People from all walks of life are attracted to archaeology by the allure of adventure and excitement of finding something really old or really significant. Whether a professional or avocational archaeologist, student, educator, or child, the past belongs to all of us. I believe that as professionals we have a responsibility to take what we find, what we learn, and share it with the public. More importantly, the public should also have a part in the process of archaeology; they should be our partners, not just a passive audience for our outreach efforts after we have done all the work. The benefit of this type of inclusiveness is reciprocal: the public becomes closer to archaeology (not to mention they are able to participate in the projects that their tax money pays for) and archaeology gains from their perspective and support. I strongly believe that this relationship is the foundation for preservation and anti-looting efforts.
The community will never appreciate the value that artifacts actually have to our research and to understanding our collective past unless we include them in our efforts. The public will never understand that any monetary value they may assume from our culture’s sensational media influence is in reality, nonexistent in our field, unless we raise awareness. For example, a citizen of San Marcos will be much less likely to go “arrowhead hunting” around the river after they have participated in a controlled excavation and learned about how important each artifact’s location is to understanding the site as a whole. A deeper awareness of what archaeology is and can do, and of our region’s rich cultural heritage, is exactly what we are striving for when we hold public participation days at Spring Lake. By allowing the public to participate in and assist with our field work, we are reaching out to those in our community who crave an experiential connection with the past and with the process of archaeological discovery.
So far during our public participation days, I have met an inspiring mother-son duo whosigned up to participate as an educational experience to fulfill their homeschool based hands-on approach to learning. I have also met some of our crews’ family members who were curious about what their relative did for a living, and wanted to show their support. I had the pleasure of meeting a husband and wife team who shared the excitement of discovery and a spiritual connection to our region’s history. Interestingly, another participant was the granddaughter of Paul Rogers. Paul Rogers was the son of A.B. Rogers who purchased the 125 acres of land around the springs in 1926. Together, Paul and A.B. Rogers developed the hotel, golf course, amusement park and glass bottom boat tours that made up the former Aquarena Springs. The descendent of the Rogers family expressed how important Spring Lake was to her and her family and how happy she was to be able to participate in our project. How cool is that?!
The benefits of our public participation days have already started to surface. In addition to positive feedback on social media, it seems that connecting our participants with the site, the staff and especially the artifacts, is extremely conducive to the kind of dialogue and interaction that leaves a lasting impression and promotes public stewardship. I look forward to meeting more interesting people as we continue with our plans for ongoing outreach and education programs focusing on the archaeology of Spring Lake.