Keys to Promotion of Archeological Knowledge
Ignorance has a variety of forms, and it is always disliked. No one likes being offered the opinions of dubious know-it-alls instead of reasons, or belief instead of rationality.
But most of all the ignorance is hated by scientists. Just imagine yourself working tirelessly with materials or excavations, and meeting a passer-by who stops and says that your archeology is nothing but pure mystification. “Look, there’s a writing that our planet has been in existence for less than a million years, and I have no reason to distrust it”. Of course, you may pay no attention to this stranger and prefer a more sense-bearing discussion with your colleagues. However the integration of scientific knowledge in public consciousness is deeper than it may look at the first sight, because it is not limited to a matter of individual culture only, but is often a touchstone indicating a certain civilization level of a society. Hence, there are at least two questions that arise in this regard: whether the researchers should strive to repudiate the views of many popular pseudo-scientists, and what should be done to draw the attention of common people to the exciting content of a truly scientific knowledge.
The demand for quazi-scientific theories is so old that it is rooted in the human mentality itself, which prefers to seek and accept simple answers to difficult questions. For example, it is very easy to accept positions of quazi-scientists and religion in the areas where the official science is unable to offer any straightforward and final answer. To change this situation, the scientist should elect either to deny the dubious ideas (and thus enter discussions with pseudo-scientists), or merely disregard them. Electing the first option means raising this type of work or their doers to the level of scientific dialogue, which is obviously not the right way to treat them and creates a kind of vicious circle for scientists...
By this reason, many of my colleague archeologists do not event try to change this situation in any way but immerse themselves in their own developments and discussions of their narrow field issues. As a result, the “non-archeological” people have a very limited access to the information about contemporary studies and even fundamentals of this science to understand what is it needed for and what does it try to explain. However my strong belief is that the responsibility for the fact that the results of our work remain partly hidden from wide public is with the representatives of scientific community. Therefore, one of the ways out of the current situation is the promotion of scientific knowledge.
Let’s start by saying that each of us has learnt about archeology as a science in his or her own way. However we should recognize that when we were children we had much less opportunities to obtain information which would not only tell us about this “digging science” but provoke a strong interest in it – not so much to make us to elect this profession in future as to explain why the things have been developing as they are and not otherwise, and where do we know it from except for direct written sources. This article will address the diverse ways to publicize archeology which I has had an experience to deal with and consider the most attractive and feasible of these ways.
Within the so called “Western world”, a popular science is widely promoted in variety of ways including museum sessions for children, school classes, and special events designed to publicize the scientific knowledge. The first place which was, surprisingly to me, offering the lectures for children was the National Archeology Museum in Warsaw. One of its booths displayed pottery items, woven belts and models of medieval Venetian beads made of colored clay (which allows to imitate a glass effect) made by children during the classes of this crafts – pottery, weaving and glass work respectively. The museum has allocated one of its premises for such classes and posted the information about their range and schedule for different age groups at its website. Those impressions inspired me to think about the relevance and accessibility of, and the most suitable ways to publicizing archeological knowledge.
An expression “a children entertainer” usually makes us to imagine a person playing various games with children or merely attending them. It could hardly be expectable that one of primary schools in Prushkuva (Poland) will invite archeologists to introduce pupils in experimental archeology during a school festival. They came to show the children how to break stones in the way the ancient people were making it during the stone age, and a number of ways to obtain fire, and to hold a master class in tabletop games of the ancient world and the initial weaving techniques.
It was a welcome surprise for me that the classes were not limited to detailed explanation of ancient technological processes but allowed children to live the part of an ancient human being and achieve the desired result in practice, by burning fire or splitting a firestone for subsequent creation of a job tool. Although only natural materials were used during the master classes as being relatively safe, the safety measures were given an important attention too. For example, the areas which could be reached by sparkles were protected with canvas mats, and the eye-shields were given to those participants who were engaged in splitting the firestone.
There is a lot of ways how such archeological classes can be taught, depending mostly on the imagination of their designers and their target groups. Also, I’d like to draw attention of readers to the platforms of such events. In addition to conventional museum classes and lectures, I was lucky to visit the Piknik naukowy (Scientific Picknick), an annual festival held in the central stadium of Warsaw. It presents the discoveries made in all fields of knowledge, from physics to underwater sports. Hundreds of interested children and adults join the festival to spend quality time. The participation in it is free like for many similar events addressed to families.
Another good example of such initiatives is provided by the Archeologist’s Days (Dni archeologa) annually held in the National University of Warsaw (Uniwersytet Warszawski). They target both children and adults – parents, school graduates and even the employees of the Institute of Archeology who want to know what their colleagues from other departments are currently focused on. The offerings there go beyond mere master-classes and allow participants to taste some extraordinary ancient foods, like those of Sumerian people. This kind of events does not require high costs, except enthusiasm and professional skills which their arrangers are always able to offer.
Let me warn my readers against a wrong perception that I’m calling scientists to “go to the streets” with promotional activities instead of delivering their direct occupational duties. No, this is not my point. Any of these events can be arranged by students or museum employees, but an expert guidance is needed to ensure that the experiments they demonstrate are genuine and scientifically flawless.
There is much more to tell about the types, relevance and effectiveness of such classes, because in practice they attract adults no less successfully than children. People are showing the increasing interest in many areas of knowledge which they remember just as meager facts from their schoolbooks. The events designed to popularize the archeological science help children to learn more about our world and its structure, give them an opportunity to try hand in exploration and experiments. To my mind, however, this is not the most important effect of such classes. Their key importance is that even at a school level the pupils can (and need to) master the search of rationale for the acts of nature, learn the basics of archeological profession and its goals. With this background, there is much less probability that such a child, when grown up and looking at your excavations, would say: “Are you digging here for gold? No? You must be retaining it, I bet...»
Master classes have some hidden pitfalls which should be noted however. One of the most common mistakes is to try talking about serious things in a plain language. It is very important to mind a border between science and pop culture. First of all, it is necessary to make the schoolchildren aware that the real archeological work is very distinct from the adventures of Indiana Jones or other movie characters whom we wished to follow when we were young. By trying to stick the broken ceramic item, an entertainer shows the desk work of an archeologist. The demonstration of an aquarium with layers of colored sand imitates the stratigraphic work which should not be omitted during the exploration of an archeological artifact.
However, over the post-Soviet space, the promotion of science to public remains underestimated. It is often limited to enthusiastic efforts of a single person, mostly a teacher who strives for comprehensive development of his pupils or a head of a local museum. The events and classes described above are generally inaccessible by children from province. However, as one of surprising exceptions, there is a young archeologist club in Kiev which has been working since the Soviet era and fostered several generations of candidates and doctors of science already.
I’ve been always holding the view that we should thank the people who have evoked our interests and right motivation (for future occupation or other activities, for instance) no less than the teachers whom we owe our professional excellence. Just in a single last year, a number of master classes in field research methods were held for children on the platform of the Medzhibizh Castle, where the senior pupils could take part in exploration of an archeological site full of the stone-age and bronze-age artifacts.
In one of the former national protected areas of Crimea I had a chance to see the mistakes made during such presentations and master classes. The initiator was repeatedly stressing that the workshop in weaving may be of interest for womenfolk, while a master class in Roman martial arts may attract men. In the context of today’s civilized world, it sounds like an expression of intolerable sexism… Fortunately, all master-classes were attended both by girls and boys.
Finally, it should be noted that the initiatives intended to publicize sciences (including archeology) which the writer has ever faced are very far from being limited to the examples described above. The latter represent just a small portion of everything which would worth sharing with our readers. Today, numerous organizations try to promote science worldwide, and there is a lot of ways to tell children what is done by scientists and for which purpose.
Also, I would like to emphasize that this article was not written just for the sake of criticism in any respect. It rather attempts to highlight the potential areas of improvement. To conclude, I would say that we often mistakenly treat our children just as children (or unskilled students), while we should remember that it won’t take a decade for them to become our full-value colleagues who will have to do their work better than us.