Archaeology in the Community: Introducing New Generations to the Mysteries of Ancient Lives

Archaeology in the Community logoWhat do you do when you realize that there are children who never heard of archaeology? Children who have never seen an archaeologist or know why archaeology even exists? If you are Dr. Alexandra Jones, you create an organization that reaches into those communities to show young people what this amazing field of discovery is all about.

Alexandra JonesFounder and Chief Executive Officer of Archaeology in the Community Alexandra Jones, Ph.D. has taught in educational settings from primary schools to museums and colleges.  She has dual Bachelors of Arts degrees in History and Anthropology and a Masters in History from Howard University. She earned her Ph.D. at the University of California, Berkeley in Historical Archaeology. She currently works for PBS’s television show Time Team America as the Archaeology Field School Director, where she directed field schools for junior high and high school students at each of the sites for the 2013 season.

AntiquityNOW is pleased to be working with Dr. Jones and Archaeology in the Community on various projects. We spoke to Dr. Jones recently on the occasion of AITC’s five-year anniversary.

What does Archaeology in the Community (AITC) do?

Archaeology in the Community promotes the study and public understanding of archaeological heritage. Through informal educational programs, we provide hands-on learning, professional development and community events.

Why did you found AITC?

During my first semester of graduate school, I remember thinking: How can archaeologists empower and change the lives of people in a meaningful way? The university I attended required all students to conduct outreach in the local community. This was one of the aspects of the program that attracted me to the university. When it came time for me to participate in outreach, I felt this would be my opportunity to empower people. The outreach program was conducted at a local school with sixth grade students. The students enjoyed the lessons and hands-on activities, which taught them about archaeology. All that week, I reflected on the fact that I grew up never learning about archaeology. In my community, there were no archaeology programs. The subject was never mentioned in school. I felt it was my mission to change the situation. From that time forward, I pledged that children in my local community would have the opportunity to learn about archaeology from a person with the same background as they. They could uncover their families’ histories and their community’s past with the help of an archaeologist who lived around the block and who served as an active member of their community.Since I understood them and their neighborhoods, the students could better relate to the ideas that I was introducing and appreciate the relevance in their lives. In conjunction with my university advisor at Berkeley, I created a program where every semester I returned home to Washington, DC and conducted outreach for the semester with local schools. This was the start of AITC.

Why should anyone care about dead civilizations and events that happened thousands, even millions of years ago?

People should feel strongly about the past because knowledge of the past helps us to understand where we come from and how we developed. Archaeology helps us learn about the history of all aspects of life. For nearly any event you identify, archaeology provides a deeper understanding of it. The loss of ancient sites is a bit like destroying pages in the diary of human history. The less we know about our past, the more difficult it is to know about what it means to be a person interconnected with other people and how these connections affect the past, present and our future.

Why should children learn about archaeology? What is a typical project you do with them? What do they learn from this?

arch in comm childArchaeology is a great way to introduce children to the study of ancient culture and history. It teaches children how to be scientists, archaeologists and historians by learning information about the past. AITC runs programs with youth where we teach them the definition of archaeology, how archaeology is used and how archaeologists conduct studies. By teaching them the “HOW” and “WHY” of the science the children have a better appreciation for the field of archaeology.

How do the children and their teachers respond to AITC?

The students and the teachers love the programs. Oftentimes we are told by the students they want to become archaeologists. Most, if not all, of the teachers request AITC to come back to the school the following year to teach their new class of students.

Talk about your work with college students.  Why do you think they are an important group to reach?

Archaeology in the Community college program.

Archaeology in the Community college program.

Archaeology is a fluid discipline where every day we are studying new topics in innovative ways. AITC is always pushing the boundaries of creating new methods to teach archaeology to the public and fresh, energized, young budding archaeologists are the key to accomplishing this goal. The students work alongside AITC staff to create wonderful projects that we showcase to archaeology enthusiasts of all ages. The programs give the college students opportunities to work in public archaeology and it gives the public an opportunity to be exposed to archaeology in a new format.

How are archaeologists involved with AITC?  How are they responding to your program and your mission?

The bulk of AITC’s volunteer base is local archaeologists. We have several programs which are based on support from local archaeologists and archaeology organizations, as, for example, Message to an Archaeologist and our Day of Archaeology Festival.  Since our founding, archaeologists have become our largest base of support.

Ancient mythology and stories have found current popularity in pop culture around the world.  Is this good, bad, a bit of both?

arch in commThe rising popularity of ancient mythology and stories presents a mix of good (awareness) and bad (misconceptions) elements to promoting archaeology. Mythology and stories of past civilizations being highlighted in pop culture inspire a new generation’s interest in the past. However, pop culture takes creative liberties when conveying these stories. This leaves historians and archaeologists with the task of teaching people the accurate history of those ancient civilizations.

You’ve just celebrated your five-year anniversary.  That’s quite a milestone.  What’s next?

AITC has focused it programs mostly in the Mid-Atlantic and hopes, in the next five years, to take our programs across the country and internationally.

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