Exhibiting Mounds in Wilkinson County: Implications for Diverse Community Engagement in Public Archaeology and Museum Education

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public archaeology
museum studies
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Native American mound sites in the Lower Mississippi Valley can tell us a lot about past peoples but are rapidly disappearing due to land development, looting, and erosion. The communities local to these important archaeological resources are the best equipped to protect them due to their proximity, but many locals are unaware of both their importance to archaeological research and the meaning they hold for Native people. This thesis presents a case study on how to engage with a diverse rural community, some members of which are already invested in archaeology, but most of which have not expressed interest. I posit that the best way to engage with the community is by focusing on its children. In Summer 2019, I co-curated and designed an exhibit about the history of Lower Mississippi Valley moundbuilding in the Wilkinson County Museum in Wilkinson County, Mississippi. The exhibit showcases artifacts from local sites and includes information about how mounds and their associated sites were constructed and used through time. In addition, my team hosted an archaeology fair on the day the exhibit opened. Hands-on activities during this festival and an exhibit-focused activity booklet helped children to understand archaeological information and methods. The festival was well-attended, but there was a notable racial discrepancy between the community that the exhibit attracted and the Wilkinson County community more broadly. Future phases of this project will focus on local schools to ensure that we engage with a more representative sample of the population. A field trip program will provide Wilkinson County children with more opportunities for hands-on learning, and a children’s book about a local mound site will provide a personal link to archaeology for a regional audience.

Dr. Megan C. Kassabaum
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