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Why Are Heritage Interpreters Voiceless at the Trowel's Edge? A Plea for Rewriting the Archaeological Workflow

  • Sara Perry (a1)
Abstract

“Heritage interpretation” is generally conceived as the development and presentation of knowledge about the past for public audiences. Most obviously evidenced in descriptive signs, guides, and related media installed on archaeological and cultural sites, heritage interpretation has more than a half century of theory and applied practice behind it, yet it continues to sit uncomfortably within the typical archaeological workflow. While the concept can be criticized on many fronts, of concern is the lack of recognition that it is of equal relevance to both nonexpert and expert audiences (as opposed to nonexpert audiences alone). Our profession appears to rest on an assumption that archaeologists do their own kind of interpretation—and, separately, nonexperts require a special approach that heritage interpreters must facilitate but that field specialists have no need for—or from which little obvious expert benefit can be derived. For this reason, it is rare to find heritage interpreters embedded in primary fieldwork teams. Here I call for a rethinking of the traditional workflow, with a view to integrating the heritage interpretation tool kit and heritage interpreters themselves into our basic field methodologies. Their direct involvement in disciplinary process from the outset has the potential to transform archaeological interpretation overall.

La interpretación del patrimonio cultural generalmente se considera como el desarrollo y la presentación de conocimientos sobre el pasado para el público en general. Su mayor evidencia son los letreros descriptivos, guías y medios relacionados instalados en sitios arqueológicos y culturales. La interpretación del patrimonio cultural tiene más de medio siglo de teoría y práctica aplicada detrás de ella; sin embargo, permanece en una posición incómoda dentro del típico proceso de trabajo arqueológico. Si bien el concepto puede ser criticado desde muchos frentes, es preocupante la falta de reconocimiento que la interpretación del patrimonio cultural tiene la misma relevancia para el público de expertos que para el de no expertos. Nuestra profesión parece basarse en la suposición que los arqueólogos hacen su propio tipo de interpretación y que, por separado, los no expertos requieren un abordaje especial que los intérpretes del patrimonio cultural deben facilitar, pero que los especialistas de campo no necesitan, o que los beneficia de manera limitada. Por eso es raro encontrar intérpretes del patrimonio cultural integrados en equipos de campo primarios. Aquí se propone reconsiderar el flujo de trabajo arqueológico tradicional, con la intención de integrar los instrumentos de la interpretación del patrimonio cultural y los intérpretes mismos en nuestras metodologías de campo básicas. Su participación directa desde el comienzo del proceso de trabajo tiene el potencial de transformar la interpretación arqueológica en general.

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