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Archeology for Interpreters > 4. What Do Archeologists Do?

How do we preserve archeological resources?

Integrating archeology with other park resources

(photo) Historic Mabry Mill.

Archeologists identified past land use at the Blue Ridge Parkway's Mabry Mill. (NPS)

Archeological research contributes to improved management preservation, and treatment of other types of cultural resources in park areas (NPS 1997). Conversely, the management, preservation, and treatment of archeological resources are enhanced through research in other cultural resource disciplines. Because of the potential interdisciplinary qualities of most cultural resources, archeologists and other cultural resource specialists can cooperate and collaborate on programs that manage and interpret archeological resources in many areas, including:

Museum collections: Archeologists may work with other cultural resource specialists such as curators, interpreters, archivists, conservators, and ethnographers to ensure the proper care, and display of archeological materials. Archeological information and materials may be presented in public venues including exhibitions, publications, wayside exhibits, programs, and multimedia presentations.

Historic and prehistoric sites and structures Archeologists and historical architects may consult and share expertise in planning documents, analyzing building materials and structural fill, making condition assessments, and providing recommendations on routine maintenance and needed stabilization or other preservation treatments. Archeological studies can address research questions that historians and historical architects may have about the location, construction methods, developmental history, age, and use of historic and prehistoric sites and structures for which only ruins or subsurface remains exist.

Cultural landscapes: Cultural landscapes, like other cultural resources, are not “beautified” to suit modern aesthetic tastes through decorative plantings or other modifications not reflecting historic conditions. Archeologists help identify and document cultural landscapes through analysis of stratigraphy, soils, fossil pollen, and buried features. The result of archeological studies also can help identify past land uses of an area.

Ethnographic resources: Ethnographic resources include landscapes, sites and places, objects, and natural resources important to the cultural life, purpose, and identity of a people. These resources are similar to archeological sites, for example, but information on these resources stresses the perspective, knowledge, and viewpoint of the people associated with them. Ethnographic studies—studies of living peoples—make it possible to ensure that culturally affiliated groups are considered with archeological research and permitting activities. These studies feature the systematic combination of interview, participant observation, and documentary research to fully understand a people's way of life. Ethnographic research has increasingly included the active involvement and collaboration of peoples who are the targets of study. This involvement is especially important with management approaches for culturally sensitive archeological resources such as grave goods, and treatments and disposition of such materials in archeological collections. Archeological, ethnohistorical and ethnographic studies may also provide data on the cultural affiliation of contemporary Native American and ethnic groups to prehistoric and historic archeological resources, human remains, and objects in collections.

Use What You Know: Assess Your Knowledge (#4 of 9)

  • Chapter 4 talks about the process behind archeological work. How might you integrate the process into contact with visitors? Which elements of the process are most familiar to you in your work? Which are most alien? How can you interpret these methods for the public?
  • How could you use archeological collections as a resource for interpretation? (Keeping in mind, of course, applicable NPS policies.)