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Additional Full Performance Level Competency

Module 440: Effective Interpretation of Archaeological Resources

In response to the NPS Employee Training and Development Strategy (1995), an interdisciplinary work group of archeologists and interpreters developed a "shared-competency" training module. Archeologists and interpreters will be trained together in the skills and abilities needed to carry out effective interpretation of archeological resources. The module includes one component and eleven sections: Purposes, Goal, Approach, Design, Participants, Objectives, Topics, Delivery Modes, Competency Assessment, Content Outline, and Developmental Activities.


Archeology is the humanistic and scientific study of ancient, historic, and modern cultures. Interpretation provides opportunities to inform park visitors about how and what has been learned from archeological study concerning the ancient and/or historic past and what meanings and significance they hold for visitors in the present. Together, archeologists and interpreters can help to ensure protection of the archeological record for future generations.

Interpretation of the archeological record presents to the audience a variety of perspectives to reach a greater understanding and appreciation of past human behavior and activities. Archeologists and interpreters collaborate and use their knowledge and skills to create opportunities for the audience to form intellectual and emotional connections to the meanings and significance of the archeological records and the peoples who created them.

The shared competency does not replace the competencies for either field; rather it complements and expands basic competencies for archeologists and interpreters.


For the archeologist, this module develops a basic foundation in the art and science of interpretation that can be refined throughout one's career. It addresses the archeologist’s obligation to provide public interpretation and education opportunities to the ever-increasing global visitor to ensure protection of America’s archeological record now and into the future.

This module provides a foundation and principals to help facilitate the visitors' intellectual and emotional connections with the meanings and significance of archeological resources and their stories.

Also addressed is the archeologist's responsibility, working with interpreters, to provide interpretation and education opportunities to increase public awareness and develop a constituency who desires to protect the archeological record of America's heritage.


For interpreters and education specialists, this module provides knowledge of basic archeological methods, techniques, and up-to-date interpretations of archeological data, as well as the basic relationships of archeological resource study and preservation to preservation laws. The interpreter must use this knowledge in preparing archeological programs to provide a cohesive presentation of relevant ideas and accurate information in order to maximize interpretive opportunities.


To create opportunities for audiences to learn about archeological interpretations and how they are made, to ascribe their own meanings to archeological resources, helping to increase public understanding and concern for preservation and protection of archeological resources. The SHARED COMPETENCY to reach the goal:

Archeologists and interpreters work together to provide effective and accurate interpretation of archeological information and resources to the public.

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Protection of America' s archeological resource is dependent upon public recognition, understanding, and stewardship. Through interpretation, visitors are afforded opportunities to make emotional and intellectual connections with archeological resources, which leads toward resource stewardship.

This must be a joint venture (Adventure!) in professional development. The archeologist must have a firm foundation in and understanding of the purpose, philosophy, and techniques of interpretation. The interpreter must have an understanding of basic archeological principles and techniques as well as up-to-date and accurate knowledge of general American history and prehistory, and more specific understanding of the archeological resources in the park, cluster, or region where the interpreter works. Together, both professions must create compelling linkages to cultural resources based on current factual research and creative interpretive techniques.

The public is largely unaware that cultural resources are explicitly protected on federal lands. Knowledge of the Federal laws and regulations will help interpreters present them appropriately and inform the public about the need for protecting and maintaining these resources.

Interpretive programs must have content based on acknowledged archeological facts. Additionally, interpreters must be aware of multiple points of view—for example, scientific and traditional—and these points of view must be considered and utilized in interpretive programs to provide interpretive opportunities for many audiences.

Interpreters and archeologists should develop and maintain a dialogue so that interpreters gain knowledge of on-site activities that inventory, monitor, collect, stabilize, preserve, excavate, research, and curate cultural resources. Interpreters may also become directly involved in these activities as skill levels and time allow. Archeologists and interpreters should analyze the potential impacts of interpretive programs on the resources being interpreted. Both disciplines need to balance visitor experience by exposing visitors to on-site resources and the cumulative impacts of visitation.


This module has a three-part focus:

Interpreters gain knowledge of archeology necessary to develop presentations and media about archeological resources;
Archeologists gain the foundation of knowledge and skills in interpretation necessary to develop interpretive presentations and media about cultural resources; and
Both groups gain knowledge and skills through increased dialogue and interactions between archeologists and interpreters for joint development of effective interpretation of archeology.


The shared competency is apropos for interpreters, education specialists, and archeologists with responsibilities for conveying archeological information in an interpretive manner to a wide variety of audiences.

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A. Upon completion of the curriculum, archeologists and interpreters will be able to:

  • Convey archeological information to audiences in an understandable and usable manner;

  • Identify and appropriately present multiple perspectives, or direct audiences to sources for discovering multiple perspectives;

  • Work together to develop programs and texts about archeological subjects; and
    Develop presentations and/or media about archeological subjects to a variety of audiences.

B. Upon completion of the curriculum, archeologists will be able to:

  • Describe how interpretation and education meet the NPS and park mission and objectives;

  • Describe ways in which meanings may be revealed by creating linkages through tangibles and intangibles to the archeological record;

  • Establish a personal foundation to develop interpretive effectiveness through understanding interpretive purpose and techniques;

  • Establish a mission-driven approach to interpretation of archeological resources, which incorporates both park management outcomes and audience revelation, both of which lead to enhanced stewardship; and

  • Explain the interpreter's role to facilitate the visitors' experience and relationship to the resource, and how this relationship provides an opportunity for stewardship.

C. Upon completion of the curriculum, interpreters will be able to:

  • Demonstrate an understanding of the basic principles of archeology;
    Demonstrate knowledge of pertinent laws, regulations and policies pertaining to archeological resources;

  • Present programs with factual archeological content that also present other points of view;

  • Demonstrate knowledge of on-site resource preservation activities; and
    Explain the archeologist's role in interpretation to facilitate the visitors' experience and relationship to the archeological record, with an understanding that interpretation moves beyond a recitation of scientific data and chronologies.


The course of study addresses:

Basic archeological principles;
Basic, up-to-date and archeological interpretations of American history and prehistory
Identifying appropriate information and concepts for audiences;
Laws, regulations, and policies regarding cultural resources protection and preservation;
Identifying multiple perspectives; comparing and understanding scientific fact, tradition, lore, culture, and religion;
On-site involvement of audiences;
Philosophy of interpretation;
Basic interpretive skills and techniques;
Development of interpretive presentations;
Development of various interpretive media; and
Park interpretive themes.


Training can consist of classroom lectures, courses, workshops, videos, practical exercises, dialogue, self-study, and interpretive products. Delivery modes can be local or distance learning based.

Competency Assessment

Assessment Standard: The interpretive program meets the basic tests for accuracy and delivery. The archeological program provides opportunities for the audience to form intellectual and emotional connections with meanings and/or significance of the resources being interpreted.

Note: A course of study and peer review process are both under consideration for this module, but at this time are unavailable. As this information becomes available it will be posted on the web, as will parameters for those wishing to participate in the peer review.

Available Links


For additional information contact:
Barbara J. Little
Archeology and Ethnography Program, NPS
1849 C St., NW, NC 210
Washington, DC 20240
202-343-1058 (voice)
202-523-1547 (fax)

John Jameson
Southeast Archeological Center (SEAC)
2035 E. Paul Dirac Drive
Suite 120, Johnson Building
Tallahassie, FL 32310
850-580-3011 x243

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Last module update: September, 2002
Editors: Hembrey, Heather A. and Barbara J. Little

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