“Did you find any dinosaurs yet?”
Let’s be honest. If all the information that you know about archaeology comes from what you have seen on TV or online, this thought would probably cross your mind if you saw archaeologists at work. Don’t be offended–I used to be like you, too! However, the fact of the matter is that archaeologists have virtually no interest in dinosaur bones–that’s the apple of the paleontologist’s eye! Treasure to an archaeologist comes in the form of cultural remains. We want to see what people from the past have left behind to help us put together a cohesive picture of their lives. While dinosaurs are interesting (who didn’t love The Land Before Time?), they are simply out of our scope!
This common misconception brings to light the importance of including the public in our digs on campus. We have had the privilege of being visited by many people throughout these four weeks, and many of them have asked questions very similar to the one above. Because we welcome visitors and their questions, we are able to clear up these misunderstandings, while also being able to talk about what we love! I have been able to explain what archaeology is and what our crew in particular is hoping to find. On top of learning a little about archaeology, visitors then also learn a little bit of history. Many visitors that stop by are alumni of the University. They are often fascinated to hear that we are digging in an old trash dump used by College Hall. We are able to share our own interpretations of the things that we have found with them. For example, one group found human hair. One interpretation may be that it got discarded after a haircut! By sharing this information with our fellow Spartans, they are able to learn a little more about the school that they love so much.
One final benefit to sharing our dig with the public is that we, too, get to learn. I have learned a great deal from a variety of visitors in these last couple of weeks. My group was visited by a couple of older ladies, one who had been at MSU in the 1950s! She loved to hear what we had to say about the history of MSU, and then she shared some of her own memories. She said the campus had changed a lot, but that the Sacred Space was the same. I even learned something from our youngest visitors–kids attending Grandparents’ University! While they may not have known the methods by which we dig, many of them did get twinkles in their eyes when we let them sift through the dirt. They taught me to still enjoy what we are doing, even though at times it may be tiring!
So by sharing with the community, we are changing the way people think about archaeology…one visitor at a time!