1     Introduction



“Interpretation helps audiences both care about and encourages them to care for resources.”

-David L. Larsen, 2002

        Gulf Islands, Mississippi

“Information, as such, is not interpretation. Interpretation is revelation based on information.”

-Freeman Tilden, 1957


Archeological Interpretation


Protection of America’s archeological resources is dependent upon public recognition, understanding, and stewardship. Through interpretation, visitors are afforded opportunities to make emotional and intellectual connections with archeological resources, which lead toward resource stewardship. This manual is intended to be “an inspiring guide” to encourage NPS archeologists and interpreters to work together to attain the shared competency of effectively interpreting archeological resources to the public.


Employing the concept of “shared competency,” archeologists and interpreters receive training in each other’s disciplines and work together to provide effective and accurate interpretation of archeological information and resources to the public. To this end, archeologists and interpreters seeking to gain shared competency must start with an understanding of three basic principles in archeological interpretation:

 Recognition that the protection of archeological resources is dependent upon the public’s recognition, understanding, and stewardship;

 Commitment to working together jointly in professional development; and

 Awareness of special issues, including federal laws and regulations, the value of multiple perspectives, and the importance of dialogue between archeologists and interpreters. 

Archeologists must gain a firm foundation in and understanding of the purpose, philosophy, and techniques of interpretation.


Interpreters must gain an understanding of basic archeological principles and techniques as well as comprehensive and accurate knowledge of historical and archaeological information.


Together, archeologists and interpreters must provide the public with opportunities to establish their own compelling intellectual and emotional connections to cultural resources based on current factual research and creative interpretive techniques.


Visitors then will gain the opportunity to

  •        Learn about archeological interpretations and how they are made;

  •         Ascribe their own meanings to archeological resources; and

  •        Increase their understanding of and concern for preservation and protection of archeological resources

Only by committing to these principles will a shared competency program reach the intended goal: the development of more effective interpretation of archeological resources in order to increase the public’s awareness of and participation in the stewardship of those resources.




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An Inspiring Guide

I. Introduction

II. Overview of the Program

III. Meeting the Mission

IV. The Public Meaning of Archeological Heritage

V. Archeology and Interpretation

VI. Study Tour of Parks

VII. Interpretive Products

VIII. Credits

IX. References

X. Resources and Links


National Park Service  - Archeology and Ethnography Program  - Distance Learning

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