Public misconceptions about archeology
In popular culture, archeologists are romantic characters who travel to exotic lands in search of mysterious artifacts. Some people think that archeologists dig up dinosaur bones. Although the public is increasingly interested in archeologists and what they do, misconceptions about both still abound. Creatively addressing misconceptions about archeology is an effective way for interpreters and archeologists to share information with the public to alleviate confusion that may lead visitors to misunderstand, or even abuse, archeological resources and provide a means for the public to appreciate and care for archeological resources.
In 1999, the Society for American Archaeology and several other archeological organizations commissioned Harris Interactive to conduct a study among the American public to understand their perceptions, knowledge, and attitudes about archeology. Through open-ended and choice-specific questions, the study found that the majority of Americans believe that archeological resources are important and that archeology should be taught in schools. The study also disclosed some public misconceptions about archeology and archeologists:
- When asked what the public thinks when they hear the word archeology, 10% mentioned digging dinosaurs or dinosaur bones, while only 1% mentioned digging associated with Native peoples or Native societies.
- When asked what archeologists study, 92% of the people agreed that they study fossils (which they do not study), 85% agreed that they study dinosaurs (which they do not study) and 77% agreed they study shipwrecks (which they do study).
- Very few respondents mentioned underwater (1%) and Indian remains/ burial grounds (1%) as places where archeologists study the past.
- When asked, "What are some of the most important archeological sites ever found?" no respondents named North American sites. The majority mentioned Egyptian sites, dinosaur sites, Biblical and Roman sites, and Latin American Aztec, Mayan and Inca sites.
What does the public think and know about archeology? To find out read Exploring Public Perceptions and Attitudes About Archaeology, a 1999 survey conducted by Harris Interactive and several archeological organizations.
For your information
Fossils? Gold? Treasure? Dinosaurs? Aren't these what archeologists look for? Explore some of the most popular Myths and Misconceptions associated with archeology, by the Society for American Archaeology.