A joint UNL-USDA Forest Service Public Education/Citizen Science project, initiated by archaeologist Matthew Douglass and Dennis Kuhnel, seeks to unite archaeologists with artifact collectors and land owners in the Great Plains through heritage events hosted by local museums.
At Roadshow events, artifacts collected from private lands surrounding Forest Service properties are examined and documented by UNL and Forest Service archaeologists and students. Through this process the collection owners learn about the age and function of their finds as well as the cultural and environmental context associated with the time periods they represent.
Information about the locations where artifacts were found and collection history is also recorded through informal interviews.
“Though artifact collecting is prohibited on public lands, there are abundant collections in the Great Plains obtained from private lands," Douglass said. "Through these events we are able to talk with people about the artifacts they have and in turn are learning a great deal about archaeological remains distributed on vast private land holdings. We also use this opportunity to learn about collector motivations and to provide background on archaeological laws and best practices for site preservation and documentation."
Most professional archaeology on the Great Plains is completed with the benefit of public funding and is thus largely limited to public lands. In the case of Nebraska, this amounts to less than 2 percent of the state’s total area. By collaborating with the public, the project is beginning to fill in areas not subject to previous archaeological documentation.
Over the past several years, events have been hosted in Nebraska, South Dakota and Wyoming allowing team member to examine and digitize records for thousands of privately held artifacts. These records, including high-resolution images and 3D models, are now being organized for a digital archive in a website hosted by the Center for Great Plains Studies.
The website entitled “Your United States National Grasslands” will feature a variety of educational materials about North American Grasslands and the National Grasslands System in addition to the Roadshow Archive.
“Grasslands Artifact Roadshows and are a fantastic way for academics and professionals to collaborate with individuals from rural communities and regions about the deep heritage of their home places,” Kuhnel said. He is Center Director for the National Grasslands Visitor Center.
The events will continue in the coming months and years. The next Roadshow will be in Northeastern Wyoming later this month with another in Mullen in early fall. Though still in development, the archive component to the Grasslands site can be viewed here.
Douglass is with the Department of Anthropology and a lecturer with the School of Natural Resources.
This project is featured in the August issue of Nebraskaland magazine.