So You Dig Up Dinosaur Bones, Right? The Jamaican Field School and Public Archaeology
by Laura Bruns, graduate student in Applied Anthropology, Missouri State University
This past winter (December 2014-January 2015), I participated in the archaeological field school in Bluefields, Jamaica. I had many valuable lessons throughout this field school including: how to excavate in a North American context, shovel testing, and dealing with the public while conducting each of the previous methods. The reactions that people have when you explain that you are or have been working on an archaeological excavation are quite diverse but almost never on the mark.
This has been true for the Jamaican field school that I have recently participated in over the winter break. Over the course of the field school, we had the opportunity to talk with several locals who stopped by the site. It was great to see so many people interested in what we were looking for and a general interest in their history. However, the conversations always started with a similar question: Are you looking for gold? After the initial “unfortunately, no” and a good laugh, we were then able to have a conversation not only on what was being done at the site but also on what the local lore was as well.
The most frustrating reaction came from a retired scientist. The entire shovel testing trip that I participated in was an exercise in public archaeology due to the fact. At the end of the day, he was frustrated that we had not found any artifacts that supported his working hypothesis for the site. Throughout the discussion, the fact that we only performed five shovel tests for the site had to be reiterated. We also had to remind him that just because we had not found any evidence for a Spanish occupation at this time, it did not mean we would not find some in the future. It just meant that we could not support his hypothesis right now.
While my family and close friends were very aware of the work that I was doing while I was in Jamaica, my coworkers seemed to have the idea that I was on vacation. The questions that I had to answer regarding my trip included whether or not I learned Swahili, the amount of fruity drinks that I consumed, and if I brought home banana rum. The one time I was asked about the dig itself, I was asked the question that all archaeologists loathe – did you find any dinosaur bones?
Overall, I had a great experience with the field school in Bluefields. I learned many things while I was there and I gained more archaeological field experience. The most memorable part of my experience, however, has to be the interaction with the public while I was there. I learned so much about the local history and culture just by listening to the locals talk about the history of the site.