30 Days of Tennessee Archaeology, Day 22

Dig and Dine: Introducing the Rutherford County Archaeological Research Program to the community

Laura Fyock Bartel, M.A.
Independent Archaeologist
Public Outreach and Education Coordinator, RCARP

Most professional archaeologists recognize the importance of public archaeology programs, and where feasible, try to incorporate some sort of public outreach and activity along with their projects. The Rutherford County Archaeological Research Program (RCARP), a new program based at Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) and directed by Dr. Tanya M. Peres, Associate Professor of Anthropology, focuses on prehistoric archaeology in Rutherford County, Tennessee. Previous posts for the “30 Days of Archaeology” have discussed RCARP and its Magnolia Valley project.

As Public Outreach and Education Coordinator for RCARP and an archaeologist myself, I have the exciting opportunity to assist Dr. Peres in engaging the public with the prehistory of Rutherford County. I would like to share how we have begun our public outreach program.

Tanya Peres and Jesse Tune describe the excavation process for visitors

Tanya Peres and Jesse Tune describe the excavation process for visitors

RCARP’s Magnolia Valley research project and MTSU field school, held from mid-May through June of this year, was the perfect opportunity to begin introducing ourselves to the community. All the basic outreach activities were employed, including an online presence, numerous visitations and site tours, special visiting days for groups including friends and family, colleagues with other agencies and CRM firms, MTSU employees, and an elementary/middle school group. Written materials about RCARP and artifact displays were made available to visitors as well. The school group was given a specialized tour by Dr. Peres and the opportunity to dig and screen along with the MTSU students. I also created a booklet, “Archaeology and You” for the children to take back with them to the classroom. Feedback from all our visitors was extremely positive and some returned for a second and third time. However, the most important, rewarding, and exceedingly fun public outreach activity was our special event called Dig and Dine.

Dig and Dine

Being a brand new program and specializing in prehistoric archaeology, a discipline that has not traditionally been a focus in the area, we wanted to hold a special event that would introduce RCARP to the MTSU community, Murfreesboro, and the rest of the county. Years ago, my husband and I hosted an archaeology awareness dig and dine event at our field school in another state. I thought doing this kind of event, something totally new to this area, would serve RCARP well.

Invitations were sent to individuals at MTSU and to various segments of the local community. They were invited to “Experience the Archaeology of Rutherford County” as stated on the invitation, and to “get their hands dirty.” The invitation described the event, which included a tour of the site, the opportunity to dig and screen artifacts, enjoy a buffet lunch, converse with the archaeologists, and to hear a guest speaker.

The Dig

Site visitor Peggy Paulson learns to trowel alongside MTSU student Matthew Whitten

Site visitor Peggy Paulson learns to trowel alongside MTSU student Matthew Whitten

The event began at the excavation site. Co-directors of the field school, Dr. Peres and Jesse Tune, gave a comprehensive overview and tour of the project and excavation. Guests were then given the opportunity to shovel skim, trowel, and screen for artifacts. The MTSU field school students also had the opportunity to interact with the guests. Many students were shy at first, but with a little bit of encouragement, rose to the occasion and answered guests’ questions and coached them as to proper field techniques. Thus, it was a wonderful learning experience for the students as well as the guests. One guest, Peggy Paulson, later emailed me and said “Dig and Dine was a wonderful learning experience for me. Not only did I get to see the site first hand, I also got to speak to the students and absorb their enthusiasm for their work. An added bonus was the perk to actually get my hands dirty and learning the proper technique to using a trowel.”

It was also amazing to everyone in attendance to see MTSU President Sidney McPhee on his hands and knees excavating with a trowel and to see Mrs. Liz McPhee shovel skimming.  Having the University President participate signals to the community the importance of the archaeology program.

The Dine

Dr. Jackie Eller, interim associate dean for the College of Graduate Studies at MTSU, speaks with visitors at the Dig and Dine lunch

Dr. Jackie Eller, interim associate dean for the College of Graduate Studies at MTSU, speaks with visitors at the Dig and Dine lunch

A small budget for the event, given by the MTSU Provost’s Office and the Office of Development, allowed us to offer lunch to our guests. We decided to purchase the food and cater it ourselves. With the hard work of field assistant Kate McKinney, Barbara McKinney, and Dr. Tanya Peres, our buffet lunch was impressive!  MTSU Provost and archaeologist Dr. Brad Bartel gave a brief talk on the importance of cultural heritage.

We had 34 guests which was just right for our excavation area, lunch facility, and budget. Without the help of volunteers, this event would not have been as successful as it was. At the close of the event, booklets were distributed to guests with information on RCARP, the excavation, volunteer opportunities, and ways to support RCARP. An anonymous donation also enabled us to give out gift bags. The bags were decorated to look like artifact collection bags. Inside were small token gifts and an “excavation clean-up kit” which was a bar of soap wrapped in a washcloth.

A Good Beginning for RCARP

Dig and Dine served as a good beginning to “get the word out” to a county that has not had much exposure to professionally-led prehistoric archaeology programs.  We know that this special “friend-raising” event has planted the seeds for future participation in RCARP whether as volunteers, sponsors, or other forms of support. It truly was a unique experience for all who attended. RCARP looks to the future with ongoing research and adding new projects. Public outreach will continue to be an important component of RCARP.  Our ultimate hope is to enrich the community with information of the area’s earliest inhabitants and to foster an appreciation of our shared history.

New RCARP Event, September 27

To help celebrate Tennessee Archaeology Awareness month, RCARP is hosting an open house Saturday, Sept. 27, 3:00-5:00PM, at the MTSU archaeology lab, first floor of Peck Hall (rooms 110 and 109).  There will be archaeology displays and activities for adults and children.