Internship at the Legacy Program: Teaching children to save the past
From June 15th until August 7th of 2015, I had the wonderful opportunity to intern with the University of Texas at San Antonio’s Center for Archaeological Research, or CAR. Specifically, I worked in CAR’s public outreach division, the Legacy program. The program director of Legacy allowed me to participate as a camp counselor for the archaeological summer camps hosted every year. It was through this program that I learned the significance of public outreach for archaeology. Public outreach programs such as the Legacy camps are important for archaeology because they help to break stereotypes prevalent in today’s society. These programs teach respect and reality, and they can even tie people closer to the places they live (Marshall, 2002: 213). In this report, I will further explain CAR and Legacy along with the Legacy summer camps, talk about the significance of public outreach for archaeology, offer insight as to how Legacy teaches children important aspects of archaeology, and express how interning with Legacy this summer has taught me the anthropological importance of public outreach.
Legacy and CAR
Firstly, CAR was established in 1974 to provide students with opportunities to train in archaeological contexts. CAR also conducts archaeological research all throughout Texas and the surrounding regions and disseminates to the general public information about the history and prehistory of Texas and San Antonio (car.utsa.edu). CAR has also conducted work in South America, and has had all of the results from these investigations published in more than 400 volumes (car.utsa.edu). The CAR building is placed on UTSA’s west campus section. The building, at least from what I could tell, was perhaps the third to last building from the west edge of the campus. When it was first constructed decades ago it served the university as a warehouse, but after CAR was established the dingy warehouse became the archaeology center which remains in place today (car.utsa.edu).
However, the Legacy program, housed in the CAR building, was founded in 1994 as a response to an influx of requests from the surrounding schools desiring educational tours of CAR for the K-12 scholastic community (car.utsa.edu). This program has grown throughout the years and no longer caters solely to schools in the area; it serves communities as well. Legacy’s current role is easily summed up in their mission statement, which is: The Legacy Program will enrich the community through public education in archaeology and cultural preservation to promote a collective responsibility for our diverse and shared past. Legacy accomplishes this by hosting many educational seminars for these communities that teach amateur archaeological processes and inform about proper archaeological procedures. Currently, the Legacy program is headed by the program coordinator. She and her assistant coordinator along with one more assistant make up the full time Legacy team. These three are responsible throughout the year to come up with creative (and fun) ways to teach archaeology in all its various forms. The office space allotted for the Legacy team is essentially the size of four regular office cubicles, and is filled with models and experiments of numerous little projects that are all meant to be used during their public outreach activities. There are also two rooms at the front of CAR that have been allotted for Legacy’s outreach events. One room, named the Legacy Room, displays many artifacts and examples of ancient technologies that can all be interacted with. Items such as a reconstructed drill used by Native Americans to put holes in hides, wood, or leather, a collection of animal skulls and bones, as well as a plethora of smaller ceramic artifacts are all arranged on shelves along the wall and can be handled by anyone. The second room, located right next door to the Legacy Room, is a classroom where the majority of Legacy’s outreach activities take place. This room holds three tables for a classroom style setup, a media station at the front, and has bookshelves lined along the walls which act as archive storage for the rest of the staff in the CAR lab.
A unique feature of Legacy that is offered as a public outreach opportunity is the program’s archaeology summer camps for kids ages 9 through 13. It is with this facet of Legacy where I found myself interning as a camp counselor. Every summer, these week-long camps are held under a different theme. This year, there were a total of four different camps, and the theme was archaeology in Mesoamerica. The camps are five days long (Monday through Friday), starting each day at 9am and ending at 4pm. Spaces for these camps are limited, for only a maximum of eighteen children are allowed per session. These camps are growing increasingly popular each year, and the proof of this lies in the fact that all camps are filled to max capacity by the time they begin. This is great news, for an interest in public outreach programs such as Legacy can only help to strengthen the field of archaeology through combating false stereotypes apparent in our society.
The Significance of Public Outreach for Archaeology
For much of its life archaeology has seemed to have been ingrained in our minds as an adventurous, tough, and exciting lifestyle (Killebrew, 2008: 179). Unfortunately, as slightly possible as that may be for some lucky archaeologist, this science has been warped to reflect something of Indiana Jones (which is a character created by Hollywood). These perceptions are a challenge to get over, but that is where the Legacy program, and others like it, come to help. Legacy’s summer camps are only just one of the many ways archaeologists employ outreach practices to their benefit, however.
There are many different approaches to public outreach for archaeology. Archaeologists offer tons of variations when it comes to media and plenty of options when it comes to something more interpersonal. Visual media is becoming increasingly integral to the production of knowledge in all fields (Van Dyke, 2006: 370). There are, of course, many easily accessible archaeological documentaries available either online or on television, but there are also a large amount of websites acting as engagement and outreach tools. Namely, the Society for American Archaeology’s (or SAA) website, www.saa.org, offers a webpage format that can be easily utilized by a non-archaeological public in an educational way. This website offers a database that the general public can use to search for online archaeology resources with specific focuses (Bollwerk, et. al., 2015: 2). For example, there are a plethora of websites listed on the SAA site catering to education resources for teaching not only children the importance of archaeology, but other educators as well (saa.org). Outreach in this fashion is very beneficial because it can be accessed by many people from anywhere with an internet connection, meaning a very widespread audience.
However, there are types of outreach that target smaller, more precise groups. Community, or public, archaeology is also a wonderful facet of outreach archaeology. This approach is geared toward allowing members of a community or cultural group to help in excavations of sites located near said community, or in sites belonging to those of descendant groups (Marshall, 2002: 212). An example of this would be at the site of Ozette in Washington State. In 1970, a mud slide exposed a large amount of wooden artifacts and other organic materials at Neah Bay, motivating the Makah Tribal Council to call out archaeologists to further investigate the exposure (Marshall 2002: 212, Kirk and Daugherty 1974, 1978). This eleven year project was commenced by the Makah peoples who controlled and provided direction throughout the project (Marshall 2002: 212, Kirk and Daugherty 1974, 1978). The project fully cooperated with the goals of the Makah, which allowed a closer connection to what was recovered and, subsequently, their history. Archaeology like this can strengthen the bonds between the locals and where they live, creating a shared experience of learning about their community’s past.
Concluding, public outreach is a major aspect of archaeology. This is especially true considering how much archaeology depends on the public; for without the public, its stability in our society would become tested. Often times, archaeological projects are given large donations by the public, which is why it is so crucial to keep up the public interest in archaeology (McGimsey, 2003: 617). People want to know about their past, and it is through archaeology that they can not only learn, but participate in uncovering. This is why outreach programs are seen as something so important to keeping archaeology alive. It is a reality check, combating the simulacra created by the media all while remaining as entertaining and even more engaging than what the popular idea of archaeology has one believing.
CAR and its Education as Entertainment
Of the many wonderful aspects of the Legacy program, I found that their education-as-entertainment approach to teaching truly engrained in the children important aspects of archaeology. This approach seemed to bring about for the campers an atmosphere of fun and willingness to continue learning. The way in which these camps are structured allows for classroom style lectures followed by various hands on activities centered on the lectures that had just been presented. The activities, however, do serve a purpose beyond simply being fun for the children. The purpose being, I believe, keeping the campers interested and engaged in what they were learning and perpetuating their creativity through these activities we give them. Through these small doings, the campers learn important aspects of archaeology whether they are realizing it or not.
For example, on the first day of camp the kids are taught basic principles of archaeology, such as the difference between an artifact (something made or modified by humans) or an ecofact (natural objects such as animal bones or charcoal found with artifacts at an archaeological site). The kids are also taught the basic excavation techniques, such as mapping found objects and proper shoveling methods. They are then taken outside to one of four sandboxes that each hold artifacts and ecofacts buried in them. The campers must then dig them out as teams, map where each object was found on an x and y axis chart, and then determine at the end what kind of site they had excavated (such as a historic or prehistoric site).
Another activity that further taught the campers about not only archaeological practices, but about another culture was that of learning some of the written Mayan language. Since this year’s camp had the theme of archaeology in Mesoamerica, each child was given the opportunity to learn how to write their names in the Maya glyphs. The Maya writing system was logosyllabic, meaning it consisted of combinations of pictograms or glyphs either directly depicting words or expressing syllabic sounds. The campers are firstly given a dictionary of vowel and consonant combinations showing the symbols attributed to those sounds. Then they must combine the glyphs in the correct ways to spell their names. It is a painstakingly slow process to teach them, but this activity widens their cultural lenses. It allows them to see how other cultures developed writing systems far different from our own, yet equally as communicative.
One last example of a culturally immersive activity we have the campers participate in is in creating a structure out of randomly supplied craft materials. This may seem a bit aimless at first, but the activity assists in teaching the children why the different Mesoamerican cultures each had their own type of construction. The children are all separated into groups of three of four with each group receiving a different set of sporadically selected craft materials from the counselors (such as construction paper, paper towel rolls, yarn, etc.). Each group must then construct what was called a “resource pyramid” solely out of the materials given and nothing more (with the exception of tape, of course.) In giving these random materials to the groups, it reinforces the concept of why different cultures created different things; each culture had different resources with which to construct.
What I Learned from Legacy
When it comes to asking how anthropology has anything to do with the Legacy program, of course one would think of archaeology first. However, I think it is a bit deeper than that. Yes archaeology is a direct subcategory of anthropology, and I did get some hands on experience of archaeology at this internship, but I feel as if it is not archaeology that is the main source for seeking out the anthropology in this experience. Rather, it is what this program, as a facet of public outreach, does for archaeology
It is at times difficult for archaeologists to look around and see from general people the warped perceptions of what archaeology really is. Fortunately, there is a plethora of different sorts of outreach applications that can help to mend the stereotypes of which archaeology often falls prey, Legacy and its summer camps being one of them. With that being mentioned, it was refreshing to have been a part of something that works to break the mold. The Legacy camps are particularly effective because they target the younger section of our society. This is beneficial because it teaches them the truth at an early age, which helps to prevent yet another generation with confused ideas of what archaeology is all about. Perhaps some proof in all of this lies in the Legacy camps’ return rate. In all of the camps, at least four or more out of the eighteen kids were repeats; one camp even had up to nine. Although this may be more of a measure of fun than the program’s effectiveness, this little statistic is significant in its own right. It represents a young group of people who may or may not want to be archaeologists learning about this science, and as a result, breaking the misrepresented ideas of archaeology.
When I first arrived at Texas State University in 2012 I had no idea which direction to choose in order to begin my career path. I piddled my way through a few different majors for two years until I finally caught wind of anthropology. History has always been of interest to me, but I also enjoyed learning about the different kinds of people, either past or present. Indigenous cultures, past civilizations, and modern day societies always had my attention, and how miraculous was it for me to fall into anthropology where I could learn about all of these things. So then I was hooked on all of these classes teaching me what I have always wanted to learn, and as it is now nearing the end of my undergraduate years I had to take an internship in order to graduate. Never sure on what I wanted to focus the rest of my career on, I had to seriously consider what held my attention the most as well as what I think would be a good fit for me personally. I broke it down into a few separate fields I was interested in, which were social non-profits, education, and archaeology. With those three things in mind it did not seem quite likely to find an internship that met my criteria, and I feared I would have to settle for something more realistic. Low and behold the Legacy Program located and UTSA’s Center for Archaeology darn near fell out of the sky, with the help of my advisor of course. In the end I got exactly what I wanted out of this experience. I learned archaeology, and I learned how to teach it. This was a great experience and I will forever advocate Legacy as a potential internship (or even just a volunteer opportunity) for anyone interested in education or archaeology. There you will find great, friendly, and intelligent people all trying to pass on interesting information to today’s youth, and doing it well. I owe many thanks to Legacy and CAR and intend to volunteer there next summer.
For those interested in a potential internship, or perhaps simply volunteering some of your time one summer, I will here add some further opportunities I had while working with this program that I found very beneficial:
First of all, I had been assigned two PowerPoints which I had to create and then present to the campers. Seeing as though I knew nothing about Mesoamerica (which was the theme of the camp, therefore the subject of which the PowerPoints focused), I had to do a ton of background research on the cultures that resided there. This proved beneficial, of course. The ability to answer many of the questions the campers asked regarding Mesoamerican practices made me feel like not only the kids were learning, but I was as well. This was very helpful to me because being able to teach and feeling confident about it was something I was really hoping to get out of this internship, and it seems to me like I did.
Another responsibility I had was to establish someone from CAR or Legacy as my mentor, who would meet with me twice a month to talk about anything from archaeology and the camp to other types of jobs anthropology majors can obtain. My mentor, fortunately, turned out to be the director of CAR and an alumni of my university. Dr. Shawn Marceaux, my mentor, had worked in many different organizations doing archaeology, from basic cultural resource management to working for FEMA during the aftermath of hurricane Katrina, so his knowledge of the world of archaeology was very broad and helpful to me in deciding if I wanted to continue archaeology after graduation.
Lastly, one of the most beneficial responsibilities I had was being assigned weekly journal articles to read, summarize, and critique. These journal articles centered largely on public outreach for archaeology, which is what the Legacy program is all about. Through these I learned a lot about what types of public outreach programs are out there, and many of those articles helped me write this very report.
These extra opportunities I was given were very helpful. Being able to teach was a great confidence boost for me, meeting with the director helped me to further decide what I want out of a career, and the articles helped me to further understand the purpose of the program I interned with. All of these things, I felt, were just what I needed to get out of my experience with Legacy. I certainly hope that others will follow suit; it is a worthwhile experience.
Herr, Sarah A.
2015: Reality Television and the Portrayal of Archaeological Practice: Challenges and Opportunities. The SAA Archaeological Record. 15(2):10-12.
Killebrew, Ann E.
2008 Archaeology and the Media: A Review. Near Eastern Archaeology. 71(3):179-180.
Legacy: Hands on the Past. http://car.utsa.edu/CARLegacy/Legacy.html.
Society for American Anthropology. www.saa.org.
McGimsey, Charles R.
2003 The Four Fields of Archaeology. American Antiquity. 68(4): 611-618.
Bollwerk, E, et. al.
2015 In Progress: Updating and Redesigning the SAA For the Public Archaeology Webpages. Paper presented at the Society for American Archaeology Annual Conferrence, San Fransisco, CA, April 17.
Van Dyke, Ruth M.
2006 Seeing the Past: Visual Media in Archaeology. American Anthropologist. 108(2): 370-375.
2002 Community Archaeology. World Archaeology. 34(2):211-219.
Kirk, R., and R.D. Daugherty
1974 Hunters of the Whale. New York: Morrow.
Kirk, R., and R.D. Daugherty
1978 Exploring Washington Archaeology. Seattle: University of Washington Press.