Heritage, Volume 9, Number 2, Spring 1991 Page: 19
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Wide-area excavation-one technique for salvage archaeology. Photo courtesy of Bob Parvin, Austin and the Texas Historical Commission.
What are the costs for this kind of
development? Is it worth it? There are two
ways to look at this. First, there is the
perspective that archaeological sites are
priceless, that scientific materials cannot
have a value put on them especially as
research goals and techniques change, and
in the way that one cannot put a dollar
amount on the value of the benefits the
public receives from learning about our
past. The second way to think about public
interpretation of archaeology is in actual
costs for both development and return.
While keeping the first view in mind,
we need to look within the hardened fiscal
reality because public funding is in serious
trouble; the public has the right to know
and make input on costs; and mitigation
that interprets archaeology for the public
will usually cost more than the excavatewith-no-publicity
approach. In the big
picture, for all the millions spent and to be
spent on public-funded archaeology, we
can promote and justify mitigation alternatives
that involve public interpretation.
I argue that a lack of interest, perhaps
implicitly encouraged by the nature of
bureaucracies and supported by a lack of
public enlightenment on the possibilities
for archaeological mitigation, is the real
reason archaeological mitigation rarely
involves interpretative development.
Issues of funding can often be juggled to
support either position, depending on who
pays the accountant's salary! One could
probably review public projects of the
193 O0s and earlier perhaps to find that agencies
and citizens then cared more about
public works involving education of the
public. At any rate, visiting historic sites is
a leading reason out-of-state visitors come
to Texas today. In essence we are talking
about interpreting-and keeping-what
makes our state distinctly Texan and it can
be estimated that each tourist puts an average
of $100 per day into local economies,
both strong arguments justifying public
interpretation of archaeology.
There are broader benefits to doing
"public archaeology." Interpretation is
education. While traditional archaeological
research theoretically trickles
through public agencies and academia to
benefit laypersons, public interpretation
offered by archaeological parks or other onsite
programs is more direct, and markedly
people and action oriented.
The idea is not to make static outdoor
extensions of museum displays to show the
goodies; our museums are packed as it is.
Rather, dynamic educational activities can
take place: replication of ancient technologies
or historic events, field school
excavations in authentic or fabricated
deposits, workshops or guest lectures
within original field context, and so on.
These activities maintain existing public
benefits and create new interests that
rarely happen when archaeologists are in
the area for only a few months doing
salvage archaeology. At the same time, an
archaeological park, for example, offers the
chance for well planned excavations
taking place over decades, retaining a
portion of the site intact for the even more
HERITAGE * SPRING 1991 19
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 9, Number 2, Spring 1991, periodical, Spring 1991; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45424/m1/19/: accessed April 25, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.