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common ground

Reaching the Public
Spring 1998, vol. 3(1)

Online Archive

*  Center of Change

(photo) Students reconstruct a 1000 year old Mississippian house.

"I am simply astounded that there is virtually no scholarly literature which addresses the role of North American archeology in the contemporary world. "

Brian Fagan

by Harry Murphy

Since 1958, the non-profit Center for American Archeology has been dedicated to illuminating the story of the earliest Americans represented in the archeological remains of the lower Illinois River Valley and west-central Illinois. The center was one of the first organizations to bring archeology to the public, not only by means of field schools, tours, and exhibits, but also through assisting educational institutions in meeting national, state, and local curricular goals.

In 1957 the U.S.S.R. launched Sputnik, taking the lead in space exploration. This placed the U.S. educational system on alert. The response was the National Defense Education Act, which funded education in math and science but also supported social studies projects.1 Along with the rise of the "new math" and the "new social science" came the "new archeology." The University of Chicago's form of the approach focused on the relationship of peoples to their environment, which brought together scholars from many disciplines.2 The CAA, influenced by the university, likewise emphasized a multidisciplinary, environmental approach, as a way to educate students in all the sciences. The early 1970s saw the beginnings of public preservation programs, which employed more archeologists and expended more federal and state funds on the discipline than ever before. These social trends provided an opportunity for CAA to introduce archeology as a means to meet science and social science educational goals.

These early years at the center were an exciting time when many discoveries were made and brought to the public's attention. Thousands of people participated in educational programs. Both educators and archeologists began to recognize archeology's potential for improving science education. The center's field schools began to address the needs of K-12 students and teachers.

During the 1960s and early 1970s the curricular emphasis nationally was on fostering inquiry skills, clarifying values, and understanding the scientific method. Archeology, because of its mutidisciplinary character, scientific focus, and popularity among students, was viewed as a tool for implementing the new curricular agenda. By 1967 several initiatives had been funded, and the NASCO Biological Supply House was producing educational kits with artifact replicas, slides, cassette tapes, workbooks, and teachers' manuals.3 But there were problems. Anthropology at the time emphasized cultural relativism and the unity of the human species, which did not exactly support the mission of the schools to produce solid, employable citizens. Congress viewed anthropological education as "communist-influenced because it presented communal economic enterprises as good; [it was] attacked as godless because it was evolutionary supporting; attacked as too frank and brutal for children because films showed baboon dominance fights and the Inuit killing and butchering game."4

What's more, students could not read at the level required by most of the anthropological curriculums. The need to teach reading skills, reduce dropouts, and address the lack of ethnic diversity in textbooks took priority over teaching archeology and anthropology. Education moved away from emphasizing creative thinking and the scientific method to stressing the 3-Rs. Educational institutions now saw archeology not as a bridge to science but as a means to break classroom boredom. Archeology was an entertaining diversion, not a subject to be taught.5 As a result, archeology was eliminated from curriculums.

Although national support was lacking in the 1970s, there were numerous educational activities based on archeological research techniques.6 The emphasis shifted from interpretation to methods, with "sandbox" excavations a common substitute for excavating real sites7 and discussing cultural values. Following William Rathje's8 lead, teachers used garbology collections to provide artifacts for the interpretation of households.

The center developed a variety of simulated and garbology activities to enhance the basic curriculum, involving students in replicating and manipulating artifacts and past lifeways. For many educational institutions, the museum visit served as the core activity for students to experience the tools and technologies of the past.9 In the 1970s John White, a Cherokee, experimented in reconstructing prehistoric structures at the CAA. These activities emphasized using ethnographic and archeological data to educate students about other cultures.10 The center's field schools bridged the gap between instruction in the basic skills of archeology and an understanding of the past based on scientific inquiry.

Even though precollege students rarely took part in excavations during the 1970s, the center's program was called the "best known and most continuously active example of this type."11 CAA surveys and excavations have always been directed toward specific research goals, even as they utilize students and adults under the guidance of professionals. One of the keys to the program's success is that participants recognize the contributions they make to archeology.

Three trends surfaced in the 1980s. One was the need for outreach from the professional community. A second emphasized sensitivity to ethical issues in presenting the past to the public. The third was the need to better understand the tools of teaching.

As public archeology expanded there was a need to justify the expenditure of federal, state, and local funds. In 1977, the Society for American Archaeology expressed concern over the discipline's lack of public outreach.12 As a result, the 1980s and early l990s saw a dramatic increase in the number and quality of outreach efforts beyond the schools. But the real push came in 1988 with the amendments to the Archaeological Resources Protection Act, which called for federal land managers to create public awareness programs.13 That same year, Arizona hosted the first state archeology week, and in 1989 the SAA sponsored the Taos Conference, which led to the formation of its public education committee.14

Here in the 1990s, the problems of earlier decades have not gone away. Students still do not recognize the value of instruction in mathematics and science for careers in related fields.15 Few high school students graduate with the ability to draw conclusions using scientific information.16

Anthropologists in academia continue to address these problems. In 1985, Karen Holm and Patricia Higgins17 of the Center for American Archeology edited Archeology and Education: A Successful Combination for Precollegiate Students, which addressed the value of archeology for improving education in science, math, and the social sciences. Reflecting the trend, CAA was awarded a 1990 National Science Foundation-Young Scholars grant to use archeology to stimulate interest in science careers. The initiative continued until last year, when the Young Scholars program was cut from the federal budget.

The center's young scholars placed as finalists and semi-finalists in the Westinghouse Science Talent Search, regional science olympiads, the Edison Society Science Competitions, the Burgdois Science Research Competitions, and junior science and humanities symposiums, to name a few. CAA students were recognized on National Public Radio, and 90 of their projects appeared in the Journal of Student Research Abstracts, with over a dozen articles published in the Journal of Student Research. Twelve students presented their research at the 1995 Midwest Archaeological Conference and other professional forums. These students were tracked through college, and the evidence shows that they were better prepared than the average student to seek careers in science and the social sciences.18

The field schools at the CAA place ethics at the forefront of all research and educational endeavors. Though ethics has been a traditional and essential part of the CAA curriculum, an ethical code was adopted in 1993. The late 1980s and 1990s saw an increased emphasis on ethics in archeology and in presenting the discipline to the public. The focus was on three areas: 1) the absence of information on our native past in public school curricula, 2) the manner in which the native past and archeology is interpreted, and 3) the emphasis in archeology on the "dig" mentality.

In 1990, a volume called The Excluded Past: Archaeology and Education, produced by the World Archaeology Congress, focused on the political agenda behind excluding the precolonial past from educational curriculums: "The general lack of knowledge of the Native past in the U.S.A. is a matter of concern of those of both Native and non-Native ancestry who see in it a mirror of racism in American society."19

The ethics of interpreting the past can be problematic. Though archeological study is disciplined and scientific, interpretations of the past are always subjective. The relationship between a material complex and a social group is ambiguous at best, and archeological explanation is not immune to fashion, often reflecting current cultural biases.20 Given that as archeologists we cannot trust our basic theoretical tools, presenting the past as truth misleads and often perpetuates falsehoods. Sites and artifacts as they are currently understood should be presented in a context of continuing questioning and investigation.

The "dig" mentality is another ethics concern. In 1991, Charles Blanchard spoke prophetically "about a deeply rooted public misconception of archaeology as a kind of object-oriented, legal treasure hunt, particularly among well-meaning public school educators and not-so-well-meaning, for-profit curriculum companies. [He] warned that this misconception was producing a generation of educational games and lesson plans that, because they largely were keyed to digging as the dominant metaphor for all archaeological investigation, might perpetuate serious misconceptions and wind-up more resource-destructive than conservative as a result."21 At the symposium "Should Kids Dig? The Ethics of Children Digging in Real or Sand Box Sites," chaired by Margaret Heath at the 1996 SAA meetings, many papers noted the negative consequences of students participating in actual and simulated excavations. Because of this symposium and the difficulties in doing simulated digs, CAA discontinued them.

The participation of Native American students in CAA field schools, through the American Indian scholarship program supported by the Bioanthropology Foundation, has provided an opportunity to share a variety of perspectives on archeology and culture, and address ethical issues in the first person. This has helped the center address the increased student interest in controversies over human burials, the curation of sacred artifacts, the peopling of the continent, the truth of native origin stories, and the right of Euroamericans to excavate and interpret native sites.

It has been critical to the CAA's success to identify how students learn. It became evident in the 1990s that archeologists had to familiarize themselves with the tools that best instill knowledge in students of all ages.

The center's educational programming now puts greater emphasis on tailoring field school activities and pedagogical techniques to each school's curricular objectives. At workshops, teachers gain in-service credit while enhancing their curriculum activities. The CAA partnership in the Illinois State Board of Education-Museum in the Classroom Project represents the results of these efforts, which are right in line with the Goals 2000: Educate America Act—signed into law by President Clinton in 1994—which promotes partnerships among teachers, students, and business, professional, and other community members.22 The center cultivates partnerships that give students occupational and life skills through experience with the Internet, digital imaging, CAD/GIS mapping, and database libraries as a way to access CAA and community resources. But the emphasis will remain on problem-based learning, fostering higher-order thinking, and integrating subject matter from different disciplines.

Based on the experience of the last 40 years, clearly it is impossible to impose archeology upon the national agenda of the public schools. Now, however, because of active support for archeology education by professional organizations, federal and state governments, and local institutions, there is an ever-expanding foundation of resources beyond the school system.

For nearly half of a century the CAA has planted the seeds of inquiry through archeological education. The next millennium provides the opportunity to harvest the fruit that archeology education promises this, and future, generations.

For more information, contact Harry Murphy, P.O. Box 95, Kampsville, IL 62053, (618) 653-4243, email hmurphy@caa-archeology.org.


1. Kehoe, Alice B., "In Fourteen Hundred and Ninety-Two, Columbus Sailed . . . The Primacy of the National Myth in U.S. School," in The Excluded Past: Archaeology in Education, edited by Peter G. Stone and Robert MacKenzie, London and New York : Routledge, 1990, pp. 201-216.

2. Struever, Stuart, "Some Thoughts on the Illinois Valley Archeological Program," Society for American Archaeology Meeting, Minneapolis, Minnesota, April 1982.

3. Kehoe, pp. 201-216.

4. Dynneson, T.L., "Trends in Precollegiate Anthropology," in Social Studies and Social Science: A Fifty-Year Perspective, edited by S.P. Wronski and D.H. Bragaw, National Council for the Social Studies Bulletin No. 78, Washington, DC: National Council for the Social Studies, 1986, pp. 153-164.

5. Kehoe, pp. 201-216.

6. Holm, Karen A. and Patricia J. Higgins (eds), Archeology and Education: A Successful Combination for Precollegiate Students, Anthropology Curriculum Project, University of Georgia, 1985.

7. Mandell, A. and B. S. Allison, "Digging into Earth Science: Simulated Archaeological Dig," The Science Teacher, 1976, vol. 96, no. 1, pp. 47-48.

8. Rathje, William, "The Garbage Project: a New Way of Looking at the Problems of Archaeology," Archaeology, 1974, vol. 27, pp. 236-241.

9. Kavett, H., "Archeological Techniques for the Classroom and the Museum," Social Studies, 1976, vol. 67, no. 3, pp. 111-113, and Tirrell, P.B., "Archaeology for Elementary and Secondary Students," in Anthropology and Multicultural Education: Classroom Applications, edited by Yolanda T. Moses and Patricia J Higgins, Athens, GA: The University of Georgia, Anthropology Curriculum Project, 1983, pp. 44-82.

10. White, John, "The Use of Ethnographic and Archeological Data in Cross-Cultural Education," in Archeology and Education: A Successful Combination for Precollegiate Students, edited by Holm, Karen A. and Patricia J. Higgins, Anthropology Curriculum Project, The University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia, 1985, pp. 15-22.

11. Holm and Higgins, p. 2.

12. Butler, William, "Introduction to the Symposium," in State Archaeological Education Programs, edited by William Butler, National Park Service, Rocky Mountain Region, Division of National Preservation Programs, Interagency Archeological Services,1992, pp. 1-2.

13. Knudson, Ruthann, "Federal Archeological Public Awareness Activities," in State Archaeological Education Programs, edited by William Butler, National Park Service, Rocky Mountain Region, Division of National Preservation Programs, Interagency Archeological Services, 1992, pp. 8-12.

14. Katz, Paul, Susana Katz, and Joyce Williams, "Statewide Archaeological Education Programs in Illinois," in State Archaeological Education Programs, edited by William Butler, National Park Service, Rocky Mountain Region, Division of National Preservation Programs, Interagency Archeological Services, 1992, pp. 8-12.

15. National Science Board, Science and Engineering Indicators—1993, Washington, DC: U. S. Government Printing Office, 1993 (NSB 93-1), p. 12.

16. Suter, Larry E. (ed), Indicators of Science and Mathematics Education 1992, Division of Research, Evaluation and Dissemination, Directorate for Education and Human Resources, National Science Foundation, Washington, DC., 1992, (NSF93-95), p. 20.

17. Holm and Higgins, p. 2.

18. Murphy, Harry and Cathi Mauch, "Student Research as an Instructional Tool," Public Archaeology Review, 1995, vol. 3, nos. 1 and 2, pp. 18-20.

19. Blank, Shirley and Cjigkitoonuppa John Peters Slow Turtle, "The Teaching of the Past of the Native Peoples of North America in U. S. Schools," in The Excluded Past: Archaeology in Education, edited by Peter G. Stone and Robert MacKenzie, London and New York: Routledge, 1990, pp. 109-133.

20. Ucko, P. J., "Forward," in The Excluded Past: Archaeology in Education, edited by Peter G. Stone and Robert MacKenzie, London and New York: Routledge, 1990, pp. ix-xxiii.

21. Blanchard, Charles, "Can the Value of the Past Really be Taught?" in Archaeology and Public Education, edited by Amy Douglas and H. C. Smith, Society for American Archaeology, Public Education Committee, 1996, vol. 6, no. 2, pp. 15.

22. Hankins, Caneta, "Heritage Education: Teaching in 2000," in Archaeology and Public Education, edited by Amy Douglas and H. C. Smith, Society for American Archaeology, Public Education Committee, 1996, vol. 6, no. 2, pp. 2-3.