[NPS Arrowhead]
U.S. Dept. of Interior National Park Service Archeology Program
U.S. Dept. of Interior National Park Service Archeology Program
* Sitemap * Home
Interpretation for Archeologists 1. Introduction


Welcome to "Interpretation for Archeologists: A Guide to Increasing Knowledge, Skills and Abilities!" By working through this guide and associated materials archeologists may gain a firm foundation in and understanding of the purpose, philosophy, and techniques of interpretation.

This guide and its counterpart, Archeology for Interpreters: A Guide to Knowledge of the Resource, support Effective Interpretation of Archeological Resources: The Archeology-Interpretation Shared Competency Course of Study (Module 440). An interdisciplinary work group of archeologists and interpreters, led by John Jameson, Tony Knapp, and Dave Dahlen, developed this training module in response to the NPS Employee Training and Development Strategy. Through this joint course of study archeologists and interpreters can be trained together in the skills and abilities needed to carry out effective interpretation of archeological resources.

Interpretation for Archeologists: A Guide to Increasing Knowledge, Skills and Abilities is not a substitute for Effective Interpretation of Archeological Resources. Rather, it introduces the purpose, philosophy, and techniques of interpretation that the Archeology-Interpretation Shared Competency Course of Study more fully explores. Know, as well, that although the training course concentrates on Module 101, Fulfilling the NPS Mission: The Process of Interpretation, we encourage archeologists to continue independently by pursuing other modules and competencies. Interpretation for Archeologists gets you started through many recommendations of links and readings to learn more about incorporating interpretation into your archeology toolkit.

Try It Yourself

Effective Interpretation of Archeological Resources: The Archeology-Interpretation Shared Competency Course of Study (Module 440)
Effective Interpretation is a professional development opportunity. Use its training tools to help archeologists and interpreters at your park work together to provide effective and accurate interpretation of archeological information and resources to the public.

Archeology for Interpreters: A Guide to Knowledge of the Resource
This interactive on-line guide complements Interpretation for Archeologists. It creates the opportunity for interpreters to learn about archeological methods, to explore how archeological interpretations are made, to ascribe meaning to archeological resources, and to increase public understanding and concern for the preservation and protection of archeological resources. It provides an excellent perspective on the kinds of knowledge people need in order to understand archeology, and provides information on resources to peruse.

For Your Information

NPS Interpretive Development Program
The Interpretive Development Program is designed to foster professionalism in interpretation in the National Park Service. Check out the web site for immediate access to the latest curricula, resources, contacts, FAQs, and other information to develop your own personalized training program for interpretive excellence.

NPS My Learning Manager
Use the Learning Manager site within the NPS to find out about web-based training opportunities and to apply for training events. Many different training opportunities are available to enhance archeologists' skills and knowledge - be sure to take advantage of them!

Cultural Resources Stewardship Career Field
The Cultural Resources Stewardship Career Field enhances knowledge, skills, and abilities for employees and partner organizations who work in cultural resources and are associated with them. Visit the website to learn about competencies, training, and the specialized needs of cultural resources managers.

Guide Purpose

Interpretation for Archeologists: A Guide for Increasing Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities aims to train archeologists in the development of public interpretation and educational programs. The guide creates the opportunity for you to learn about the concepts behind interpretation, to explore how interpretive programs are made, and to acquire techniques to ascribe meaning to resources. Interpretation for Archeologists also aims for archeologists to see the value and fun of interpretation not only for the public, but also as inspiration for themselves.

This guide has another significant purpose of encouraging archeologists to realize the important role they play in guiding visitors to feel concern for resource preservation and protection. Archeologists as interpreters increase the public’s understanding of the ways archeological resources enrich the telling of the stories of our nation. We can build on visitors’ curiosity about archeology and archeologists by engaging with them in dialogue about the meaning of the past to the present and their role in stewardship and the proper protection of the resources.

Interpretation for Archeologists enables archeologists to develop a basic foundation in the art and science of interpretation. Web links and suggested interpretive strategies in the For Your Information, Case Study, and Fun Fact boxes present examples of how archeological resources may be effectively interpreted in the national parks. Look for Try it Yourself and Use What You Know boxes to practice what you learn. Included are special Use What You Know: Assess Your Knowledge boxes to help you to apply the concepts to your own work. Take note that when this online course is used in a formal educational setting, answers to these (and possibly additional) assessment questions may be evaluated by instructors. Use the questions so they will best benefit you.

Use the guide to learn about:

Who is This Guide For?

Interpretation for Archeologists is for archeologists who are interested in learning more about interpreting archeological resources for the public. The National Park Service developed the program in particular for its archeologists, cultural resource managers, and other staff who investigate, interpret, preserve, and share with the public information regarding archeological resources. We encourage professionals outside of the NPS who want to increase their own ability in interpretation to also take advantage of the guide.

Interpretation for Archeologists is primarily designed for self-motivated learning, so you can learn at your own pace. Read through the information, visit the links, and answer the assessment questions as quickly or as slowly as your time allows. Our goal is for you to increase your base of knowledge about archeological resource interpretation with every visit to the guide.

In the end, we hope you find in this guide a number of valuable resources for further exploration, particularly through the numerous links we provide to other significant sources of on-line activities, case studies, and related information. We plan to periodically update those links as we discover relevant new materials about and methods for effectively interpreting archeological resources. Please continue to check in with the guide and the Archeology Program web site for information, examples, case studies, professional guides, and more.


We hope you find Interpretation for Archeologists: A Guide for Increasing Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities both informative and fun to use! Some points to help you get started:

Navigating the Guide

This guide is designed to be user-friendly. The top of each page is clearly marked with the title and number of the section you are in, and the title of the currently active subsection appears in bold above the text.

Some of the features of this online guide that crosscut or are present in all sections are:

For Your Information

For more information, contact the NPS Chief Archeologist at nps_chiefarcheologist(at)nps.gov..


Portions of this chapter were adapted from:

Childs, S. Terry and Eileen Corcoran
2000 Managing Archeological Collections—Technical Assistance, Archeology Program, National Park Service, Washington, D.C.
National Park Service
2000 Effective Interpretation of Archeological Resources: The Archeology-Interpretation Shared Competency Course of Study, Final Draft.

Additional Resources

Click here for more readings and links for Chapter 1: Introduction.