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  Exploring Public Perceptions and Attitudes about Archaeology

Prepared by Maria Ramos and David Duganne, Harris Interactive
For the Society for American Archaeology
February, 2000

INTRODUCTION

Harris Interactive was commissioned by a coalition of archaeological organizations in June of 1999 to conduct a study among the American public to understand their perceptions, knowledge, and attitudes about archaeology. The overall purpose of this study is to gain insight on the American public's views and understanding of archaeology.

The information that is provided in this report is important because archaeology is a public endeavor. Archaeology is uniquely dependent on the public for the identification and protection of its resource base. And in some way, all archaeological research is supported by the public's money. Federal, state, and local laws protect sites on public land and on land being developed with public monies.

However, while lessons about archaeology are included in classroom teachings, archaeology has not been an integral part of the school curriculum in the American education system. As archaeologists strive to share information with the public about archaeology and seek public support in protecting and identifying archaeological resources, it is important to understand what Americans know, perceive, and feel about these pressing and important issues.

The coalition of archaeological organizations is composed of the following organizations:

  • Archaeological Conservancy
  • Archaeological Institute of America
  • Bureau of Land Management
  • Fish and Wildlife Service
  • Forest Service
  • National Park Service
  • Society for American Archaeology
  • Society for Historical Archaeology

Objectives

The main objective of this research is to learn how well Americans understand archaeology- its practice, its results, and its value.

Core issues include understanding:

  • What Americans think archaeology is
  • What they think archaeologists do
  • How Americans learn about archaeology
  • How they think archaeological resources should be treated
  • Their opinions about the importance and value of archaeology to different aspects of society and to their own personal lives.

Additional issues of interest include:

  • Measuring the American publicís interest and participation in archaeology and archaeological activities
  • Understanding public attitudes toward archaeology, laws, and conservation issues.

Research Framework

The study was designed to investigate the multiple dimensions of the issues to be understood and measured in a manner that allowed the interview to flow naturally. These dimensions were categorized into the following five areas.

  • Awareness, Perceptions, and Knowledge
  • Interest and Participation
  • Importance and Value
  • Attitudes
  • Demographic Information

The questionnaire was designed in 5 sections, one section for each of 5 areas of investigation. The order in which the sections appeared in the questionnaire is as specified above.

The following is the theoretical foundation for the questionnaire design.

  1. We examine awareness and perceptions of the science of archaeology and the profession of archaeology.
    • Awareness and perceptions are derived from the knowledge level that people have about the subject matter, from inaccurate to accurate. Hence, we evaluate the public's knowledge level about archaeology and what archaeologists do. The public's preferred avenues for obtaining information about archaeology are also measured.
  1. We evaluate individual interest and participation in archaeological activities.
  2. We ask questions that measure the importance and value that the public places on archaeology.
    • These dimensions may influence the public's level of interest and participation and they help in understanding public attitudes and actions toward archaeology, the archaeological record, and conservation issues.
  1. We measure attitudes toward key archaeological issues such as conservation, laws, and public policy.
  2. We obtain the respondents' demographic characteristics.
    • These help provide insight into the findings as key information is analyzed by different population segments.

A committee of representatives of the coalition of archaeological organizations provided input and guidance in the questionnaire design and development. In addition, some of the design aspects and findings from the study: "Public Opinion and Archaeological Heritage: Views from Outside the Profession" by David Pokotylo and Neil Guppy, Department of Anthropology & Sociology, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada, served as input in the framework and questionnaire design for this research.

METHODS

Research Methods

This is a quantitative study that was conducted with 1,016 adults, age 18 or older across the 48 continental United States. It was conducted by telephone between August 12 and September 14, 1999 in Harris Interactive's data collection center located in Rochester, New York.

Respondents were screened to ensure they were adults, age 18 or older. Since the entire list of sponsoring organizations is too lengthy to read in an introductory paragraph, the sponsors of the study were identified as "a coalition of archaeological organizations." The average length per interview was 21.5 minutes, with 1.5 minutes of screening time to reach a qualified respondent.

Sample Frame and Methods

Harris Interactive uses DigiPlus, a computer program that randomly generates phone numbers across the United States for research purposes, to generate a random sample of US households. DigiPlus assures sample representation of households with telephone numbers "listed" in telephone directories, as well as households that are "unlisted." Regional quotas for the continental United States population were based on the following breakdowns:

Region
(States)
Sample Size Margin of Error per Region
(95% confidence)
Northeast

(CT, DE, ME, MA, NH, NJ, NY, PA, RI, VT, MD, WV, DC)
243 +/- 6%
Great Lakes

(IL, IN, MI, OH, WI)
235 +/- 6 %
Southern

(AL, AR, FL, GA, KY, LA, NC, SC, TN, VA)
170 +/- 8 %
Central

(IA, KS, MN, MO, NE, ND, SD, OK, TX)
157 +/- 8 %
Western

(AZ, CA, CO, ID, MT, NV, NM, OR, UT, WA, WY)
211 +/- 7%

The regional breakdowns were based on United States Census data. In addition, we screened to achieve a breakdown of 47% males and 53% females, which is closely representative of the US population.

The studyís sample of 1,016 respondents is representative of the population of adults, 18 years of age or older across the continental United States. This sample size has a margin of error of +/-3% at the 95% level of confidence. In theory, with a sample of this size, one can say with 95 percent certainty that the results of this study have a statistical precision of plus or minus 3 percentage points of what they would be if the entire adult population had been polled with complete accuracy. There are, however, several other possible sources of error in all polls or surveys that may be more serious than theoretical calculations of sampling error. These include refusals to be interviewed (non-response), question wording and question order, and interviewer bias. It is difficult or impossible to quantify the errors that may result from these factors. With this in mind, we designed the entire study from questionnaire and sample design, to interview and data collection process, to minimize these sources of error.

Demographics

Demographic information was gathered for each respondent for the following:

  • Age (18-24, 25-34, 35-44, 45-54, 55-64, 65 and older)
  • Education (Attend High School, Graduate High School, Attend College/ Tech School, Graduate 4 Year College, Attend Graduate School)
  • Number of Children Under the Age of 18 in immediate Household
  • Race (Caucasian, African American, Asian, Hispanic, Hawaiian Native/ Alaskan Native/ Native American, Other Race)
  • Employment in archaeology-related field

The demographics are used as segmentation variables to determine differences or similarities within the data.

How To Read The Report

The analysis of the data from this study was based on numerous cross-tabulations of the data and statistical tests of significant differences. Statistical tests of significant differences were performed among the estimated parameters at the 95% level of confidence. Hypothesis testing for significant correlation among variables was performed using appropriate chi-square statistical tests.

Most of the data being reported are the overall results for the entire sample of respondents surveyed. The data were analyzed at the overall level as well as by the different segments or groups where differences could be encountered. The segments with significant differences in the results are described in this report. Some of these differences are statistically significantly different, as tested at the 95% level of confidence. Other differences are notably higher or lower, and of importance to report, but are not necessarily different in a statistical sense.

The population segments where differences in the results were encountered are the following:

  • Interest level in archaeology (high level, respondents who answered 7-10 vs. low level, respondents who answered 0-3)
  • Importance of archaeology, using a separate high/low scheme from interest level (high level, respondents who answered 7-10 vs. low level, respondents who answered 0-6)
  • Education (higher level of formal education vs. lower level of formal education) People with a higher level of formal education are considered to be those who have completed at least a four-year degree, while people with a lower level of formal education are those who did not graduate from college.

Other population segments by which we analyzed the data but that do not systematically exhibit significant differences to report are the following:

  • Gender
  • Region of the country
  • Having visited an archaeological site
  • Age
  • Number of children in the household
  • Ethnic background.

For these variables, we only report statistically significant differences, when found. It is important to note that this does not imply that there are no differences in the views and opinions of individuals in these segments. Rather, it implies that if differences do exist, given the sample sizes in these segments and the values of the variables reported, we can not conclude that there are differences at the 95% level of confidence.

Cross-tabulations and Compilations of Verbatim Responses

In addition to this report of findings, complete sets of cross-tabulation tables of the data have been prepared as part of this study. These tables contain the overall results from the study for each question asked, as well as the results by different segments or groups that were deemed important to the analysis of the data. The coalition of archaeological organizations provided input in defining the segments by which the data were to be analyzed.

All verbatim responses to the open-ended questions in the survey that could not be coded were compiled and provided in a separate report. Verbatim responses could be provided to two types of questions. One type is a purely open-ended question. The other type is an "other (specify)" verbatim question which appears at the end of a pre-coded list of potential responses. In both cases, verbatim responses were coded and tabulated in the cross-tabulation tables. The verbatims that could not be coded, because they did not fit the outlined categories, often because of the precise phrasing of the answer, are the ones that appear on the verbatim tables. Therefore, the percentages given as responses to some questions are subject to further refinement and modification. It is important to note that the coded verbatim responses could add up to more than 100% because a respondent can give multiple answers to a question. Also, some of the open-ended questions asked for "top of mind" responses. For these questions all responses given by a respondent were captured in the verbatim responses.

The precoded lists of potential responses included in the "other (specify)" verbatim questions were developed using input from the coalition of archaeological organizations and an analysis of the initial 100 completed interviews. The pre-coded lists were not read to the respondents at any time in the survey unless it was specified on the question that the list be read. The interviewers checked an answer on the pre-coded list when the respondent mentioned it exactly as stated. Otherwise, they typed the respondentís comments in the "other (specify)" field. These "other (specify)" verbatims were later reviewed to assure correctness and to develop any new coded responses. In most cases, codes were assigned were a response occurs more than 5% of the time.

The results discussed in the research findings below include the responses that were more frequently given to the questions asked, or those that were important to include because they tested hypothesis made at the onset of the study or during the analysis of the data. Therefore, in some cases some of the results reported have low percentages. Please see the cross-tabulation tables of the data and the verbatim report for a complete listing of all the responses given to the different questions.

RESEARCH FINDINGS

The following research findings are organized in the same manner as the study design framework previously described in this report.

A. Awareness, Perceptions and Knowledge

Our first area of interest is to understand the public's awareness, perceptions, and knowledge of archaeology. The first section of the questionnaire asked questions about the public's general knowledge of archaeology, their opinions about certain aspects of archaeology, and education questions related to archaeology.

General Knowledge of Archaeology

Respondents were first asked what came to mind when they heard the word "archaeology." This was followed by a question asking respondents what they thought archaeologists did in their work. In general, the publicí s level of knowledge about archaeology and what archaeologists do is fairly broad and moderately accurate, with the majority of the respondents giving at least one accurate description.

On the first question of what the public thinks when they hear the word archaeology, digging (in general) was the highest "top of mind" mention with 22% of the respondents giving this answer. An additional 37% mentioned digging in some form or another, such as digging bones or digging artifacts. Other responses that were mentioned most often were history, heritage, and antiquity (12%), digging artifacts/ things or objects from the past (11%), dinosaur/ dinosaur bones (10%), digging up bones (9%), bones (9%), artifacts (8%), and past cultures, ancient societies & civilizations (8%). Another 3% mentioned digging dinosaurs/dinosaur bones. Very few respondents (1%) mentioned Native people or Native societies.

What do you think of when you hear the word "archaeology"?

Histogram entitled What do you think of when you hear the word 'archaeology'? Results listed in order of descending popularity are: digging; history, heritage, and antiquity; digging artifacts/things or objects from the past; dinosaurs/dinosaur bones; digging up bones; and ancient cultures and civilizations.

Because of the popularity of dinosaurs and the publicity they receive, it was believed that one of the big misconceptions that the general public has about archaeology is that archaeologists study dinosaurs (paleontology). However, as stated above, on the average only 1 in 10 individuals (10%) mentioned dinosaurs when asked their top-of-mind thoughts about archaeology. As one might expect, the misconception about dinosaurs varies by education level. People with a higher level of formal education mentioned dinosaurs less often (2%) than people with less formal education (5%).

Next we sought to determine what the general public thinks archaeologists do in their work. Some of the answers fell into general categories such as digging and excavating (13%), finding, searching, uncovering, and discovering (12%), and studying, documenting, analyzing (3%). More specific responses that were most often mentioned were analyzing and researching the past to discover and learn what life/ past civilizations were like (25%), digging artifacts/ things or objects from the past (17%), and digging up bones (10%). Other mentions included finding or uncovering ancient civilizations (9%), excavating or digging for archaeological sites or ruins (9%), and finding artifacts from previous cultures (8%). Very few respondents mentioned digging up dinosaurs or dinosaur bones (3%).

Much of what archaeologists actually do in their work is captured in the response that was mentioned most often: analyzing and researching the past to discover and learn what life/ past civilizations were like. Although about one-fourth (25%) of the respondents gave this answer, there are differences in how people respond based on their level of education. People with a higher level of formal education mentioned it more often (32%) than those with less formal education (19%).

The general public has a strong level of awareness regarding what happens to things that are dug up or found by archaeologists. Ninety-six percent (96%) of the respondents gave an answer to this question and the majority of the answers were accurate. A large percentage of respondents (77%) mentioned that the items are donated/ sold to museums/ museum researchers. This is an interesting finding considering that in questions later in the survey only 9% of the respondents said that they have learned about archaeology through museums, and yet, 88% said that they had visited a museum exhibiting archaeological material. This disparity may be a function of many factors such as that the reason(s) for the public to visit museums may not be to see archaeological material, and the amount and type of publicity that museums receive when they acquire archaeological objects.

Almost one-third (32%) of respondents mentioned that the things that are dug up or found by archaeologists are studied and/or documented by researchers. Other responses with high percentages of mentions include: given to labs and/or to researchers for study (17%), put on display (13%), given to universities or university researchers (11%), and are preserved (11%). Only 2% of the respondents said that archaeologists keep them for their private use and very few people (1%) mentioned that items are given to Native people/ societies.

Opinions and Knowledge on Certain Aspects of Archaeology

Respondents were asked a series of questions about different things that archaeologists may or may not study. Do you think that archaeologists study:

  • The human past
  • Dinosaurs
  • Native people or native society
  • Rocks or stones
  • Fossils
  • The 19th and 20th centuries
  • Shipwrecks
  • Pottery
  • Ancient civilizations

These questions were designed to elicit a yes or no answer (responses of donít know and decline to answer were also possible), thereby testing respondentsí knowledge about correct and incorrect perceptions about archeology. The questions appeared in a random order to each respondent to minimize response bias.

In general, a significantly higher percentage of respondents said that archaeologists studied all of these aspects as compared to the percentage of respondents that mentioned these same aspects in the open-ended top-of-mind question previously discussed. A high percentage of respondents said that archaeologists study ancient civilizations (99%), the human past (98%), pottery (94%), native people or native societies (93%). Supporting some common misconceptions by the general public, 92% of the people said they study fossils and 85% said that they study dinosaurs (which they do not study) and only 77% said they study shipwrecks (which they do study). For the remaining areas of study, 83% of the respondents said that archaeologists study rocks or stones and 83% said that they study the 19th and 20th centuries.

People with a high level of interest in archaeology or people who have visited an archeological site are generally more knowledgeable about archaeology than those with limited interest or experience. For example, a smaller percentage of people with a high level of interest in archaeology (80%) think that archaeologists study dinosaurs as compared to the percentage of people with a low level of interest (93%) who think the same. A smaller percentage of people who have visited an archaeological site (80%) think that archaeologists study dinosaurs compared to the percentage of people who have not visited an archaeological site (89%). People who have a high level of interest (82%) think archaeologists study shipwrecks, while people with a low level of interest (68%) think that archaeologists study shipwrecks.

It is often the case that when respondents are "aided" with potential answers, they respond with an answer that they hope will sound knowledgeable. The aided questions asking the public what they think archaeologists study tended to elicit more positive than negative responses. This would account for the significant differences in the responses given for the top-of-mind unaided question vs. the aided questions.

Given this, we should focus our attention on the relative differences of the percentage of responses given to each of the aided questions as opposed to the level or the percentages of respondents giving the response. We can then conclude that more people correctly perceive that archaeologists study ancient civilizations (99%) and the human past (98%) than the other areas of study. We can also conclude that the publicís knowledge about what archaeologists do is neither solid nor clear.

We also asked respondents to tell us how old the oldest things are that archaeologists study. This question was left open ended and the responses were coded into several categories. A majority of the respondents gave a numerical response that fell into the following categories: under 100,000 years (29%), 100,000 to 10 million years (28%), 10,000,001 to 100 million years (3%), and 100,000,001 years and above (10%). All of the non-numeric responses were coded as one category. Slightly more than one-quarter (26%) of respondents gave responses such as "as old as living things," "before Christ", and "as far back as they can".

We also asked how old the most recent things that archaeologists study are. Again this question was left open ended and the responses were coded into several categories, mainly into time frames for the different centuries. Responses that signify recent times [such as current/ yesterday (20%), early 1900's/ 20th century (21%), 1 to 100 years ago (12%), and up to the present (10%)] were mentioned more often than earlier time frames [such as 1800's/ 19th century (17%), 18th century/ 1700's (6%), and 16th/ 17th century/ 1500's/ 1600's (3%).] These results suggest that the general public has a strong understanding that archaeologists study current time periods as well as ancient civilizations.

Archaeologists work all over the world, wherever the hint of an archaeological find exists. A majority of the respondents (82%) are aware of this. Specific places in the world that were mentioned include Egypt (14%), Africa (12%), the United States (9%), Europe (8%), Asia (7%), and The Near East/ Middle East (5%). Very few respondents mentioned underwater (1%) and Indian remains/ burial grounds (1%) as places where archaeologists study the past.

Archaeologists rely upon a wide variety of disciplines outside of the field of archaeology to conduct archaeological research. We asked respondents what other fields or kinds of knowledge archaeologists rely upon to help them find answers. Responses that were mentioned most often include history/ ancient history (25%), geology (24%), all sciences (20%), biology (14%), science in general (13%), and chemistry (11%). Fewer respondents mentioned some fields of knowledge and research topics that archaeologists rely upon such as anthropology/ cultural anthropology (10%), dating the past (carbon 14/ radiocarbon dating, tree rings, thermoluminesence) (9%), ancient languages (4%), reconstructing past environments (4%), and ancient technologies (2%). Only 6% of all respondents mentioned paleontology and, interestingly, 4% mentioned computers/computer science/computer programming.

Respondents were asked, "What are some of the most important archaeological sites ever found?" More than one-third (38%) mentioned Egyptian sites such as the pyramids, the Valley of the Kings, Luxor, Thebes, and Egyptian tombs. Of these, 7% specifically mentioned King Tut's tomb. Dinosaurs and dinosaur sites were mentioned 18% of the time. Latin American archaeological sites such as Aztec ruins (6%), Inca remains in Peru (6%), and Mayan ruins and temples (6%) were mentioned less often. Other sites mentioned include Biblical cities/ the Holy land/ Israel (10%), pyramids in general (10%), and Italy/ Rome (Coliseum, Forum, baths of Caracalla, Pompeii) (6%). About 5% of all respondents think that none of the archaeological sites are important.

Respondents were asked to rate six different groups of people on the amount of archaeological work they do. The scale used for this question was an 11-point scale where 0 means they do no archaeological work and 10 means they do a lot of archaeological research. These questions were asked in random order of each respondent to minimize response bias. Museums (7.9) and universities (7.7) were given the highest mean ratings, while private consulting firms (4.6) and private individuals (4.9) were given the lowest ratings. Tribal or Native American communities (5.3) and government agencies (5.1) were also rated low. Respondents with a high level of interest in archaeology rated universities (8.1),Tribal or Native American communities (5.5), and government (5.4) higher than people with a low level of interest in archaeology.

Archaeology and Education

People learn about archaeology in a variety of ways. Popular media such as television (56%), magazines (33%), and newspapers (24%) were mentioned as major sources of information about archaeology. Specifically in popular media, National Geographic (14%) and the Discovery Channel (6%) help people to learn about archaeology. Traditional methods of learning such as books and encyclopedias (33%), secondary school (20%), and college (23%) are also primary ways that people learn about archaeology. Close to ten percent (10%) of the respondents said that they learned about archaeology in primary, elementary, or grammar school. Very few people learn about archaeology through groups or events such as public lectures (1%), local archaeological or historical societies (1%), historical or cultural events (1%), or participation in a dig or archaeological project (2%).

There are some significant differences between how different segments of the population learn about archaeology. People with a high level of interest in archaeology learn about archaeology through television more often (60%) than people with a low interest level in archaeology (45%). Although the difference is not statistically significant, people with a low level of interest in archaeology learn about archaeology through newspapers more often (26%) than people with a high level of interest (20%). Some regional differences appear in the data as well. People in the South learn about archaeology through television, and magazines somewhat more often than people in the other regions. People in the West learn through college and people in the Northeast region learn through newspapers more often than those in the other regions.

What are the sources of information through which you have learned about archaeology?

Histogram entitled What are the sources of information through which you have learned about archaeology? Results listed in order of descending popularity are: television; books and encyclopedias; magazines; newspapers; college; secondary school; national geographic; primary/ elementary/ grammar school; discovery channel; participation in a dig or archaeological project; public lectures; local archaeological or historical societies; and historical or cultural events.

In order to educate the public about archaeology, it is important to know how people prefer to learn about it. Understanding the publicís preferred method for learning is just as important as understanding how they currently learn about it. The top four means through which people would like to learn about archaeology are television (50%), magazines and periodicals (22%), books and encyclopedias (21%), and newspapers (11%). Although very few people actually learn about archaeology in a "hands on" environment, 7% would prefer to learn "hands on" and 10% would like to participate in a dig or archaeological project. Respondents have very little interest in local archaeological or historical societies (1%), historical or cultural events (1%), and preservation or conservation groups (0.1%).

Only 3% of all respondents said that they are uninterested in learning about archaeology. When asked why they are not interested, about three out of ten respondents (28%) said that they are not interested in learning about the past. Other responses given were that they don't have time, it is not relevant to their own history and the history of their family background, and that they are too old to learn.

A majority (90%) of respondents believe that students should learn about archaeology and how archaeologists work as part of their school curriculum. People with a high level of interest in archaeology and people who feel that archaeology is important feel strongly that archaeology should be a regular part of the school curriculum, (95% in both cases). Conversely, people with a low level of interest and those who feel archaeology is not very important do not feel as strongly about its inclusion in the school curriculum (73% and 78%, respectively).

Those who feel archaeology should be part of the school curriculum think that students should start learning about archaeology at a young age. About one in four (43%) think that students should start learning about archaeology in grades K through 4 and 33% think that the archaeology learning process should begin in middle school (grades 5 through 8).

There is little difference of opinion about the grade level in which students should learn about archaeology between respondents who have children and those who do not. However, there are significant differences between females and males with respect to learning about archaeology in grades K through 4. A significantly higher proportion of females (49%) believe that students should learn about archaeology in grades K through 4 compared to the proportion of males (36%) who do.

In your opinion, should students learn about archaeologists and how archaeologists work as part of their school curriculum?

Histogram entitled In your opinion, should students learn about archaeologists and how archaeologists work as part of their school curriculum? 90% of all respondents said yes.  95% expressed a high interest level, while 73% expressed a low interest level.  95% expressed a high importance, while 78% expressed a low importance.

B. Interest and Participation

This section of the research provides us with the type of background people have in archaeology. We find out how interesting archaeology is to them and what it is that interests them personally about archaeology. We also learn which archaeological sites they have visited, if any, and if they have participated in archaeological events or visited museums displaying archaeological findings.

Interest In Archaeology

We asked respondents about their level of interest in archaeology on an 11-point scale, where 0 means they are "not at all interested" and 10 means they are "very interested." The mean score for all respondents is 5.9, about one point above the middle of the scale.

Not surprisingly, people who think archaeology is important have a higher interest level (6.7) than people who do not think it is important (4.4). Respondents who have visited an archaeological site also have a higher interest level (6.5) than people who have not visited an archaeological site (5.6).

How interested are you in archaeology?

Histogram entitled How interested are you in archaeology? Determined by mean score: interest was 5.9; high importance was 6.7 (low interest was 4.4); and 6.5 visited an archaeological site (5.6 did not).

It appears that many aspects of archaeology may contribute to developing an interest in it. Of the respondents who are interested in archaeology (those who answered between 5 and 10; 76% of the respondents), we asked what it was that interested them personally about archaeology. Almost half (45%) of the respondents are interested in learning about the human past and how people lived, worked, and built shelters. Responses dealing with connectivity with the past such as learning about my ancestors/ identifying with my past (11%) and connecting the past with the present (12%) also engage people's interest. Other responses that were mentioned by more than 10% of the respondents include history (18%), the thrill and sense of discovery (14%), finding old things (12%), and ancient civilizations (12%).

Participation In Archaeology

We asked all respondents if they had participated in any of four different archaeology-related activities. The order in which these questions were asked was again randomized to minimize response bias. People see archaeological items in museums more often than on archaeological sites. A large majority of respondents (88%) have visited a museum exhibiting archaeological material. About 1 in 3 respondents (37%) has visited an archaeological site and about one in ten (11%) has participated in an archaeology event sponsored by a state or local society or government. Of those who have visited an archaeological site, about ten percent (12%) have participated in an archaeological dig.

Some differences were found between people who do and do not visit archaeological sites. People in the West visit archaeological sites more often (43%) than people in the other regions of the country. Males (44%) tend to visit archaeological sites more often than females (30%), and people with a higher level of formal education (52%) visit archaeological sites more often than people with a lower level of formal education (28%) do.

Similar differences are found among people who have participated in an archaeological dig. People in the West (18%) have participated in archaeological digs more often than people in other regions of the US. Males (13%) participate in digs more often than females (9%). People with a higher level of formal education participate more often (14%) than people with a lower level of formal education (9%) do.

The percentage of respondents who have a low level of interest in archaeology but have visited a museum exhibiting archaeological material is high (72%). However, this is a significantly lower percentage than the percentage of those who have a high level of interest in archaeology have visited a museum exhibiting archaeological materials (92%). There are no significant differences in the level of interest in archaeology across segments among those who have participated in an archaeological dig.

Almost one-third (31%) of people who visited an archaeological site have visited Native American sites. European travel is common as well. Greece (Parthenon, Acropolis, Delphi) and Italy/ Rome (Coliseum, Forum, Baths of Caracalla, Pompeii) have each been visited by 7% of the people who visited an archaeological site. Other popular sites include Biblical cities/ The Holy Land/ Israel (6%), Egypt (pyramids, the Valley of the Kings, Luxor, Thebes, Egyptian tombs) (6%), Mesa Verde (4%), and England (Stonehenge, Bath, Yorkgate) (4%). In line with a common misconception, 8% said they have visited dinosaur sites and 4% said they have visited the Labrea Tar Pits.

Those who visited an archaeological site did so for a variety of reasons. One-third of them (33%) visited a site out of interest and 20% visited out of curiosity. Archaeological sites are also good places for tourists. One-fourth (25%) of people visited a site for tourism/ vacation, 18% visited a site because they were visiting the area, 3% said recreation was their reason, and 7% live in the area of the site they visited. Education also brings people to archaeological sites. Some people (7%) were "forced" to go on an archaeological site school field trip, but 9% visited a site for educational purposes. Females (32%) visited archaeological sites for vacation more often than males (20%), but males (25%) visited sites for curiosity more often than females (14%).

People who have not visited an archaeological site would visit one for curiosity (38%) and interest (25%). Education (15%) is also a frequently mentioned reason. Different from those who have visited an archaeological site, 17% would visit an archaeological site to see what was discovered and found and 13% would go to see how archaeologists work. Fewer people (2%) said they would visit an archaeological site for vacation.

C. Importance and Value

This section of the survey was designed to discover how important archaeology is to the general public and how much value they place on archaeological sites.

Importance Of Archaeology To Certain Aspects Of Society

People generally feel that archaeology is important to today's society. When asked how they would rate "the importance of archaeology in today's society" on an 11-point scale (where 0 means it is "not at all important" and 10 means it is "very important"), respondents gave a mean score of 7.3. This score is well above the mid-point in the scale. Respondents with a high level of interest in archaeology rate the importance of archaeology 3 points higher than people with a low interest in archaeology. Females (7.6) think archaeology is more important than males (6.9). Also, people age 18-34 (7.4) feel archaeology is more important than people aged 55 and over (6.9).

When respondents were asked why they rated the importance of archaeology as they did, a majority (60%) said it was due to their interest in the past and the value of archaeological research and education. One-fourth (25%) of the respondents said they gave that rating because we can improve the future from learning about the past and not repeating the past. Respondents who gave the importance of archaeology a lower rating (0 to 6) said that archaeology is not important and they are not interested in it (37%), or that other things are more important and that archaeology is not a priority (14%). Only 16% of these respondents said that they gave their rating because archaeology is important. A significantly smaller percentage of the respondents who rated the importance of archaeology low mentioned their interest in the past and the value of archaeological research and education (33%) as compared to 73% of the respondents who rated it high. Being interested in the past and seeing the value of archaeology in learning about the past to improve the future are key factors that influence the publicís view about the importance of archaeology.

How important do you feel archaeology is in today's society?

Histogram entitled How important do you feel archaeology is in today's society?

Respondents were also asked to rate the importance of archaeology to several aspects of society on the same 11-point importance scale. The following questions were read in a random order to each respondent to minimize response bias.

How important do you think archaeology is:

  • To the economy
  • In drafting public policy
  • In shaping societyís values
  • In international affairs
  • To your own life
  • To understanding the modern world

Respondents felt that archaeology was most important to understanding the modern world. They gave this aspect the highest importance - a mean rating of 7.1. This complements respondentsí views that archaeology is important because we learn about the past to improve the future. Archaeology is also viewed as important in international affairs (5.7) and in shaping society's values (5.7). Respondents saw archaeology as less important in their own lives, giving it a mean rating of 5.1. Respondents think archaeology is least important to the economy (4.7) and in drafting public policy (4.6).

How important is archaeology to the following:

Histogram entitled How important is archaeology to the following.  The subjects listed in descending order of relevence are: understanding the modern world, international affairs, shaping society's values, your life, the economy, and drafting public policy.

Across all of these aspects, certain groups consistently gave higher importance ratings. People with a high level of interest in archaeology gave higher importance ratings on every aspect compared to people with a low level of interest. Females rated the different aspects higher than males, and people aged 18-34 gave higher ratings on each aspect compared to people aged 55 and older.

Value Of Archaeological Sites

There are several kinds of value that society may place on different aspects of life. These aspects could have educational, monetary, scientific, spiritual, personal heritage, aesthetic or artistic, or political value. For each of these aspects, we wanted to learn if the public assigns that value to archaeological objects and sites.

Almost all (99%) of the respondents said that archaeological sites have educational and scientific value. A majority of respondents also said that archaeological objects and sites have aesthetic or artistic value (94%), value related to personal heritage (93%), and spiritual value (88%). Fewer people think archaeological sites and objects have monetary value (73%) or political value (59%).

Though we did not ask for respondents' comments on these topics, some respondents were passionate when asked if the value of archaeological objects and sites were monetary. Some of their comments were: "archaeological objects and sites have no measurable or monetary value" and "They are invaluable."

There are some major differences among sub-groups regarding the value of archaeological objects and sites. People who have a high level of interest in archaeology think that archaeological sites and objects have educational, spiritual, aesthetic or artistic, political, and personal heritage value more than people with a low level of interest in archaeology do. Those who feel archaeology is important think that archaeological sites and objects have educational, monetary, spiritual, aesthetic or artistic, political, and personal heritage value more often than people who think archaeology is not important. People who have visited an archaeological site feel that archaeological objects and sites have spiritual, aesthetic or artistic, political, and personal heritage value more often that people who have not visited an archaeological site.

D. Attitudes about Conservation, Laws, and Management

At the inception of this study, it was assumed that the general public is not very knowledgeable about laws concerning the conservation of archaeological objects and sites. To test this assumption, we placed respondents in the role of the lawmakers by asking them if there should be laws pertaining to different activities that affect archaeology. We also tested their knowledge of any current laws about certain aspects of archaeology and asked what they would do in a situation that is on the edge of being an illegal activity concerning archaeology. We asked if and what type of penalty should be imposed if someone takes away artifacts from certain types of archaeological sites, and we asked their attitudes toward archaeological conservation.

Laws Concerning Archaeology

Most people (96%) feel that there should be laws to protect historical and prehistoric archaeological sites. People with a high level of interest in archaeology (98%) feel stronger about this than people with a lower level of interest in archaeology (88%). People who think archaeology is important (98%) think there should laws protecting it more often than people who do not think it is important (91%).

To those respondents who said that there should be laws to protect historical and prehistoric archaeological sites, we posed nine different scenarios of archaeological preservation and asked if they thought laws should protect them. The first two scenarios dealt with construction on archaeological sites. A majority (85%) of respondents think there should be laws to prevent the general public from constructing a house or business on the site of a prehistoric Indian village. Fewer respondents (73%) think such laws should prevent the general public from constructing a house or business on the site of a former Revolutionary or Civil War battle. People with a high level of interest in archaeology feel stronger about both issues than people with a low level of interest in archaeology.

Four of the scenarios asked about what the general public should be able to do with artifacts found on public or private property. About two-thirds (67%) of the respondents think that laws should prevent the general public from digging up arrowheads or pottery on their own property. About 7 out of 10 (69%) think laws should prevent the general public from selling artifacts found on their property, and somewhat more (82%) think laws should prevent the general public from selling artifacts found on someone else's private property. Over half (57%) of the respondents support laws prohibiting the haphazard removal of arrowheads found on public property for private use.

A strong majority (90%) of respondents think laws should prevent the general public from importing artifacts from a country that does not want those artifacts exported. About eight in ten (84%) say laws should prevent the general public from removing rock art and about six in ten (61%) think laws should prevent the general public from taking away artifacts found on shipwrecks.

Comments were captured from those who do not feel that historical and prehistoric sites merit legal protection. Some of these people think there are already too many laws, while other people think that government does not have the right to take over private property.

Clearly the public holds different views about the existence of laws to protect archaeological resources found in their own or someone elseís property (private property) as opposed to public property. Strong views in the American society about the right of ownership to all things found on private land is reflected on the answers given to these questions. We note, however, that in all instances over half of the public holds the view that there should be laws protecting archaeological resources on private as well as on public land.

We also tested respondentsí knowledge about current laws that affect archaeology. Less than one-quarter of all respondents know of any laws protecting shipwrecks (22%), protecting unmarked human burial sites (24%), or laws concerning the buying and selling of artifacts (23%). More than one-fourth (28%) of all respondents know of laws protecting archaeological sites. Respondents who have a high level of interest in archaeology, those who have visited an archaeological site, people with a high level of education, and males all have higher awareness of such laws than their counterparts.

For those who knew about any of the current laws affecting archaeology, we asked if those laws apply to publicly owned lands, privately owned lands, or both publicly and privately owned lands. A majority of the people (67%) know of laws that apply to both publicly and privately owned lands. About one quarter (26%) know of laws on publicly owned lands only and a few (7%) know of laws on privately owned lands only).

We asked the respondents what they would do if they found an object for sale that they knew was taken from an archaeological site. More than one-third (36%) of the respondents would not buy the item, 18% would buy it and keep it, and 12% would buy it and donate it to a heritage institution, museum, or historical society. Some people (19%) would report it to a local law enforcement authority and 9% would report it to the state archeologist or historical commission. Very few people (1%) would confront the dealer directly about the illegal activity. Overall, more than 3 out of 4 respondents would make a decision that would support archaeological preservation.

We posed three additional scenarios to see if respondents think a penalty should be imposed on people who take away artifacts from various archaeological sites. A majority (85%) of people think a penalty should be imposed on members of the general public if they take away artifacts from an archaeological site on publicly owned land. For respondents who think a penalty should be imposed, 62% of them feel the penalty should be a fine and 10% think the penalty should be a combination of a fine and community work. Very few respondents felt that the penalty should involve imprisonment.

A majority of people (86%) also think that a penalty should be imposed if a member of the general public takes away artifacts from an archaeological site on privately owned land. More than half (56%) of those who think a penalty should be imposed feel that a fine would be sufficient. However, 9% think the penalty should be a combination of a fine and community work and 9% think it should be a combination of a fine and imprisonment. In terms of shipwrecks, a smaller percentage of the public (60%) as compared to the previous questions about penalties, think that a penalty should be imposed on a member of the general public who takes away artifacts from a shipwreck. Again, a fine (63%), and a combination of a fine and community work (9%) are the penalties that people think should be imposed.

Conservation of Archaeological Objects and Sites

To understand how people view issues about conserving archaeological objects and sites, we offered a series of seven statements related to conservation. All of the responses were given on a scale of strongly agree, agree, neither agree or disagree, disagree, or strongly disagree.

Respondents were divided about the statement "Museums should have legal rights to any archaeological artifacts found in the United States." About the same percentage of people either strongly disagreed or disagreed (49%) and strongly agreed or agreed (42%), while 9% neither agreed nor disagreed. People were also divided on the statement "Individuals should have legal rights to any archaeological artifacts they find on private property." A slightly higher percentage of people either strongly disagreed or disagreed (49%) than strongly agreed or agreed (44%), and 8% were neutral.

Most people disagreed (58%) or strongly disagreed (20%) with the statement, "The US Government should own all archaeological sites and objects in the United States." The same was the case with the statement "Museums and individuals should be able to buy archaeological objects from abroad even if they were taken out of the country of origin without the countryís permission," with 64% of the respondents disagreeing and 28% strongly disagreeing. The statement "Individuals should have legal rights to any archaeological artifacts they find on government land" also brought a high level of disagreement (66%) and strong disagreement (15%).

Respondents tend to agree that public funds should be used for archaeology. Many people (66%) agree that public funds should be used to protect archaeological sites and 14% strongly agree with that statement. Sixty-nine percent (69%) agree that public funds should be used to preserve historical sites and 17% strongly agree with that statement.

For all of the statements, respondents with a low level of interest in archaeology tended to be less supportive of archaeological conservation than people with a high level of interest in archaeology. This was also true of people who think that archaeology is not important compared to people who think it is important.

CONCLUSION

Archaeology is the study of the human past through material remains of human action. Based on the research, it is safe to say that Americans are aware of archaeology and have a fairly broad and moderately accurate understanding of what archaeology is. However, the American publicís knowledge of archaeology and what archaeologists do is neither solid nor clear and it includes misconceptions about the field of study.

The majority of the American public thinks of the word "digging" when they hear the word archaeology. This includes digging in general, digging artifacts, things, or objects from the past. History, heritage, antiquity, ancient cultures, and civilizations also come to mind. The misconception that "dinosaurs" is an area of study in archaeology is evident among the public. Though about 1 in 8 Americans would think of dinosaurs when they hear the word archaeology, over 8 in 10 would agree, if asked, that archaeologists study dinosaurs. This indicates both a misconception and a lack of clear knowledge of what the study of archaeology encompasses.

Americans correctly view archaeologistsí work as digging, excavating, finding, analyzing, researching, studying, documenting and, more specifically, analyzing and researching the past to discover and learn what life and past civilizations were like. These are top of mind responses they would give if asked what archaeologists do. Also, over 9 out of 10 Americans would agree correctly that archaeologists study ancient civilizations, and the human past. Though still the majority, fewer people seem to be aware that shipwrecks are considered to be archaeological sites, as a smaller percentage (77%) would agree that archaeologists study shipwrecks. However, most Americans would also agree that archaeologists study earth sciences such as geology (rocks or stones), and paleontology (fossils in general, and dinosaurs).

Television is the primary medium through which Americans have learned and prefer to learn about archaeology. Other popular media through which Americans have learned and prefer to learn about archaeology include magazines and newspapers. More traditional methods of learning such as books, encyclopedias, and formal education (schools/colleges) are also important sources of knowledge. The majority believes that the subject of archaeology should be included as part of the school curriculum beginning with grade K.

Americans believe that archaeology is important and is valuable. Americans are interested in learning about the past. They believe that archaeology is important because we improve the future by learning about the past and because archaeology helps us understand the modern world. Almost all Americans believe that archaeological objects and sites have educational value. The majority believes that archaeological objects and sites also have aesthetic or artistic value, personal heritage, and spiritual value. Though to a lesser degree, the majority also feels that archaeology has a monetary value, an accurate assessment given that archaeological objects are sold. However, many Americans seem to recognize that archaeological objects and sites have no intrinsic monetary value.

The research shows that the majority of the public believes that there are and should be laws to protect archaeological resources regardless of where they are found. However, the publicís views about the existence of conservation laws to protect archaeological resources are less certain when it comes to objects or artifacts found in their own or in public property.

The overall study findings vary by some segments of the population. In general, knowledge of and attitudes toward archaeology vary with education level, interest in, and importance placed on the field of archaeology. People who have a higher level of formal education, who are more interested in archaeology, and who place a higher level of importance on the field of archaeology tend to be more knowledgeable and exhibit more favorable attitudes toward archaeology and its core values. But even many of the less educated, or those with low levels of interest or who place lower importance to the field of archaeology, are supportive of archaeology, archaeological research, and believe that archaeology should be an integral part of the school curriculum.

 

 

EJL

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