The following post is by undergraduate student Liz Berry from July 2013:
This past Sunday was the open house for the Women’s Club excavation site at the Hill in Easton, MD. We had a fantastic turnout of about 240 visitors for the event. The community was so willing to learn about the site and many came with their own questions. It surprised me that so many locals were following the news articles about our site and knew a lot of background information. The 1794 coin was the artifact that brought in the most visitors and was the main attraction for people to see. This artifact alone sparked interest and debate among its viewers; which according to Teresa Moyer is exactly what public archaeology should do. Many people asked questions about the worth of the coin, it’s symbolic meaning, its material, and how it related back to the African American heritage that we were trying to uncover. Others debated the finds relevance to the project or challenged the methods that we used to uncover other information, like the possible chicken coop.
This is exactly what we want to see in a public archaeology site, because it creates interest and is a learning opportunity. When people ask these questions, no matter the intention behind them, we are able to guide them to the conclusions that we have found. We are also able to put the artifacts into context for the public; nail stock for example was a product that many people were not familiar with and could not understand the significance of. Yet once we explained what the purpose of the nail stock and how it was used to create nails very fast and in an affordable way; and how the amount that we found and the lack of related objects around it lead us to the conclusion that we were not coming down upon a blacksmith site. So by these lack of artifacts we were able to tell the public that if this was an area of the lot associated with African Americans that the nail stock could be used as a small side job to help bring in a little extra money for the family. This information can stick with visitors and inspire them to later look more into the issues presented, support archaeology in some way, or tell others about what they have found out and pass along the information. A prime example of this occurring was a gentleman who had known a little about archaeology from past studies and wanted to see the coin that was discovered, he asked many questions about it, and unfortunately we did not know all of the answers at that time. However, he did not just except this, but instead he went home and did some research himself and came back to our site to show us what he had uncovered. This is another perk of public archaeology because we are able to learn so much from the community.
At the Sunday event we were honored to have a woman there who was oldest living descendant of an African American family from the Hill. She was able to talk to our site manager and our Morgan State contact and give some great local history that we would not be able to find documented anywhere. Because the Hill is still so clearly defined as an African American community we have an easy way to connect the archaeology back to the present. There is still such a gap in the publicized Easton history involving slavery and the free African American community, so by doing public archaeology we are able to bring these injustices to light. Archaeology in general has recently began to focus on the minorities of history; the lower economic class, immigrants, and women. This results in a lot of tough questions for the community that the archaeology was done in. This is no different in Easton, I was personally shocked at the amount of locals who did not know the history of the Hill; but through this excavation and other public interaction this ignorance can be eliminated. Our hope is by doing this the community will embrace their unique past and celebrate it. Sunday was a great success for this goal, and we have had many people stop by the site because of people who visited Sunday passing on our information to others. We are hoping that this interest will continue after we are gone for the summer, and possibly create some local activism to include African American history into Easton.
Moyer, Teresa. Learning Through Visitors: Exhibits as Tools for Encouraging Civic Engagement through Archaeology. (pg.263-277). From Little, Barbara and Shackle, Paul. Archaeology as a Tool of Civic Engagement. Walnut Hill. 2007.