Providing opportunities for volunteers is an important form of public outreach. Volunteers can be powerful allies and participate in a variety of ways, from site discovery to analysis to site monitoring and protection. No volunteer program should be implemented without the supervision of a professional archeologist as defined in Appendix E of DO28. Volunteers must not conduct any activity -- be it treatment, monitoring, or research -- without supervision from a professional archeologist familiar with NPS policies and federal law.
Avocational or amateur archeologists are people who do archeology as a hobby and not as a profession. As might be expected, such archeologists vary greatly in skill level and commitment, from the volunteer who helps out occasionally to a recipient of the Society for American Archaeology's Crabtree Award for excellence by an avocational archeologist who has made significant contributions to American archeology. Avocational archeologists, however, should not supervise volunteers, even if they are park staff.
Parks may recruit volunteers in a variety of ways. The NPS Get Involved web page includes sources of information for volunteers, including a search engine to identify parks and youth programs. Parks may announce volunteer activities on their homepages, through local papers, or by more informal means such as bulletin boards and flyers. Cast a wide net that ensures a broad, diverse group of volunteers.
Parks should be aware of the critical issues concerning volunteers. Among them:
- Parks should not undertake volunteer programs if a professional archeologist is unavailable to give the time, attention, and supervision necessary. If an archeologist is not available, a park should not have a volunteer program in archeology.
- Parks may wish to schedule regular meetings among NPS staff and volunteers to identify any problem areas, share ideas to improve or change outreach efforts, and to get a sense of volunteers' talents.
- Volunteers take more of your time than you might anticipate, and no two volunteers are alike. Administrative paperwork, checking the accuracy of completed work, guidance, and project development constitute a significant portion of a volunteer's supervisor's taskload.
- Volunteers require training, such as in excavation techniques for a public archeology dig or guidance in speaking for the NPS to visitors. You may wish to develop a training program before accepting volunteers.
- NPS archeologists must drive research and are responsible for quality control over the results. Volunteers must not conduct their own unvetted programs, or deviate from an archeologist's directions. They should not, for example, carry out their own excavation or metal detect unsupervised. Volunteers should not deviate from the park's expectations for a script, behavior, or attitude towards the public or the resources.
- Under certain circumstances, trusted volunteers may assume additional responsibilities. Appropriate responsibilities might include editing archeological reports, writing exhibit text, or interpreting sites to the public. At no time, however, should NPS resources be compromised by a volunteer.
Avocational archeologists share the desire to record and preserve information for their own personal satisfaction as well as to make a meaningful contribution to knowledge. Critical issues for working with avocational archeologists include:
- At all times, NPS policy and procedure are paramount. NPS staff must retain control. Park archeologists should not allow avocational archeologists to compromise resources, for example, by excavating incorrectly or making insufficient records. NPS archeologists can, however, listen to new ideas or suggestions and consider integrating them into programs.
- Be sure to integrate information about NHPA, NAGPRA, and ARPA into training. Consider creating handouts, postcards, or bookmarks with the basics about these laws. Find plain English information on the Archeology Law and Ethics page.
- Avocational archeologists require supervision, even if they are very experienced in the field.
- A park should make an agreement about publication of findings. Encourage collaboration between the park and avocational archeologists.
- Public Archeology at Manzanar, Manzanar National Historic Site
- Amateur Certification (certification programs and the Crabtree Award)
- Caring for Sites
- Avocational Archaeology Groups: A Secret Weapon for Site Protection
- Technical Brief 9: Training and Using Volunteers in Archeology: A Case Study From Arkansas
- Technical Brief 22: Developing and Implementing Archeological Site Stewardship Programs
For more information
- Volunteer Opportunities (archeology-specific)
- Archeological Centers and Regional Offices (contact directly for volunteer information)