Once and Future Blog

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Month: October, 2013

Archaeology, etc.: Friday links, 10/11/13

After a week of frustrating shutdown news and attacks on archaeology funding, I am sharing some fun reading. Here are links that are either directly related to material culture and archaeological methods, or are tangential but very fun.

eHumanity: lovely site for exploring Native American material culture

Digital maps of Philadelphia: simple but elegant interface for overlaying historic maps of Philadelphia – I can imagine this would be a great teaching tool

Archivist creates geocaching treasure hunt to explore local history, which I now want to do

Aliens’ Guide to the Ruins of Washington DC exhibit – to quote from the Slate article:

Harvey, British-born and Brooklyn-based, says the exhibition sprang from a fascination with the omnipresence of classical and neoclassical architecture, styles that have meant all kinds of different things to all kinds of different people over 2,000 years. “It has been an architecture people have seen as representing democracy. It was also totalitarian. Stalin loved it. The Fascists loved it. It was connected to slavery. Plantations in the South—they look like mini Parthenons. In Britain, there was an imperial aspect to it. If neoclassical architecture was a virus, it would be the flu,” she says.

Incorporating Photographic Exhibits into the Anthropology Classroom, a meditation on Elena Geroska’s “Traces” project

Alondra Nelson on the social life of DNA:  good methodological discussion of how “following things” depends on what you choose to follow, and an interesting topic

Deep History: a colleague just introduced me to this provocative “neurological turn” in history. I haven’t read enough to speak on it yet but it seems like it definitely intersects with anthropology, so oh, I will have thoughts….

“15th century Flemish style portraits recreated in the airplane lavatory” : this is more tangential, but it’s great

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What is archaeology worth?

Archaeology’s value, defined in dollars, is now a subject of debate on the national stage. Given political attacks on specific programs and research grants funded by the National Science Foundation in the last few years, it was really only a matter of time. Still, when representatives in Congress are questioning why we fund archaeology rather than spending those dollars on “projects that could save lives,” archaeologists have to answer.

For thoughtful, well-thought, longer responses on the value of archaeology for our long-term national interests and sense of humanity,  and detailed critiques of the representatives’ attack, check out posts by James Doyle, Rosemary Joyce, and Paul Mullins. I, for now,  just want to make a few comments about how archaeology serves our short-term national interests, in the simplest economic terms.

First, archaeology creates jobs, which can even include politicians’ silver bullet, STEM jobs. National Science Foundation grants are part of this. They fund elements of research ranging from sophisticated scientific equipment, to field survey and excavation, to laboratory analysis, to undergraduate and graduate education. As Dr. Doyle notes, it also provides jobs for field technicians in areas where their alternatives could be quite harmful to US national interests. Since not all archaeology is government-funded – in fact, most archaeologists in the US work for private companies in the cultural resource management sector – investing in the development of new scientific methods and the training of new archaeologists also leads to private sector employment.

Second, archaeology gives back economically as well as culturally and scientifically. Think of the tourist sites that develop around sites with long-term or high-profile archaeological projects in the US, from Colonial Williamsburg to Cahokia Mounds to the African Burial Ground in New York City. Think of the small businesses like cafes and hotels, located near closed National Park Service historic sites and federal museums, that are currently losing visitors and income every day due to the government shutdown. (As a seasonal National Park Service employee, I am also personally saddened to think of the dedicated colleagues I know who are currently unable to do their jobs or earn their living. Federal employees have jobs that matter, too.)

Not convinced? Read about the economic impacts of historic preservation, state by state. Historic, archaeological, and environmental sites that give visitors a sense of place and history have an important economic role to play in an increasingly service-driven economy like ours. Archaeology creates rich narratives about the past that enable us to explain why American destination sites are worth visiting.

It also helps to preserve the past for the long term. It is often archaeologists’ job to determine site significance, which means researching the history and location of sites, deciding what should be investigated and preserved, and laying out plans. These plans include well-documented survey and excavation, so that even when artifacts or features are removed, it is still possible to figure out how they fit together; cleaning, conservation, and laboratory analysis, so that we can learn as much as possible from archaeological collections; and long-term curation, so that people with new questions or techniques can learn more from them in the future.

Once an archaeological site is destroyed, it is a truly non-renewable resource. At the most basic level, it is in our interest to steward our unique and limited resources well.