Volunteer Opportunities at Washington Area Archaeological Sites

By Ann Cameron Siegal
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, May 15, 2009

Scratch that mental image of archaeologists wearing pith helmets while uncovering lost civilizations in exotic places.

Right here, under our feet, discoveries are being made; puzzles are being solved. Local archaeologists are in touch with human history going back more than 10,000 years, and they would love your help.

"We're not just treasure hunters looking for artifacts," said Ed Chaney, a senior archaeologist in St. Leonard.

For archaeologists, the space between artifacts is as important as the item itself. A spear point, a hand-wrought nail or an intact piece of pottery are of little archaeological value without context. Artifacts tell us someone was there. Archaeology tells us how they lived.

The archaeologist's goal is finding, interpreting and sharing evidence of our common cultural heritage -- what Fairfax archaeologist Mike Johnson calls "the glue that holds society together . . . what we value above our differences."

Sharing is key. Within a two-hour radius of the Beltway, there are opportunities -- many free -- for you to learn from the experts. Whether you have an hour, a day, a week or longer, seasoned archaeologists offer hands-on experiences for those who want to learn.

You don't need a science background to volunteer. Patience, flexibility and a willingness to work as part of a team are what count.

And no, you don't get to keep what you find. It all becomes part of the cultural heritage record.

Can you dig it?

Fieldwork: Like to get your hands dirty? Then join a field crew: surveying, marking, excavating and documenting a site.

Each site has its own methodology, depending on whether the goal is slow-paced historical research or "rescue archaeology" (staying one step ahead of a developer's bulldozer).


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