SUMMER IN NEW YORK’S SOUTHERN TIER: CELEBRATING TWO DECADES OF PUBLIC ARCHAEOLOGY WITH THE COMMUNITY ARCHAEOLOGY PROGRAM
It’s always the hottest time of the year and the site has no shade, but that doesn’t stop our participants from spending a week in July excavating at an important local site in New York’s Southern Tier. Every so often you hear someone call out from a screen, “Hey, I found a flake.” That unit’s team gathers round to see and share. Their excitement is why we do public outreach.
Binghamton University’s Public Archaeology Facility (PAF) has been committed to public outreach since it was established in 1972. After all, “public” is in our name! Since then, the Community Archaeology Program, or CAP, has educated the public about historic preservation, and shared information about local archaeology projects with the communities where we conduct archaeology. Throughout the year, PAF staff respond to community requests and present lectures on archaeology and local prehistory to school groups, historical societies, and social groups. We also invite school groups to our lab facility. After being repeatedly asked by audience members if they could participate in archaeology projects, rather than just observe, in 1996 we designed and implemented an integrated summer outreach program aimed at multiple audiences. It is our summer program that we will focus on for this post.
Since that first summer in which we held a two-week program with 12 participants ages 16 and over, CAP has grown to include individual sessions for kids (Grades 5 and 6), teens (Grades 7-10), and adults (ages 16+). Participation in CAP has filled in recent years. This enthusiasm attests to the public’s interest in informal learning experiences associated with archaeology. Many of our youth and adults return the following summer(s) for the same program or the next age-appropriate session. People come from hundreds of miles to join us each summer. Participants have built bonds with one another and with the staff over the years of their participation. Summertime is a reunion for many, each asking one another about the past year as they work side-by-side or during breaks each day. This greater sense of community brings us much satisfaction and pride. Each year we welcome old friends and make new ones.
All three programs consist of a five-day session with varying combinations of lecture, lab, and field time. The week begins in the classroom on the Binghamton University campus with an introduction to CAP and its goals. While each program is a little different, geared to the specific audience, on the first day we cover the basics – what is archaeology and how is it done. Teens and Adults hear these talks together and it is fun to watch them interact and answer questions. The Teens then move on to more hands-on activities, while the Adults learn about the archaeology of New York State and engage in an interactive workshop on artifact recognition. The Teens and Adults come together again to learn about the site we will be working on. To stress the full process involved in archaeological research, the groups tour PAF’s lab facilities where artifact processing and analysis are discussed. To reinforce information covered during the first day, a workbook is provided, which includes a summary of local prehistory and history, articles on archaeological methods, a reference bibliography, and an illustrated glossary of archaeological terms.
For the remainder of the week, the Adults are in the field excavating under the supervision of professional archaeologists. Field methods emphasize proper excavation and recording techniques and participants are taught to shovel scrape, trowel, screen, take notes, and draw. Teens spend the remainder of the week dividing their time between excavation and hands-on activities, such as typology, orienteering, stratigraphy, and zooarchaeology. For the past couple of years, we have been fortunate to have an expert on native technology work with the participants, demonstrating flintknapping or teaching them to make stone beads. One yearly activity all three groups greatly enjoy is the atlatl throwing!
While the Teen program is run almost like a “mini” Adult program, the “Archaeology for Kids” session differs. Most of the week the kids are on campus engaging in hands-on activities to convey the nature of some basic concepts in archaeology such as stratigraphy, differential preservation, and use wear. During this time, the children also take part in a mock box excavation in which they not only learn the basic principles of excavation and recording, but also analysis and interpretation. However, one day a week is devoted to a visit to the CAP site. The field trip gives students the opportunity to observe professionally trained archaeologists at work and to assist in the recovery of artifacts from the screens. The students work with the Adult program participants. This is one of the most satisfying days on the site, when participants in all three programs are helping recover the past. Children who complete the program receive a certificate and a copy of the “ARC Guide,” a workbook which reinforces and expands on concepts pertaining to archaeology and historic preservation covered in class.
The goal of the CAP programs is to educate individuals of all ages about the presence of a rich and fascinating past beneath their very feet. Where before they had seen empty fields, they now see a resource to be protected. Since 1996, several hundred individuals have gone through the various programs. This summer, to accommodate the interest, we will offer two sessions of each program. Participants in CAP for Adults are far more likely to support public funding for archaeology as well as legislation that protects archaeological resources. The CAP for Teens and Kids programs extend this sense of the importance of archaeological preservation to the generations of tomorrow. Many of our young participants have gone on to get Bachelor and even Masters degrees in anthropology/archaeology, and we are so glad that we were there at the start to introduce them to the discipline. Some adults have become strong advocates for local preservation – one became a town historian who spearheaded a preservation ordinance in her community. In our ongoing commitment to the CAP programs, we hope to keep creating stewards of the past and partners in local preservation efforts.
Registration for the CAP 2018 summer programs is now open! For more information about the Community Archaeology Program and how to register, please visit https://www.binghamton.edu/programs/cap/index.html. Visit us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Community.Archaeology.Program/?ref=br_rs.
About the Authors:
Nina Versaggi, PhD is the Director of the Public Archaeology Facility, a research center on the Binghamton University campus. She co-founded and co-directs the Community Archaeology Program.
Laurie Miroff, PhD co-founded and co-directs the Community Archaeology Program. She is the lead instructor of CAP for Adults and is a project director at the Public Archaeology Facility.
Lynda Carroll is a doctoral candidate at Binghamton University and an adjunct instructor at SUNY Broome Community College and SUNY Cortland. She is a co-director of the Community Archaeology Program and the lead instructor of CAP for Kids.