Sponsored by: Archaeological Institute of America
Contemporary trends in mass media communication indicate serious confusion in the public consciousness about the nature of science and the status of evidential reasoning. Archaeologists, in an effort to make esoteric research programs interesting to the public, have contributed to this problem by providing over-simplified stories and “lessons from the past” that overinterpret evidence and mystify analysis. We have allowed public intellectuals from other disciplines to speak for us, and we have failed to address the dangerous gap between what we were saying about the past from what the public was learning about the past. One result has been that archaeologists’ news stories inadvertently promote political values that their data do not support.
Archaeology is not alone among the sciences in its attempt to enchant the public with fashionable explanations and easy answers, so the problems and the potential remedies for archaeology’s missteps with publicity are related and similar to those of other disciplines. In this presentation I consider how archaeologists and other scientists might recast our public interactions to encourage a more well-informed citizenry. I argue for a more respectful engagement with the public and insist that it isn’t necessary to be either tedious or simplistic to entertain an audience.