Public Perceptions

A poll conducted by Harris Interactive found that most Americans support the goals and practice of archaeology, endorse laws protecting archaeological sites and artifacts, and think archaeology is important to today's society. Although they may be unclear about the primary activities of and topics studied by archaeologists, a majority (60%) of the public believes in the value to society of archaeological research and education.

A clear majority of the public (96%) believes that there should be laws to protect archaeological resources, but is less certain of laws pertaining to materials found on private land. Many people (80%) agree that public funds should be used to protect archaeological sites, with a higher percentage (86%) believing that public monies also should be used to preserve historic sites. Many Americans also felt that archaeological objects should not be removed from a foreign country without that country's permission (64%).

Most Americans (98-99%) said that archaeologists study ancient civilizations and the human past, with more than one-third (38%) mentioning Egyptian sites such as the pyramids and the Valley of the Kings as some of the most important archaeological discoveries. More recent discoveries also received public attention, with 83% aware that archaeologists also study the 19th and 20th centuries, and 77% identifying archaeologists as shipwreck investigators.

The majority of respondents learned about archaeology through television (56%) and books, encyclopedias, and magazines (33%), followed by newspapers (24%). Learning about archaeology in school accounted for 23% of respondents at the college level, 20% at the secondary level, and 10% at the primary level, although the vast majority (90%) believed that students should learn about archaeology as part of the school curriculum from their earliest years. Most of the public (88%) have visited a museum exhibiting archaeological material, while 1 in 3 people (37%) have visited an archaeological site.

To determine how Americans view archaeology, Harris contacted a random sample of 1,016 adults across the continental United States. Questions centered on the public's grasp of, and participation in, archaeology.

The project was instituted by a coalition of archaeological organizations, including the Society for American Archaeology, the Archaeological Conservancy, Archaeological Institute of America, Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, Forest Service, National Park Service, and the Society for Historical Archaeology.

For further details download the full report as a PDF file.