Interpretation for Archeologists   5. Personal and Professional Responsibilities   Distance Learning

Making Jargon-free Archeology Presentations

(photo) An interpreter conducting a class of children.

An interpreter presents a Parks as Classrooms program at Whitman Mission National Historic Site. (NPS)

Stratigraphy, GIS, STP, assemblage, phytoliths…archeology has a unique vocabulary that can be incomprehensible to the untrained ear. While many park visitors are interested in learning about archeology and the methods that archeologists use, the jargon they encounter at archeological sites or in archeological publications may overwhelm and intimidate them.

Archeologists and interpreters should identify visitors' level of archeological understanding and tailor verbal and media presentations accordingly. Archeological terms and methods can be described using familiar words, concepts, and illustrations when possible. While archeologists and interpreters should not avoid using technical archeological terms during a presentation to a lay audience, they should immediately define the term or concept to ensure visitor understanding.

Identifying educational components in archeological research

Archeologists seek to answer some of the most basic questions people have about past cultures, family groups, and individuals. An archeological research design includes questions that, if answered, will allow the archeologists to interpret data and its meaning. Research designs may identify educational components that address interpreters' and the public's basic questions about how archeology is done and what it means.

Five Simple Educational Concepts

Whether the interpreter or archeologist presents archeological information to park visitors at a battlefield, pueblo, historic house or exhibit, he or she may wish to design the presentation around five simple concepts (Ellick 2000:187-188):

  1. What is archeology?
    This topic should include discussions of archeology, archeological sites, features, artifacts and collections, and behavioral inferences.
  2. What is culture?
    Archeologists study the past by systematically recording and analyzing their material remains to determine how people met biological, social, political, economic, technological, and psychological needs.
  3. Where and how did people live?
    This leads to discussion of human needs for food, water, shelter, as well as resource use at the site. This also leads to discussions about group dynamics, ethnicity, gender, and power resistance.
  4. What are the steps of the archeological process?
    This leads to a discussion of how archeologists recover, analyze and share information about a site, from initial research to artifact analysis to report writing. It may also include discussions about working with other professional specialists, such as geologists, soil scientists, materials scientists, educators, curators, and conservators.
  5. Preservation
    Visitors should leave every interpretive program inspired to protect and preserve archeological resources.

For Your Information

Why teach archeology?
This web site accesses resources recommended by the National Park Service Archeology Program.

MJB/EJL