Native Savannahian Mara Smith reflect on the benefits of public archaeology to Savannah and elsewhere in our next student blog post.
Archaeology and You
I was raised in Savannah. By that I mean, I was born in Candler Hospital right off of Derenne. When I was younger, my family took day trips into downtown Savannah. I remember my dad giving me little history lessons about the beautiful city. Like, how the cobblestones on River Street made their way there, or he would point out the tunnels that pirates would use to travel around the city (and I’m so gullible, I still believe them all). As I’ve gotten older, I don’t notice the history as much. Going into Savannah, I walk past monuments, statues, and placards memorializing significant sites as if they aren’t even there. I’ve done a few tours here and there. The Juliette Gordon Low house was one I visited, because even though I was never a Girl Scout, I can down a box of their cookies in less than ten minutes, and for that opportunity, I must thank Mrs. Low. Because I am a native Savannahian, I’ve begun to neglect the city’s history and stories that it’s trying to tell. What’s even crazier is the fact that there is more to be uncovered here, and it took me 21 years to find that out. There are so many ways that we as citizens of Savannah can be active in the uncovering of our city’s past that will be beneficial to so many.
The public can benefit from local archaeology. Having the local community participate in uncovering some of their city’s history provides “community links.” It gives those like me who are born and raised here a sense of connection to their city. There is a sense of identity that wasn’t there before. What’s so great about archaeologists reaching out to the public is that people of all backgrounds and ages can be welcomed to participate. The basics of archaeology and archaeological sites can be used to help even young students practice skills that they may never learn in school. Skills that include: scientific judgement, geography, and local history. On the other end of the spectrum, we have senior citizens who are wise and have experience. Including some of the eldest locals allows for information that isn’t written down, something equivalent to the oral traditions of Native American tribes. Our locals should be interested in Savannah’s history. Savannah is known for being one of the older cities in the United States, and to be able to say that as a citizen of Savannah, you participated in the uncovering of some of its history is incredible. Having new knowledge of the past will always add to the culture, community, and the preservation of history and will create a sense of pride in our city (even if some things uncovered may not necessarily deserve a round of applause).
If you didn’t already know, Savannah makes a lot of money from TOURISM. Do you have any idea what kind of influx of tourists we would get if we were to uncover some crazy old artifact in Savannah? Why do people even come to Savannah for vacation? Is it for the big oaks? The pralines? Is it because it’s one of the only cities you can carry open containers around? I used to find it hard to believe that some people actually come for the history! It’s eye opening to know that there are people out there who still enjoy and value the work of anthropologists and archaeologists. This encourages more digging! Because Savannah is already rich in history, there is more than likely no shortage of possible discoveries. The more uncovered, the more “authentic archaeology” there is to keep people coming back to our beautiful city. More tours! More outreach! More education! All of these can come from the research and work of archaeologists.
So, if you gain nothing from my little post, I hope you take away the importance of your participation in your home’s history. Maybe where you live doesn’t have the magnitude of history that Savannah does, but that’s all the more reason to reach out and help out. We as citizens have everything to gain, and nearly nothing to lose from local archaeology. Learning about our past can give us insight that we never knew was possible. Keeping our city’s heritage, cultures, and traditions is all worth the little bit of effort our community can provide. Start by taking a class, or if you find yourself in Savannah, ask some questions or even better ask how you can get involved! Start small and learn something about Savannah that you didn’t already know. Expand your knowledge and when there’s nothing left on that subject, then start asking questions! Now is the best time to discover, preserve and educate.
“25 Simple things you can do to promote the public benefit of archaeology.” National Register Publications, US Department of the Interior, National Park Service.