by Bernard K. Means, Director
The answer my friend is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind.
–Bob Dylan, 1963
Earlier this month, I participated in two different public outreach efforts related to archaeology: the celebration of Independence Day (July 4) at George Washington’s Ferry Farm in Fredericksburg, Virginia, and Archaeology in the Community‘s Day of Archaeology Festival on July 12 in Washington, D.C.. Both venues were outdoors, and in each case I had a table or two to place artifact and ecofact replicas, which we call artifictions and ecofictions, as well as some other material.
I knew from past public events that it would not be worth setting up a laptop with digital models that could be manipulated. Outside of classroom settings, people in general seem uninterested in this aspect of virtual curation. They want something that is tangible rather than ephemeral. And, they particularly like things that they can touch and handle that has been created with a 3D printer. Folks may have a fuzzy idea of what archaeology or zooarchaeology are but they all know about the existence of 3D printers.
My plan was to have an interactive component at each venue. Visitors were to be encouraged to handle items, and try to figure out what they were. Sadly, the wind played havoc with this notion at both venues. Simply put, artifictions and ecofictions are lighter than their real counterparts, and I had to fasten them to their laminated information cards using poster squares to the tables. Even the chess pieces for my archaeologically themed chess set blew around in the wind. The painters tape I found on clearance proved less useful than I anticipated. Clearly, outdoor public archaeology events have challenges that those inside do not. For future outdoor events, I will secure each object with string or other like material that will keep the artifictions and ecofictions securely in place, but still enable visitors to handle them.
Other than the windy days, both events were a success and I offer kudos to the organizers. I interacted with quite a few visitors of all ages, and they certainly liked touching the replicas–something they could not do, or at least usually should not do, with real objects from archaeological sites. My most popular offerings were the archaeologically themed chess set, the human skeletal elements, the army man, and probably the replica cat skull.
For those who were interested, I could show animations created from 3D artifact scans using a tablet computer I brought for the occasion. One of the animations was this carved antelope femoral head from the Virginia Museum of Natural History.