Interpretation for Archeologists   3. What Do Interpreters Do?   Distance Learning

Nonpersonal Services and Media

(photo) An exhibit about the Lowry Pueblos.

This exhibit about the Lowry Pueblo is an example of a nonpersonal service. (Anasazi Heritage Center, BLM)

Nonpersonal interpretive services are those that do not require the presence of staff. When personal services are not the best alternative for providing visitor information, orientation, or an understanding of park resources, other means of interpretation are considered appropriate. These may include park brochures and other publications, exhibits, web sites, audiovisual presentations, and radio information systems. Many of these, especially the park web site, are used before a visitor arrives at a park so he or she already knows some useful information. An interpreter needs to know what materials are available to the public before they arrive so he or she can play off that information in useful ways. Even when personal services are used, these additional means of interpretation may be used to augment and enhance visitor enjoyment and appreciation of park resources. Nonpersonal interpretive services offer strong advantages in that they maintain a consistent quality of presentation over time and they can reach large audiences.

Outreach, Environmental and Heritage Education Services

Outreach includes interpretive and educational services that take place beyond park boundaries. These services are used to disseminate park and resource information and interpretation beyond park boundaries. Outreach services usually supplement in-park interpretive programs and may include traveling programs, park web sites, and mobile exhibitions. Environmental education in the national park system traditionally deals with natural history and natural resources, such as ecosystems or geologic features, and the human activities associated with them. Heritage education deals with historical and cultural resources, such as cultural landscapes or historic buildings, and the human activities associated with them. Environmental education and heritage education services provide information and assistance to local school students and teachers, organized groups, and educational institutions that wish to use park resources in their curricula.

Interpreting for Special Populations

The National Park Service seeks to ensure, to the greatest extent possible, that disabled people receive the same interpretive opportunities as nondisabled people. Interpretive programs meet guidelines outlined in the NPS publication Interpretation for Disabled Visitors in the National Park System. Efforts are made to ensure that interpretive programs, recreational activities, concession-operated and privately sponsored activities, publications, and other informational materials meet the needs of children, senior citizens, international visitors, and the disadvantaged. Foreign-language translations of park publications are provided in those parks visited by large numbers of foreign visitors.

Many parks have developed web sites describing their archeological projects. Consider these various ways of reaching the public:

  • Aztec Ruins National Monument has a reconstructed great kiva, based on archeological excavations conducted in the 1920s. The Monument has also published the Aztec Ruins National Monument Teacher's Guide.
  • Petroglyph National Monument has published a teacher's guide with lesson plans on archeology and archeological interpretation as part of the Parks as Classrooms program. This program encourages National Parks to work with schools to use National Parks as laboratories to enhance existing curriculum by exposing children to what the NPS protects and preserves. The Monument also began a pilot project with a local elementary school to test the feasibility of conducting simulated archeological excavations as part of the school's curriculum.
  • Dinosaur National Monument archeological interpretation includes signed interpretive trails featuring rock art and rock shelters, an auto tour about rock art, and signs interpreting other prehistoric and historic archeological resources. The Monument staff works with river tour companies to explain the archeology of the Monument and etiquette for visiting archeological sites so that river guides have knowledge to interpret the Monument's archeology to their clients.
  • At Little Bighorn National Monument, park managers have used archeological information to revise and expand their oral and written interpretations. They also have devoted a significant amount of exhibit and bookstore space to archeology, and visitors may view a video about archeological investigations in the park.
  • Tuzigoot National Monument has partially reconstructed a site that visitors may walk through. Replicated within the visitor center is a "typical" Sinaguan room and a series of exhibits on Sinaguan material cultural (without NAGPRA sensitive material).
  • At Dry Tortugas National Park, diving visitors may use an underwater map of a shipwreck to identify wreck parts and learn about the site.
  • At Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area the 10,000+ year history of human occupation of the valley is interpreted in the park's Canal Visitor Center in a permanent display that relies heavily on archeological exhibitry (video, artifacts, interpretive paintings, time lines, etc.). Archeological data helped architects determine the configuration for a large porch on an 1835 store restored as a visitor center. The park staff interprets excavations and conducts an innovative program focusing on archeological education and interpretation with children.
  • Arches and Canyonlands National Parks and Natural Bridges National Monument have an intensive archeological interpretation program consisting of guided walks and waysides that interpret archeology. The parks utilize small boxes containing information about the sites and notebooks where visitors can leave comments. This informal means of communicating with visitors encourages public feedback and reduces graffiti.
  • The Visitor Center at Colorado's Curecanti National Recreation Area contains a permanent display dealing with the prehistory of the area that is primarily based on the archeological work conducted in the park.
  • Minuteman National Historic Park has had a long tradition of archeological study and interpretation of historic structures present on the battlefield landscape on April 19, 1775. A booklet about the park's archeological resources enables visitors to tour these stabilized sites.

For Your Information

Enhancing Public Education
This page on the Archeology and Ethnography web site provides links to publications and other resources that discuss the role of public outreach in parks with archeological resources. It provides information for professionals about the role of archeological interpretation and the potential value to the public.

Society for Historical Archaeology
SHA promotes scholarly research and the dissemination of knowledge concerning historical archeology. The society is specifically concerned with the identification, excavation, interpretation, and conservation of sites and materials on land and underwater.

Society for American Archaeology
Explore the SAA's public web pages. See especially the materials developed as resources for teachers.

American Anthropological Association
Links to classroom and professional resources for teaching geography, history, and social studies with anthropology and archeology. Includes links to internet resources, classroom exercises, publications, organizations, and museums and exhibits.

Archaeological Institute of America
The Archaeological Institute of America endeavors to create a vivid and informed public interest in the cultures and civilizations of the past, supports archaeological research, fosters the sound professional practice of archeology, advocates the preservation of the world's archeological heritage, and represents the discipline in the wider world.

Case Study

Accessibility in Big Bend National Park
Archeological sites and materials are not always easy for everyone to visit. This web site provides information about program and facilities accessibility for disabled visitors.

Fun Fact

Interpreters find that interpreting history on the place where it actually happened to be a powerful interpretive technique. Visitors tend to absorb the impact of history better on site. Consider these NPS archeological contributions begun in the 1950s and 1960s:

Archeologists determined the exact location and size of George Washington’s Fort Necessity, built during the French and Indian War, in southwestern Pennsylvania. The site enables interpreters to talk about the confrontation at Fort Necessity in the summer of 1754 as the opening battle of the war fought by England and France for control of the North American continent. It was also the opening episode of a worldwide struggle known in North America as the French and Indian War and elsewhere as the Seven Years' War.

Archeological studies at Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine located the base of a flagpole from which the Star-Spangled Banner flew during the bombardment of Baltimore by the British in the War of 1812. A walking tour takes visitors around the site to impress the significance of the events that took place.

Use What You Know: Assess Your Knowledge (#3 of 10)

(icon) A ranger's hat.
  • What are the roles of interpreters?
  • How do interpreters interact with the public?
  • How to the responsibilities of interpreters relate to those of archeologists?
  • What unique contributions can archeologists make to interpretation?
  • What kinds of destructive behaviors have you seen from visitors that might impact archeological resources? How could you use these anecdotes to help you to promote stewardship?