Public Archaeology of the Wider Arb

By Hana Horiuchi, Sachit Mallya, and Scout Riley

The Importance of Public Archaeology

Public archaeology revolves around the idea of using inventive techniques to involve and inform the general public about archaeological processes. Within the umbrella term of public archaeology, are some main subcategories like cultural resource management (CRM), Cultural Heritage Management (CHM), and educational archaeology. It is crucial to inform the public about the uses of archaeology as there are many ways the public can beneficially employ archaeological findings and techniques in their own lives (Society for American Archaeology). Through the use of archaeology, we are able to discern how our society functions through a more concrete understanding of our history. Furthermore, we can utilize archaeology to alleviate other dilemmas like political disputes or sustainability. However, due to an inadequacy in the accessibility of relatable archaeological works, the general public would find it quite difficult to constructively interact with technical, academic archaeology. In fact, most academic archaeology is technical to the point it becomes unapproachable to the average reader. Hence, through a combination of modern digital and physical methods, we will establish a strong foundation for accessible archaeology in the Arb to appeal to a wider audience. By creating engaging public archaeology in the Arb, we hope to locally bridge the gap between the general public and academic archaeology.

Public Archaeology in the Cowling Arboretum 

Archaeology in the Arb is especially important due to the elusive nature of many of the sites of interest. Areas such as the Quarry Site and the Millpond Dike do not have a documented history, and so the physical sites are essentially the only way to gain insight into the nature of the sites and what purpose they served. Educating the public about sites that are not represented by a documentary record is important for the preservation of history that is relevant to the Cowling Arboretum, and the greater area of Southern Minnesota. 

How We Plan to Utilize Public Archaeology

Renfrew and Bahn define public archaeology as the acceptance that the public and therefore both national and regional governments have a responsibility to avoid unnecessary destruction of heritage (Renfrew & Bahn 1996). Oftentimes, the destruction of a site occurs because the public is unaware that it holds any archaeological significance. Without context or demarcating features, a pile of rubble seems unimportant; there is no apparent reason to treat it with caution. Through the course of this term, we have learned that there are many sites around campus that appear insignificant at face value, but carry rich archaeological history. We attempt to create greater awareness of the archaeological significance of these sites around campus in order to aid in thier preservation. We also want to better publicize campus history and share what we learned with our peers and others around campus. Our approach to public archaeology comes in two parts: physical and digital. 

Our physical aspect of public archaeology are signs that will be strategically placed in the Cowling Arboretum at the sites of interest. We believe that signage is the most effective way to inform people of the archaeological sites they encounter across campus and in the arb. We plan for these signs to be placed along main paths, well frequented by students, faculty, professors, and Northfield residents, positioned for maximum interaction. The signs themselves are both visual and informative. We worked within the confines of a pre-designated arb sign template, which dictated a general layout for information and images. The text is concise and engaging, written for a wide variety of readerships, ranging from casual passersby to archaeology professors. The images break up the text and provide visual context. On the right of every sign is a map of the Cowling Arboretum. These maps allow passersby to put the site’s location into the context of the rest of the Arboretum, familiarizing them with the site. There are also scannable QR codes in the top right of each sign, a source of more information for those interested.

The digital aspect of our project is adding to the Cowling Arboretum website. While our Archaeology in the Cowling Arboretum website details many of the archaeological sites that have been previously excavated in the Arb, it is not publicized much outside of ARCN 246 (the Archaeological Method & Lab class). The Arb website, a subsect of the Carleton website, is a much more frequented platform and thus more effective for the purposes of public archaeology. While we are not yet able to add the information to the Arb website, the content we intend to post to the website can be viewed at our Archaeological Site Information Page. While the information on these web pages is similar to the information on the signs, the readership is different. People visiting the Cowling Arboretum website are likely either Carleton students, professors, faculty, or family members. Since these people are likely coming to the website with the intent to learn more about some facet of Carleton, our entries on this web page as compared to the signs are slightly more informative and detailed.

We hope that the combination of this information in both a digital and physical manner will provide these sites greater publicity.


Renfrew, C., & Bahn, P. G. (1996). Archaeology: Theories, methods, and practice. London: Thames and Hudson.

What is Public Archaeology? Society for American Archaeology. (n.d.).