In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Public Archaeology

  • Introduction
  • Introductory Works
  • Heritage
  • Cultural Resource Management
  • Looting
  • Indigenous Archaeology
  • Sustainability
  • Pseudoarchaeology
  • The Future

Related Articles Expand or collapse the "related articles" sectionabout

Forthcoming Articles Expand or collapse the "forthcoming articles" section


Anthropology Public Archaeology
Jeremy A. Sabloff
  • LAST REVIEWED: 31 July 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 11 January 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766567-0021


Public archaeology refers to those aspects of the broad field of archaeology that relate to the public interest. It has a number of key aspects, but perhaps the most significant in the United States are cultural resource management and communication with various community groups and public audiences about the practice of archaeology. Cultural Resource Management (CRM) is the set of practices that derive from fulfilling the mandates of heritage protection laws. In the United States, a number of statutes could be cited, but the principal statutes in this regard are the National Historic Preservation Act (and particularly Section 106 of the law) and the National Environmental Protection Act, as well as the Native American Grave Protection and Repatriation Act. In regard to communication, there are a wide variety of communication avenues. One form of outreach involves the active engagement among archaeologists and various publics. This kind of engaged outreach has been labeled “Community Archaeology” or “action archaeology.” Elsewhere, I have defined the latter, for instance, as “involvement or engagement with the problems facing the modern world through archaeology.” This means that archaeologists are “working for living communities, not just in or near them.” Other forms of outreach are not as engaged but nevertheless are quite important. Such outreach includes communication through lectures, newspaper and magazine articles, television, movies, museum exhibits, and Internet blogs, among others.

Introductory Works

A number of highly useful works provide clear introductions to the varied aspects of public archaeology. Two broad introductions that provide good starting places are Little 2002 and Sabloff 2008. McGimsey 1972 offers an historical view of the growth of public archaeology, while Merriman 2004 offers a modern perspective. Downum and Price 1999 and Shackel and Chambers 2004 discuss public archaeology within the context of the more general field of applied anthropology. One key aspect of public archaeology is its engagement with contemporary issues in the communities within which it is working, and a good introduction to this topic can be found in Little and Shackel 2007. Lastly, the political nature of archaeology, in general, and public archaeology, in particular, is discussed in McGuire 2008 and Schmidt and Patterson 1995.

  • Downum, Christian E., and Laurie J. Price. 1999. Applied archaeology. Human Organization 58:226–239.

    This article situates public archaeology in the broader field of applied anthropology.

  • Little, Barbara, ed. 2002. The public benefits of archaeology. Gainesville: Univ. Press of Florida.

    This edited volume is the best introduction to public archaeology for a general reader.

  • Little, Barbara, and Paul Shackel, eds. 2007. Archaeology as a tool of civic engagement. Lanham, MD: AltaMira.

    The authors in this edited volume offer helpful examples of an engaged archaeology.

  • McGimsey, Charles R. 1972. Public archaeology. New York: Seminar Press.

    A pathbreaking book on the subject by a pioneer in cultural resource management.

  • McGuire, Randall H. 2008. Archaeology as political action. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

    Examines the various political roles that archaeology does and can play.

  • Merriman, Nick, ed. 2004. Public archaeology. New York: Routledge.

    A helpful, broad-based introduction to the field of public archaeology.

  • Sabloff, Jeremy A. 2008. Archaeology matters: Action archaeology in the modern world. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast.

    This book is intended for a general reader and provides an overview of the relevance of archaeology in today’s world.

  • Schmidt, Peter R., and Thomas C. Patterson, eds. 1995. Making alternate histories: The practice of archaeology and history in non-western settings. Santa Fe, NM: School for American Research.

    The authors of the chapters in this volume argue for the relevance of local communities, their perspectives, and their histories in archaeological research around the globe.

  • Shackel, Paul A., and Erve Chambers, eds. 2004. Places in mind: Public archaeology as applied anthropology. New York: Routledge.

    A clear introduction to the new roles of public archaeology in the broader contexts of applied anthropology and engaged research.

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