Interpretation for Archeologists   4. Tools For Interpreters   Distance Learning

The Interpretive Process Model

The Interpretive Process Model is a sequence that helps interpreters to create interpretive products. It focuses in particular on drawing out the meanings of archeological resources that help audiences to form emotional and intellectual connections to the resources.

Try It Yourself

Choose an archeological resource to apply the Interpretive Process Model.

1. Select a tangible place, object, person, or event that you want the audience to care about.

Tangible resources (or meanings) can be held, pointed to, or mapped. They include objects, places, or people that relate to larger messages about events at a place. This step in the Interpretive Process Model is similar to Knowledge of the Resource (KR) in the Interpretive Equation.

While an interpretive product or service may include several tangible resources, usually one tangible resource acts as an icon or symbol. The icon provides a starting point for an exploration of associated tangible resources and multiple resource meanings.

A program might focus, for example, on a single artifact but intend for the audience to also wonder about the people who used it, where it was found, and its historical context. Similarly, an interpreter might use a specific artifact to represent the material culture of a particular time and the people who created and used it.

Case Study

Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument
Alibates (rhymes with "all the bats") flint is known for its distinctive coloration. It occurs in dolomite outcrops near Amarillo and Fritch, Texas. Starting over 13,000 years ago, Native American tribes quarried the flint to make tools. The flint is the tangible resource.

Try It Yourself

Describe the physical characteristics of your archeological resource.

2. Identify intangible meanings.

Intangible meanings include processes, ideas, relationships, concepts, and values associated with the tangible meanings. The more Knowledge of the Resource (KR) and Knowledge of the Audience (KA) an interpreter has, the more meanings can be linked to the tangible resource to expand the significance held by its physical attributes alone.

Examples of intangible meanings include:

  • Erosion processes
  • Agricultural systems
  • Teamwork necessary to forge iron
  • Forest ecosystems
  • Neighborhood traditions

Case Study

Alibates flint was crafted into tools. The tools' intangible meanings include teamwork, tradition, and technological advancement.

3. Identify universal concepts.

Universal concepts are the mose compelling and broadly relevant intangible meanings. Everyone can relate to a universal concept, but no two people may see it or have experienced it in the same way.

Examples of universal concepts include:

  • Success
  • Family
  • Oppression
  • Change
  • Time

Case Study

Universal concepts associated with Alibates flint include survival, beauty, and quality of life.

Try It Yourself

List at least a dozen intangible meanings and universal concepts associated with your tangible archeological resource. Are any of your intangible meanings also universal concepts?

4. Identify the audience.

Use your Knowledge of the Audience (KA) to glean connections between the tangibles, intangibles, and universal concepts and craft an appropriate product. For example, a visitor who says archeological sites are places for spiritual renewal, solitude, and self-understanding requires a significantly different ranger program than one that feels that sites are places for collecting arrowheads.

An interpreter who thinks about and records these conversations can use them to identify tangible resources that address these audience meanings and create interpretive products that use those meanings to provoke new connections to the meanings of the resource.

Try It Yourself

Who is your intended audience? What does your tangible resource mean to different segments of your audience? Do you have enough Knowledge of the Audience (KA)?

5. Write a theme statement that includes a universal concept.

An interpretive theme consists of one or two sentences that express a central, meaningful, and relevant idea. A theme is not a refrain, a sound byte, or a “take home message.” It helps an audience to form personal connections to archeological resources. A well-written theme statement enables an interpreter to choose tangible or intangible links that illustrate or express the theme. Interpreters use the interpretive theme to develop and organize an interpretive opportunity.

Thematic interpretation is discussed more fully in the next section of this guide.

Case Study

Interpretive themes at Alibates Flint National Monument include:

  • The story of quarrying and using Alibates flint offers unique opportunities to explore the inherent human need to make and use tools to improve the quality of life.
  • The history of people using Alibates flint exemplifies the powerful human drive to combine practical functionality with aesthetic beauty in everything we do – even in crafting common, utilitarian objects.

Try It Yourself

Write a theme statement that links your tangible resource to one or more intangible meanings. Remember that the most compelling interpretive products have themes that tie a tangible resource to a universal concept.

6. Use interpretive methods to develop links to opportunities for connections to meanings. Illustrate the theme statement.

Meanings are the connective tissue between tangible and intangible meanings and universal concepts. Interpreters draw on Appropriate Techniques (AT) and Interpretive Opportunities (IO) to develop ways for audiences to connect to archeological resources.

Examples of interpretive methods that create links to meanings include:

  • Stories
  • Examples
  • Activities
  • Illustrations
  • Quotes
  • Dialogue

Some of the links should be intentionally developed to provide opportunities for emotional connections and some for intellectual connections. An interpreter needs to plan specific opportunities that are intended to inspire or provoke feelings like awe, wonder, sympathy, curiosity, amazement, regret, grief, and anger. Other specific opportunities should provoke insight, understanding of context, discovery, and reveal relationships.

Try It Yourself

Choose and develop tangible/intangible links that illustrate the idea or ideas expressed in your theme statement into opportunities for connecting the audience to the meanings of the resource. Develop those links with information and interpretive methods such as stories, descriptive language, activities, and illustrations. Remember that to be broadly relevant, an interpretive product must provide opportunities for both emotional and intellectual connections to the meanings of the resource.

7. Use a theme statement to organize opportunities for connections and cohesively develop an idea or ideas.

To be relevant and provocative an interpretive product must cohesively develop an idea or ideas over the course of its delivery.

Opportunities for emotional and intellectual connections to the meanings of the resource provide the architecture for a cohesively developed idea or ideas best when sequenced with effective transitions and arranged to support a well-crafted interpretive theme statement. The next section will guide you through identifying and using thematic interpretation.

Case Study

Selected statements of significance from Alibates Flint Quarry National Monument:

  • Alibates flint is a beautiful, distinctive, workable, multi-colored stone with excellent edge-holding properties. These characteristics prompted various North American peoples to quarry, shape, and use this stone to construct tools that were critical to survival: projectile points, knives, scrapers, axes, drills, awls, and many others.
  • Alibates Ruin (inside monument boundaries) and the nearby Antelope Creek Site comprise the type-site for the Antelope Creek Phase of the Plains Village Culture (circa A.D. 1150-1500), one of a number of cultures to benefit from the quarries. These sites include architectural remains, petroglyphs, and more than 1.5 million collected objects. This collection comprises about 800,000 of these objects.

Try It Yourself

What kinds of interpretive opportunities can you organize around the theme you have identified with your resource?

MJB/EJL