Archaeologists’ commitment to the public

Submitted by Kelly Woodard (kelly@thesga.org)

My two Catahoula-mix dogs and I enjoy walking and hiking. We live in Atlanta and were thought to be a few miles from the nearest park. Every day we would walk and my archaeologically trained eye rarely left the ground as I automatically scanned the area for any piece of evidence that would tell me something about the past. We would walk a few paths through various subdivisions which led to a large field located next to an elementary school. Although against the law, if the kids were not out, I would let the dogs off the leash to run wild and free, then after wearing themselves out we would continue our run, now to the point that I could keep up.

The path to and from the large field ran through a wooded area and every time we walked the path I would look around. Finally after a few weeks I realized that the land I was walking past was something more than just a wooded area. The next day, instead of going to the field, we got off the beaten path and took a right into a large area covered in ivy. I, of course, took the dogs off the leash and we began our adventure into uncharted territory. At first I thought this was just a cut-through path that people used as a shortcut, but as I continued to explore, I began to see the landscape come to life from under the ivy. I began to see a marked trail which had been made with railroad ties, many small wooden bridges, and multiple benches that, once the ivy was removed, could be used for relaxation.

The landscape and the ivy….

The dogs and I continued our daily adventures here as they were able to run free through the woods and I was able to explore the area. I fell in love with this place. I would lounge by the brook and listen to the water, watch the leaves fall, the wind blow, and the dogs run. I did a little research and realized that the area was a park in DeKalb County that was just unattended. I had no idea when the last time someone had enjoyed the area as a county park and began to wonder what longtime residents had to say about it. Apparently there had been a ribbon cutting ceremony in 1984 to celebrate the park to the community. I guess after that, not much happened with it.

I felt like Mary Lennox in The Secret Garden. How could I keep something so beautiful to myself? I had two options. Keep my mouth shut about it and continue my daily walks of enjoyment and relaxation or remind the community that they had a lovely park to enjoy. I have to admit, it was tempting to keep the secret to myself and have nine amazing acres to run my dogs without coming across anyone telling me about leash laws. So I contemplated it for about a minute and talked to the first resident I saw nearby.

One of the ivy-covered benches…

“Sir, do you know about this land as a possible park?” I saw a twinkle in his eye as his began to recount his memories associated with this place. He told me that at one time the area was a beautiful place and offered to volunteer to help clean and talk to others who would like to do the same. Again, I thought about Mary and her secret garden. Mary would not enjoy the totality of the garden until she shared it with those around her. For her to enjoy it, she would have to see others benefit from it.

This brings me to archaeology. As archaeologists, we are the first to enjoy many pristine places and are able to contemplate how to bring them to life within communities. It is not in our blood to hide the past from the public. We preserve our findings and think of ways the public can best enjoy it. As true archaeologists, we do not stand selfishly by enjoying our priceless artifacts deep in the basement of our houses, hidden from the public. Instead, we tell the world about it, study it, and dedicate our lives to its interpretation.

Like the park I cannot truly enjoy alone, archaeological sites and artifacts pose the same conundrum. If one hides the mystification of archaeology for selfish gain, how can they truly enjoy it? It takes a strong team and many different perspectives to solve the riddles of archaeology. Only when we collectively understand these riddles can we began to interpret and enjoy the past.

As for the park, I am off to start a friends of the park group and see what steps I can take to get the parked cleaned and the community involved.