Technology and public outreach were key topics at the Idaho Archaeological Society's 39th annual conference Saturday on the University of Idaho campus.
The conference featured 15 presentations by professional and amateur archaeologists from across the state. Marc Munch, president of the IAS, said there's been a long-standing interest in Idaho for archaeology.
"Archaeology is the study of humans in the past. In Idaho we've had 12,000 years of humans here, and archaeologists in the state right now are doing investigations of peoples throughout that entire time period," Munch said.
Saturday's presentations represented that variety with a study dating back more than 10,000 years and one dating back just 100 years.
"Going from Paleo Indian stuff to the lives of the rich and famous in Boise and everything in between," said Mark Warner, an anthropology professor at UI who helped organize the event.
Warner presented an investigation he led in Boise during the summer that unearthed the lives of a family during the 1890s but, more importantly, drew in a great amount of public interest.
"A lot of archaeologists in the state are trying to reach out to broader audiences," Warner said. "This was a project that led to 1,000 visitors and extensive publicity throughout the state."
When the Basque Museum and Cultural Center found a well under the porch of their historic building, Warner and a team of archaeologists were contacted to do an excavation. What they discovered was an opportunity to allow the public into a hands-on tour through an archaeological site.
"People are really interested in archaeology; the problem is, in a lot of cases, it's out in the middle of nowhere," Warner said, adding that the Boise project was an incredible chance for people to experience archaeology firsthand. "When you have over 1,000 people visit an archaeological site in two weeks, you're doing great things."
1,053 people visited the site, according to Tracy Schwartz, who documented the site's visitors.
"They educated guests on the entire archaeology process from beginning to end," Schwartz said. "Day after day people came on their lunch breaks to see what else was being discovered."
The site's popularity was documented using video technology, which is something archaeologists are increasingly interested in and Munch encouraged.
"It's a good tool and great way to reach a lot of people," Munch said. "It's one thing to sit and listen to a paper about these things but when you see it visually it's a whole different story." The society will continue to improve public outreach in archaeology and is beginning to embrace new technology to do it. Archaeology even has a Facebook page.
"We have a website, a Twitter account and we started our Facebook page this year," Munch said.
"Archaeology should be engaged in contemporary society," Warner added. To learn more about the Idaho Archaeological Society, visit their website at http://idahoarchaeology.org.
Estelle Gwinn can be reached at (208) 882-5561, ext. 301, or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.