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Journal of Northwest Anthropology

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Archaeology -- Pacific Northwest, Archaeology -- Oregon -- Portland Metropolitan Area, Urban archaeology -- Oregon -- Portland Metropolitan Area, Archaeology -- Methodology


Public engagement is a critical part of archaeologists’ tool kit for encouraging people to look beyond the glittering but superficial appeal of “artifacts” to appreciate and respect the peoples and cultures that made them. Engagement takes many forms—from museum exhibits, archaeological site tours, K–12 curriculum, and social media to heritage tourism, documentary films, and more. Whatever the medium or approach, a common goal is to increase the public’s understanding of the broader values archaeology strives to promote (e.g., scientific literacy, cultural diversity, civic engagement, critical thinking) and to open the door for discussion of the ethical and moral issues surrounding the destruction of the archaeological record. At a practical level, most archaeology conducted in the U.S. is publicly funded in accordance with federal and state legislation. However, the products of this work remain largely invisible to the public, and the potential public benefit of archaeology is often under- or un-realized. Finding ways to share what we learn from these expenditures, to communicate why cultural heritage matters, is critical to gaining and sustaining public support for heritage projects.

One successful engagement model involves creating an “Archaeology Day,” a multi-hour fair-like experience, where professional and avocational archaeologists and heritage specialists share temporary exhibits and hands-on activities designed to educate adults and children about a range of cultural heritage topics. Inspired by this model, Portland State University (PSU) faculty and students launched the first Archaeology Roadshow in 2012. Now an annual event, we invite community members from Tribes, federal and state agencies, private companies, and avocational organizations to develop interactive interpretive experiences for visitors. Such exhibits showcase findings from recent cultural resources management (CRM) projects; explain how we create chronologies; provide hands-on experience in faunal analysis, stone tool making, fire making, and spear throwing; or illustrate how archival records or oral traditions can teach us about the past. Many show how our current lives are shaped by the past or what connects us all—past and present. Visitors meet real archaeologists and heritage specialists and learn, often for the first time, about the range and diversity of public and private entities engaged in cultural heritage activities.


© 2021 Journal of Northwest Anthropology


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