This summer was my first not in the field in over a decade (I know an apt time to write a Day of Archaeology post but it is the first time my brain wasn’t fried by the sun). While it has been challenging not to work in the field, sweating digging, troweling, and picking, it has afforded me time to engage in other things archaeology: finishing research, attending conferences, attending archaeology classes and thinking, lots and lots of time alone thinking.
However, the best thing that my time off from field work has given me is time to travel with my fiancée, a non-archaeologist but avid learner of everything. We have seen everything from National Parks and Ancestral Puebloan ruins to Parchi Nazionali and Roman fora. Just because I wasn’t excavating didn’t mean I was avoiding archaeology, just engaging with it in a different way.
Being trained as an archaeologist since undergrad, visiting such sites and understanding them is a well practiced skill for me. I have learned how to navigate the stones, pits and poorly written signage well. But as my fiancée has not spent years in school for archaeology, she found it incredibly frustrating (and made sure I knew it) to visit poorly signed sites both home and abroad. Faded state plans surrounded by blocks of text made no sense to her until I was able to decipher and focus the information. Sometimes even my own excitement got ahead of me and caused confusion, that was till she lovingly told me to slow down – after which I focused my slew of information to create a richer tour for her without beating her over the head with every foundation stone and pot sherd. And while she loves having her own personal archaeologist tour guide, not all people visiting our beloved sites will have one on hand (unless we start going on a lot more dates with non-archaeologists).
These experiences demonstrated to me that we archaeologists need to be better stewards of the knowledge that we uncover every summer. This is more important now more than ever with sites coming under attack from governments, militaries, and too much love. This is not to say that we should be more restrictive in who sees the knowledge or even dumb down any of the facts we share, but the flood of information needs to be better managed. Archaeological parks and sites need cohesive Cultural Interpretation Plans (CIPs) that will help guide creating focused signs and thematic units for parks. Every time a person leaves a site thinking that was just a bunch of rocks or worse yet, a person chooses not to enter a site because all they think they will see are a bunch of rocks, we lose. We lose the voices and support we need in the public to save these places, find new ones, and prevent looting. With increasing pressure to be relevant and useful, we need to show how irreplaceable the sites we cherish are. The time to move on from archaic old styles of sharing information is now. For if we wait longer, will there be any sites left to save?