Interpretation for Archeologists   2. What is Interpretation?   Distance Learning

Why Does the NPS Interpret Archeology?

(photo) Archeologists interpreting at Mesa Verde.

Archeologists at Mesa Verde used interpretive talks even in the 1950s to encourage public curiosity in archeology. The understanding of stewardship practices has since improved. (HFC)

The stewardship of America's archeological heritage is a well-established policy and function of the federal government. Interagency cooperation and partnerships are fundamental to this mission. Archeological resources—sites, collections, and records—are unique and fragile. We must use them wisely and protect them for future generations. NPS archeologists also interpret their work so that it gets out of academic or professional circles and into a larger public debate about the meaning of the past.

For Your Information

At Work Nationwide

The Archeology Program provides archeologists with guidance in many areas.

  • Federal Archeology Program
  • Site Discovery and Evaluation
  • Preventing Looting and Vandalism
  • Caring for Collections
  • Site Conservation
  • Enhancing Public Outreach
  • Preserving a Submerged Legacy

Fun Fact

Archeology is happening all over the nation! Research in the Parks links to web sites describing NPS archeology projects.

(photo) Junior Rangers in training studying archeological displays at Indiana Dunes.

Junior Rangers in training learn from archeological displays at Indiana Dunes. (MWAC)

Through programs that preserve, protect, conserve, and educate the public regarding archeological resources the National Park Service preserves over 63,000 archeological sites, as well as huge archeological collections from scientific investigations of those sites. Interpreting archeological resources helps meet this part of the NPS mission by:

  • Perpetuating and representing the archeological heritage of the nation uniquely reflected in national park units.
  • Ensuring the natural, cultural, and recreational heritage reflected in the national park units is available and accessible to everyone.
  • Providing visitor experiences that strengthen the recognition, understanding, enjoyment, and preservation of the nation's archeological resources.
  • Creating the opportunity for audiences to ascribe meanings to archeological resources, leading to concern for the protection of those resources. Such revelation is the seed of archeological resource stewardship.

For Your Information

The Public Interpretation Initiative
This article outlines the purposes and direction of the Public Interpretation Initiative, a public outreach program initiated and coordinated by the NPS Southeast Archeological Center.

For Your Information

National Strategy for the Federal Archeology Program

The Secretary of the Interior has identified areas of special emphasis for federal agencies with archeological programs:

  • Preserve and Protect Archeological Sites in Place
  • Identify, evaluate, and document sites
  • Increase our understanding of the past and improve preservation through well-designed research
  • Assess and document threats to sites and monitor their condition
  • Prevent or slow deterioration of sites by stabilization and other means
  • Fight looting with public awareness programs and effective legal strategies among archeologists, law enforcement officers, and public prosecutors
  • Conserve Archeological Collections and Records
  • Locate collections and records, assess their condition, and conserve appropriately
  • Identify actions needed to ensure long-term care of and access to collections and records
  • Undertake, facilitate, and promote research using collections and records to better understand the past
  • Utilize and Share Archeological Research Results
  • Synthesize research results, particularly gray literature, to advance scientific knowledge, further preservation, and better inform the public
  • Facilitate use of archeological databases by managers and researchers
  • Develop data standards to better share research results
  • Increase Public Education and Participation in Archeology
  • Establish education programs as a regular agency function
  • Interpret archeological research for the public in a way that is accurate and understandable
  • Consider the views of diverse cultural groups when interpreting the past
  • The National Strategy for the Federal Archeology Program reinforces the NPS commitment to preserve and interpret American archeological resources. Work done in each park by managers, interpreters, and archeologists ensure that these resources will be protected and appreciated by visitors

Case Study

Hopewell Culture National Historical Park
Visitors should plan on a 1½ to 2 hour visit of the park's visitor center to watch the award-winning 17-minute video "Legacy of the Mound Builders", examine the museum exhibits, and walk the interpretive trails. Interpretive trails approximately 1.5 miles in length feature descriptive signs, audio stations, and self-guiding brochures. Special events featuring Native American and archeological themes are featured throughout the year.

Use What You Know

Choose two of the case studies listed in this section. Explore the web sites for each one.

Write a brief paragraph about where you see evidence for the encouragement of public stewardship.

Could you propose language to strengthen the stewardship message?

Use What You Know: Assess Your Knowledge (#2 of 10)

(icon) A ranger's hat.

Write answers to these questions:

  • What is interpretation?
  • Why does the NPS interpret archeology?
  • What are the goals for interpretation?

Now add “at your site” to the end of each question and re-answer them. In what ways does or doesn’t your park meet the definitions and purposes for interpretation?

MJB/EJL