Interpretation for Archeologists   2. What is Interpretation?   Distance Learning

Sound familiar?

Archeologists are no strangers to misconceptions about their profession. In popular culture, archeologists are romantic characters who travel to exotic lands in search of mysterious artifacts. If you have done public archeology or interpretation before, you can probably list several questions visitors ask repeatedly that betray a lack of knowledge about the field. Archeologists who conduct interpretive programs can replace the public’s misconceptions about their work with accurate information about what they do. Archeologists’ interpretations can go far in imparting information about method, intent, significance, and meaning.

Fun Fact

Fossils? Gold? Treasure? Dinosaurs? Aren't these what archeologists look for? This site explores some of the most popular Archaeological Myths.

Creative responses to the misconceptions about archeology is an effective way for interpreters and archeologists to share information with the public to alleviate confusion that may lead visitors to misunderstand, or even abuse, archeological resources. In turn, greater understanding of archeological resources ideally provides a means for the public to appreciate and care for them.

For Your Information

Archeologists should know what it’s like to be misperceived as professionals. Consider what the 1999 survey by Harris Interactive tells us about public conceptions of archeologists’ work:

  • When asked what the public thinks when they hear the word archeology, 10% mentioned digging dinosaurs or dinosaur bones, while only 1% mentioned digging associated with Native peoples or Native societies.
  • When asked what archeologists study, 92% of the people agreed that they study fossils (which they do not study), 85% agreed that they study dinosaurs (which they do not study) and 77% agreed they study shipwrecks (which they do study).
  • Very few respondents mentioned underwater (1%) and Indian remains/ burial grounds (1%) as places where archeologists study the past.
  • When asked, "What are some of the most important archeological sites ever found?" no respondents named North American sites. The majority mentioned Egyptian sites, dinosaur sites, Biblical and Roman sites, and Latin American Aztec, Mayan and Inca sites.

Try it Yourself

What are some of the misconceptions you hear about archeology from the public? From management? The community? Others?

List the questions you most commonly hear about archeology from the public. How can you best inform the visitor about what is really important to know about archeology in your park?

MJB/EJL