's creative solution to educating visitors about the proper treatment of archeological sites.
For your information
Archaeology Week: Promoting the Past to the Public
This Technical Brief describes how Arizona's innovative Archaeology Week program was developed.