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Visitor as Researcher

Making Archaeology More Accessible with Broken and Unprovenienced Objects

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  16 January 2017

Jen Thum
Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology and the Ancient World, Brown University, Box 1837, Providence, RI 02912, (
Julia Troche
Near Eastern Languages and Cultures, UCLA, 378 Humanities, Los Angeles, CA 90095, (


Brown University is home to several seldom-used study collections of broken and unprovenienced ancient Egyptian objects. In a new exhibition focused on the research process and the people who make it happen, these items feature as keys to the behind-the-scenes world of archaeological study. In this article, we demonstrate how educators can mobilize fragmentary artifacts as new tools for handson education. Each section of the exhibition focuses on an active research project that employs a modern investigative technology (e.g., XRF Analysis) and introduces visitors to researchers at all levels of study. This not only humanizes the archaeological process but also invites the viewer to participate actively in the interpretation of museum research. Two hands-on elements further cultivate an environment of accessibility to archaeology: an iPad interface updated regularly based on visitor feedback, which welcomes visitors to explore the exhibition’s objects and research technologies in greater depth; and a preexisting experiential learning program, CultureLab, where visitors can handle objects from the collection and be researchers themselves. Visitor feedback suggests that openly presenting the realities of archaeological research and subsequently encouraging visitors to assume the role of researcher is a highly effective model for visitors and educators alike.



La Universidad de Brown es el hogar de varias colecciones de estudio, las cuales aún no han sido analizadas y contienen objetos fragmentarios del antiguo Egipto con procedencia desconocida. Una nueva exposición se centró en el proceso de investigación y en las personas que lo hacen posible, mediante ella, estos artefactos nos revelan lo que ocurre tras bambalinas del mundo del estudio arqueológico. En este artículo se demuestra cómo los educadores pueden movilizar artefactos fragmentarios como nuevas herramientas para la educación interactiva. Cada sección de la exposición se centra en un proyecto de investigación activa que emplea una tecnología moderna de investigación (por ejemplo la espectroscopia de rayos X), y les presenta a los visitantes investigadores arqueológicos provenientes de todos los niveles de estudio. Esto no sólo humaniza el proceso arqueológico, sino también invita al espectador a participar activamente en la interpretación de la investigación museológica. Además, dos elementos prácticos en la exposición cultivan un medio ambiente accesible a la arqueología: una interfaz de iPad actualizada periódicamente a base de retroalimentación de los visitantes, que da la bienvenida a sus usuarios a explorar los objetos de la exposición y tecnologías de investigación con mayor profundidad; y un programa preexistente del aprendizaje experiencial, CultureLab, donde los visitantes pueden manejar objetos de la colección y realizar sus propias investigaciones. El incorporar inmediatamente la opinión de los visitantes supone que presentando abiertamente las realidades de la investigación arqueológica, se anima a los visitantes a asumir el papel de investigadores, creando un modelo muy eficaz de enseñanza para ambos, visitantes y educadores.

Research Article
Copyright © Society for American Archaeology 2016

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