Survey archeologist Jared Pebworth speaking to citizens during Cane Hill Public Day in 2023. Photo by Tim Mulvihill.

Michelle Rathgaber and Gillian Steeno
"Archeology is..." series - March 2024

In honor of Arkansas Archeology Month, the biggest collection of archeology public outreach events of the year, we felt it would be appropriate to write about how public outreach plays a vital role in the discipline. When we started our careers in archeology, neither of us thought that we would spend a lot of our time planning events or scheduling meetings to work with collaborators on various projects. However, public engagement is crucial to people’s understanding of what archeology is and what archeologists do.
Gillian Steeno at a Parkeology event at Plum Bayou Mounds State Park. Photo by Rachel Tebbetts.
Archeology is a science that many people in Arkansas are first exposed to outside of a formal museum or an excavation setting. We often interact with people at farmer’s markets, community events, presentations, and online who have found artifacts themselves or know someone who has. Sometimes they know what the artifacts are, where they came from, who made them, and why they are important. Other times, they do not. Many people have legitimate questions about the archeological artifacts that they have found or seen and want to know more about the people who created them. Most do not realize the potential harm in collecting artifacts without proper documentation, and after this realization, they want to do better.
Part of the Arkansas Archeological Survey’s mission is to share what we learn about the past with the public, so outreach is a necessary component of what we do. With the increasing popularity and media presence of archeological pseudoscience, public outreach becomes even more important. By making archeology more publicly accessible through presentations (both in person and virtual), showing up where people are (community events and trivia nights), and interacting on social media through videos and posts, we can let people know about the real archeological work being done around them and the amazing history of the land and the people who lived here, that have made up what is now the state of Arkansas.
Joe Rainey speaks to attendees at Celebrate Archeology Day 2023 in Fayetteville. Photo by Alex Barker.
"Baby's First Dart" - An Archeolympics team laying out 1x1 m unit during the obstacle course portion of the games. Dr. Maureece Levin, UALR professor, is judging (left). Photo by Rachel Tebbetts.
Public outreach also involves working with descendant communities. Planning large public events about archeological sites and research means involving the descendants of those past communities to make sure that their viewpoint is represented in addition to the archeological perspective. One example of this is that community representatives are invited to host a booth, talk directly to the public, and cook a lunch of traditional food (e.g., Celebrate Archeology Day at Parkin Archeological State Park on March 2!). This component of engagement could also mean checking in with communities and making sure that what is being presented is appropriate and inviting them to participate if they wish to. And it might involve simply being aware of things that are happening and informing the appropriate descendant communities so that they are also aware.
Archeology is meant to be a collaborative discipline, and involving descendant groups and members of the public in what we do helps promote more conversations about the importance of preserving the past. Without sharing archeological information, the knowledge that we gain as a result of our research exists in a vacuum. Translating and sharing our learned knowledge about archeology will help members of the public become aware of what they can do to be better stewards of the land and the archeological material from past peoples.

“Archeology is…” Series Information

In this series we plan to highlight the many and various things that Are Archeology, from Art to Zoology and everything in between. We hope you enjoy learning a bit more about the variety of things that archeologists do and specialize in and maybe it will inspire you to be an archeologist even if you love learning about things in another field. You can find all the entries here.