[NPS Arrowhead] U.S. Dept. of Interior National Park Service Archeology Program
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common ground

Reaching the Public
Spring 1998, vol. 3(1)

Online Archive

*  Be Prepared: The Archeology Merit Badge Is Here

(photo) Students reconstruct a 1000 year old Mississippian house.

"I am simply astounded that there is virtually no scholarly literature which addresses the role of North American archeology in the contemporary world. "

Brian Fagan

by Alan Skinner, David A. Poirier, Douglas L. Krofina, and Pam Wheat
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Ricky V. is on the answering machine. Ricky is a 12-year-old from Fairfield, Connecticut, who "digs archeology" and whose voice is full of excitement as he asks for help. Have you had similar inquiries yet? "Be prepared" because the calls will come from scouts eager to learn about the excitement and mystery of archeology.

Shortly after the Boy Scouts of America recently unveiled its new archeology merit badge, Ricky V. was at the meeting of the Archaeological Society of Connecticut, prepping to qualify. Joseph File, Ricky's scout master, told the Connecticut Post that the badge offers scouts "a physical and intellectual challenge while enabling them to contribute to their community." Ricky and his fellow scouts are enthusiastic and ready to learn. Are archeologists prepared to guide this important new interest group into the 21st century?

The scouts have a long tradition of interest in Native American life, as witnessed by the elite Order of the Arrow, a national camping society, and the early development of an Indian lore merit badge. Nevertheless, the scout leadership did not believe the badge was warranted, despite a nationally recognized hands-on program at the Philmont Scout Ranch, the participation of Park Service archeologists at scout jamborees, and regional efforts such as the Texas Archeology Preservation Award. That is, until now. During the 1990s, a groundswell of interest from archeologists, scout leaders, and the scouts themselves made the badge a reality.

There are many ways that scouts and scout leaders can recruit counselors to advise on earning the badge. Indeed, it is important to understand that arranging for a counselor is the scout's responsibility. It is equally important to understand that BSA's qualifications for the job follow one of two approaches. One asks the potential counselor if archeology "is in line with your job, business, or profession"; the other asks "do you follow this subject as a hobby, having more than a ‘working knowledge' of the requirements in the merit badge pamphlet?" In light of the fact that either professionals or hobbyists can be pressed into service, we believe that archeologists should take a proactive role by volunteering. This badge represents a prime opportunity to convey the profession's scientific perspective, to advocate a conservation ethic, and, most importantly, to provide leadership to future citizens on archeology's role in the 21st century.

We see the badge as a way to open dialogue and forge creative partnerships. But to facilitate this new link, it is imperative that the local troop leader, as well as the district and local BSA councils, be able to secure counselors who are both willing and able to represent the profession to boys in approximately the 7th through 10th grades—a challenging age group.

Rather than a situation where each scout, scout leader, or district administrator willy-nilly selects anyone who meets the "hobbyist" standard, we encourage a single point of contact in each state's archeological community. Usually, the state historic preservation office, the office of the state archeologist, or the state's archeological society can best identify professionals and avocationals to volunteer. A single contact point also facilitates coordination with regional and state BSA staff as well as fosters a "from-the-top-down" emphasis on stewardship—rather than Indiana Jones-style collecting—as the basis for the badge. The single point of contact has other benefits as well, promoting communication with the scouting community on archeological issues, facilitating dialogue among the counselors, and ensuring consistent and appropriate interaction between the mentors and the scouts.

It's important to recognize that the standards states use to qualify cultural resource management consultants differ significantly from the qualifications for a merit badge counselor. Certainly some CRM professionals may make excellent counselors, but a state's list of consultants per se will have little utility for this new endeavor. Rather than formalize certification, however, we believe that the state's contact person should work with the archeological community to identify potential mentors.

The sidebar opposite gives a picture of the ideal counselor. The essential qualifications are not specific degrees or professional standing, but a broad knowledge of the discipline and the "personability" to communicate with this vibrant, enthusiastic, sophisticated, and energetic age group. As Poirier and Feder have noted in Cultural Resource Management, "scholar, steward, storyteller—these are the roles that every archeologist must vigorously embrace if America's past is to be professionally interpreted, skillfully managed, and meaningfully shared with the public."

This is particularly pertinent with the new opportunities that the badge offers. For instance, the scout's presentation of an exhibit, which is one of the badge requirements, could be a part of the state's archeology week events. Indeed, the awarding of the badge could be one of the week's highlights. Likewise, archeologists could work with the scouting community and the state's Native Americans to encourage scouts to qualify for the archeology badge in tandem with the time-tested Indian lore badge. This could promote cross-cultural education as well as a whole host of partnerships.

We believe that the new badge offers a wealth of creative opportunities to share the excitement of archeology and the importance of conservation. The enthusiasm of Ricky V. and his fellow scouts should inspire archeologists to embrace the possibilities, both for the profession and for scouting.

Profile of an Ideal Counselor

  • Exudes enthusiasm about scouting
  • Makes time for personal contact
  • Displays leadership as a positive adult role model
  • Stresses stewardship (emphasizing that the merit badge is a "preservation badge," not an "excavation badge")
  • Shares multiple perspectives on the discipline, rather than one personal viewpoint
  • Communicates the diversity of archeological knowledge, not just tidbits about local artifacts
  • Speaks about responsibilities to Native Americans and other groups
  • Strikes a balance between educating and entertaining the scouts (i.e., providing a "fun" learning experience)
  • Provides a diverse experience, including archival or oral history research, field work, lab work, curation, and outreach to the general public
  • Is up-to-date on electronic media (this is a technically sophisticated age group; the merit badge pamphlet provides web addresses for Southwestern Archaeology, the National Park Service "History & Culture," and ArchNet at the University of Connecticut)
  • Appreciates the best measure of success: quality of the learning

MJB/EJL