After the Curtain Came Down: Thoughts from Two Committee Members on the AGSCUI Film Festival 2013


by Bailey Cavender and Ashley Morton

On Saturday, May 4th, the AGSCUI held its first film festival. The regional films were different in their scope, yet all were able to teach and draw the audience in.  The panel discussion afterward was illuminating and entertaining, as panelists Dr. Lee Sappington (Associate Professor, University of Idaho) and Molly Swords (Cultural Resource Specialist III, SWCA Environmental Consultants and instructor at the University of Idaho) gave their opinions on both the films and benefits and issues of archaeology in the media. Below, I discuss what I took away from the festival and then AGSCUI member, Ashley Morton, adds her take.

Kiley Molinari arrives early to choose the "best seat in the house" and settle in.

Kiley Molinari arrives early to choose the “best seat in the house” and settle in.

Archaeology suffers from a disease that I like to call “Indyitis.”  “Indyitis” is a fictional disease that stems from the popularity and misinterpretation of archaeology in the media. Not only that, but anthropology is often neglected altogether. This disease leads to an insane idea that archaeologists are out in the wilds, running into forgotten temples and stealing artifacts (for the good of their favorite museum, of course) or à la American Diggers, finding as many artifacts as they can for as much as they can. And, as I said, anthropology is usually forgotten. This is a serious problem. While shows may do their homework, and the swashbuckling archaeologist may entertain, this is far from the intense research, data collection, and collaboration of real-life archaeologists and anthropologists in efforts to understand of human activity throughout time. And since archaeology is a subfield of anthropology (and in some ways as the child of anthropology and history), anthropology should definitely be included in the media.

One of the goals of this film festival was to get the field of anthropology out there; to show videos of archaeologists and anthropologists doing the things we do.  The videos shown portrayed different sites, researched and studied in different ways, and the panelists brought their own experiences to the discussion. While some attendees were from the Anthropology Department here at the University of Idaho, there were many I did not recognize. Since the goal was to educate and share the wonder that is anthropology (and its subfield, archaeology); that made it even better.

– Bailey Cavender

Saturday’s film festival brought a diverse number of students and the general public out to attend, including visiting scholars in College of Natural Resources, Journalism majors, and non-students. The series message was the importance of making anthropology and archaeology more visible; something more academics, professionals, and students are talking about in light of recent television programs (Diggers and Savage Family Diggers). Civic engagement is certainly nothing new in anthropology or archaeology. Barbara J. Little and Paul A. Shackel’s edited volume “Archaeology as a Tool of Civic Engagement” illustrates decades of public outreach efforts, as does The Archaeology Channel’s annual juried International Film and Video Festival (Eugene, Oregon).  Inspired by such efforts, the AGSCUI felt a film series highlighting filmed anthropological and archaeological projects could contribute to this visibility goal. Therefore, with this film series AGSCUI hopes to show the hard work, dedication, and collaboration anthropologists and archaeologists strive in documenting the diverse present and past. Both the films and discussion panel did not disappoint.

Moderator Jessica Goodwin with panelists Molly Swords and Lee Sappington.

Moderator Jessica Goodwin with panelists Molly Swords and Lee Sappington.

A common theme throughout the films was the meaning of place to identity. In Mining on the Swell interviewees talked about their intimate relationship to the land they mined for Uranium, Alpine Archaeology and Written in Stone showed the significance of incorporating traditional knowledge beyond Section 106 compliance, and archaeologists in The Cyrus Jacobs-Uberuaga House emphasized how historic preservation plus public archaeology can contribute to a communities’ sense of place.

The panelists offered their own wisdom, based on a host of experiences in academic and cultural resource management archaeology. Dr. Lee Sappington reflected on the importance of conveying relevant dialogue when working with media. Discussion panelist Molly Swords continued the theme of place and the use of local knowledge as also a way to illustrate its advantages in site identification and further meaning of place.

Panelists also touched on the difficulties working with the public, letting the public know of cultural resources and getting the importance of not looting across. In the last 30 plus years, Dr. Lee Sappington has served as an expert witness several times for the prosecution of looting and damaging sites and discussed recent issues with newspapers in Coeur d’Alene enticing people to collect washed up finds from the Coeur d’Alene lake. He also emphasized the Coeur d’Alene tribe’s concern for heritage protection.

An attentive audience listens to the film festival panel discussion.

An attentive audience listens to the film festival panel discussion.

Media, and especially social media was a hot topic for the panel discussion and plays strongly to issues of engaging the public. Molly Swords noted the blog posts coming out of visitors to the Cyrus Jacobs-Uberuaga House were not entirely correct regarding details of the site, but the public was aware of and interested enough to contribute their thoughts about the project.  Twitter, while being considered generally a positive means for putting information out about events, was also discussed as potentially problematic in terms of effective “sound-bites” and concerns for aiding looting. While I am by no means a social media guru I see the value of social media despite these issues, as do the panelists. I follow a number of blogs that discuss a variety of topics and issues regarding archaeology as a profession. A few I frequently check out and recommend are included in the list at the end of this post.

To read more about making archaeology more visible read Jamie C. Brandon’s blog post here. The Societies for American Archaeology, Historical Archaeology, and the American Anthropological Association have provided statements and discussions regarding Diggers and Savage Family Diggers (formerly American Diggers). To learn more about public outreach there is a slew of amazing organizations but a good first stop is Florida Public Archaeology Network or your own state’s Historic Preservation Office or archaeological society.

AGSCUI hopes this film series might inspire others to put on their own regional series and that those filming their projects in the Pacific/Inland Northwest and Great Basin will consider us for next year’s film festival!

– Ashley Morton

A Sampling of Archaeology and Anthropology Blogs





Indiana Jones is the property of Lucasfilm and Paramount [and is one of Bailey’s personal favorite movies], American Diggers airs on Spike TV, Diggers airs on the National Geographic Channel.

Little, Barbara and Paul Shackel
2007     Archaeology as a Tool of Civic Engagement. AltaMira Press. Lanham, MD.

Franklin, Maria
2013    Oral History and the Archaeology of a Black Texas Farmstead c.1871-1905. Paper presented at the 2013 Conference for the Society for Historical and Underwater Archaeology. Leicester, England.

White, William A.
2013    Small Archaeology Project Management: How to Run a Cultural Resource Management Project without Busting your Budget. Succinct Research. Tucson, Arizona.


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