Project Archaeology: 33 Years and Going Strong

by Jeanne Moe, Curriculum Director

In 1990, a team of archaeologists and educators distributed the first version of the educational materials that would eventually become the national Project Archaeology program.  The first draft included a series of lessons on rock art; what it might mean, why it is important to protect it, and the fact that it is often damaged by modern graffiti, chalk tracing, bullet holes, and attempts to remove it from the stone walls.     

About a year later we received some brief assessments from elementary students who had experienced some of these lessons.  One of the questions we asked students was, “What will you remember about archaeology a year from now”?  Many of the students answered, “Vandalism of rock art hurts the living descendants of the people who made it.”  When I saw those answers, I thought, “We have something here.” The kids made the connection between the past and present and between thoughtless vandalism and the feelings of living descendants. They achieved cultural understanding at a deep conceptual level.  I knew then that cultural heritage education would be my life’s work and I have never looked back.

Jeanne Moe conducting Hula Hoop Mapping lesson with 5th graders at Fort Parker in Montana.

Project Archaeology is a national archaeology education program founded by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in 1992 for educators and their students. It was developed in the early 1990s for three purposes: to develop awareness of our nation’s diverse and fragile archaeological sites, to instill a sense of personal responsibility for stewardship of these sites, and to enhance scientific and historical literacy and cultural understanding through the study of archaeology. Educational materials and professional development are distributed through a network of state and regional programs.  Since 1992, programs have been established in 40 states; 30 programs remain active and new programs are currently under development across the nation.

Network of State Project Archaeology Programs from 2019 Annual Report. Since 1990 we have trained 18,700 educators through 1,052 professional development workshops. These educators have used Project Archaeology materials to instruct an estimated 375,000 students and learners of all ages annually.

The National Project Archaeology Program resided at Montana State University from 2001 to 2022.  Headquarters and operations were transferred to Southern Utah University (SUU) in Cedar City in November 2022.  The program now operates under a four-way partnership between SUU (College of Humanities and Social Sciences), the Institute for Heritage Education (IHE), the Project Archaeology Leadership Team, and the BLM.

Despite a challenging transition in leadership and institutional support, our Network Coordinators and Master Teachers have continued to provide professional development events and to distribute materials over the last few years.  With a solid base of support and new leadership, we are confident that Project Archaeology will continue to expand in breadth and depth in the coming years.     

Teachers from across the nation visiting Parowan Gap in Utah during the Voices of the Ancients: Archaeology and Oral Tradition in the American West, a Landmarks of American History & Culture Teacher Workshop funded by the National Endowment of the Humanities in 2021.